In brief this objection of the Arminians is that the doctrine of the certain perseverance of the saints and of the assurance thereof is intrinsically an immoral doctrine: it leads necessarily and inevitably to carelessness and profanity. It is a soft cushion on which the flesh may recline in ease and utter unconcern for morality and godliness. The Arminians argued that on the basis of this doctrine one will certainly assume that he has “arrived.” There is nothing more to be done. There is no more battle to be fought. There is absolutely no reason and no incentive for godliness, good morals, prayers, or any other holy exercise. Nothing we do, nor anything that we fail to do, can at all affect our salvation and its certainty. If we lead a pious and moral life, we will be saved; but if we lead an ungodly and immoral life, we will also be saved just as surely. If we pray, we will be saved; but if we fail to pray, we will as certainly be saved. If we are diligent in attendance upon the Word and sacraments and in the giving of alms and in other holy exercises, we will be saved; but if we fail utterly in all these, we will be saved with equal certainty. Thus the Arminian argued against the Reformed truth of perseverance, intending to present that doctrine as something grossly and preposterously immoral, and at the same time attempting to reduce that doctrine to a monstrous absurdity.
At the same time, as appears also from this article, there was a positive side to this Arminian position. The Arminian taught that it is “praiseworthy to doubt concerning the certainty of perseverance and salvation.” One could as well say: it is praiseworthy to doubt concerning our perseverance and our salvation. For if you doubt concerning certainty, you have no more certainty at all, but only doubt. And this was indeed the Arminian position. The Christian must be and must be kept in a continual state of doubt. And that doubt must be the spur, the whip, the threat that scares him into a godly and moral life, that compels him to pray and to engage in other holy exercises. Only when one continually doubts and remains uncertain of his final salvation will there be any true morality. Only when the longed for prize is kept just beyond his grasp will the Christian keep on pursuing that prize and strive to attain to the goal. Hence, all assurance must be frowned upon; and instead, that Christian who always is in doubt is to be lauded as a spiritually healthy Christian. Such is the Arminian position.
Now what is the answer of our fathers to this argument? It is well in our day that we note, first of all, what their answer is not. For there are those who succumb to this argument and in effect adopt the Arminian position while they still claim to be Reformed. And over against those who maintain the true Reformed position they will bring this same Arminian argument. In the name of the Reformed faith they charge that the Reformed doctrine makes men careless and profane. And this is indeed worse than Arminian. Hence, let us analyze the answer of our fathers both negatively and positively. In order to do this, let us cast the Arminian argument in the form of a syllogism, as follows:
Major premise: The Reformed doctrine is the doctrine that the true believers possess the certainty of perseverance and salvation as an absolutely free gift of sovereign grace. Minor premise: This doctrine in its very character and nature is a cause of indolence and is destructive of godliness, good morals, etc.
Conclusion: The Reformed doctrine is an immoral—and therefore, false—doctrine.
There are two conceivable methods of proving that conclusion to be false. The one would be to attack the major premise and to deny that it is a proper statement of the Reformed doctrine. Then you would change that statement and introduce an element of the free will of the sinner and of the work of man alongside the sovereign grace of God. You would make that certainty conditional. You would, in the name of Reformed doctrine, adopt the Arminian position. This is what many in our day are quick to do. But this is exactly what our fathers refuse to do. If they had done this, there would have been no Arminian controversy; and consequently, there would never have been any Canons. If they had done this, the Arminians would never have presented that minor premise. They would have said instead that this doctrine is productive in its very character and nature of spiritual diligence, of piety and good morals, etc. And their conclusion would have been that this is a moral — and therefore, true — doctrine.
The second conceivable method to destroy this conclusion is to attack the minor premise. If it is false, then the conclusion must be changed to read: the Reformed doctrine (as stated in the major premise) is a moral doctrine, and therefore true.
And this second method our fathers follow in this very article. For they state: “For these show that they do not know the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit.” In other words, if the Arminians, who bring this argument, knew the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they would never bring the claim that this doctrine is per se a cause of indolence and is injurious to godliness, good morals, prayers, and other holy exercises. And mark you well, what our fathers say here does not only apply to a lack of intellectual knowledge, so that they merely mean to say that the Arminians do not understand and that their logic is faulty. This is never the case. The truth is not simply a matter of cold logic. It is a spiritual matter. And the knowledge and understanding of the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit are spiritual. They are the knowledge and understanding of one who experiences the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The natural man understands not the things of the Spirit of God. And not understanding, he cannot and will not receive them. They are spiritually discerned. That is the basic trouble of one who really and truly brings this argument. He does not have experiential knowledge of the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If he had that knowledge, he would never bring this argument. If he had true knowledge, he would exclaim at the very moment that this argument was raised or at the moment this wicked and carnal thought occurred: “God forbid! how shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”
For he who knows the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit knows that the same Holy Spirit, dwelling in the heart of God’s elect child, works in him the assurance of his final salvation and works in him spiritual diligence, godliness, good morals, the will and the ability to engage in prayer and other holy exercises. He knows that the Holy Spirit works the former always and only in connection with the latter, in the way of the latter, and never in separation from the latter. He knows that the same Holy Spirit who preserves the new life in the child of God impels that child to walk in a new and holy life. He knows that the love of God, shed abroad in the heart of God’s child by the Holy Spirit, kindles the reaction of love to Godward on the part of that child of God. He knows what it is to serve God as the need of his soul, out of love, for the blessedness of that service itself. He knows what it is to hold sweet communion with God through prayer.
But the natural man knows none of this. And it is fundamentally the position and viewpoint of the natural man that is expressed in this Arminian error. It is not pious. It is not religious. It is not moral. It is not a position that, on the basis of grace, you can ever assume. It is not the position of one who has been instructed by the Scriptures and taught by the Holy Ghost. No, the Arminians had been to school with the Socinians, who deny the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And they adopted a doctrinal position which was shaped under the influence of the foolish and evil nature of sinful man. That nature has in it no impulse to pray and to do good works. It is a nature that is driven by pride, that is motivated by the seeking of a reward that is of merit, the mercenary desire for pay, or that is driven by fear. It is a nature that hates all that God wills and opposes His commandments. Only the fear of punishment, the terror of everlasting desolation, and the dangling of a meritorious reward can compel that nature—such is its view—to do good works and can force it to pray. The natural man cannot see that there is any incentive for good works once that terror of hell is removed. He cannot understand that anyone can love God and can willingly serve Him when there is no reward of merit, no pay, attached to that service. And so the evil consideration of the heart of the natural man leads him to the view that it is praiseworthy to doubt, and that if ever a man is to have a reason for morality, he must all his days be torn between heaven and hell. And he holds under the truth in unrighteousness.
No, I am not saying that all Arminians go lost. That is not my affair. What I am saying is that the Arminian view is fundamentally the outlook of the natural man. And I will insist, with Holy Scripture, that one who truly knows the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit cannot possibly maintain that view in his confession and in his life. That very grace and indwelling Holy Spirit will not allow him thus to insult and to slander His own work.
Nor do our fathers come with a logic here that is not sanctified by the Spirit and based upon the Scriptures. They cite, first of all, the clear proof of unto that final salvation. For he says, “We know . . .” And he says not, “If it shall appear,” but, “When it shall appear . . .” And he speaks of this as our hope, which in Scripture never implies doubt, but assurance. 3) That the apostle posits as a general fact the self-purifying of those who have this hope in them. He does not say: “He that hath this hope in him should purify himself even as he is pure.” That would be quite Scriptural; but it would be an admonition. He does not even say: “He that hath this hope in him has the power and the incentive to purify himself.” But he states a fact, and that too, as a general rule, a rule that applies to anyone that has this hope in him: “He that hath this hope in him does purify himself . . . ” That hope is wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit, of course. And that indwelling Holy Spirit, working the hope in us, works thereby at the same time the power and the incentive and impulse to purify ourselves and to walk in sanctification of life.: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Notice, briefly: 1) That the apostle is speaking here of the final salvation. We are the sons of God, but the perfection of that sonship does not yet appear. It shall appear, and then we shall be perfectly like God. 2) That the apostle is speaking of the assurance, the certainty, of that final salvation—and therefore also of the certainty of perseverance
Finally, the fathers point to experience, but they also do this on the basis of Scripture. They point to the example of the saints of the Old and New Testament. Carefully examine them all. You will find that they were assured of their perseverance and salvation, and that at the same time they were constant in prayers and holy exercises. Of none of them will you find the contrary to be true. There never was an assured saint—and there never will be one—who was careless and profane. The nature and character of divine grace forbids it.