EXPOSITION OF THE CANONS
FIFTH HEAD OF DOCTRINE
OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
REJECTION OF ERRORS
Article 3. Who teach: That the true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever. For this conception makes powerless the grace, justification, regeneration, and continued keeping by Christ, contrary to the expressed words of the Apostle Paul: “That while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, being justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him,”
And contrary to the Apostle John: “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God,”
And also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who hath given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
We offer the following corrections of the translation: 1) “to the end” might better be rendered simply by “finally.” 2) “from this” should be “from these,” referring to justifying faith, grace, and salvation. 3) “powerless” is correct if taken in the specific sense of “ineffectual” or “void.” 4) In the second sentence of this article, “grace, justification, regeneration,” should be “the grace of justification and of regeneration.” 5) The texts quoted should be given consistently as they are found in the Authorized Version.
In this citation of error it is evident that the Arminians went far beyond the position taken originally in the fifth article of the Remonstrance. There, you will remember, they had not dared to do more than to call the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints in question. They had said that the matter of falling away from grace “must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.” And in that fifth article they had even rather piously quoted one of the passages which the fathers in the article we are discussing employ against them, namely, John 10:28. Here, however, the Arminians are quoted by the fathers as going to the extreme of a complete denial of the truth of the perseverance of the saints. They teach both thepossibility of a final falling away and the frequentactuality of such a fall from justifying faith and grace and salvation into everlasting perdition. This is indeed a terrible doctrine.
Notice, first of all, that they speak of “the true believers and regenerate.” The subject, therefore, is not merely those who appear to be saints outwardly. We are not discussing those of whom the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us.” But the subject is the true saints, those who really believe and who are regenerate, that is, who have the new and heavenly life of Christ in them. Concerning these the Arminians teach, in the first place, that it is possible for them to lose their justifying faith, and thus to fall from grace and salvation, something, of course, which follows inevitably upon the loss of justifying faith. If one loses justifying faith, he loses the blessing of justification. And justification is basic. In our justification we have the right before God to all the blessings of grace and salvation; without our justification we have the right to none of them, but only to condemnation and wrath. And to make the matter perfectly plain, the Arminians add: “wholly and finally.” Hence, they mean that it is possible for the saint to lose the justifying faith, and therefore also grace and salvation, in such a way that he has nothing left. Not even the power and the principle of that faith is left. It has disappeared completely, so that the saint has reverted to the status of an unsaved, natural man. Moreover, the Arminians are not speaking of a temporary fall from grace â€• something which would be folly anyway when they speak of a complete fall â€•but, to make it clear beyond a question, they speak of a final falling away. In the second place, the Arminians make bold to state concerning these true believers and regenerate that they not only can, but indeed often do fall from justifying faith, grace, and salvation, and are lost forever. Mark you well, the spiritual effect of this terrible doctrine is that not a single believer is safe. All face not only the possibility of falling away, but also the imminent danger of actually being lost forever. According to this view it could very well have come to pass that not a single soul would ever reach everlasting glory and that Christ would occupy heaven without His saints.
It is worth our while in this connection to take note of some of the favorite arguments of the Arminians on this score. Even though these arguments are not mentioned in this article, we should nevertheless be acquainted with them. Forewarned is fore-armed. Hence, while we do not intend to explain all these passages, we will call your attention to them. First of all, the Arminians teach that all those passages which exhort God’s people to persevere imply that the falling away of the saints is really possible. To mention a few examples, they point out that Christ says that only they shall be saved that endure unto the end, Matt. 24:13. Or they cite a passage like Hebrews 4:11, where we are admonished to labor to enter into the rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. Or they point to the numerous admonitions to the seven churches in the book of Revelation which are also accompanied by threats â€•for example, the word to the church of Sardis: “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” Or that to the church of Philadelphia: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” In the second place, the Arminians appeal to Scripture passages which, in their opinion, teach the possibility of a final falling away. They mention the passage in Romans 11 where the apostle Paul speaks of the branches that are cut off on account of unbelief and where he warns believers not to be highminded but to fear. They cite the well-known passage of Hebrews 6:4-8, where the author speaks of the impossibility of renewing unto repentance those who fall away, who crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh. And there are other such passages. And finally, they also claim that there are actual examples of those who fall away. They cite I Tim. 1:19-20: “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” They also mention those who erred concerning the truth of the resurrection, II Tim. 2:17-18, namely, Hymenaeus and Philetus. Or they mention the false teachers of II Peter 2, who denied the Lord that bought them, and who, after they escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, are again entangled in those same pollutions and are overcome. All these are supposed to be examples of men who had really been believers and regenerate and who lost the justifying faith, grace, and salvation through their own apostasy, so that they went lost forever.
As we said, it is not our intention to treat these various so-called Scriptural arguments of the Arminians in detail. That is beyond the scope of this discussion of the Canons. For the fathers do not deal in this connection with the Arminians’ arguments, but with their doctrine. The arguments were fully treated during the course of the Synod’s investigation into the Arminians’ writings. And therefore our fathers, following the sound rule that the Scriptures do not contradict themselves, present the current teaching of Scripture on this subject, citing various passages, and implying, of course, that the various texts quoted by the Arminians must be interpreted only in the light of that current teaching of Scripture.
First, however, they very briefly expose the error of the Arminians: “For this conception makes powerless the grace, justification, regeneration, and continued keeping by Christ.” This is a noteworthy answer.
In the first place, notice that the fathers do not only speak of the work of preservation as such, but also of the grace of justification and regeneration. This is due undoubtedly to the fact that the Arminians themselves speak of the “true believers and regenerate” and of falling from “justifying faith.” But this draws our attention to the fact that these matters are indeed at stake in any discussion of the doctrine of perseverance. It is true that one may speak in the narrower sense of perseverance as that work of God in Christ whereby He keeps His elect unto the final salvation and glory. But this perseverance is never to be separated from the other blessings of salvation. It means that they continue as regenerated, believing, justified, sanctified children of God unto the end, and that God preserves them in these various aspects of grace. He keeps His regenerated child, so that he never loses the new life. He preserves the believer, so that he never loses the faith. He keeps the justified Christian, so that he does not fall out of the state of justification. He preserves the sanctified Christian, so that he continues in the grace of sanctification. Once regenerated is always regenerated; once a believer is always a believer; once justified is forever justified; .once sanctified is forever sanctified. Hence, you cannot touch the truth of preservation without touching at the same time all these blessings of salvation in which the saints continue through divine preservation. Hence, the fathers were correct in pointing out that when the Arminians say that true believers and regenerate can and do fall away wholly and finally from justifying faith and salvation, they are making ineffectual not only Christ’s continued keeping of His saints but also the grace of regeneration and justification.
In the second place, notice that the fathers accuse the Arminians of making the grace of justification and regeneration and the continued keeping by Christpowerless â€• literally, ineffectual, or vain. In other words, according to the Arminians, these works of grace are no guarantee whatsoever of man’s final salvation. It can and does come to pass that a man is justified and regenerated and even kept by Christ but that he nevertheless goes lost forever. All that justification and regeneration and keeping by Christ in that case is vain, of none effect, and went completely for nought. We said “in that case.” But the fathers correctly make a general statement: this conception makes vain the grace of justification and regeneration and the continued keeping by Christ. For if it be true in one single instance that a regenerated and justified Christian goes lost forever, then these works of grace are never effectual. It is the old Arminian error over again: not the work of God, but the work of man is effectual. All depends on man’s free will.
And that leads us to our third remark in this connection, namely, that the fathers exactly take us back to the fact that this Arminian error says something about the work of God. Regeneration and justification and Christ’s continued keeping are works of grace, works of God. If you make them ineffectual you make God’s work ineffectual. And this is the accusation the fathers bring against the Arminians: by your conception you make God’s work, not man’s work, ineffectual. To be sure, that is a severe accusation. But we must allow it to stand in all its severity. The Arminian doctrine is a God-dishonoring doctrine. And if for no other reason than this, we must oppose it with all our might. (to be continued)
H. C. H.