This completes the Studies on the Canons of Dordt. We wish to thank Miss Timmer for her efforts to make this beautiful confession of the Church alive with the warmth of the Reformed faith. We pray that God will use these studies for a greater appreciation at Scriptural truth in our day.
ART. 10. ASSURANCE OF FAITH SPRINGS FROM:
1. God’s promises
2. The testimony of the Holy Spirit
3. Serious and holy desire:
a. to preserve a good conscience.
b. to perfonn good works.
I wish I could diagram this article in TORCH AND TRUMPET, but space is too precious for that. (I diagram many an article on the board when teaching it. That reveals how logically and beautifully the material is arranged. The authors were manifestly working under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as their faithfulness to God’s Word clearly demonstrates.)
How is assurance produced? It is “not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God.” How wrong it was of the Buchmanites to expect direct guidance from God for the day. Some would sit with pencil in hand in the morning to record the guidance they claimed to get. This was at times done without relation to the Word of God. How wrong it is for Christians to determine the exact day of Christ’s return on the basis of a vision someone claims to have received, when the Bible clearly states that no man knows the day nor the hour of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:36). Nor should one find his assurance, as Feenstra warns, in spiritualizing the Scriptures so the original meaning is gone.
How, then, is assurance produced? It springs from God’s promises. It is because God’s promises don’t fail that a child of God can have assurance for time and for eternity. He can claim the promises to the fulfillment of which God has covenanted himself. That’s real assurance for the saints! Again, assurance springs from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, Who “beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God, and if children then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16). Furthermore, assurance of faith springs “from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works.” The measure of assurance one has is partially dependent on the measure of spiritual effort one puts forth to preserve a good conscience, that is, to do such things as are judged. good by the sanctified conscience. The more earnestly and prayerfully one searches the Scriptures to know the will of God, the more sensitive his conscience becomes. In the measure that one acts in harmony with this Biblically-oriented conscience, the more assurance he has of the genuineness of his faith. A passion for good works certainly helps to build assurance. The more one desires and strives to do the will of God, the surer he can be that he is a child of God.
How miserable the elect would be if they could not have assurance of ultimate victory, and if the pledge of eternal glory were fallible. It is because God’s promises don’t fail that God’s people can go forth in the blessed assurance that Jesus is theirs for time and eternity. “The more our faith grows the greater will be our assurance” (Berkhof).
ART. 11. GOD PROVIDES ESCAPE FROM TEMPTATIONS THAT ROB BELIEVERS OF ASSURANCE.
What kind of experiences cause a believer at times to doubt whether he is a child of God? Believers are known to struggle with carnal doubts and to fall into grievous temptations. Such experiences rob one of assurance.
Let no one say that doubt is a virtue. It is sin to doubt God. Yet there are those who struggle with doubt throughout life as if doubt were a virtue. Doubt is sin, but, oh, how easily a Christian can suffer from it! Doubt that God’s doings are good, doubt that God loves us, doubt that Cod is just, doubt that God is wise (how can God Who does this or that to me be wise?), doubt that God understands, doubt that our trusting has paid off. “Yet once my faith faltered, I envied the proud, In doubt and disquiet my spirit was bowed” (Psalm 73).
Among the temptations that lure the Christian are adultery, dishonesty, lapsing into worldly enjoyments (now we like to make ourselves believe that “art” and “culture” justify these enjoyments), over-emphasizing secondary matters such as devoting too much time to sports and recreation. Such indulgences tempt one, in turn, to give too little time to prayer, to the study of God’s Word, to visiting the sick, to having spiritual fellowship with one’s children and friends, to dedicating the Lord’s Day to spiritual interests. All this is evidence of the work of Satan in the lives of God’s people. Satan is seeking whom he may devour.
Assurance Rooted in God
In the midst of all this struggle God’s children have this assurance: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it” (I Cor. 10:13). It is because God is faithful, “worthy of all reliance” (Lenski), that he will never allow his own to be tempted above their ability to escape, for he has promised to make a way of escape with the temptation that they may endure it. We may well earnestly pray that we may ever make use of the way of escape when we are tempted.
ART. 12. CERTAINTY OF PERSEVERANCE PROMOTES NOT LAXITY, BUT DILIGENCE.
Pride Is Contraband
Everyone that has the hope of seeing God, purifieth himself. How, then, dare anyone claiming to be saved but knowingly living in sin, in impurity, say “I know I am saved”? How can anyone manifest a spirit of pride if he has “certainly of perseverance,” if he knows that God saved him, if he knows that God gave him the faith to believe, and that God preserves him? A true Christian takes no glory to himself and therefore is not proud. Pride is most out of place in the life of a Christian no matter what his position in life, because his gifts are gifts of grace. As Feenstra puts it, “One who is proud and carefree, is not a believer,” and “All pride is contraband in the kingdom of God.”
Of What Is Certainty of Perservance the Source?
The authors of this article know from Scriptures that the assurance of perseverance is the “real source” of “humility, filial reverance, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, constancy in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God.”
As Paul realized that he was not worthy to be called an apostle, so the person who is born again realizes he is not worthy of being chosen of God. Realizing this, he adores his God and Saviour with filial reverance. His piety is genuine, from the heart, affecting every area of his life. God is for him all in all. In the afflictions of life, however severe, he can still revel in the grace and love of God, in the preciousness and nearness of the Saviour. He patiently endures his present afflictions, knowing they are not worthy to be compared with the glories that await him. This assurance is also the source of fervent prayers. How God’s child pleads the promises! How he leans on Cod who holds him fast and trusts him never to leave nor forsake him! Their constancy in suffering is a blessing to behold. Those who suffer the most seem to witness the more warmly to the gracious care and keeping of their heavenly Father. Perseverance is also the source, the authors say, of constancy in confessing the truth—the truth of God’s Word, of his promises, of his covenantal faithfulness, of his electing grace, of his salvation, of the resurrection, and of future glory in heaven. The certainty of perseverance is, furthermore, the source of solid rejoicing in God. What a source of rejoicing it is that God preserves the elect, that no one can snatch them out of the palms of his hands. They are as secure as God is faithful. He abides faithful, for he cannot deny himself. Every form of security the natural man talks about pales into insignificance in the light of this security which roots in an unchangeable, faithful God.
1. What is the difference between the faith one can lose and the faith that endures? (See Error 7).
2. Gather Scriptural evidence for the doctrine of the perservance of the saints. (The answer to Error 5 will be helpful, but go beyond that. )
3. Discuss I John 3:2, 3, to show that this doctrine is not conducive to indolence.
4. May we lean for real assurance on faith healing or on the ability to speak in tongues?
5. Is assurance produced by opening the Bible at random, seeing a text, and saying, “God gave me that text”? (I heard of a person who made the remark that God had given him a text for that day. Ah, answered the person to whom he made the remark, how poor you are. All the promises in the Bible are mine. Yes, all the promises of the Bible are for God’s people. We need never be limited to one promise for any day.)
6. What is the difference between the trials God sends and the temptations of the devil?
ART, 13. RENEWED CERTAINTY OF PERSEVERANCE PROMOTES NOT LAXITY, BUT DILIGENCE.
God’s children do backslide at times, sometimes grievously. When they repent of their sins and have “renewed confidence of persevering,” does this renewed assurance of perseverance have the effect on them that release from jail has on a criminal who only is glad for another opportunity to commit crime? Indeed not. A Christian will rather say something like this: “I never want to do that again. With God’s help I’ll never do that again. I don’t want to experience the absence of God’s favor. I don’t want to experience again the uncertainty of salvation, that awful lack of assurance. I don’t want to lose fellowship with God again. I don’t want again to lose that peace of God that passes all understanding. I don’t want again to miss the light of his countenance.
Positively, the backslider who has returned to God in penitence is far more likely to be doubly diligent in walking in God’s ways, in doing God’s will, in staying in the fold, in seeking first the Kingdom, in living close to the Lord. He is doubly afraid of walking over into Satan’s territory. Just as a person who has been sick for a period of time doubly appreciates restored health, so the one who has wandered away from God doubly appreciates restored fellowship. How wonderful that fellowship is after a season of prayerlessness due to backsliding during which the disobedient Christian finds that God covered himself with a cloud so that no prayer could pass through (Lam. 3:4ff.). Better than ever can such a restored saint understand Moses when he said to God, “If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence” (Ex. 33:15). The restored Christian is perfectly satisfied with staying at home, close to Father, Jest he fall “into more grievous torments of conscience.”
ART. 14. THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL IS THE MEANS OF BEGINNING, CONTINUING, AND PERFECTING THE WORK OF GRACE.
The Word a Means
The means of grace are the Word and the sacraments. The Word may be administered without the sacraments, but the sacraments may not be administered without the Word. The Word is the primary means of grace.
It is in the milieu of the Word that regeneration takes place. While Paul preached to the women in Philippi by the river side, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to give heed to the Gospel (Acts 16:14). When Peter preached on Pentecost many were added to the church.
Jt has also pleased God to preserve, continue, and perfect his work of grace by means of the Word. He does this by the hearing of the Word. Therefore it is important that children, youth, and adults hear the Word of the Lord daily and regularly. They must hear it in a special way at official worship. The churchgoer must hear the Word in church, not a lecture Or sociology talk, or a travelogue.
Not only must the children of God hear the Word; they must read the Word. Copies of God’s Word, and of portions of it are so accessible to us today that we can have one in our own room at home and we can carry it with us when away from home. The Ethiopian eunuch read the book of Isaiah on his way home.
One can have the habit of reading the Word and yet fail to meditate on it. The meditation on the Word is a means of preserving, continuing, and perfecting the Word of grace in God’s people. “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide” (Gen. 24:63). What a peaceful place that must have been for meditation. Do you farmers ever meditate in the field at eventide or at any other time? Isn’t a quiet place on the beach most conducive to meditating? Have you a place in your home to which you love to steal away to meditate? We must seek to dwell on the Word, to reflect all it, to probe its meaning, so that we increasingly evaluate our experiences in the light of that Word, thus growing in grace. thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” The more we meditate upon it the more deep-rooted it becomes. “Oh how love I Thy law; it is my meditation day and night.”
God also “preserves, continues, and perfects” the work of grace in us by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises of the Word. We are exhorted to avoid the way of evil men, to turn from it, and to pass on (Prov. 4:15). We are exhorted to exhort one another day by day…lest any of us be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). We are exhorted not to forsake our own assembling together but to exhort one another (Heb. 10:25). We are exhorted to honor the Lord with our substance (Prov. 3:9), to cleave unto the Lord with purpose of heart (Acts 11:23), to prove all things, holding fast to that which is good and to abstain from all evil (I Thess. 5:21, 22). We are exhorted not to be slothful in business but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord (Rom. 12: 11). There are many more exhortations the Lord has given us to continue and perfect the work of grace.
We must not forget the threatenings of God’s Word. They too are necessary to promote the work of grace, Let us mention a few. “When ye transgress the covenant of Jehovah, your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods, and bow down yourselves to them, then will the anger of Jehovah be kindled against you and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you” (Josh. 23:16). Also consult Proverbs 1:24ff.
How many and precious are the promises of God with which he furthers his work of grace in believers—promises of salvation, of eternal life, of protection. of spiritual and physical blessings, promises to the afflicted, to the tried and tempted, to the poor, to the traveller, to the soldier, the humble, the penitent etc.
Our heavenly Father has endless resources for the maintenance of his chosen people. He is indeed the infinite God. There are no limits to his supplies for the saints.
The Sacraments are Means
Besides all the riches in his Word, the Lord gave us two sacraments as means of grace. How rich is the meaning expressed. in baptism, and how comforting and reassuring is the recurring celebration of the Lord’s supper. Our gracious Saviour keeps on coming back to us with visible signs of his redeeming work in our behalf. Just as often as we commemorate the death of Jesus, we are to proclaim his death until he come.
ART. 15. VARIETY OF RELATIONS TO THE DOCTRINE OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
1. Relation of God to the doctrine. God has revealed the doctrine of perseverance in his Word. He has graven his own upon the palms of his hand (lsa. 49:16). Those whom he called he also glorifies (Rom. 8:30). The chain is an unbreakable chain because God is unchangeable and omnipotent. He has revealed this precious doctrine for his glory and the consolation of pious sou Is. What comfort Christians who can sing the Dutch psalms have received from the last two lines of Psalm 68 stanza 10. Literally translated these lines mean, “He can and will and shall in need, even when death approaches give complete redemption. That was my own mother’s resounding witness on her death bed. God indeed impresses the truth of the perseverance of the saints on the hearts of the believers. How forcefully the Holy Spirit teaches us this in the first chapter of Ephesians. He has foreordained his chosen ones “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.” To what end? That they should be to the praise of his glory. The elect are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:11 , 13). Furthermore, God disposes the bride of Christ
to persevere to the end. Without this disposition, without his having graven them on the palms of his hands, without the intercession of their Mediator, the elect would not endure to the end. It is because God is who he is that the elect are eternally secure.
2. Relation of the carnal mind to the doctrine.
The carnal mind is unable to comprehend this doctrine. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). According to his unregenerate standard, this doctrine is foolishness to the natural man. I suppose he relegates such an idea to the realm of wishful thinking. Poor man, he not only misjudges this teaching, he is not even able to know it because it is spiritually discerned. The carnal mind cannot know what only the Holy Spirit can teach.
3. Relations of its foes to this doctrine.
a. Satan is the master foe of this doctrine. He abhors it. He is doing all he can to disprove it by seeking to snatch the elect out of God’s hands. He is working over-time these days to destroy those who believe this doctrine and find their security in this wonderful truth of God. How happy Satan must be with the new universalism that wants people to believe that every human being is going to get to heaven. The appearance of this appealing teaching in so-called Christian circles (only so-called) is perhaps the most attractive bait Satan has ever used inside the church.
b. The world ridicules it. It must seem laughable to the world that a regenerate soul has the assurance of salvation, has faith in the Word of God which teaches eternal security. They observe the Christians in all their weaknesses and can’t understand that such people dare to claim eternal safety. The world fails to see that the hope of a Christian and his assurance of salvation are built on the work of Christ.
c. The ignorant and hypocritical abuse it. How a child can abuse a precious dish of mother simply because the child is ignorant of its value. So it is with those ignorant of spiritual truths or those who hypocritically appear to be Christian, but are like unto whited sepulchers which are full of dead men’s bones and of uncleanness.
d. Heretics oppose it. Note, it is here designated as heretical to disbelieve in the perseverance of the saints. It is heretical to believe that Christ “in no place prayed that believers should infallibly continue in faith” (See Error 9). The authors of the Canons refute this error by referring to Luke 22:32 and John 17:11, 15, 20. It is heretical to believe that one can have saving faith for a time and yet be ultimately lost (See Error 8). Also consult 1 Peter 1:23. Seed that is incorruptible cannot corrupt. This is self-evident. If seed is incorruptible then one begotten again of incorruptible seed is not begotten of seed that can corrupt.
4. Relation of the Bride to the doctrine.
How differently the true Bride reacts to this doctrine. She “has always most tenderly loved it.” How precious this truth is to the Bride of Christ. Saved! Saved not for an uncertain period of time, but for eternity! She “constantly defends it as an inestimable treasure.” She knows its real because the “gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matt. 16:18). She believes and rejoices in the promise of Jesus that “no one shall snatch them out of His hands” (John 11:28). They have full confidence in the Saviour who said, “I guarded them and not one of them perished” (John 17:12). With Paul they are sure that nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus their Lord (Rom. 8:39).
God is the source of this most comforting doctrine. The elect are the object of it, and Satan and his followers are its opponents. In the reaction to this teaching the antithesis shows up clearly.
1. How can one who believes in the perseverance of the saints lack the assurance thereof?
2. Should we speak of the preservation of the saints rather than of the perseverance of the saints?
3. Do you think real Christians ever become lax because of this teaching?
4. Why is it heretical on the part of people who claim to be Christians to believe that it is possible for a saint to fall away?
5. How does this failure to believe reflect on their concept of God?