When the Council of Dordrecht or Dordt began on November 13, 1618 it sought to refute the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers. The council did so by specifically addressing five points Arminius’ protestors, or Remonstrants, proposed. These five points were that (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal or an unlimited atonement is taught in the Scriptures; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) God’s grace is resistible; and (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.
Previously, we briefly examined the doctrine of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace. Today we conclude our study by examining the doctrine of the perseverance of the Preservation of the Saints.
The Perseverance or the Preservation of the Saints is often called eternal security. This is the teaching that once God has justified a sinner and called them into a covenant relationship they will never lose that salvation. It is often referred to as “being once saved always saved.”
However, there are those who insist that the whole concept of eternal security can mean a believer in Christ can live sinfully and yet rest assured they are going to heaven when life ends. Is this what the fifth and final point of the Canons of Dordt means?
Philippians 1:6 says, “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end.” God promises that what He has begun in our souls He will complete. An old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance or preservation of the saints is as follows: “If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it.”
This is likely what the Apostle John meant in I John 2:19 when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
We know people who make professions of faith, and then turn away and renounce those professions. Of course, they were in the church in terms of outward appearances before they left. They had made an outward profession of faith. The Bible makes it clear that it is possible for a person to make a profession of faith when he doesn’t possess what he’s professing.
Dr. R. C. Sproul says, “I think this little catchphrase, perseverance of the saints, is dangerously misleading. It suggests that the perseverance is something that we do, perhaps in and of ourselves. I believe that saints do persevere in faith, and that those who have been effectually called by God and have been reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit endure to the end. However, they persevere not because they are so diligent in making use of the mercies of God. The only reason we can give why any of us continue on in the faith is because we have been preserved. So I prefer the term the “preservation of the saints,” because the process by which we are kept in a state of grace is something that is accomplished by God. My confidence in my preservation is not in my ability to persevere. My confidence rests in the power of Christ to sustain me with His grace and by the power of His intercession. He is going to bring us safely home.”
Dr. Scott Clark writes, “Those to whom He gives the gift of faith, whom He “regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he also delivers from the dominion and slavery of sin.” Our ongoing struggle with sin gives us reason to humble ourselves and to seek heaven. Left to ourselves, we would fall away, but grace “mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves” us “even to the end.” Sometimes believers, such as David, fall into grievous sin and lose the sense of God’s favor, but God preserves them. God never allows His people “to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption.” Christ “certainly and effectually renews” His people “to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins.” The Spirit grants assurance to His people not, however, “by any peculiar revelation,” but rather it “springs from faith in God’s promises.” Assurance of grace does not produce immorality among Christians. Rather, “it renders them much more careful and concerned to continue in the ways of the Lord.” As the Spirit makes us alive through the preaching of the Gospel, He strengthens our faith and assurance through the sacraments.”
The Canons of Dordt are an extraordinary statement of conviction among the Reformed churches on five essential doctrines. The very Reformation was at stake at the Synod of Dordt. If we conclude God’s favor towards us is conditioned upon anything in us, then we are lost because we remain dead in sin. If the Gospel is to include our obedience in order to be justified, then it is no longer the Gospel. If the elect can fall away, then grace is no longer grace.
Soli deo Gloria!