The fathers mention in this article three causes for the inability of the converted Christian to persevere in that grace of conversion, namely: the remains of indwelling sin, the attacks of the world, and the attacks of Satan.
As to the first, we can be brief. The preceding articles of this chapter have already dealt with this subject of the old nature of the Christian, We need not repeat what is stated in those articles.
But the fathers here mention two other factors. And concerning these we must offer a few words of explanation.
There is, in the first place, the world. To this world belongs, first of all, the world of sensible and visible things, the things of this present time. These things are in themselves not evil. But the things that are seen are temporal, are of the earth, are no end in themselves. To seek them is wrong. To set our hearts on them, rather than on the things that are above, is a great evil. Now to our flesh belongs the element that we are still of the earth, earthy. We are bound with a thousand ties to this present earth and this present world with all its relationships. And while there is nothing sinful as such in that earthiness and in those earthly relationships and that earthly life, yet when those earthy things, with their great attraction, become an end in themselves, and when they become a barrier, preventing us from seeking the things that are above, they become our enemy. And many a child of God can only with great difficulty let go finally of this present life in order to enter his heavenly and eternal home. So wrapped up in the things of this present time does he become that he would surely succumb to the attractions of this present world if left to his own strength. He has only a small beginning of the new life. And that small beginning is the beginning of the life of heaven; it is from above. But all the rest in that child of God is not from above; it is of the earth, earthy. And if he were left to himself, the earthy in him would surely overwhelm and snuff out that small beginning of the heavenly. Secondly, that world includes the world in its evil sense, the world of created things as they have been subjected to the principle of sin. This is the world of “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” of which the apostle John speaks. The whole world of created things is subjected to and put to the use of the principle of enmity against God, so that an entire world of lust is created by wicked men. That world of lust appeals to our sinful flesh, to the “remains of indwelling sin” that are in us. And it stands in direct opposition to the good and acceptable and holy will of God. The small beginning of the new obedience finds nothing in this whole world to appeal to it and to support it. But the large remains of in-dwelling sin in us find everything to strengthen it and to nourish its voracious and lustful appetite. And thirdly, there is the world of “wicked men.” The world of the ungodly, with all its power and influence, its wisdom and wealth, not only has the power to deceive and to allure the Christian by offering him its riches and its pleasures, its name and its vainglory. But it has the power to threaten him, to cause him suffering, to persecute him to the death. And while, according to the principle of the new life, the Christian is not attracted by the siren-call of that world nor frightened by its threats of suffering and death, yet, according to the flesh, he still hankers after all that the world has to offer and he fears its enmity. In the midst of this world the Christian must live. In fact, it is God’s will not that the Christian should withdraw, but that he should be “in the world, though not of the world.” Again, in view of the fact that he has only a small beginning, while all the rest of him is flesh, the Christian, if left to himself, could never survive. His own strength is far too small to overcome such mighty enemies.
In the second place, the article speaks of the attacks of Satan. These attacks of Satan are real. Make no mistake about that. Perhaps we often form some hazy conception about Satan and his host, and far too theoretically concede the reality of this enemy and his operations. But Satan is the prince of this world, who in the spiritual, ethical sense of the word has this world in his control, ready to do his bidding. He can work either directly upon the mind and heart of the child of God, or he can employ the whole world to do his bidding. Behind every temptation, every struggle, every persecution, every threat, every alluring offer of the world is the devil. He is both a powerful and a deceitful enemy. And do not forget, all his operations are aimed not at the world, which he has already in his camp, but at the child of God. He is acquainted with the weaknesses of the people of God. He knows how to attack them at their weakest point. The one he will attack through his lust for wealth; the other he will strike through his peculiar weakness for the pleasures of the world; still another he will deceive through his strong desire for vainglory. He never misses an opportunity to attack the Christian in his weakest moments and when he least expects it.
Thus, there is a triple alliance against the Christian. There is the devil. There is the world. And these two have a mighty enemy within the gate, the flesh of the Christian himself. How foolish for anyone to imagine that the Christian, once supplied with the grace of conversion, could ever persevere in that grace, could ever continue in the fellowship of Christ, could ever maintain the bond of faith between himself and Christ, if left to himself. The moment the current of divine grace would cease to flow sovereignly, unilaterally, from God through Christ to the Christian, at that moment the Christian could no more stand in the grace of conversion, but would surely fall back into the hopeless darkness of sin and condemnation.
But God is faithful.
God’s faithfulness means fundamentally that He is unchangeably true to Himself. He cannot deny Himself. And therefore He is true to His own purpose and to His own work. And the converted Christian is God’s workmanship; he is the work of God’s grace. Therefore God cannot forsake His people. He cannot for His own name’s sake forsake the work of His grace as it is represented in and principally accomplished in His people. And hence it is true: He that has begun a good work in you shall surely perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ.
That work of God whereby He preserves His saints and perfects them unto the day of Jesus Christ ispowerful. He is the Almighty. This means that the same irresistible power which first wrought in them the grace of conversion continues to work in them, to work through and to advance until the final victory. It means that the power of the three-fold enemy,—the devil, the world, and our own flesh,—is absolutely subject to and must stand in the service of the work of His grace.
The preserving work of God is to the end. The honor and glory of God’s own name are at stake in that work. As surely as God is faithful to Himself, so surely is He faithful to His people. God’s grace is not such that at times it is given and at other times taken away. Where the Lord once makes His abode, there He continues to dwell with the dominion of His Spirit and grace. Whatever may be said about the falls of the Christian, God never totally removes His grace from the saint.
And finally, that work of God is merciful. This surely emphasizes that God’s people are not-worthy of being preserved in themselves. They are unfaithful a thousand times over. But God’s faithfulness does not at all depend on their unfaithfulness. He is merciful. The work of His grace is such that He exactly purposes to deliver them out of their present misery, in which is included their unfaithfulness and inability to stand if left to themselves, and to make them perfectly blessed with Himself. And therefore He confirms them, establishes them, in the grace once conferred. No, He does not simply by an immediate operation cause them successfully to resist all their enemies from within and from without. But He preserves and confirms the work of His grace in them, and confirms them in that grace. And He does that always in such a way that the little principle of the new life can never perish, can never be taken away from them.
Such is the perseverance of the saints. The explanation, the key, is the preserving grace of our merciful God. We are kept in the power of God through faith unto the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Article 4. Although the weakness of the flesh cannot prevail against the power of God, who confirms and preserves true believers in a state of grace, yet converts are not always so influenced and actuated by the Spirit of God, as not in some particular instances sinfully to deviate from the guidance of divine grace, so as to be seduced by, and comply with the lusts of the flesh; they must, therefore, be constant in watching and prayer, that they be not led into temptation. When these are neglected, they are not only liable to be drawn into great and heinous sins, by Satan, the world and the flesh, but sometimes by the righteous permission of God actually fall into these evils. This, the lamentable fall of David, Peter and other saints described in Holy Scripture, demonstrates.
The above translation is not accurate in all respects. We offer our own translation below, and the reader can compare it with the accepted English version of ourPsalter.
Although, however, that power of God which confirms and preserves the true believers in grace is greater than that it can be overcome by the flesh, nevertheless the converted are not always thus actuated and influenced by God so that they are not able in certain particular actions to draw back, by their own fault, from the guidance of grace, and to be seduced by the lusts of the flesh, and to comply with these. Therefore they themselves must constantly watch and pray, lest they be led into temptation. When they do not do this, not only are they able to be drawn away by the flesh, the world, and Satan, into even grave and atrocious sins, but even by the just permission of God are sometimes drawn away. This the melancholy falls of David, of Peter, and of other saints, described in Holy Scripture, demonstrate.
The following points are worthy of note in this translation:
1) It correctly makes the subject of the first part of this article the power of God.
2) It correctly emphasizes that when the believers deviate from the guidance of divine grace, they do so through their own fault. The article means to emphasize this, and not merely to say that believers sinfully deviate.
3) It correctly pictures the danger of neglecting to watch and pray. The accepted translation does not bring this out properly. The original uses the same term in both parts of this sentence, “to be drawn away.” And the article states: “Not only are they able to be drawn away . . . ., but sometimes they able drawn away by the just permission of God.”
Our discussion of this important article must wait until next time, D.V.