EXPOSITION OF THE CANONS
FIFTH HEAD OF DOCTRIN
OF THE PERSERVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Article 12 (continued)The sixth fruit of the assurance of perseverance mentioned in this article is “constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth.” It is evident, in the first place, that the article does not have in view suffering in general, or even suffering for Christ’s sake in general: for such suffering is really comprehended under the fruit of patience. But here we have to do with a suffering that is connected with confessing the truth. And the assurance of perseverance has the fruit that the believer is constant, steadfast, in the confession of the truth even when such confession involves suffering. Nothing can deter him from the truth. Even when he must suffer for the sake of the truth which he confesses, he remains steadfast and immovable. Nor is it difficult to see why this is the case. Those who do not believe that our salvation is all of grace and absolutely sure are easily moved to doubt. They can easily be tossed to and fro by various winds of doctrine. They have no firm foundation on which to take a stand. They readily listen to those who preach heresy. They do not stand fast in the faith, and therefore they have no devotion to the truth as it is in Jesus. But the true children of God, who live by the Word, see things differently. They understand that this confession, the confession of the truth of salvation by sovereign grace only, must never be forfeited. It is their all, their only hope. If they lose this, they lose their comfort. If they forsake this confession, they forfeit a most precious heritage. And therefore, however much this truth is opposed, and however much they must endure reproach and suffering for the sake of it, they remain steadfast in the confession of the truth and in suffering for its sake. Nor is this steadfastness a figment of the imagination. Surely, there were in the days of the struggle against the Remonstrants, and there still are today, those who depart from the truth. There are those who are moved from the firm foundation of the truth by the first blast of the wind of heresy. But why? It is because they have never learned to appreciate, never apprehended with a believing heart, the blessedness, the preciousness, the solid comfort of this truth. They have never really been gripped in the depth of their heart by the realization that “if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort, that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge or earnest of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.” Nay, if you would know why it was that faithful people of God persevered in the confession of the truth in the days of our fathers, why they were willing to gather for worship at the risk of goods and of life, why they defied injunctions prohibiting them to gather and hear the true preaching of the Word, then you must understand that this matter of the truth and of the heresies which arose in opposition to that truth was to them no academic question, no matter that did not move them in the very depths of their soul, but a matter that concerned their very comfort. At the root of their constancy lay something spiritual: the assurance and certainty of perseverance, the assurance that God would vindicate the cause of His own truth and of those who confess that truth even if apparently that cause must suffer defeat in the midst of the world.
Finally, the article mentions the fruit of “solid rejoicing in God.” This refers to a deep-seated spiritual awareness that all is well, and to the expression of that awareness in our speech and life. Notice, first of all, that it is joy in God. It is a theocentric joy. That must necessarily be the case: the assurance is wrought by God alone. Notice, secondly, that this rejoicing is characterized as “solid.” It is no passing and shallow emotion. It is not a joy which fades at the first glimmering of tribulation. It is a joy which flourishes and thrives even in the midst of tribulation. It is a rejoicing to which tribulation itself must be subservient. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 5: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
Hence, the article sums up the whole matter in the words: “so that the consideration of this benefit is an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works.” This refers, of course, not to any mechanical and merely intellectual “consideration of this benefit.” Such consideration could never be an incentive to gratitude and good works. It refers to the spontaneous consideration of this benefit by those who experience it in their hearts. And as we said in our correction of the translation, this is not simply a matter of moral obligation, of what the consideration of this benefit ought to do. But it is a matter of fact. It is an incentive. This doctrine, therefore, is not harmful to a life of gratitude; on the contrary, it fosters gratitude and good works. The spontaneous response of the Christian who has this hope in him is that it becomes his earnest purpose and striving to show thankfulness to God, Who has done such great things for him and in him, and to walk in all good works.
This, our fathers say, appears from the testimony of Scripture and from the examples of the saints. No Scriptural references are supplied in the article. But it is not difficult to find them. One of the most clear explanations of this relationship is found in the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, where the apostle meets and answers the objection that the doctrine of justification by faith makes men careless and profane. A passage like I John 3:2-3 presents this same relationship very briefly and succinctly: “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Without going into detail as to the whole text, let us notice that the apostle here presents the relation between hope and sanctification as a fact, not merely as an obligation. He does not say that he that hath this hope in him ought to purify himself. That is also true, and the Scriptures many times speak of this calling of the people of God. Moreover, this admonition to sanctification follows from and is based upon the necessary connection between hope and sanctification. Nevertheless, in this passage from John we have no admonition, but the plain statement of fact: “He that hath this hope in him does purify himself, even as he is pure.” There is no question about it therefore. He that hath this hope in him purifies himself. He that hath not this hope in him does not purify himself. Hope and a careless and profane life never go together, no more than a good tree can bring forth corrupt fruit. Hope and sanctification, hope and gratitude, hope and good works, —these are ever found together. The former is the incentive to the latter; and the latter is the sphere in which the former flourishes.
And this is confirmed by the examples of the saints. Mention any of the saints who are examples of assurance. Take, for example, the apostle Paul. Surely, he was the very personification of assurance. What was the case with him? Was he careless and profane? Did the consideration of the certainty of perseverance excite in him a spirit of pride and render him carnally secure? By no means. There was no one who sought more earnestly after perfection and who alone insistently strove to walk in all good works. Persecution and suffering, — and he surely knew by experience what these were,—were no deterrent to him. Even when the saints themselves tried to keep him back from certain bonds and imprisonment, he insisted on going on to Jerusalem, saying: “For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13. When he was a prisoner at Rome and still full of assurance, so that he was confident that death would be gain for him, he could still rejoice that Christ is preached and that even his bonds served the purpose of the furtherance of the gospel, and he could confess: “To me to live is Christ.” Philippians 1:12-21. He who taught that it is God that worketh in us to will and to do on behalf of His good pleasure, admonished, upon the very basis of that truth: “Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling.” He who could triumphantly shout, “if God be for us, who can be against us?” could also say: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:13, Philippians 3:13-14.
And so, in the light of Scripture, the matter is settled. This charge of the Remonstrants is pure fiction, a product of sinful reason. The truth is the very opposite: the consideration of this benefit of the assurance of perseverance is an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works.
Article 13. Neither does renewed confidence of persevering produce licentiousness, or a disregard to piety in those who are recovering from backsliding; but it renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord, which he hath ordained, that they who walk therein may maintain an assurance of persevering, lest by abusing his fatherly kindness, God should turn away his gracious countenance from them, to behold which is to the godly dearer than life: the withdrawing whereof is more bitter than death, and they in consequence hereof should fall into more grievous torments of conscience.
The above translation, though essentially correct, can be corrected in a few instances. In the first place, it fails to give the proper emphasis in connection with the preceding article. The article actually begins as follows: “Neither even in those who are restored from a fall (or: from backsliding) does the renewal of the confidence of perseverance produce . . . . ” In other words, this article deals with a further instance of what is first brought up in Article 12. It deals with an extreme instance of the carelessness and profanity which the Arminians claimed was the fruit of the assurance of perseverance. They claimed that such carelessness would surely be the result in those who fall and are restored. And the article answers this charge: “Neither even in them. . ” This should be brought out in the translation. For the rest we have the following corrections: 1) “disregard” is not a proper translation of injuriam.This should be “harm” or “injury.” 2) The second clause should be: “but produces a much greater care for diligently (solicitously) keeping the ways of the Lord, which he hath prepared, that by walking therein they may retain the assurance of perseverance. 3) The next clause should be: “lest because of abuse of his fatherly kindness the face of the propitious (favorable, gracious) God (of which the contemplation is to the pious sweeter than life, and the hiding of which is more bitter than death) should be turned away from them anew, and thus they fall into more grievous torment of soul.
(to be continued)