The Certainty of Perseverance
Paragraph 2 of Chapter XVII of the Second London Confession
17.2 This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will; but upon the immutability of the decree of election1 flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him,2 the oath of God,3 the abiding of his Spirit and the seed of God within them,4 and the nature of the covenant of grace5 from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
1Romans 8:30; 9:11, 16; 2Romans 5:9, 10; John 14;19; 3Hebrews 6:17, 18; 41 John 3:95; 5Jeremiah 32:40)
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints affirms the assured and certain endurance of all Christ-followers. Such is the orthodox belief. Calvinists of all persuasions hold hard and fast to this teaching as do many who would not ascribe to the other four historic doctrines of grace.
The Puritan, John Flavel, stated that there will be a “steady and constant continuance of Christians in the ways of duty and obedience, amidst all the temptations and discouragements to the contrary.”1 He then gave four reasons for man’s perseverance: one, God’s electing love; two, the immortal nature of sanctifying grace; three, the covenant of grace; and, four, Christ’s effectual intercession.2 Orthodoxy demands both precision and fidelity to the biblical doctrine of the final and complete perseverance of the saints of God—only by His precious grace, would they remain steadfast until the final day.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6, ESV).
Chapter Seventeen, Paragraph Two Delineated:
Paragraph two of the seventeenth chapter in the Second London Confession is the clarion call to God’s sovereign work in endurance, and the first few words quickly move the reader that direction: “The perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will…” To be sure, the apostolic writers in the New Testament were prone to concentrate herein—i.e., away from man’s ability to keep himself safe and saved—and for good reason. First, due to the immutability of the Godhead, there is a steadfastness in the relationship between God and His people—i.e., the saved sinner has become a partaker of true and everlasting life which is grounded upon the perpetual immanence that exists between the Godhead and the believer. And, second, the Godhead has bestowed power upon the believer to wage successful warfare against the enemies of righteousness. From beginning to end, God is the very heart of man’s perseverance. Salvation is of the Lord!
From there, the confession moves to five grounds for man’s successful completion at the day of Jesus Christ. The initial statement, “…the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father…” states the foundation for perseverance. It is God’s unchangeable foreordination of a definite number in salvation. Rather than depending upon man’s will to coerce the sinful nature to “stay in line,” the teaching is that God’s decree was the glue that kept man in check.
God’s eternal grace was the singular beginning which settled other issues down the road by intimating a direct opposition to man’s efforts to save himself throughout and unto the very end. The essence is that God, from eternity past, freely under no compulsion, did order whatever has come to pass. In this decree, God also declared that some men and some angels would be predestined to everlasting life whereas others would be passed by. These counsels were God’s alone, and it is according to His own good pleasure that He has ordered and done all things. Those chosen in Christ were elected without regard to foreseen faith, good works, or perseverance—it was by free grace and love alone.3
Of course, the reason behind this understanding is found in the nature of man—man is completely depraved, totally incapable of any good. Thus, man cannot possibly hope to hold on to something even as grand as salvation. Man’s will is totally destitute due to the ravages of sin. There is no hope for a successful end save in the grace of God. He offers the Divine remedy, a foolproof gift that causes not only survival but also eternally glorious flourishing.
But, what is the source of God’s decree? Why, it is His “free and unchangeable love”—a fountainhead that gushes forth everlasting benevolence for all the elect. God’s decree and Divine love – inseparable! The Father had set as His purpose in love to save to the end a people for Himself, and nothing would alter that: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his…” (2 Timothy 2:19, ESV).
The second head of the paragraph states that perseverance of the saints rests “upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with Him…” While the previous constituent is the heart of perseverance, the merit and intercession of the Son is the most vital for this gives vibrancy to the entire doctrine. Such an idea arises from the teaching that the work of Christ secured the full satisfaction of divine justice.
Too, the mediatorial work of Christ connects the Father’s decree of election with the Holy Spirit’s experimental wooing, drawing, calling, birthing, and sustaining labors. More on the Spirit’s work later.
Upon Christ Jesus’ meritorious sacrifice, therefore, fell the task of intercession for God’s own in order that the comfort due to the heirs of the Father was never lacking. It is reasonable to assume that His intercessions are prevailing for, if the Father regarded the calls of the birds of the air as well as the cries of the humblest of men, He would also answer the prayers of His only Son whose bloody sacrifice groaned for the saints.
At this juncture, it might be necessary to recall Christ’s qualifications as Mediator—that is, why was God the Son alone sufficient to stand between God and man: one, He was like those for whom He would negotiate—i.e., His nature was like theirs; and, two, Christ was sinless—a “high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners.”4
One final consideration with reference to Christ’s mediatorship as it pertains to the final perseverance of the saints is that He purchased redemption, an eternal inheritance, for all that had been given to Him by the Father—none would be lost:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40, ESV).
The assuredness of perseverance rested, to a great extent, in the Person and Work of Christ. The confession holds firmly to the belief that the Lord Jesus was well-pleased with the work that He had undertaken on behalf of sinners—He had seen the anguish of His soul and was satisfied. What consistency between the Father’s electing love and the Son’s redeeming love! All that are in Christ possess the promise of God that they will complete their journey.
Thus, the third proposition is “…the oath of God.” Yes, there it is, God’s promise!
Perseverance is also based upon…the oath of God. Scripture states: “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath (Hebrews 6:17 ESV). And so, our perseverance does not depend upon our own free-will, but upon the very oath of God. This brings to mind a stanza of the hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise:”
He by himself hath sworn, I on his oath depend;
I shall on eagle’s wing up borne to heaven ascend;
I shall behold his face, I shall his power adore;
And sing the wonders of his grace forever more.5
Herein, God swears by virtue of: one, His non-lying character; and, two, His binding oath.6
When a witness gives his testimony in a court of law, he binds himself to an oath, swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth “so help me God.” That kind of testimony is used to determine innocence or guilt in legal matters. Verse 18 [of Hebrews 6] says that God did two things to demonstrate that His promise to Abraham would not be broken.
(1) His non-lying character: Of course, the problem is that a man is only as good as his word. If he is a liar, then all the promises in the world will not change him into an honest speaker. But when we see God making a promise, it is a promise made by the One who always speaks truth.
(2) His binding oath: When God wanted to show Abraham the truthfulness of His promise, He went beyond the truthfulness of His character. He bound Himself with an oath. He said, “I swear to God.” And in doing so, He was saying that if His word does not come to pass, then may He cease to exist.7
The next statement, “the abiding of his Spirit and the seed of God within them,” in the confession addresses the Holy Spirit’s grand work in the saints’ perseverance. The harmony of the Godhead in accomplishing the salvation of man was completed in the consideration of the Holy Spirit. Although it was unlike the work of either the Father or the Son, it was nevertheless of equal significance.
The abiding of the Spirit culminated both the Father’s love decree and the Son’s mediation by effectually applying the reconciliation purchased by Christ. As Paul had declared to Titus, “…not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us…” (Titus 3:5-6a, ESV). The Spirit’s work was the climax whereby the sinner was made into a child of God—by His power He brought the Gospel with full conviction.
This union between God the Spirit and the new believer manifested itself by actually making the sinner one with Christ so that no amount of distress could separate him from Christ which, in turn, resulted in all the eternal riches of Christ now being possessed by him. The new believer was now enabled to participate in all the duties of his gracious new calling. He was intimately, insolubly, inherently, and obediently united with the Father through the Son and by the Spirit.
Blessing of blessings that God the Holy Spirit Himself dwells in believers! So, what can be imagined as possessing the ability to expel Him from Christ-followers? Can sin, self, or Satan? Is there anything in the whole wide world capable of such separation?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).
Indeed, not! The goodwill of both the Father and the Son followed by the special sealing of the Holy Spirit will bring about a happy ending for the believer—he will persevere to the end.
The confession gives one final ground for the saints’ perseverance, and it is “the nature of the covenant of grace.” God’s pledge toward sinners was a most “solemn compact and agreement between God and fallen man”8 and as such was part of the answer to man’s sin and misery. To understate the importance of this covenant in sustaining the saints’ perseverance would be a sore mistake. For what began in the eternal counsels of the Godhead with reference to the Father’s unchangeable love, the Son’s merit and intercession, and the Spirit’s abiding was activated by the covenant of grace. Thus, what God had purposed would surely come to pass without frustration or failure.
Concerning the appellation “grace,” the covenant was so-called because everything within it respecting the elect was completely of grace—it was a covenant opposed to anything of worth within the sinner. Both the items pledged in the covenant (pardon of sin) and the condition of the covenant (faith) were gracious.
A brief primer on the covenant might prove helpful. The covenant of grace was made initially with God the Son. Christ, the second Adam received the commission as Mediator—He was made under the law, and He would perfectly fulfill it. Of course, the Son did this by enduring the most egregious torments in His soul and to His body as well as perfect obedience to its stipulations. Such was incumbent upon Christ because of the utter failure of the first Adam.
Although made in eternity, the covenant had to be applied to the elect. A right consideration of it, thus, notes the differences between the Son and the elect: Christ was the Representative, the elect were the recipients; Christ was not in need of grace, the elect were in need of abundant grace; Christ was obedient to the Father’s will, the elect were given faith to believe in the Son’s Person and work. The covenant resulted, and God’s promises—full and free—covered all the contingencies of the elect’s experience.9
It is evident that the covenant of grace was vital to the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance. The elect’s confidence is bolstered by it for if the covenant is true once, it is true always. Yes, God’s love for His own is unchangeable – He will not forsake them. And, then, of course, the Son must enter the picture as the One who took upon Himself the requirements of the law and union with Himself. Lastly, the Holy Spirit took His place as the One who put the new law in the mind and wrote such upon the heart of the elect.
The die was cast. If these five statements were true, it must follow that the elect would enjoy the benefits of the Author and Finisher of salvation – the work of the Godhead was too sure to bring about any contrary conclusion. As the confession itself states: “from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.” What God had purposed would come to pass without complication or collapse. Free grace from decree to covenant to the final manifestation of all redeemed souls basking in the light of everlasting peace.
… [for] I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:5).
To God be the glory.
1 John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel, vol. 6 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 206. Flavel did go on to note that not all who profess Christ will continue in the Lord, however: “…many that zealously profess him, afterwards fall away…[They] have not a good root and foundation.” (Ibid.)
2 Ibid., 206–207. It is interesting to note that he also stated two instructions concerning the Christian’s response to these truths: one, man himself must lay a good foundation; and, two, all men should examine themselves with reference to the task before them. Still, the emphasis in perseverance—as with all the doctrines of man’s salvation—is Godward. Only after sovereign grace can human responsibility be posited.
3 Insistence on this truth is not to say, however, that God dashes man’s will to pieces upon the rock of His sovereignty. God does not violate the will of His creature, nor does He takeaway liberty or the contingency of second causes. There is a deeply mysterious harmony in the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Neither must be compromised.
4 Though Christ was True God of True God, He took on flesh so that He might be able to sympathize with men’s weaknesses and infirmities. Christ was without sin (cf. Hebrews 7:26). He was true God and true Man. The union of these two natures (the most profound of mysteries, no doubt), qualified Him to be the reconciliation so desperately needed by sinful mankind.
5 Gary Marble, “A Commentary on the 1689 London Confession of Faith.”
6 John Stevenson, “The Oath of God.”
8 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 154.
9 These promises were both general and specific. The general contained the twin promises of Hebrews 8:10: “…and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The peculiar promises were manifold: illumination of the truth of God by the Spirit, remission of sin by the work of the Son, and sanctification by the Spirit.
This article is ©2018 BlackHorse Ministry and used by permission.