In our preceding article on the subject of Preservation and Perseverance, we called attention to the fact that these truths are confessional. As one might expect, the preservation and perseverance of the saints are set forth particularly in the fifth head of our Canons, although we also read of them in Heads III and IV of these Canons. However, also the Scriptures, of course, emphasize the certainty of the everlasting salvation of the church of God. We say “of course” because these Canons, we know, are based upon the Word of God.
On the one hand, the truth of the preservation of the people of God is clearly set forth in the Word of God. We read in I Corinthians 1:8-9: “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by Whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here the preservation or confirmation of the saints is based upon the truth that God is faithful. In Philippians 1:6 we read the familiar passage: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We do not read here that the Lord will perform this good work at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (this, of course, is also truth), but that He will perform and complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. And this refers to the completion of this work from the moment of its beginning or inception until the day of Jesus Christ. Never does the Lord leave His own. The same truth is clearly held before us in I Thessalonians 5:23: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In I Peter 1:4, 5 we read the beautiful passage: “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” We do well to bear in mind that this passage is addressed to the people of God who are pilgrims and strangers in the midst of the world, whose position in the midst of the world is therefore a humanly impossible position; as such pilgrims and strangers they can never of themselves attain unto this everlasting inheritance. And notice that two truths are held before us in this Word of God: the inheritance itself is preserved and is ready to be revealed at the last time, and we, too, are kept and preserved unto that eternal salvation. And the last passage which we would quote is John 14:16: “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever.” Indeed, we are also reminded, may ,I add, and I would say, of course, of that wonderful passage in Romans 8:35-39, where we read that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and that in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
On the other hand, of course, the truth of the perseverance of the people of God is also set forth very clearly in the Word of God. We must endure unto the end. We read in Matthew 24:13: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” InRomans 2:7-8 the apostle writes: “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.” Indeed, eternal life is promised to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality. In this we must continue and persevere. In Hebrews 3:14 and Hebrews 6:11 we read: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end. . . . And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” InRevelation 2:10, 26 the exalted Christ writes unto His church: “Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. . . . And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.” And we conclude by quoting Revelation 3:11: “Behold, I come quickly’ hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
Preservation and perseverance—both truths are clearly taught in the Word of God. Preservation, as is indicated by the word, refers to the work of God upon us, God’s work in which we are wholly passive. Mind you, it is not that preservation is God’s work whereas perseverance is our work, a work of man. Preservation, however, is the work of God upon us in which we are passive, whereas perseverance is the work of God in us in which we are active. We are preserved, kept, according to the apostle Peter, by the power of God until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What, now is the Scriptural truth of Perseverance? We ask, first of all, what is not meant by it? When we ask the question what this perseverance of the saints is all about, we do well to understand that to persevere unto the end surely does not mean that we assume the offensive in the sense that we conquer the world for Christ. To overcome and keep the works of Christ unto the end (Rev. 2:26) does not mean that we work for Jesus, persist therein, win the world for Jesus, transform the kingdom of the devil and of darkness into a kingdom of light and of God’s dear Son, cleanse the world of all debauchery and crime and filth and shame, of all corruption and immorality, and thereby extend the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ so that it will cover the face of the earth and embrace every living mortal that dwells upon the face of this earth. How could this be possible? O, it may sound attractive and appealing to do great things for Jesus, to win the world for Him, but this is surely not the calling of the cause of the living God and of His Son. Indeed, to persevere does not mean that we untiringly work for the peace of this world and strive unto the end that all swords may be beaten into plowshares and all spears into pruning hooks, and that the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus may cover the face of this present earth as the waters cover the face of the sea. How often we hear this in our present day and age! Man likes to hear this. It flatters him to be told that he can do big things for Jesus, transform this world of crime and shame and filth into a kingdom of God and of His Christ! Of course, this transformation, as performed by the natural man, will never be a spiritual transformation. It will remove only the results of sin but never sin itself. Such is surely not our calling, either as a church or as individuals, as people of God. Our calling is never synthetic; it is always antithetic. We are not called to transform the kingdom of the devil and of darkness, but to be of the party of the living God, and to testify against it. When they who are in high places, who occupy responsible positions in government speak of delivering this world from crime and corruption, is it not noteworthy that crime and corruption continue in these high places? Our calling is not to cleanse and purify the garments of all others, but to keep our own clean and unspotted in the midst of this world. We must shine as lights in the midst of darkness, speak of the truth over against the lie, put on the whole armour of God and never imagine for a solitary moment that the time will ever come when such preparedness will no longer be necessary in the midst of this world.
What, then, is this perseverance of the people of God? Is it not striking that a modern dictionary defines Perseverance as: “In the Calvinistic system of theology, the continuance in grace and certain salvation of those whom God effectually calls, accepts in Christ, and sanctifies by His Spirit”? Indeed, this perseverance means that we in grace and in the certain salvation of those whom God effectually calls, irresistibly, and, we would say, receives in Christ, receiving all those who by His grace come unto Him, in Christ Jesus. To be sure, we may and must be on the offensive. We must take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We must fight, indeed, as conquerors; only, our offensive is not that we conquer the world for Christ, but that we stand in the victory of the Captain of our salvation, and untiringly proclaim that we are conquerors, and that the day will dawn when we shall be revealed as such in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, as far as our position in this world is concerned, we are purely on the defensive, and we must persevere in the sense that we hold fast that which we have, as we also read it in Revelation 3:11.
In this holding fast we must persevere. No man must take our crown. The Greek has two words for crown. The one word is the symbol of royal dominion (the crown of a king), and the other word is a symbol of victory. This crown refers to a laurel wreath, a prize which is given the winning contestant at the end of a race. And, as far as the content or meaning of this crown is concerned, it refers to everlasting life, the life in heavenly immortality, eternal fellowship with God in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Paradise, the house of our Father with its many mansions, heavenly life and glory. No man, now, must take our crown. O, this does not mean that the wicked desire it, seek it for themselves; they surely do not want this crown of everlasting life and glory. They are not interested in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. But they would take the crown from us; they do not want us to have it; they would deprive us of that eternal life and glory.
Unto that end we must hold fast that which we have. What we must hold fast is clearly set forth in the Word of God, even as we read it in Revelation 3:8: “And thou hast kept My word and hast not denied My Name.” Indeed, life and doctrine are inseparably connected. They can never be divorced from each other. On the one hand, we must maintain and proclaim the truth; on the other hand, we must surely practice it and walk accordingly. Our doctrine determines our walk of life; our life is the seal and crown upon our doctrine. The one affects the other: if I love God I will love His Word and maintain it. Hating God I will also hate His truth, distort and corrupt it. On the other hand, if I maintain not the truth I will be as a sailor without a compass, as a traveler without a guide. On the other hand, I must also seal the truth with a godly walk, practice it, and walk in all the commandments of the Lord. This is our calling: hold fast that which we have, doctrine and life. We must cling tenaciously to the truth, revealed in Christ Jesus, revealed in His Word, and as maintained by our Protestant Reformed Churches as the perfect doctrine of salvation. We do not proclaim and teach anything new; we have continued in the old paths, except that we have developed them. May the Lord give us His grace to continue in these old paths, and do this particularly with the children whom God has given us and continues to give us. This is our calling. How important it is that we maintain this calling, adhere to the infallible Scripture as the only lamp before our feet and light upon our path, especially because of the many departures from these Scriptures in our present day and age, making it increasingly difficult to maintain the truth of Holy Writ, as they center in Christ Jesus, our Lord, God’s only begotten Son, Jehovah’s revelation in Him as the only God of our salvation.