EXPOSITION OF THE CANONS
FIFTH HEAD OF DOCTRINE
OF THE PERSERVERANCE OF
As we remarked earlier, the fathers in this article clash head-on with the Arminian error, and that too, in regard to the most fundamental aspect of the truth of perseverance and the Arminian denial of the same. They turn immediately to the question of cause and source. Is perseverance an effect (fruit) of election, or not? Is perseverance a gift of God, or is it the work of man alone? Is this perseverance gained by the death of Christ, or is it obtained by man through the fulfillment of a condition? These questions, you understand, go to the very heart of the matter. And this is to be expected. After all, the basic Arminian error was the denial of sovereign election. And since all the blessings of salvation flow forth from election as their cause and fountain, the Arminians are compelled in their denial of election to do violence to the relation between those blessings of salvation and election. They must at each stage deny the proper relation. They must reverse it. Thus it is here with regard to the perseverance of the saints: the Arminian denial of sovereign election leads inevitably to a reversal of the relationship between election and perseverance, and this leads in turn to a denial of the certain perseverance of the saints.
Let us notice the various elements in the Arminian error here rejected. The negative side of that error, first of all, contains three elements. The Arminians deny that the perseverance of the true believers is an effect (fruit) of election. Secondly, they deny that the perseverance of the true believers is a gift of God. And thirdly, they deny that the perseverance of the true believers is gained by the death of Christ. These three elements in themselves are quite clear, and they need no further elucidation. We may observe, however, that they stand closely related. If you deny that perseverance is an effect of election, you must needs deny that it is a gift of God and that it is gained by the death of Christ. The solid ground of the truth that salvation, including the blessing of perseverance, is a gift, a matter of grace, merited by the death of Christ, is always the truth of sovereign election. Deny the latter, and you are shut up to the view that salvation is a matter of works and of human achievement. This we ought always to remember. Arminianism no matter how nicely it is garbed, no matter in what Scriptural terminology it is clothed, no matter how it may mouth such terms as “election” and “gift” and “grace” and “atonement” and “the death of Christ,” is an essential denial of free salvation.
As to the positive error that is rejected here, we should observe that the Arminians employ the usual complicated language to cover up their error. First of all, they speak of perseverance as a condition of the new covenant â€• a covenant that is essentially a covenant of works, not of grace. It is in this way that they succeed in denying that perseverance is a gift of God that is gained by the death of Christ, while at the same time they continue to speak of the death of Christ. We must remember what they taught concerning the death of Christ. Its purpose (Canons II, B, 2) was not that he should confirm the new covenant of grace through his blood, but only that he should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as he might please, whether of grace or of works. In the second place, they taught, according to Canons II, B, 3, that Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated, but only that he merited for the Father the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that ,it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. We may note here that in connection with perseverance this article means too that a man might for a while fulfill these new conditions of a new covenant and then cease fulfilling them, or he might continue to fulfill them to the very end, â€•all depending on his own free will. Thirdly, according to Canons II, B, 4, the new covenant of grace which God the Father, through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist, that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law. And here again, the Arminian multiplies conditions. Not only faith and the imperfect obedience of faith are conditions of salvation, but also perseverance in the faith and in the imperfect obedience of faith is a condition unto salvation. One might fulfill the condition of faith for a while, and thus also have salvation for a while; but he must also persevere in the faith to the end, or else he loses the salvation which once he possessed. And once again, this perseverance is a condition, not a benefit of the death of Christ.
All this, in turn, stands in close connection with the Arminian view of perseverance and election. Before man is decisively justified (and therefore saved), and before man is decisively elected, he must of his own free will meet the condition of persevering to the end. This decisive justification and election comes, therefore, at the moment of his death. Up to that time the possibility exists that he will through negligence forsake again the first beginnings of his life in Christ, return again to this present evil world, turn away from the holy doctrine delivered him, lose a good conscience, and become devoid of grace. (Remonstrance, Art. V.) But let us notice in this connection that the fathers call our attention to the complicated Arminian view of election by which they always attempted to deceive people. The Arminians could never get away from the fact that in Scripture the idea of absolute certainty and decisiveness, finality, is always associated with the idea of election. Hence, in their presentation they somehow had to leave this same impression of certainty and finality. And at the same time they had to keep the notion of conditionality and uncertainty. Hence, as we learn from Canons I, they devised a clever and complicated way of doing this, to which the fathers refer when they say: “which man before his decisive election and justification (as they speak) must fulfill through his free will.” Instead of teaching that election, the only election that there is, is decisive, they speak of a decisive election. But that was only one kind of election; there is also an indecisive election. This is their error in Canons I, B, 1 already: “The will of God to save those who would believe and would persevere in faith (italics supplied, H.C.H.) and in the obedience of faith, is the whole and entire decree of election into salvation.” To maintain this they had to come to the view condemned inCanons I, B, 2 : “That there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute.
Likewise: that there is one election unto faith, and another unto salvation, so that election can be unto justifying faith, without being a decisive election unto salvation.” This is further explained in Canons I, B, 5. It is here that you find the error that occurs again and is condemned in the article under discussion. On the one hand, the Arminians taught that the incomplete and non-decisive election of particular persons to salvation occurred because of a foreseen faith, conversion, holiness, godliness, which either began or continued for some time.” This, of course, was an election that was revocable and that could and would be recalled as soon as one’s faith and conversion ceased in God’s foresight. One who was elect in this sense could at any moment become non-elect, or reprobate. But was there also a complete and decisive election in any sense? Yes, but that point of decisiveness was never reached until one had actually persevered unto the end. And if God foresaw that one would persevere to the very end, then he elected one in the decisive and absolute sense of the word. This is the election which the Arminians denoted as “complete, irrevocable, decisive, and absolute.” But notice that even the Arminians in I, B, 2 do not call that an unconditionalelection. Why not? Because at that point of decision it would be folly to speak of any conditions or lack of conditions any more. The point of decisiveness is the point when one has persevered unto the end. It is the end, namely, death. Then at last the decision falls. Besides, this so-called decisive election is itself conditional, that is, it is preceded by the condition of perseverance. Hence, as I, B, 5 has it: “The complete and decisive election occurred because of foreseen perseverance unto the end in faith, conversion, holiness and godliness.” Here you have exactly the same error as in V, B, 1, only treated from the viewpoint of election. That this is true is plain from the rest of I, B, 5: “and that this is the gracious and evangelical worthiness, for the sake of which he who is chosen, is more worthy than he who is not chosen; and that therefore faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election unto glory, but are conditionswhich, being required beforehand, were foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected, and are causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur.” Such is the Arminian position. They follow a very circuitous path. But it all comes down to the very opposite of the Reformed position. The Arminian says: perseverance is the cause, and the unchangeable election unto glory is the effect. The truth is : perseverance is the effect, and the unchangeable election unto glory is the cause that produces that effect. The Arminian says: perseverance is a condition, required beforehand and foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected. The truth is: perseverance is a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, for those who have been elected unto glory and given to Christ. The compromise of these diametrical opposites is impossible!
For the Scriptures are the court of appeal in this matter, and they are clear. Election is always the starting-point in them. Thus it is in Romans 11:7, the first text cited: “The elect obtained it, and the rest were hardened.” Detailed exegesis here is not necessary. Suffice it to say: 1) That the apostle is speaking here of perseverance, of the obtaining of the promise and of righteousness. 2) This obtaining of the promise and of justification is ascribed to election. 3) The Arminian would have to change this around and say: those that obtained it, that is, those who persevered unto the end, will be fully elected. And the passage from Romans 8 is equally clear. Concerning it we remark: 1) That its main thought is: no one shall separate us from the love of Christ. 2) This is attributed not to the believer himself, but to Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension and sitting at the right hand of God. 3) That also here the final cause is election: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” And it requires the grossest kind of opposition to the Scriptures to read anything else than this simple truth in the passages mentioned.