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The Perseverance of the Saints

In our final article on TULIP we call attention to the letter, P, in TULIP, the perseverance of the saints. We must distinguish between perseverance and preservation. The preservation of the saints refers to a work of God upon the saints. The perseverance of the saints refers to a work of God through the saints. We must be very sure that we explain also this perseverance of God’s people as a work of God. In the perseverance of the saints the people of God are active. They persevere. In the preservation of the saints they are passive. The people of God are preserved. And we must surely understand the relation between them.

How wonderful is the truth of the preservation and perseverance of the saints of God! It is wonderful, first of all, because of that whereunto we are preserved and persevere. This is nothing less than a glory so great that no human heart could or can conceive of it, no eye can see it, etc. – I Cor. 2:9- It is a glory that is heavenly, everlasting, immortal. What tremendous heights fascinate the Christian pilgrim in the midst of the world! Then, it is wonderful, in the second place, because of us who are preserved and persevere! We are sinners; we are by nature hopelessly lost sinners; we are sinners who are holy only in principle; and we are such in principle redeemed sinners who are constantly confronted by overwhelming odds, by an enemy, within and without, with whom we cannot possibly cope or contend. And yet, these impotent and hopelessly lost sinners actually persevere until the end, and attain unto a glory which could never enter the heart of man. And wonderful, in the third place, is this truth because of this preservation and perseverance. God’s people are preserved and they persevere until the very end. They all persevere; none is lost. And, they are all preserved in such a way that not a hair of their heads is singed; none was ever harmed in any sense of the word. They are not only conquerors, but they are more than conquerors. Everything works together for their good.

Both truths are surely scriptural and confessional. Our preservation and perseverance are surely confessional. Our Canons teach the truth of preservation, as in Head V, Articles III and VIII. And the truth of perseverance is taught in Heads III and IV, Articles 16 in Head III and in Articles 12 and 13 in Head V, as well as in V, 2. From Scripture we quote the following, first of all in regards to the truth of preservation. We read in I Cor. 1:8-9 “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Phil. 1:6: Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” I Thess. 5:23: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We read in I Peter 1:4, 5: “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you. You are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And in John 14:16 we read: “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever.” More passages, of course, can be quoted, but these may be considered sufficient.

The truth of the perseverance of the saints is also held before in Holy Writ. We read in Matt. 24:33: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” In Rom. 2:7-8 we read: ‘‘To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; But unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.” Heb. 3:14: ‘‘For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” Heb. 6:11: ‘‘And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” In Rev. 2:10, 26 we read: ‘‘Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.” And finally we read in Rev. 3:11: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” To these, too, many passages can be added. But I believe that these may suffice.

The preservation of the saints simply means that God preserves them as saints. They never perish. Their life from God is retained. There is no falling away of saints. Perseverance, too, is a work of God. O, this truth does not mean that we work for Jesus, win the world for Jesus, strive to transform the kingdom of this world into a kingdom of light and of God’s dear Son, make this world a better place in which to live, extend the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ so that it will cover the face of the earth, in the postmillenarian sense of the word. Such is not our calling, either as churches or as individuals. But it does mean that we continue in grace and in the certain salvation unto which the Lord has effectually called us. It means that we hold fast to which we have. It means that we hold fast to Christ’s word, His truth, never departing from the same; always maintain the truth of the infallible scriptures. But it also means that we hold fast to our life from God in Christ Jesus, that we walk in and according to this truth, always living according to it, also antithetically in the midst of the world. It means that we keep our garments unspotted in the world, that we believe the scriptures and live and practice what we believe.

Doctrine and life, the truth and practice are inseparably connected, may never be divorced.

The question is very important how are these concepts, preservation and perseverance, related? Fundamentally, there are only two possibilities. We are either preserved because we persevere or we persevere because we are preserved. Salvation is determined either by the will of God or by the will of man. It is conditional or unconditional. The Arminians teach that we are preserved because we persevere. They claim to maintain that all salvation is by grace, that they also maintain that God will work that grace in a sinner provided that that sinner wills it, and that the sinner wills it even until the end. He therefore, must deny the certain perseverance of the saints and teach a falling away of saints, that saints, once saved, can perish. It is his contention, therefore, that we are preserved because we persevere.

Now we cannot discuss this position of the Arminian in detail. That the scriptures speak of those who have become unfaithful we do not deny. However, the apostle John, in I John 2:19, declares that they went from us because they were not of us, for if they had been of us they would no doubt have continued with us. It is true that the Word of God admonishes us to fight the good fight of faith, to put on the whole armor of God, to labor to enter the rest, to be faithful that no man take our crown. But does this mean that we can do this all of ourselves: Of course not! Does not the Lord God declare emphatically, as in Eph. 2:8-10, that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that this is not of ourselves, but a gift of God, lest any man should boast? It is indeed true that the Christian fighter is assured before he fights that he will win in the struggle, that the crown is sure, that he is more than conqueror. But does this therefore imply that this fighter therefore will not fight, as the Arminian claims that this must follow because the fighter is assured of victory already at the beginning of the struggle? This is unadulterated nonsense. This alone gives him the strength to fight.

Indeed, we persevere because we are preserved. First, we are preserved because of divine election. This we read in Eph. 1: 3-4 and Rom. 8:29-30. Secondly, we are preserved because of Christ’s particular atonement, and as we read in John 6:39; 10:15; 6:37, 40; 10:28. Thirdly, this preservation is assured because of the Holy Spirit Who will abide with us and in us forever, as we read in John 14:16. Notice, too, that we read in I Cor. 10:13; I Cor 1:9; Phil. 1:6; I Thess. 5:23; I Peter 1:4-5.

Because we are preserved we do and must persevere. How true is what we read in Rom. 8:35-39. Indeed, we must persevere. That is our calling. We must fight the good fight of faith, and this we must do even unto the very end. However, we shall also persevere. Indeed, nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We persevere because we are preserved. Now we may be sure that the work which God has once begun will be finished until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we ever hold fast to this reformed, Calvinistic view that is rooted in the Word of God. And may we live accordingly.