Canons Of Dort 33: The Grace Of Perseverance Is A Spiritual Doctrine

God preserves those who cannot preserve themselves.

Contra the Remonstrants, the doctrines of assurance and comfort do not make Christians lazy or indifferent to piety and to sanctification, they are the very power and essence of growth in the Christian life. I am free to die to sin and to struggle against it only because I have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus, who alone is my Mediator and my Substitute before the righteous judgment seat of God.

 

The Reformation gospel of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), as defined and confessed by the Reformed churches and as rejected by the Remonstrants (Arminians) was intended to produce and had the effect of giving comfort to weary and needy sinners. The Remonstrants (the followers of Arminius) before, during, and after the Synod of Dort rejected the Reformation doctrine and subtly undermined it because, like the Romanists and the Anabaptists before them, they were convinced that it leads to a licentious and dissolute lifestyle. In effect, from the Reformed point of view, the Remonstrants agreed with Paul’s critics, to whom Paul makes reference in Romans 6:1. They concluded that the gospel of free salvation does not lead to putting to death the old man (mortification) and the making alive of the new (vivification). Fortunately, however, the Reformed churches were not persuaded by the Remonstrants and rejected their proposed revisions of the faith just as the churches had rejected the Anabaptists, the Romanists, the Socinians and the the Antinomians, who agreed with the critics that grace and sanctification are mutually exclusive.

This teaching about the perseverance of true believers and saints, and about their assurance of it—a teaching which God has very richly revealed in his Word for the glory of his name and for the comfort of the godly and which he impresses on the hearts of believers—is something which the flesh does not understand, Satan hates, the world ridicules, the ignorant and the hypocrites abuse, and the spirits of error attack. The bride of Christ, on the other hand, has always loved this teaching very tenderly and defended it steadfastly as a priceless treasure; and God, against whom no plan can avail and no strength can prevail, will ensure that she will continue to do this. To this God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honor and glory forever. Amen (Canons of Dort, 5.15).1

Gracious Perseverance Is A Biblical Doctrine

When the English Reformed theologian John Owen (1616–83) responded to the Arminians, he appealed to the distinction between law and gospel, because, as he noted, the Remonstrants want to put the Christian back under the covenant of works for his salvation. Rather, he noted, Christians are under a covenant of grace. Owen noted that the promises of the gospel are the foundation for our doctrine of perseverance and the the promises of the gospel are “free and gracious” and “given unto us merely through the good-will and pleasure of God. That which is of promise is everywhere opposed to that which is of doubt, or that which is any way deserved or procured by us: Gal 3:18, “If the inheritance be of the law” (which includes all that in us is desirable, acceptable, and deserving), “it is no more of promise,”—that is, free, and of mere grace” (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 11.227–28, 230).

In other words, embedded in the gospel is the promise of perseverance. Owen cited Galatians 3:15; Matthew 20:15; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10; Matthew 11:26; Romans 5:15–18. The doctrine of God’s gracious perseverance of his elect is woven throughout Scripture implicitly and explicitly. In the Aaronic benediction, with which Reformed churches often close their services, says: “Yahweh, bless and guard you; Yahweh make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; Yahweh lift up his face to you and give you shalom” (Nu 6:24–26). The subject of the verb is Yahweh, the sovereign Lord, who spoke into nothing and made that is, who sovereignly delivered his people out of Egypt, and who kept them in the wilderness. This is the God who guards or keeps his people. The Aaronic benediction is just that, a blessing that God speaks to his people through his minister. It is not prayer. It is a statement of objective truths, things that are said by God to be true of his people. These are benefits his gives to his people. One of them is his guarding or preserving grace and mercy.

Our Lord Jesus declared about the sheep for whom he was to lay down his life:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28; ESV).

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