The Canons of Dordrecht, Part Two, Exposition of the Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Article 10 (continued)

The first element in this personal assurance of perseverance is presented in Article 10 as follows: “This assurance . . . springs from faith in God’s promises, which he has most abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort.” We may immediately notice three aspects of this proposition. In the first place, our assurance has its source in the promises of God. This is the key to all assurance. We noted previously that if the child of God is to have assurance, he must have God’s own Word to him personally, telling him that he is His child, assuring him that he is a true and living member of the church of Christ, and giving him the certainty that he shall forever remain such a member of Christ’s church. Our assurance must proceed from God, not from ourselves. This is not at all to say that this assurance is not within us; it certainly is. But that assurance in us does not have its source in us. Our assurance of sonship, and thus of heirship, cannot have its ground in us as sons, but must necessarily come from God as our Father. Suppose that we would say on some subjective ground or other that we are children of God, that we are heirs of God, but that we would never hear a single word from the mouth of our Father in heaven telling us that He owns us as His sons and heirs. What would that subjective assurance be worth as long as God did not acknowledge us as His children? It would be worthless. Assurance cannot proceed from the children in relation to the Father, but must proceed from the Father in relation to the children. And therefore the key element is the promises of God. All the promises of God, comprehended in the one promise, the sworn oath of God that He will lead all His elect in Christ to glory through the means of faith, form the ground of that assurance. Those promises are variously stated from various points of view, and they designate the children of God by various spiritual names. But they all express the one promise of God, His oath that He will lead the heirs of the promise, His beloved elect in Christ Jesus, unto everlasting life and glory. 

Secondly, there is the element in this first proposition of the Word: The promises of God are most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort. This is of the utmost importance. We have already called attention to this from a negative point of view when we explained the position of false mysticism which is rejected in Article 10. The only knowledge of the promises of God that is available is in the Word of the Scriptures. Apart from them there is no promise of God. God does riot speak directly from heaven. The Word made flesh no more sojourns among us. No longer does God reveal His Word, revealed through prophets and apostles, in the Holy Scriptures. From those Scriptures, which are beginning to end the Word of God without error, unmixed with any word of man, and from them alone, is the knowledge of the promises of God derived. Without that Word of God our knowledge of God’s promises and our assurance can have no content. Hence, we must have the Word of God. In that Word God reveals Himself as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus. In that Word God reveals all the riches of the everlasting inheritance. In that Word God makes known who the heirs of the promise are. In that Word God gives His own divine guarantee that neither the inheritance nor the heirs of that inheritance shall ever perish. That is at once the practical, spiritual reason why the maintenance of the pure preaching of the Word is of such crucial importance. Adulterate that Word, and to whatever degree you adulterate it you necessarily deprive the children of God of the promises of God. Deny that Word, or replace it with the world of man completely, and the church has no more contact with the promises of God. And then assurance becomes impossible. For remember too that according to our Reformed faith, it is not merely the Bible, but it is the Word preached that is necessary for the assurance of faith. From this it also follows that a diligent use of the means of grace is necessary for a lively assurance. All other things being equal, that Christian who lives closest to the Word of God and makes faithful use of the means of grace, diligently attending to the preaching of the Word, will have the strongest assurance.

Thirdly, we find the element here of faith. This assurance springs from faith in the promises of God, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort. By faith I must appropriate the promises of God personally, A mere hearing of the Word of God’s promise, and a mere intellectual knowledge of His promises, derived from His Word is not sufficient. In the first place, I must hold that Word of God to be true and reliable. But in the second place, I must receive that Word of God, which after all reveals His promises objectively, without mentioning me by my natural name,—I must receive that Word of God as directed to me. There must be such an act of heart and mind and will, receiving the promises of God, that results in a testimony of and in my spirit, “I am a child of God. I am an heir of His promises. I am and forever shall remain a living member of His church.” That is assurance. 

This brings us to the second proposition of this article: “This assurance springs from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God.” This language is taken from Romans 8:16, 17: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” 

After all the question still remains: whence is this faith testimony of our spirit that we are the children and heirs of God? It is at this juncture that we must be very careful to preserve our Reformed heritage. That faith, as a conscious act of the child of God, is a reality in the soul of the saint no one cares to deny. And also that faith is absolutely necessary, that without it there is no assurance, is also in the very nature of the case. But that faith is the condition of assurance on our part, that this faith has its origin in us, that this testimony of our spirit that we are children of God originates in our spirit, either as to its power or its activity, is utterly foreign to Reformed thought. It militates against the very genius of the Reformed faith. And that idea makes all assurance essentially impossible. The moment that this assurance becomes in any sense and in the least degree the work of man, at that moment it is no more assurance. Assurance, if it is to be stable and sure, must be solely the work of God, independent of and unadulterated by any element of the work of man. But how, then, is it attained? Whence is that testimony of my own spirit that I am a child of God and an heir? How do I become personally certain that the promises of God, including all the promises of a sure inheritance and a certain obtaining of that inheritance, are for me personally? The Scriptures themselves are not sufficient. Their testimony is purely objective. They do not mention me by my natural name. They only reveal that God has chosen a people, that He adopts children, that He sealed that adoption in the blood of Jesus Christ, and that He has in store for all His children an everlasting inheritance of glory. They only reveal the identity of God’s children from a spiritual viewpoint. They are the believers, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners, the merciful, the pure in heart, the laboring and heavy laden, those who love God, those who keep His commandments, etc., etc. That is all objective: In itself that can never lead to the personal assurance of my being a child and heir. What then? Does God leave it to me to fill the position of sonship, offer me the opportunity of being a son? That would be hopeless. For as a natural child of the devil I could not and would not accept such an offer. Of myself I will always despise any assurance from Him. Does God perhaps ask us to let His Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that His Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, may then give us assurance? Then assurance is still dependent on us; and as long as that is the case, the door of our heart will be forever closed to the Holy Spirit. No, the answer of the Scriptures given by our Canons is that the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are children and heirs. The Holy Spirit so operates and applies the Word of God, His own Word, inspired by Him, to our hearts that we have the personal assurance of being children and heirs of God. Thus, and thus alone, do I have assurance that is firm and sure, based upon God’s own Word to me personally. Let us sum it up briefly. There is, in the first place, the speech of God objectively in His Word, the Word of the Scriptures that are inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of our adoption. There is, in the second place, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, with our spirit. He takes that objective revelation of God’s promises in the Scriptures, and applies it effectually and irresistibly,—for He is God!—to our hearts. And there is, in the third place, the resultant faith-testimony of our own spirit, “I am a child and heir of God.” 

One more element this article mentions, equally important: “This assurance springs, lastly, from a serious and holy exercise of a good conscience and of good works.” Once more we must be careful not to sail in Arminian waters in this connection. The question is: what is the relation between this last element and the preceding two? Does the work of man begin at this stage? Is the exercise of a good conscience and of good works,—briefly, sanctification,—the condition of the Spirit’s testimony? Granted: there is no assurance for him who does not exercise a good conscience and good works. Granted: there is no testimony of the Spirit that we are children and heirs for him who walks in the way of the ungodly and continues in sin. But the question is: why? And the very root answer is: because the Spirit of adoption is the Holy Spirit. And indeed that means that He operates to assure the people of God only in the sphere of holiness, in the light, not in the darkness. But it means more. He is the author of the light and of holiness. He is the author of holiness also in the heart and life of the elect. He takes the blessings of salvation in Christ and applies them to the elect. He takes the righteousness of Christ, the holiness of Christ, the adoption that is accomplished in Christ’s blood and resurrection, and applies them to God’s elect. He not only gives assurance of adoption, but He realizes our adoption and makes us actual children of God. His work is such that its inevitable fruit is the production of-a sanctified and holy child of God, a saint. And now His work and His testimony, His sanctification and His assurance, cannot be separated. He does not assure children of the devil, who are and remain children of the devil, that they are children of God. But He changes children of the devil into children of the living God, and to those children of the living God, and to them only, He gives the assurance that they are God’s children and heirs. Hence, it is not because sanctification is the condition of assurance, but because sanctification is the inevitable fruit of the operation of the Spirit of adoption, that assurance springs from an earnest and holy exercise of a good conscience and of good works. The child of God who by faith clears his conscience of the accusation of guilt by fleeing to God for forgiveness, the child of God who fights against and forsakes sin and has an earnest desire to walk in all good works,—that child of God, under the preaching of the promise and by the testimony of the Holy Spirit with his spirit, has the assurance of certain perseverance. 

Hence, it is the old and ever wonderful gospel: all of God, nothing of us. Soli Deo gloria! 

—H.C.H.