In I Peter 1:5 the doctrine of perseverance is not only clearly proved, but it is set forth as a great multiplication of God’s grace and peace to His saints. In verse 3 the Apostle Peter speaks of our election according to the Father’s foreknowledge and shows how this grace of God in election is sealed to us and becomes ours through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as He leads us to perfect peace in the way of blood-sprinkled obedience. This revelation of grace and peace, already great, must be and will be multiplied unto us, Peter says, through the abundant mercy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter tells us how it is multiplied in the following verses when he reminds us that this work of grace and peace involves the giving of a new life, the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ, which bears with it the hope of an everlasting and imperishable inheritance. But even this grace is further multiplied in that through grace the inheritance is kept incorruptible and undefiled for us, and also in that we are kept by the power of that grace of God for our inheritance. That preserving power of God which guarantees our perseverance unto the inheritance is, therefore, the crown of Gods work of grace in this life and a great multiplication of grace through which we enjoy abundant peace.
This is also the experience of the child of God. God’s grace is not only magnified and multiplied, but magnified unto him when he experiences that electing, justifying, and sanctifying grace as a power revealed in the midst of all his sins and temptations as they rise against him throughout his life. In perseverance each saint so experiences God’s grace and its saving power that he learns to sing even in the darkest hours praises to God:
When in the night I meditate on mercies multiplied,
My grateful heart inspires my tongue to bless the Lord, my guide.
Forever in my thought the Lord before my face shall stand;
Secure, unmoved, I shall remain, with Him at my right hand.
(Psalter #28, stanzas 1 and 2)
For each saint it is “mercy multiplied” exactly because he finds that it keeps him, a poor, weak, wandering sheep, in the way of eternal salvation.
The two words which we use in teaching this doctrine, the words “perseverance” and “preservation,” both imply that the life of the people of God in this world is not easy—that they must walk amid many dangers and great threats to their new life. That too is their experience. On the one side Satan roars against them as a lion to devour and destroy them. On the other side the world beckons with endless pleasures and allurements, and threatens with persecution those that will not heed its call. Through it all each saint must keep to the narrow way of life.
Nevertheless, it is not in these things that the saints find the greatest danger, but in that both Satan and the world have a strong ally in their own flesh. That is the reason why Paul in Romans 7 does not cry to be delivered from Satan or from the wicked, but from the “body of this death,” for when he is delivered from the body of death then too there shall no longer be any danger from Satan or from the wicked world and its lusts. The flesh continues to serve the law of sin even after God begins His work in us and remains an outpost for all the attacks of the kingdom of darkness.
And if any child of God is inclined to underestimate these dangers, he will soon learn that he fights not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:12). These powers are very great, and always it is his experience that these powers are too great for him to face in his own strength. He finds himself like Gideon with 300 men and a few lanterns fighting against all the host of Midian. But even then the greatest danger is the traitor that he finds, as it were, within his own camp.
Our Canons also teach this:
By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace, if left to their own strength. Head V, Article 3.
Notice just two things in this connection: (1) that the great enemy is the remnant of indwelling sin, described in the previous articles as “the body of sin” and the “infirmity of the flesh,” and (2) that because of this “enemy within” even the redeemed and converted saint cannot stand for a moment if left to himself.
Perseverance, then, does not mean that all the dangers to our Christian life are removed, but that we walk safely through all these dangers and receive the inheritance which the Lord has promised. Even more, it means that we triumph over all these enemies, and finally have the victory even over our own sinful nature when we lay ourselves down upon our last bed. But we taste that blessed victory already in this life when we resist the devil, when we come out from and are separate from the world, and especially when we “keep under” our flesh and bring it into subjection (I Cor. 9:27) while we walk in sanctification of life.
We do this by grace alone, and that grace is always revealed in contrast to our weakness and inability and for God’s glory. That contrast is established in the conclusion of the Article from the Canons which we quoted above. Having spoken of our inability to persevere in our own strength, the fathers say:
. . . But God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms, and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.
A beautiful illustration of this faithfulness and preserving grace is found in Paul’s two Epistles to the Corinthians. That Church was troubled by many evils all arising out of the sins of her members—sects, divisions, fornication, lack of discipline, heresy, profaning of the Lord’s Supper—sins which threatened the very existence of the Church and the salvation of her members. If ever there was a troubled Church, it was the Church of Corinth, and yet it was there that God revealed His faithfulness. The theme of the whole first Epistle is found already in chapter 1; “God is faithful . . . .” (verse 9). In His faithfulness God preserved His Church and the saints in Corinth so that Paul could confess in his second Epistle, “Our hope of you is steadfast, knowing that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (II Cor. 1:7). Nor may we forget that God revealed His faithfulness in that sinful congregation “that no flesh should glory in His presence” (I Cor. 1:29).
It is at this point that our definition of a “saint” is critical, for it is saints who persevere. The Arminian always says that the saint is one who makes himself to differ by his works, especially by the work of “accepting Jesus.” His perseverance as a saint also depends, then, on his continued acceptance of Jesus all through his Christian life. He, depending on himself, has no hope of perseverance and no assurance of an inheritance.
Our Canons, for this reason, begin their discussion of “The perseverance of the Saints” by carefully defining a saint as one “whom God calls, according to His purpose, to the communion of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, (and) delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life” (Canons V, Article 1), and, we might add, to whom God gives the gift of faith. Only then does the “saint” have the assurance that He who has begun a good work in him, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
Nevertheless, even though the saints are delivered from the dominion and slavery of sin, they are not delivered “altogether from the body of sin, and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in the world” (Head V, Article 1). Even as a saint he still has his old sinful nature, as old as Adam, and therein lies his great need for God’s preserving grace. Only by that grace can he persevere.
This preserving grace of God is revealed to us in many different ways. It is revealed already when God first teaches us our sins. This knowledge of sin, as the Canons point out furnishes us
. . with constant matter for humiliation before God, and flying for refuge to Christ crucified; and for mortifying the flesh more and more by the Spirit of prayer, and by holy exercises of piety; and for pressing forward to the goal of perfection, till at length delivered from this body of death, (we) are brought to reign with the Lamb of God in heaven. Head V, Article 2.
It was a holy horror of sin which caused Jabez to persevere in prayer, and through prayer to obtain from God the grace which was necessary to preserve him in his inheritance for ever (I Chron. 4:10).
That grace of God is also revealed when God gives us the means of grace, the preaching of the Gospel, and teaches us to use them (Cf. Canons V, Article 14). Having these means of grace we have the “whole armour of God” and are able to stand against all the wiles of Satan and all the fiery darts of the wicked (Eph. 6:11-18).
That grace is also revealed when we are in the midst of temptations and not just as we face them. In temptation we have the assurance that God is in sovereign control even of these things and that He in grace determines both the kind and the measure of temptation and always provides a way of escape in temptation as we are taught in I Corinthians 10:13. It is this sovereign determination of all the circumstances of temptation that also makes it impossible for us to blame God for our falls, even though it is He that sends temptation as we confess when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” How can we blame Him Who always provides a way of escape and Who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able?
Nor are the falls of God’s people into temptation to be blamed to the failure of God’s grace. Perseverance does not mean we are preserved from falls, but from “falling away.” Though God’s saints feel the chastening hand of God in their falls, they never lose their salvation for God always preserves in them the incorruptible seed of their new life and always restores them again. This is beautifully illustrated in the lives of Abraham, of Lot, of David, of Peter, and of many others of God’s saints both in the Old and New Testaments.
But the wonder of it is, that even in their falls God’s grace is working to keep them for their inheritance. By their backslidings they suffer grievously for
. . . they highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their consciences, and sometimes lose the sense of God’s favor for a time (as David confesses of himself in
). Canons V, Article 5.
But even these things God uses in wonderful and mysterious ways to restore them to the way of repentance and to teach them to be faithful and to persevere in a new and holy life. God chastises us with these whips that we may forevermore be partakers of His holiness in the new Jerusalem (Heb. 12:6-11). All things including our sins and falls work together for our good by God’s preserving grace and according to His eternal love.
What comfort to know that all our steps are “ordered by the Lord”—even when we wander. Then we have the assurance that though we fall, we shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord also then upholds us with His hand (Ps. 37:23, 24). Thus we sing:
In doubt and temptation I rest, Lord, in Thee;
My hand is in Thy hand, Thou carest for me;
My flesh and heart falter, but God is my stay,
The strength of my spirit, my portion for aye.
(Psalter #202, stanzas 1 and 2).