The doctrines of grace: Perseverance of the saints

The fifth of the five points of Calvinism speaks of the perseverance of the saints. Sometimes known as “eternal security,” this doctrine teaches that those who are truly converted will not—cannot—lose the salvation that God has given to them by his irresistible grace.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith puts it this way:

Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, and given the precious faith of His elect unto, can neither totally or finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. (17.1)

Perseverance?

Once again, the language employed by the Synod of Dort has been called into question on this point, though perhaps to a lesser degree than the other four points.

Some have suggested that Calvinism, in employing the term “perseverance,” suggests that the saved sinner keeps himself in the salvation that God has granted to him. This has led some to prefer the term “preservation of the saints.”

Calvinism affirms from the very beginning that man is totally (radically) depraved and that he cannot, therefore, contribute one whit to securing or maintaining his salvation. It is all by grace. Nevertheless, the use of the word “perseverance” is deliberate, for Jesus himself spoke of the need to “”persevere or “endure” to the end (see, for example, Matthew 24:13). Perseverance, to be sure, is by God’s grace, but it is necessary nonetheless.

Is it biblical?

While the Arminians affirmed that it was possible for a believer to fall from grace, consider the testimony of Scripture on the matter of the perseverance of the saints. We begin with Paul’s words to the Romans:

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:27–39)

Notice that those whom God called and justified he also “glorified.” The eternal destiny of those whom God saves is secure. They will be glorified. They will be perfectly conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. This is certain. Nothing in all creation can “separate [them] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Again, as previously, this point is the logical outcome of what has preceded it. Seaton summarises it well:

If man cannot save himself, then God must save him. If all are not saved, then God has not saved all. If Christ has made satisfaction for sins, then, it is for the sins of those who are saved. If God intends to reveal this salvation in Christ to the hearts of those whom He chooses to save, then, God will provide the means of effectually doing so. If, therefore, having ordained to save, died to save, and called to salvation those who could never save themselves, He will also preserve those saved ones unto eternal life to the glory of His Name.1

Paul assured the Philippians that God, having begun a good work in them, would certainly complete it (Philippians 1:6). There was no chance of them failing to attain final salvation if it had been started in them. Jesus said that it was the Father’s will that he would lose none of those given to him (John 6:39). Again, he said that he would give to his sheep eternal life and that no one would be able to pluck them from his hand (John 10:28). And in the strongest way possible, Paul affirmed that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). To cite Seaton again,

This is the believer’s hallmark, that he belongs to Christ; that he is persevering in the things of Christ; that he is “giving all diligence to make his calling and election sure.” The believer in Christ may fall into temptation, but the Lord will “not suffer him to be tempted above that which is able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape,” so that the believer come forth, and goes forth again in the things pertaining to his salvation to the glory of Christ. Those matchless verses of Romans 8:28–39 who the Divine logic in God’s eternal salvation; the logic that Calvinism simply states. The salvation that begins in the mind and purpose of God must end in the fulfilment of His unthwartable purpose that those “whom he did foreknow” are eternally united with their Saviour.2

  1. W. J. Seaton, The Five Points of Calvinism (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970), 21.
  2. Seaton, The Five Points of Calvinism, 22.

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