To The Praise Of His Glory - Outline VI - Outlines On The Canons Of Dort

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GOD'S PERSEVERANCE IN HIS SAINTS

I. Connection with the preceding chapters.

The Canons of Dort are a whole, they form a unity. For they deal with the -golden chain of our salvation- (Chapter 1 Rej. of E. Par. 2, with reference to Rom. 8 : 30 : foreordained, called, justified, glorified).

They confess the LORD in the insuperability of His grace. Against the haughtiness of man the sovereignty of the Covenant God is maintained. The LORD is the First and the Last.

Chapter V speaks about God's perseverance in His saints and is the song of praise sung by the Bride of Christ on the firmness and constancy of the Covenant of Grace. The eternal foundation which God has laid - His electing love in Christ even before the foundation of the world - lies firm for ever. Chapters 1 and V are unbreakably connected with one another. The circle is completed. The LORD is the same from eternity to eternity. This way Chapter V is the crown of the Canons of Dort, a very fine response of faith to God's revelation. We are more than conquerors through Him Who has loved us.

The heresy of the Remonstrants was also a unity. Because they let God follow---his Majesty Mr. Man- and made everything dependent on man's free will to do good or evil, they denied the perseverance of the saints. The free will of the believers can, in their opinion, turn away from God again and cause them to perish finally.
 

Remark No. 1.

See for the connection Chapter 1 Art. 11 (the most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent God does not annul His election); Chapter 1 Rej. of E. Par. 2, 5, and 6 (The Remonstrants spoke about various kinds of election, a/o. an election unto grace, an election unto glory, the will of man being the deciding inter medium); Chapter 11 Art. 9 (in accordance with God's eternal counsel of love there will always be a Church composed of believers).
 

Remark No. 2.

Since Chapter V - not unlike the whole of the Canons of Dort - is the confession of the living God, our LORD, one is not allowed to reason and draw conclusions regarding the perseverance of the saints in a mechanical and automatic way. It is not a matter of mathematics : "once converted means forever converted". We confess God's perseverance, God's faithfulness which is preached to us in His promise, and this promise (that of perseverance included) comes to us accompanied by the command to repent and believe. Here too we are held responsible (read Chapter V Art. 9, 12, and especially 14).

Whoever thinks to be able to reason on the perseverance of the saints in a mechanical and automatic way - from a permanent conversion or a "germ of faith" puts all emphasis on man and is fundamentally - a Remonstrant!

II. The Remonstrants contra the Reformed People.

The different views of the Remonstrants and the Reformed People regarding the perseverance of the saints can best be seen if we compare Chapter V Rej. of E. Par. 1 with Chapter V Art. 8.  

The Remonstrants denied the perseverance of the true believers as a fruit of election or as a gift of God gained by the death of Christ. They considered the perseverance as a condition of the New Covenant, which condition man must fulfil through his free will. Only then, as soon as man has fulfilled the condition to persevere, God comes with His decisive election and justification. So man with his free will was brought to the fore also at the point of perseverance. God would be a passive onlooker and adopt the attitude of waiting. Even concerning believers the final result is completely uncertain. At any time the saints can fall away. There is no continuity in God's work of mercy.

1. The Dutch scholar Dr. Herman Bavirick wrote about this very sharply - but he was right - that in this doctrine the whole work of God to save sinners is disdained and denied : "The Scriptures always and everywhere strongly accentuate God's faithfulness and His being unchangeable; the everlasting nature of His covenant, the firmness of His promises; but we do not find anything of all this back in Pelagianism. The LORD does not know who are His; His covenant and mercy waver time and again; sheep are plucked out of Jesus' hand; it is not true that God glorifies all them whom He has fore known, called and justified. Pure and consistent Pelagianism means the radical overthrow of Christendom and religion".

2. In the twentieth century the denial of the continuity of God's work of mercy was found in the works of Karl Barth and his followers. Barth spoke about the result of God's "lightning-revelation" but he denied that the Word of the Covenant-God is near and goes with us through history and regenerates us unto life.

According to Barth we cannot speak of a real sanctification by the Spirit of Christ. As for this point Chapter V of the Canons of Dort is very up to date and of current interest even after the death of Karl Barth (1968) !

The Reformed people confess that the true believers, not through their own merits or powers but only by the mercy of God, neither totally fall from faith and grace nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings. if it were up to themselves, this would undoubtedly happen indeed. But with respect to God it is utterly impossible. His counsel cannot be changed (read Chapter 1 Art. 11); His promise not be broken, His calling according to His purpose not be recalled, the merits, intercession, and protection of Christ cannot be annulled, and the sealing by the Holy Spirit not destroyed. This means : the Triune God perseveres in His saints. He is faithful as well as able. He does not forsake the work of His hands !

Ill. Proof texts.

The Canons of Dort refer us to a number of proof texts for the perseverance of God in His saints.

From the gospels the following texts are mentioned Mat. 24 : 24 (it is impossible to deceive the elect); John 6 : 39 (Christ, after the will of His heavenly Father, does not lose from them which He has been given but will raise them up again at the last day); 10 : 28, 29 (the sheep of Christ will never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand; His Father, Which gave them to Him, is greater than all).

As for the epistles we are referred to Rom. 5 : 8, 9 (much more then, being now justified by Christ's blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him); 8 : 30 (the golden chain of salvation : predestination - calling - justification - glorification); 8 : 32-35 (who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect or who shall separate them from the love of Christ?); 8 : 39 (nothing shall be able to separate us from the love c, God); 11 : 7 (the elect part of Israel has obtained it); 1 Cor. 1 : 8 (God shall also confirm you unto the end); 1 Pe. 1 : 23 (the Word of God as the seed of regeneration is incorruptible); 1 John 3 : 9 (whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him); 5 : 18 (he that is begotten of God, keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not).

We are further referred to the story of King David (Psalms 51 and 32), and that of the apostle Peter. As for Christ's intercession we are reminded of Luke 22 : 32 (I have prayed for Thee, that thy faith fail not), and of John 17 : 11, 15 and 20 (Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thouhast given Me, keep them from the evil, them also which shall believe on Me through their word). Regarding the sealing by the Holy Spirit we can consider Eph. 1 : 13, 14 (Which is the earnest of our inheritance); 4 : 30 (by the Spirit of God are we sealed unto the day of redemption); II Cor. 1 : 20-22 (the Spirit has been given in our hearts as an earnest); and I John 2 : 27 (the anointing abideth in you).

Apart from the proof texts which are mentioned in the Canons of Dort - even in the other Chapters, e.g. for Chapter 1 . Acts 13 : 48 (ordained to eternal life) - there are several more. As for the Old Testament we remember the leading idea of the book of Job, the insuperability of God's work of grace in Job's life; and also Psalm 138 : 8 (the LORD will perfect that which concerneth me); 139 :18b ("when 1 awake, 1 am still with Thee---). Regarding the New Testament we may mention John 14 : 16 (the Holy Spirit will abide with us for ever); Rom. 9 : 11 (the purpose of God according to election will stand of Him that calleth); Philip. 1 : 6 (He will perform His good work in you until the day of Jesus Christ); 11 Thess. 3 : 3 (the lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil). The epistle to the Hebrews deals with the immutability of God's counsel (6 : 17). The apostle Peter says that the heirs as well as the inheritance are kept through the power of God (I Pe. 1 :3-5). Finally we refer to Rev. 13 : 8 and 17 : 8 (those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be kept in the temptations of the last days).

      "There are not a few texts only that teach the perseverance, but the whole Gospel carries and confirms it." (H. Bavinck).

IV. Train of thought in Chapter V.

Those whom God, according to His purpose, calls and regenerates, He also delivers from the dominion of sin but not altogether from the infirmities of the flesh (1). Hence spring forth the daily sins, which the children of God must not neglect, but which must be to them a perpetual reason to humiliate themselves (2). Because of them those who are converted could not persevere in the grace of God if God were not faithful (3). By the righteous permission of God the true believers sometimes fall into great sins, as was demonstrated by king David, the apostle Peter, etc. (4). Such sinning has very serious consequences, for it very highly offends God; the light of Whose fatherly countenance shines upon these sinners only when they repent and return to God (5). That true believers do so indeed is a matter of the great mercy of God, Who does not permit them to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction (6). For in thesefalls He preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration; and, again, by His Word and Spirit He renews them to repentance (7). They receive this benefit of perseverance, not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of the free mercy and faithfulness of the triune God (8). Of this perseverance of the elect to salvation living members of the Church obtain assurance (9), not by means of any peculiar revelation independent of the Word of God, but it springs from faith in God's promises (10). The believers do not always feel this full assurance of faith under their temptations, but God by the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the assurance of persevering (11). Instead of exciting in believers a spirit of pride or of rendering them carnally secure, this assurance of faith is a source of humility, fervent prayers. of solid rejoicing in God, and of a life of gratitude (12). Those who are received from backsliding will be rendered much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the LORD, for the Godly know that the withdrawal of God's gracious countenance from them is more bitter than death (13). As God works faith into our hearts and strengthens it by the preaching of the Gospel, so He preserves it by the same (14). This doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, in spite of being misinterpreted, abhorred, ridiculed, abused, and opposed, is defended by the Bride of Christ as an inestimable treasure; and the invincible triune God will dispose her so to continue to the end; to Him be honour and glory forever (15).

V. Some particulars.

LORD, though I walk 'mid troubles sore . . . . (Articles 1-3).

Articles 1-3 deal with the situation in the life of those whom God according to His purpose (Chapter 1) calls to the communion of His Son (Chapter 11; 1 Cor. 1 : 9); and regenerates them by His Holy Spirit (Chapters III-IV).

Sin does not reign over them any more. They are no longer slaves of sin (Rom. 6). Yet there is still the struggle against their sinful nature (Rom. 7).

Hence spring forth the daily sins of infirmity (Art. 2). Read Gal. 5 . 16ff and remember what we confess in Art. 15 Belg. Conf. of Faith concerning the corruptness of our nature, from which woeful source sin always issues forth, as water from a fountain. Read also Heid. Cat. lord's Days 22 and 44 about our good works being imperfect and the interpretation of the petition "Lead us not into temptation . . . "in Lord's Day 52. This keeps us humble before God, and makes us always take refuge with Christ our Mediator. It leads us to Bible-reading, prayer, etc., and makes us desirous for the dying to sin.

Because of these three sworn enemies (read also lord's Day 52 together with its proof texts) the believers cannot stand a moment in their own strength. But God 'is faithful (I Cor. 1 : 9). We confess His insuperable mercy, the progress and completion of the work of salvation which He once began in His elect, and will finish perfectly.

"But God is faithful; Thy mighty arm . . . . (Articles 4-8).
 

Articles 4-8 deal with the fact that true believers also, by their own fault, can sometimes fall into gross sins, and are seriously tried this way, but by God's mercy they are not allowed to proceed so far as to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit, and are brought back to Himself.

Very elucidating here is the reference to the full of king David and of the apostle Peter. Read for this Psalms 51 and 32 against the background of 11 Sam. 11 and 12.

Article 5 speaks in a penetrating way of the terrible wrath of God. He hides His fatherly countenance for those who live in sin. Remember the lively manner in which the Scriptures speak on the eyes of the LORD (Amos 9 : 8). The miserable situation of a child of God that lives in sin is pictured by king David according to his own experiences in Psalm 32 : 3, 4.

But the LORD keeps His chosen children from definitely and totally failing away from Him and committing the sin unto death. Here we can only glory in the great mercy, the electing love, and the unchangeable counsel of the LORD our Rock.

As for the incorruptible seed of regeneration which God preserves in His elect (Art. 7), this is the Word that is preached (read Chapter 111-IV Art. 17; 1 Pe. 1 : 23-25; 1 John 3 : 9 to be compared with 1 John 2 : 14). Their renewal too is worked by the Word and Spirit of God (Art. 7; read also Art. 14). The prophet Nathan came to king David and spoke to him the Word of the Spirit[ The apostle Peter was brought to heartfelt repentance when he remembered the Word of the Lord Jesus (Mat. 26 : 75).

Note again the lively way of speech on the matter of experiencing the favour of a reconciled God again, after repentance and prayer for remission of sins (Art. 7 the end). Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Ps. 32 : 1). The Canons of Dort do not at least reason in a rigid and scholastic way from a so-called "justification from eternity".

This preservation of the elect of God leads to worshipping Him because of His commiseration and faithfulness, and His graceful mercy. It does not have its origin in ourselves, but in the LORD alone (Ps. 115 : 1).

Article 8 puts a strong emphasis on this. God's counsel stands sure (11 Tim. 2 : 19); His promise is unbreakable (as for proof texts see under Ill of this Outline); His calling is without repentance (Rom. 11 : 29).

What we confess concerning the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ is also of great significance. As for the merit of the Mediator of the Covenant read Chapter 11 (the firm unity between the acquisition and the application of the salvation). Concerning Christ's intercession see, apart from Luke 22 : 32 and John 17, also Heb. 7 : 25 and Art. 26 Belg. C. of F. For the sealing by the Holy Spirit we may refer to Heid. Cat. Lord's Day 18 No. 49, and Lord's Day 20 No. 53, apart from the proof texts mentioned under III..

Yea, Thou wilt finish perfectly . . . . (Articles 9-12).

In Articles 9-12 the assurance of the preservation of the elect and their perseverance in the faith is confessed. These are two different aspects of the same reality, in which God works in us but to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philipp. 2 : 13).

In a very fine way Article 9 says that this assurance is there according to the measure of our faith, whereby we surely believe that we are and ever will continue true and living members of the Church. All through the Canons of Dort it is proved that the confession of the electing love of God does not make us individualists (people who teach that every one is on his own). We confess that the congregation has been chosen to everlasting life (Heid. Cat. Lord's Day 21; comp. C. of D. Chapter II).

The whole of Chapter V can be summarized in the final sentence of Lord's Day 21 No. 54 : "And that 1 am and forever shall remain a living member thereof". Again it is not a matter of 1 myself being such a good Church member, but because God is faithful and the Covenant Mediator finishes His work through His Word and Spirit. All glory be to the triune God !

Against Mysticism Art. 10 confesses that the assurance of this perseverance is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God ("a voice from heaven"), but rests in the promises of God given in His Word, which are accepted in faith. Of this faith one is afterwards assured in himself by the fruits thereof (Lord's Day 32). We have to consider well : the Word of God, and His promises are the only foundation of our faith. Even the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which Art. 10 mentions, is a testimony that is given with and by the Word of God (remember the way of speech in Heb. 3 : 7 and others; compare also L.D. 25 No. 65). As for the assurance of our faith and perseverance it is always a matter of : go to Church, listen to the Word, use the sacraments 1 The perseverance is included in the covenant promise, which is to be accepted by faith. Read also Rej. of E. Par. 5 about "the very constant promises of God."

The full assurance of faith and certainty of preserving are not always experienced (Art. 11). Several Psalms give testimony to this : Psalms 42, 73, 77. (Note that the author of Psalm 77 is not worried about his own individual situation but about the well-being of the Church and only therein about his personal life). Remember also Job in his strong temptation. But God, the Father of all consolation - what a fine name in this context ! - does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able (1 Cor. 10 : 13).  

Article 12 deals with the fruit of perseverance. The confession of the grace of God has always been accused of being a doctrine that makes man proud and careless. But nothing is farther from the truth ! No carnal security is meant (Amos 6 : 1), but the certainty of faith, which is the real source of humility, filial reverence towards the LORD etc., and so an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works (read also Art. 7 the end and Art. 13; comp. also L.D. 24 No. 64, L.D. 32 and 33). Here again king David is a clear example, as is proved by Ps. 32 : 8-11. Read also Rej. of E. Par. 6 which refers to 1 John 3 : 2, 3 :"and every man that hath this hope purifieth himself"

"May not Thy works.. . . . (Articles 13-15).

Article 13 goes on by speaking about the Godly way of life of the believers who are recovered by God from backsliding. It renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the LORD. It is true that here also God's good pleasure is confessed when every possibility of legalism is cut off by the confession that even our good works have been foreordained by God (Eph. 2 : 10). But man's own responsibility is not in the least taken away. We must walk in the ways of the LORD.  

Besides, whoever has fallen into great sins and has been recovered by the grace of God, realizes quite well that it is impossible to possess the certainty of faith as long as he leads a sinful life. And in particular, he knows then how miserable man feels who has plunged himself into this situation, as long as God's gracious countenance has been turned away from him (camp. Art. 5).  

Article 13 again contains a very fine statement, when it says : "to behold which (God's gracious countenance) is to the Godly clearer than life- - because "Thy loving kindness is better than life" (Ps. 63 : 3) - --"and the withdrawal of which is more bitter than death". Remember again king David's roaring all the day long and his bones waxing old (Ps. 32 : 3).

Article 14 contains another very important confession, namely concerning the beginning, progress, and completion of God's work of grace in our life. The beginning is by the preaching of the Gospel ! So the conception of an "immediate regeneration" is a wrong one, since the Spirit of Christ works through and by His Ward (comp. under Art. 7; read also Rom. 10 : 17). But in the same way by using the same means God also preserves and completes His work of grace : by letting us hear, read, and meditate the Gospel. To attend Church diligently is essential. And even the work of our study societies can be a means in the hands of God to keep us in His communion, together with the reading and meditating of the Holy Scriptures personally and in the family circle, which is of great significance also !  

Article 14 also deals in a very fine way with the exhortations or admonitions. For by means of admonitions grace is conferred (Chapter 111-IV Art., 17). Because of that we read in the Bible many and manifold admonitions to preserve ourselves in the fear of the LORD and to persevere (Mat. 24 . 13; John 15; Heb. 3 : 12; 4 . 1, and others; 1 Pe. 1 . 5; 11 Pe. 3 : 17, 18; the Epistles of John; Jude : 20, 21, etc.). By means of these admonitions God is doing His work of grace.  

We further read about God's threatenings, promises, and the use - which is different from the administration - of the sacraments. Here we confess that the preservation of the elect by God is not a mechanical and automatic affair, but that the LORD works in the way of His covenant - issuing promises and threats; having the Gospel preached together with the command to repent and believe.

Article 15 is the end of Chapter V and so of the Canons of Dort. The doctrine of the perseverance of the true believers and saints has been disdained and abused in many ways, but the Church of the LORD, which is the Bride of Christ by God's electing love, has always most tenderly loved and constantly defended it as an inestimable treasure. For the honour of the Name of God and the consolation of the congregation is at stake in this spiritual struggle.

The way in which the song of praise of Dort ends can hardly be matched : The Christian Church will love and maintain this confession. For this is the main point in it - The gates of hell will not prevail against the congregation of Christ, God's grace is insuperable ! The contents of this confession warrant its continuance. No counsel nor strength can prevail against God. No trick of satan can ensnare Him. Every power of the evil one is dashed to pieces.

TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY!

Questions :

    1 . What different meanings can the word  "the saints" have, and what does it mean in the Canons of Dort ? What is wrong in the Roman-Catholic use of the term ?
    2. What is meant in Art. I by "the body of sin and the infirmity of the flesh" ?
    3. Of which biblical figure are we reminded by the term "the goal of perfection" in Art. 2 ? What are "holy exercises of piety" ? What do the Scriptures and our confession mean by "the world" (Art. 3)
    5. What do we understand by "the righteous permission of God" (Art. 4) ? (Compare 11 Sam. 24 . 1 with 1 Chron. 21 : 1).
    6. How must we interpret those texts that seem to teach the apostasy of the saints (Ez. 18 . 24; 1 Tim. 1 : 19, 20; 4: 1; 11 Tim. 2 : 17; 4: 10; Heb. 6 : 4-8; 10 : 26-3 1; U Pe. 2 : 1, 18-22, etc.) ?
    7. As for Article 8 can you give any examples of people who were sorry for their sins but whose sorrow was not heartfelt and in accordance with the will of God ?
    8. Are we permitted to nurse or excuse doubts ?
    9. What is the difference between temptation and trial ?
    10. What does Art. 12 mean by "constancy in suffering" ?
    11. Why do the papists know and promote doubts (Rej. of E. Par. 5) ?
    12. Which demands for our life in the covenant with the LORD are the consequences of the confession of Art. 14 ? Are true believers passive in their perseverance ?
    13. What significance has the distinction between the administration and the use of the sacraments (Art. 14) ?
    14. What are hypocrites (Art. 15) ?
 
J. Faber.

- THE END -

 

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