The Canons of Dordrecht, Part 2 – Exposition of the Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Article 12 (continued)

In the third place, we may notice once again that the Arminian employs the “big lie” technique in his attempt to discredit the truth. As is very plain from the language of the fathers in this article, this charge of the Arminians is nothing short of preposterous. Nothing could be farther from the truth than this allegation which they bring against the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance. And it seems that they almost felt that if they made their lie big enough and cunning enough, they might be able to overthrow the truth in the minds of some. For as the fathers indicate, this charge of the Arminians is the extreme and diametrical opposite of the truth: “This certainty of perseverance, however, is so jar from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety . . . .” 

Coming now to the contents of the article itself, we may begin by making a few general observations. 

In the first place, we may note that the issue does not concern “security” but, “carnal security.” This is important. The fathers certainly do not intend to deny that the certainty of perseverance renders believers secure. If it did not render them secure, then it would indeed be a very uncertain certainty. No, but the issue is whether or not this certainty of perseverance renders believers carnally secure. And there is a vast difference. The certainty of perseverance renders believers truly secure; to be carnally secure is to possess a false sense of security. The certainty of perseverance renders men piously secure; carnal security is a security in the ways of the flesh, a security in the way of sin and evil, a security that boasts of itself and in the meantime seeks the world, enjoys sin, and hates God’s precepts. And what our fathers flatly deny as being wholly out of the realm of possibility, while at the same time maintaining that the believer does indeed obtain a sense of genuine security, is that the certainty of perseverance renders one carnally secure, secure in his sin. Now someone may say that this lies in the nature of the case. And this is so. Nevertheless we may draw a practical warning from this obvious truth. It is this, namely, that we as Reformed believers should not be so panic-stricken by this argument of the Arminians that we abandon our Reformed position and deny after all that this certainty of perseverance renders us secure in any sense whatsoever. This is easily done. In the attempt to meet this argument one carves and chips away at the truth of the certainty of perseverance by way of compromising and conditionalizing in a so-called Reformed sense until that certainty is virtually destroyed and the security is done away. This is wrong. It is a surrender to Arminianism. And we should be on our guard against it. It is not the style of our Reformed fathers. They did not face this calumny of the Remonstrants by saying, “Well, now, there is some truth in this charge, and it is possible that one is rendered proud and carnally secure by this certainty of perseverance, and therefore we must be on our guard against such carnal security and give a little more emphasis to the responsibility of man, etc., etc.” No, they faced this charge and answered flatly: “It is far from the truth; the very opposite is true.” And we should follow their example. There is so little militancy for the cause of the Reformed faith today. When those who oppose the truth are met, we can be so ready to belittle and compromise and well-nigh hide our Reformed faith in its distinctive character, as though we were really ashamed of it. And how boldly we ought instead to stand in the faith and cast far from us the false and foul accusations that are hurled against the truth! 

In the second place, we ought to note that the fathers state a fact here, not a mere possibility. And this is of the utmost importance for the understanding of their answer to the Arminians’ accusation. They do not answer: “On the contrary, this certainty of perseverance ought to be the real source of humility, filial reverence, etc.” This would not be an answer to the accusation. It would still leave the door open for the possibility that what ought to be is in actual fact not the case. And therefore they answer: “This certainty of perseverance is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, etc.” In other words, there is an inherent, binding, unbreakable relationship between this certainty of perseverance and all these Christian virtues. Where the one is given, there the other is sure to be found. You will never find a believer who has the certainty of perseverance, but who is at the same time proud and carnally secure. And wherever you find one who enjoys the certainty of perseverance, you will inevitably find that this certainty functions in him as the source of humility and all the Christian virtues mentioned in this article. You will find in such a Christian the very opposite of pride and carnal security. 

In the third place, we may notice that the fathers speak of this certainty of perseverance as the real source of humility, etc. And this is correct, provided that we understand this to refer to the subjective spiritual source, of these virtues in the heart and life of the Christian. All these virtues are gifts of grace, of course. And from that point of view the real source of them is the grace and Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the article speaks of the internal, subjective spiritual source of these virtues. And that source within the believer is the certainty of perseverance. Or we may put it this way. The certainty of perseverance is a gift of grace wrought in the heart of the child of God. And that one gift of grace becomes at once the root of many gifts of grace which blossom forth from it under the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. . 

With these general observations in mind, we may give our attention to the specific elements mentioned here. 

The first fruit of this certainty of perseverance mentioned here is humility. It stands over against the “spirit of pride” which the Arminians claim is excited by such a certainty. Now such pride is absolutely impossible, and true humility is the necessary fruit of this certainty of perseverance for the simple reason that this certainty of perseverance is all of free and sovereign grace. Pride and boasting, whether over against God or the neighbor, must have some ground, or at least some apparent ground. But the believer, persevering and assured of his perseverance by grace only, has absolutely nothing to boast. Such a believer has learned to know himself as one who cannot possibly persevere of himself. He has learned to know his daily sins of infirmity and the spots that adhere to his best works. He has learned to know himself as one who sometimes sinfully deviates from the guidance of divine grace and is seduced by the lusts of the flesh. He has learned to know that by his enormous sins he highly offends God, incurs a deadly guilt, grieves the Holy Spirit. He has learned to know that in himself there is not the power to return to God and to repent of his daily sins and to seek and obtain remission of his sins even after he has once become a child of God. And on the other hand, he has tasted the power of divine grade that never lets him go completely. He has learned to know that God Who never wholly withdraws His Holy Spirit from His own people. He knows that God of all grace who preserves in him the incorruptible seed of regeneration and by His Word and Spirit effectually and certainly renews him to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow, to a seeking and obtaining of the remission of sins. All these blessings of grace he has tasted. And there has been quickened in him the firm assurance of perseverance. And in the midst of it all, he realizes and acknowledges that there was absolutely tie reason in him why he should be the object of so rich a grace and such abundant spiritual blessings. Where is boasting then? It is excluded! The believer knows this. And in true humility he falls on his knees before God, the God of his salvation, and confesses: “O my God! It is none of self, all of Thee!” of self, all of Thee!” 

No, not pride but humility is the fruit of this certainty of perseverance. And pride and carelessness are found, on the contrary, exactly with those who deny the doctrine of free grace. If anyone who claims to be a believer and to have the assurance of perseverance manifests the spirit of pride rather than humility, he shows thereby that his assurance does not rest on good grounds. 

In close connection with this virtue of humility stands the second fruit mentioned in this article, filial reverence or childlike fear. In the humble consciousness that it is all of God and none of self, the believer bows in humble dependence upon his heavenly Father; and, in the glad conscious consciousness that he is his Father’s possession, that same believer willingly acknowledges his, heavenly Father as the Lord of his life, Whose will, not in the fear of terror but in the fear of love and reverence, he delights to do. 

This, in turn, leads, in the third place, to true piety and godliness in the walk of those who have this certainty of perseverance. Because God is the God of their life, and knowing that they are the objects of His saving grace for the very purpose that they should show forth His praises in the midst of the world, they in principle have as the controlling question of their entire walk this: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” It is only in the way of this true piety that they can ever enjoy the assurance of perseverance. 

The article mentions, in the fourth place, the virtue of patience in every tribulation. Patience is that virtue according to which one endures to the end in spite of difficulty and in the midst of the battle. That patience is quickened by the certainty of perseverance not only because the end unto which we are patient is certain, but especially because we know and are assured that we shall attain to that glorious end. If the end is not certain, there is no incentive for patience. But if the end is certain, but we are not assured of reaching that end, then too there is no incentive for patience. But if we know that the blessed inheritance is there, reserved for us, and that we are preserved infallibly unto that inheritance, then we are able to confess: “The suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” 

Further, the article mentions the fruit of fervent prayers. Those who would deny this truth of the assurance of perseverance would seem to have reason, at first glance, to claim that such assurance would be detrimental to a life of prayer. But the contrary is true. It is not a state of doubt and uncertainty that fosters fervent prayer, but a state of assurance. For, in the first place, prayer must be characterized by confidence. What expectation of an answer to prayer can there be, except on the basis of this assurance of perseverance? How can I pray for preservation when I cannot even be certain that God can and will preserve me to the end? And, in the second place, that very assurance becomes the occasion and the incentive for the Christian to pray always and again for grace that he may persevere to the end, and that thus in the way of perseverance he may continue to enjoy this blessed assurance! 

(to be continued) 

H.C.H.