The Canons of Dordrecht, Part Two, Exposition of the Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Rejection of Errors

Article 9. Who teach: That Christ has in no place prayed that believers should infallibly continue in faith. For they contradict Christ himself, who says: “I have prayed for thee (Simon), that thy faith fail not,”Luke 22:32; and the Evangelist John, who declares, that Christ has not prayed for the Apostles only, but also for those who through their word would believe: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name,” and: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one,” John 17:11, 15, 20.

As far as the translation is concerned, we have the following remarks. In the first place, the opening sentence should be rendered a bit more literally and directly as follows: “That Christ has nowhere prayed for the believers’ infallible perseverance in faith.” And, in the second place, here again the Scriptural citations should be quoted consistently from the King James Version. The Arminian heresy is as inconsistent as it is many-sided in its attacks upon the truth of Scripture and our Reformed confessions. And the error rejected in this final article of our Canons is a clear illustration thereof. On the one hand, the Arminians refer to Christ’s intercession for His people as being proof that the falling away of the saints is possible. They say that the very presupposition of such a prayer for the perseverance of the believers is that their fall from grace is a very real possibility. And when the defenders of the faith contradict this argument effectively, the same Arminians will come back, as in this article, with the claim that Christ never prayed for the believers’ infallible perseverance in faith. And thus there seems to be no end to these Arminian arguments. The mere fact that our fathers in this fifth chapter of the Canon were satisfied to stop with-nine articles of rejection does not mean that these nine are exhaustive. No, one, could undoubtedly cite and reject more such Arminian errors. But these were deemed at that time some of their more important attacks upon the truth; and to refute these was deemed sufficient. However, all these arguments and the refutation of them will not in themselves convince a single Arminian of the truth. I think the Rev. T. Bos makes a proper observation in this connection when he writes: “One can never satisfy the unbelieving opponents. The deepest ground of their contradiction of the truth, then, is not that they find the Reformed doctrine unscriptural; but its is enmity of heart against the doctrine of Scripture, which runs contrary to the self-righteous and proud nature of man.” In other words, the matter is spiritual and concerns not merely the bind, but the heart. He who principally loves the truth of God’s Word will see and understand that truth when it is expounded to him, will reject the error, and will gladly embrace that truth even when it necessitates letting go of errors which he has long accepted as truth. But he who principally hates the truth will continue to find all kinds of objections and arguments against it, no matter how inconsistent and illogical and unscriptural such arguments may be. Intent he is upon gainsaying the truth of God at all costs. 

Thus it is in this case too. When the Arminian comes with the objection that the very presupposition of Christ’s intercession is the possibility of the falling away of the saints, and that otherwise it would be unnecessary for Christ to pray for them, the Reformed believer has a ready answer; and that answer is effective too, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is the answer of Article 8 of the first section of this chapter. He answers: “Precisely: the presupposition of the intercession of Christ for His saints. is indeed not only the possibility of the falling away of the saints, but it is the very real fact that with respect to themselves this falling away would undoubtedly take place. The Arminian is correct; in fact, we go a step farther. The fall of the saints is inevitable as far as they themselves are concerned. BUT the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ cannot be rendered ineffectual. And therefore, the falling away of the saints, while inevitable as far as they themselves are concerned; and while in that sense presupposed in the very intercession of Christ, is utterly impossible because of that very intercession of Christ.” 

But is the Arminian now satisfied by this explanation of the matter? By no means! Now he begins to tamper with that intercession of Christ itself, and he claims that even Christ has never prayed for the believers’ infallible perseverance in faith. And one almost throws up his hands in despair at such an argument, not only because there seems to be no end to the Arminian objections, but also because it is such an obvious contradiction of Holy Writ. 

What, we may ask, first of all, is the intention of this objection? Surely, the Arminian is aware of the fact that Christ intercedes for His people. And he is also aware of the fact that Christ intercedes for the perseverance of His people. And so he does not mean to deny that intercession as such, nor to deny that Christ prays for the perseverance of believers. No, that would be too obvious. What he means evidently to contradict is that Christ prays absolutely, flatly, unconditionally for the perseverance of the believers. The emphasis therefore falls upon the word “infallibly.” If the Arminian can get this point across, he has once more succeeded to destroy the whole doctrine bf perseverance. Our fathers based the perseverance of the saints upon this intercession of Christ in part, as is plain in Canons V, A, 8. But if the Arminian must accept the surety of that intercession and admit that this intercession cannot be rendered ineffectual, then he will be compelled to accept the doctrine of perseverance. Hence, he seeks to rob also this intercession of our Lord of its certainty and efficacy. And to do this he must alter the content and the character of that intercession. He must deny that Christ ever prayed for the infallible perseverance of believers in their faith, and he must introduce the cancer of conditionality into that intercession itself. Just as he makes the preservation of the saints conditional, so he now must make Christ’s intercession a prayer for conditional preservation. You will remember that the Arminian indeed taught a conditional perseverance already in the Fifth Article of the Remonstrance. Among other things, that article teaches that “Jesus Christ assists them (the saints) through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they aye ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive; keeps them from falling . . .” Now when this doctrine is applied to Christ’s intercession, two results follow. In the first place, the Arminian applies this to the fact of Christ’s intercession. The result then is the teaching that Christ will intercede for the saints (and thus assist them and keep them from falling) on condition that they are ready for the conflict, desire his intercession, and are not inactive. If, on the other hand, they do not desire that intercession, do not ask for it, are not ready for the conflict, and are inactive, then Christ will not intercede. And in the second place, the Arminian would apply this doctrine to the content of Christ’s intercession, and maintain that what Christ prays for is not the infallible and unconditional preservation of His people in their faith, but a fallible and conditional perseverance. He prays, in other words, that they may be kept in their faith provided they show a willingness to persevere and a readiness for the conflict and the activity of fighting faith’s battle. In this way the intercessory prayer of Christ is made thoroughly conditional and rendered ineffectual. For the crucial situation when the believer himself does not fight the battle of faith, is not ready for the conflict, and does not desire Christ’s help—for that crucial situation there is no intercession of Christ in the first place: And as far as the everyday, continuing battle of faith is concerned, the order of things, according to the Arminian is not that Christ’s intercessory prayer is first and our faith and readiness for the conflict second and resultant, but just the reverse. 

Understand well the implication of this error. It means that as far as the sinful, weak, imperfect, fallible saint is concerned, that intercession of Christ is absolutely useless. To begin with, the whole effect of that intercession of Christ is dependent not on Christ’s merit and intercession, not on the certainty of Christ’s being heard by the Father, but on you and me. And, what is to me the most terrifying aspect of this error, the Arminian has no hope, no help, no comfort, in this intercessory prayer of Christ in that most crucial and dark moment in the Christian’s life when he temporarily falls So deeply that the exercise of faith is interrupted, the conscience is grievously wounded, and he loses for a time the sense of God’s favor. What then? What hope is there for such a saint at such a time outside of Christ’s ‘intercessory’ prayer for his infallible perseverance? Absolutely none! All the Arminian can say in effect to such a saint is: “Sorry, but you must lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.” 

No, the perfect intercession of Christ, Who ever liveth to make intercession for us, and Who is surely heard of the Father, and Who receives all He asks, is the only answer, the solution, to the weakness of the saints, who would undoubtedly fall as far as they themselves are concerned: And the content of that intercession, as well as the act of intercession itself, is absolutely unconditional. Christ intercedes with the Father that the believers may infallibly persevere in faith. 

The first proof from Scripture, Luke 22:32, cites the concrete example of an individual saint, the disciple Peter. He was in exactly such a crucial situation as that cited above. He felt mighty at this time in himself, as Simon. He was not ready for the conflict at all, though he thought he was. He did not desire Christ’s help whatsoever; in fact, he spurned it. When the moment of conflict arrived, he was not active whatsoever; in fact, he succumbed without a fight. What would become of his faith at such a time? How could one in that frame of mind ever survive? How, once he had so dismally fallen, could he be restored to the favor of God? You say, “He could repent and return”? No, he lacked the power. He had become inactive in the fight of faith. As far as he was concerned, he had reached the point of no return. “There was “but one course left: he could only sink deeper and deeper in that horrible denial. But Christ interceded. And He did so unconditionally, even when Peter cared not for that intercession, saw no need of it, and even when Peter showed no readiness for the conflict whatsoever. Moreover, that intercession was exactly adapted to Peter’s need of the moment. It was unqualified, unlimited, unconditional: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” And this intercession, answered perfectly by the Father even as it was perfectly offered ‘by the Lord Jesus, accounts for the fact that the fallen Peter went out and wept bitterly, repented, acknowledged his sin, and was restored. 

And the second example, taken from the beautiful high priestly prayer of our Lord in John 17, immediately prevents the objection that this was true of Peter only, not of all believers. For there, as the article points out, Christ prays not only for His disciples, but for those who would believe through their word. And His prayer is again unlimited, unqualified, unconditional both as to its act and as to its content: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name.” And again: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one? This prayer of our Lord, perfectly offered, and perfectly based upon His perfect merits, is perfectly heard by the Father. Our infallible perseverance in faith is an assured fact. 

—H.C.H.