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

The question faced in this tenth article is: in what way, how, do the saints have and enjoy this rich and precious assurance of their perseverance, without which they would be in the midst of the world of all men the most miserable? 

And before we enter into detail as to the way of assurance, we may well take note of the fact that this article, as we observed last time in correcting the translation, stands logically related to the truth expressed in Article 9. The article does not begin with “however,” but with “hence” or “accordingly.” This is of fundamental importance. To ignore the close relationship between these two articles certainly would put us on the wrong track as far as the way pf assurance is concerned. Way and end are inseparably connected. This is axiomatic, to be sure; but nevertheless it is of the utmost importance that we keep that axiom in mind. Article 9 teaches us that believers are able to be certain and are certain of their perseverance according to the measure of faith. Faith is assurance. Hence, accordingly, (Article 10) the way of the assurance of perseverance must be entirely in harmony with the character of faith. And bearing in mind that we speak here of faith from the viewpoint of its activity and well-being, we may reduce the question of Article 10 to this: whence does faith in its activity and well-being arise? How is faith as assurance produced? How is the measure of faith, and thus the measure of assurance, increased? Moreover, we learned from Article 9 that by this faith and according to the measure of faith then saints certainly believe that they are and forever shall remain true and living members of the church. Hence, (Article 10) the way of assurance must be in harmony with and follow from this truth. We saw that the assurance of future, abiding membership is inherent in the assurance of presentmembership in the church of Christ. From this point of view, we may reduce the question faced in Article 10 to this: whence does the assurance of present membership in the holy catholic church arise? The assurance of future, abiding membership is inseparable from it. The way of the one is the way of the other. 

This leads us to our first negative observation concerning the way of assurance. It is not directly expressed in the article under discussion, but it is implied in both Article 9 and Article 10. It is this: the way of assurance is not the way of living in the past. Let me, first of all, explain what I mean by this. There are those who would pin all their assurance on something that happened to them in the past. This is especially true, often, of those who have been converted in a sudden and spectacular way. In order to be assured that they are at present children of God, and therefore also in order to enjoy assurance as to the future, they continually refer to their past conversion. This will never do. And besides, it is spiritually very dangerous. We would not at all deny that some of God’s children are very suddenly and spectacularly converted from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. To deny this would be contrary to Scripture. But we would most emphatically deny that past conversion can be the basis of present assurance. To live in the past in this manner is very dangerous, first of all, because it is unrealistic. The child of God has a battle to fight and a way of sanctification and conversion to walk in the present. And that battle cannot be fought and that way cannot be walked by reveling in the memories of our past conversion, but only by a present faith and apresent and continuing putting off of the old man and putting on of the new man. And it is dangerous, secondly, because especially when one forgets about the present battle and the present calling to walk in sanctification of life, all kinds of doubts can arise as to the reality and genuineness and sincerity of that past conversion. And not only can these doubts arise, but they certainly will arise. The result in such a case is that all assurance disappears. And let us note that this is very clearly implied in these two articles of Canons V. It is implied in Article 9 because it plainly does not speak of past and future membership in the church of Christ, but of present and future membership: “. . . . by which they certainly believe that they are and always shall remain true and living members of the Church . . .” And it is plainly implied in Article 10, because this article teaches us that this assurance “springs fromfaith in God’s promises.” Bearing in mind now that we are speaking of faith in its conscious activity, it must be very plain that the article does not refer to past faith, but to present, continuing faith. Once more: faith itself is assurance. To enjoy assurance I must have faith, I must believe. Hence, I have assurance from moment to moment only as from moment to moment I have faith in God’s promises. And that assurance, being an assurance that I am a living member of the church of Christ, is at the same time in its very nature an assurance that I always shall remain such a living member of the church of Christ. As soon as that faith (as a conscious activity) fails, my assurance of present membership in the church fails. And as soon as assurance of present membership fails, the assurance of abiding membership fails. I must have from moment to moment the assurance of present membership in order to have from moment to moment the assurance of abiding membership. This stands to reason. If I have not even the assurance of present membership, there can be no question of assurance of future, abiding membership, since there is no membership at all of which to be assured. 

But the article itself makes a negative statement too concerning the way of assurance: “This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God.” This statement was occasioned by one of the errors of the Arminians, who taught that without a special revelation we can have no certainty of perseverance in this life. The idea itself that one should obtain the assurance of perseverance through a special revelation is, of course, the error of what is known as false mysticism. False mysticism has no need of the Scriptures. It only needs the Holy Spirit. That Spirit whispers in one’s heart, as it were, that he is and forever shall remain a living member of Christ’s church, and He reveals this privately, entirely apart from the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures. False mysticism is not by any means an unknown error today. And it is as sickly as it is false. However, we need not take the time now to point out its faults and dangers. In this connection we want to emphasize what the Arminians taught over against the Reformed. The opponents of the Reformed faith insisted that the only way in which one could possibly have the certainty of perseverance was by some kind of direct and special revelation from God. Apart from such a special revelation one would have to live in uncertainty and doubt as to the future and abiding character of his membership in Christ’s church. When the Reformed nevertheless insisted that such certainty is both possible and real for the saints, the Arminians tried to make them out as false mystics, accusing them of proudly claiming that they all had some special revelation from God as to the future. At the same time, they wanted to deceive the simple and hold the Reformed faith up to scorn and contempt. It was their intention to teach people that the Reformed faith maintained that all the elect obtained some such special revelation from God of the certainty of their perseverance, and that if you did not receive such a revelation, then you could have no certainty and could only doubt whether you were even a child of God. Thus we can also understand the workings of the Arminian heresy once more. It was the Arminian heresy itself that led to doubt and uncertainty. But the Arminians attempted to blame the Reformed doctrine with the very faults of which they themselves were guilty. This is the usual method of heretics and of heresy. 

It was over against this Arminian charge that the fathers inserted this negative statement in Article 10. They said, as it were: “You must not think, when we teach that the certainty of perseverance is both possible and real, that we maintain that this assurance is obtained by some special revelation, as our opponents charge. For we exactly deny that this is our doctrine, and we want all to know that we deny this. We state flatly that this assurance does not arise out of any private revelation, next to and apart from the Word of God.” 

With these negative aspects out of the way, we may now turn our attention to the positive truth. 

And then it must be emphasized that the only way of assurance is the way of God’s own Word. Assurance is not the work of man. It is not even partially the work of man. And we must be careful that we understand this in connection with this article also. The fathers do not teach here that assurance is not obtained by any private revelation merely, but that it is not obtained by any private revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God. Indeed, if I am to have assurance, I must have God’s own Word to me personally, telling me that I am His child, assuring me that I am a true and living member of the church of Christ, giving me the certainty that I shall forever remain such a member of Christ’s church. I must have God’s Word to me personally, assuring me: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God Himself must not only tell me that none of His sheep will perish, that none of His sheep can ever be plucked out of Christ’s hand or out of the Father’s hand; but He must tell me: “You will never perish. You can never be plucked out of My hand. You can never be separated from the love of Christ.” God Himself must not only tell me that the elect, the saints, have the remission of sins and life eternal. But He must assure me: “Your sins are forgiven. You are the heir of eternal life.” Let us understand this most clearly. Just, as salvation itself is absolutely and solely the work of God, so the assurance of that salvation is the work of God alone. Amid all the testimony,—of the devil, of the world, of my own conscience,—to the contrary, there is but one voice, one Word, that is able to give me hope and assurance. There is but one voice that is able to give the lie to all those contrary voices, that is able to contradict them. That is the voice of God, the God of our salvation in Christ. And unless I hear His voice, unless therefore He speaks to me, I must be without hope and comfort. 

The question is, therefore, not merely: how do I obtain assurance—as though the obtaining of assurance were my own work. Essentially the question is, How does God assure His children? What is God’s way of assurance? Then, when I know this, and when I walk according to this knowledge, I can grow in assurance day by day. For in order to have assurance, I must be in God’s way; I must walk by faith in the way in which God always assures His children. 

And it is this way that is described as to its three main elements in Article 10. 

—H.C.H.