The Canons of Dordrecht, Part Two, Exposition of the Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Article 5 (continued)

The third consequence of the “enormous sins” of the saints is that they “grieve the Holy Spirit.” This is, of course, a Scriptural expression, taken from Ephesians 4:30: “And grieve not the; Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” The expression refers, in the first place, to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the church and in the hearts of believers. It proceeds, in the second place, from the fact that that Spirit is holy, that is, perfectly consecrated to God, loving all that is good, all that pertains to the divine life, and separated from and hating all sin and darkness. In the third place, while it must surely be kept in mind that this is a human way of expressing something concerning the Holy Spirit, nevertheless there is something that very really corresponds to grief in the Spirit. Grief pertains to that which we love; and the Holy Spirit grieves also over those whom He loves, and that too, in holy and perfect sense. And the reason for His grief is not His own work, the work of His grace, but the manifestation of the old man of sin in the people of God whom He loves. The spirit rejoices when the church walks in sanctification; He grieves when the people of God fall into sin and even walk in sin. And that grief is very real. Grieved, He does not give up the elect and forsake them; but He withdraws from us as far as our consciousness is concerned. And the result cannot: fail to be serious for the child of God. It is through the indwelling Spirit that the people of God are the conscious partakers of the blessings of salvation. And it is through the Spirit of Christ that they are “sealed unto the day of redemption.” This is true not only objectively, so that by the Spirit the saints are and remain marked as the peculiar possession of the Lord to the very end. But it is also true as far as the consciousness of the saints is concerned. The Spirit marks them as genuine, in distinction from false. The Spirit marks them as God’s peculiar possession. And the Spirit marks them as His inseparable possession even unto the day of redemption; the day of Christ, the day of complete deliverance from all our enemies and from all the power of sin. By His indwelling He assures us of all this, not only once but continually. Hence, if we grieve that Spirit, and He departs, we lose the consciousness of His seal. And just because the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the people of God is holy and has a holy aversion for all that is of sin, it is also true that all sin that is unrepented of and unconfessed and not taken away grieves Him. 

Thus, in the fourth place, we can also understand that by such enormous sins we interrupt the exercise of faith. Notice, first of all, that the article does not say that we interrupt faith itself. This is impossible: there is no fall from faith. The truth of perseverance means exactly that our faith fails not. Faith is the bond bf communion between the saints and Christ. Through faith we are engrafted into Christ. And that bond, once established, can never be severed. But while the power of faith never fails, it is indeed possible that the exercise of faith is interrupted. And when the Spirit is grieved and withdraws from the saints as far as their consciousness is concerned, that is exactly what happens. For the Spirit is the author of faith. Not only does the Spirit produce in us the faculty, or power of faith. Not only does He establish the bond between us and Christ. He is also the author of, faith in its conscious activity. And to the conscious exercise of faith, whereby our fellowship with Christ is strengthened and maintained as far as our consciousness is concerned, the article refers. When the Holy Spirit is grieved, the Spirit being the author of faith, there can be but one consequence for our faith: its exercise, its operations, its action, is interrupted. And does not this stand to reason? Those enormous sins of which the article speaks are the very opposite of the faith and its exercise. They do not proceed from faith, but war against it. Where sin is, there is not faith. And when one falls into sin and walks in sin and continues in sin, it stands to reason that just as long as he continues in sin the exercise of faith is interrupted.

Hence, in the fifth place, by such enormous sins the saints very grievously wound their consciences also. What does this expression mean? We do not believe that the conscience becomes blunted, so that it no longer bears testimony, in any case. The testimony of a man’s conscience never ceases, neither in believer or in unbeliever. Nor do we understand by this wounding of the conscience a temporary silencing of the conscience of the saints: While we cannot take the time to enter detailedly in the whole subject of conscience, we offer the following explanation in brief: 1) The conscience is that function of our consciousness whereby we are immediately aware of and agree with and consent to the judgment of God concerning the ethical character and value of our actions,—a judgment which God Himself writes in our consciousness by His Spirit and Word, and which either approves or condemns us. 2) The saints have a good conscience by faith. A good conscience is the apprehension by faith of the justifying judgment of God in Christ, while an evil conscience is the very opposite of this. In the strict sense of the word, the Christian is not delivered from his evil conscience in this life. He is aware that God’s judgment condemns his sins, including his past sins, his present transgressions, and also the defilement of his old nature. From this point of view, his conscience always accuses him. But by faith he is conscious of a righteousness in Christ that overcomes the condemning judgment of his accusing conscience. 3) When by his enormous sins the child of God grieves the Holy Spirit, interrupts the exercise of faith, and wounds his conscience, the result must be that he loses that “good conscience” for a time. Notice that he does not “kill” his conscience, but he “wounds” it. By that “wounding” his good conscience, his awareness of the justifying judgment of God in Christ is temporarily incapacitated. All that he has left is that old accusing conscience, the awareness of the condemning judgment of God. It must be evident, once more, that this result follows inevitably upon the interruption of the exercise of faith. For the “good conscience” of the Christian is exactly his apprehension by faith of the justifying judgment of God in Christ. And therefore, if the exercise of faith is interrupted, that “good conscience” is wounded, silenced, and the evil, accusing conscience has full sway. 

The last consequence mentioned is the temporary loss of the sense of God’s grace. Here too we must note carefully that the article does not say: “they lose God’s grace.” This is impossible. Once we have received the grace of God, we cannot lose it. But it is indeed possible and is indeed a very painful reality to lose the sense of God’s grace. Then one experiences what the psalmist describes in Psalm 32: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” One experiences that he cannot say: “This God is my God.” He cannot say: “My only comfort is that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” He loses the experience of God’s favor upon him. He loses the experience of the indwelling of the Spirit and of all the blessings of salvation which the Spirit works in the saints. He loses the experience of the fellowship of God, and experiences instead a dreadful separation. He experiences that God’s face is hid from him, that the light of His countenance does not shine upon him, that His ear is not open to his prayers. He loses the experience of the communion of saints, and experiences instead that he has no part with the people of God, does not share their joy, their comfort, their assurance, their life. If he continues in the way of sin, he loses the blessing of love for the brethren, and he becomes instead hateful and vindictive and unruly. Such a person may attend the preaching of the Word, but he finds no comfort, no nourishment, no edification therein. The blessed tidings of the gospel do not seem to be directed to him personally. He may perhaps make use of the sacraments, but they render him no assurance and do not serve to strengthen his faith. He may attempt to sing the songs of Zion, but his heart is not in it. O, how awful can be such periods in the life of the child of God! How dreadfully real the thought can become to him in such a state that he is no child of God at all 1 How painfully, even after he has finally come to the realization of his gross sin, such an one may bemoan his state, and in doubt and temptation complain that he cannot possibly be a child of God when he commits such terrible sins! How he may become the object of the fierce attacks of the devil, who accuses, him on the basis of his enormous sins that he is not a saint at all! 

Remember, the things of which the fathers speak here are dreadfully real! And the truth of the sure preservation of the saints does not detract one iota from their dread reality. And the fathers show in this article that they understand fully as well as their Arminian opponents, yea, more fully, the dreadfully serious consequences of the sins and falls of the saints. What is described here is the inevitable chain of consequences which follow through all the way to the bitter end of losing the sense of God’s grace whenever a saint continues in the way of sin. True, the article says that they “sometimes” lose the sense of God’s grace for a time. But principally these consequences always ensue upon the commission of sin by the child of God. Besides, principally all the sins of the saints are “enormous.” As a rule, however, God brings us to repentance and causes us to seek forgiveness long before we actually reach the point of losing the sense of His grace. Nevertheless, there are also those times when the child of God falls deeply and walks in sin for a time. And it is at those times that all of these consequences are experienced in their bitter reality. 

But the point is that until we repent, or, in case we have completely departed from the way of sanctification, until we return into the way of life through earnest repentance, the fatherly countenance of God does not shine upon us again. The way of life is the way of repentance, not the way of sin and impenitence. And only in the way of repentance can we have the sense of God’s favor. 

The sum of the matter, therefore, is this. The believer in the sure preservation of the saints does not lightly consider the matter of sin. He does not deny, but affirms, the dread consequences of the sins of the saints. He does not deny, but affirms, the need of a very real repentance. But he has the comfort that in the face of all the dread reality of his sins and their consequences, it is God’s grace that surely will bring him to repentance, no matter how deeply he falls. Yea, he knows that God in His preserving grace uses even those very consequences of his sins ultimately to bring him on his knees, with the penitent’s plea upon his lips: “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And he knows that thus he may well heed the injunction of our Baptism Form: “And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not therefore despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and undoubted testimony, that we, have an eternal covenant of grace with God.” 

—H.C.H.