PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS IS NOT ABOUT GOOD WORKS…not really.
So, as I re-frame the blog to focus on ALL THINGS FAITH AND WORKS, I keep running into a misunderstanding about The Perseverance of the Saints. There is a basic misunderstanding being perpetuated by a number of Free Grace advocates. Here’s a response I recently posted on this question:
The Quote: So, we have not touched the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints and it’s compatibility with the doctrine of eternal security. These are not the same thing, though some would say that they are. Any thoughts?
…very important question. And, I guess I may have to push back here…Perseverance of the Saints IS the Doctrine of Eternal Security.
There has been a move among some Free Grace thinkers to buy into what I think is some Hyper-Calvinists’ rhetoric that perseverance is about perseverance in doing good works.
This is clearly not the heart of this point in TULIP. If one reads DORT he will see that works are mentioned to prove eternal security (but eternal security is point) If one looks at the articles and history of the discussion he will see the prominent issue is always about “falling from grace.”
The Wikipedia article opens with this (for good reason): …as well as the corollary—though distinct—doctrine known as “Once Saved, Always Saved”, is a Calvinist teaching that once persons are truly saved they can never lose their salvation.
Websters gets to it too– Perseverance: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counter-influences, opposition, or discouragement
In other words, perseverance is about persisting in the ‘saved’ state until one’s safe arrival in heaven. Works are mentioned as a ‘proof’ of this eternal security the believer has.
Yet, there is an easier way!
All we have to do is look at the Remonstrance (DORT responded to this) or at any rendition of Arminianism’s Points. The issue with the Arminian view is that one can lose his salvation…that one is not eternal secure. If that is the counter-point, then we know the point is that one cannot lose his salvation, is eternally secure.
Now, since it IS the Doctrine of Eternal Security–why the confusion? Well, DORT (and others) surely have ‘persevering in good works” AND/OR ‘persevering in faith (believing)’ as parts of the point. Yes, true. The reason is that these are seen as PROOFS of ones Eternally Secure Standing.
The way I would say it is… perseverance in works and perseverance in faith are both mechanisms Reform thinkers use to prove an individual’s standing as and Eternally Secure, Elect, Child of God.
P.S. To be fair…the writers of the Remonstrance stated they weren’t sure if one could lose his salvation (and hence the affirmation of God’s Perseverance in keeping the elect, elect).
P.P.S. Here is a listing of quotes that show the drift from Perseverance of the Saints meaning essentially Eternal Security…to including the ‘proof’ of works as part of the definition (a truly historically recent emphasis).
Thus the Westminster Confession says, “This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will but upon the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father….” In other words, those who are real Christians cannot fall away or be eternally lost. Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).
Sustained by such a doctrine we can enjoy security even on earth; not that high and glorious security which renders us free from every slip, but that holy security which arises from the sure promise of Jesus that none who believe in him shall ever perish, but shall be with him where he is. Believer, let us often reflect with joy on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and honour the faithfulness of our God by a holy confidence in him. Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : Daily Readings, Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).
Those whom God has justified, he has in effect glorified: for as a man’s worthiness was not the cause of God’s giving him Christ’s righteousness; so neither shall his unworthiness be a cause of his taking it away; God’s gifts and callings are without repentance: and I cannot think they are clear in the notion of Christ’s righteousness, who deny the final perseverance of the saints; George Whitefield, Selected Sermons of George Whitefield (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).
In theological debate the terms “perseverance (of the saints),” “falling away” and “apostasy” are used in discussing the question of whether it is certain a Christian will remain in faith and salvation. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 40 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
LEWIS SPERRY CHAFER
THIS ASPECT of Soteriology, commonly styled by earlier theologians the perseverance of the saints, contends that no individual once the recipient of the saving grace of God will ever fall totally and finally from that estate, but that he shall be “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1:5). The doctrine of security is one of the five points of the Calvinistic system, but it is more distinguished by the fact that it is set forth in the New Testament in the most absolute terms and is there seen to be an indivisible feature of that which God undertakes when a soul is saved. This major doctrine is well stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which declares: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (17.1). Lewis Sperry Chafer, vol. 3, Systematic Theology, 267 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993).
Eternal security: Another term for “perseverance of the saints.” However, this term can be misunderstood to mean that all who have once made a profession of faith are “eternally secure” in their salvation when they may not have been genuinely converted at all. (40D.3) Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1241 (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994).
F.F. BRUCE / R.K. HARRISON
PERSEVERANCE — the steadfast effort to follow God’s commands and to do His work. The New Testament makes it clear that faith alone can save. But it makes it equally clear that perseverance in doing good works is the greatest indication that an individual’s faith is genuine (James 2:14–26). Indeed, perseverance springs from a faithful trust that God has been steadfast toward His people. Through persevering in God’s work, Christians prove their deep appreciation for God’s saving grace (1 Cor. 15:57–58).
As a result of perseverance, the Christian can expect not only to enhance the strength of the church, but also to build up strength of character (Rom. 5:3–4). In short, Christians can expect to become closer to God. They learn that they can persevere primarily because God is intimately related to them (Rom. 8:25–27) and especially because they have the assurance of a final reward in heaven (1 John 5:13). Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995).
There is much misunderstanding about the Bible’s teaching concerning the perseverance of the saints.30 It does not teach that Christians will inevitably continue to persevere in the faith, that is continue believing the truth, walking with the Lord, and doing good works. It does teach that God will persevere in His commitment to bring all who have trusted in Him to heaven. If someone asks me if I believe in the perseverance of the saints, I ask them what they mean by the perseverance of the saints. If they mean that a believer is eternally secure, I say that I believe that. If they mean that a believer will inevitably follow God faithfully to the end of his or her life, even with occasional lapses, I say I do not believe that.” Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, has the most helpful and biblically consistent discussion of perseverance that I have found. See his Subject Index for his many references to it. Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, 1 Pe 1:5 (Galaxie Software, 2003; 2003).
If you liked this blog…you might also like the discussion in this post: https://www.backtofaith.com/biblically-speaking/the-zero-point-calvinst/
17 thoughts on “Perseverance of the Saints is Not About Good Works”
I believe that some Reformed propenents may take issue with the affirmation you make concerning the essential equality of PoS with ES.
Anthony Hoekema, former professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, states that “no Protestant creed has a better or more complete statement of the doctrine of the perseverance of true believers than the Canons of Dort,” and then adds, “the Canons of Dort do not in any way support the erroneous understanding of this doctrine that some seem to have: namely, ‘Once saved, always saved, regardless of how we live‘” [Italics mine, Saved By Grace, pgs 253-54, see Vance’s, The Other Side of Calvinism, pgs 562ff]
Vance, as a summary statement concerning the last point of Calvinism, says “This last point of Calvinism is often mistaken for the doctrine of eternal security.” He quotes various Reformed authors as saying that Eternal Security “is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian”; that ES is “psuedo-Christian doctrine” and even “antinomian”.
You wrote this, “The reason is that these are seen as PROOFS of ones Eternally Secure Standing.” I certainly get that as well, you do not go far enough. Responsiblitity to persevere is enjoined upon the beiever! I believe that it can be demonstrated by implication (if not explicitly) in the Canons of Dort, under its Perseverance of the Saints heading, that responsibility lies upon the believer to [V.2.] “mortify the flesh,” “exercise… piety,” “press… forward to the goal of perfection”; [V.3.] “be constant in watching and prayer”; [V.7.] “diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”; [V.10.] “preserve a good conscience, and… perform good works”; [V.12.] “practice… gratitude and good works”; [V.13.] and “continue in the ways of the Lord.”
V.14. is furthermore instructive, stating, “…God… preserves… this work of grace… by the hearing… of his Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, as well as by the use of the sacraments.”
This wording certainly shows the responsibility of the believer to obey the commandments of God and do works for the purpose of preservation! No wonder that in every articulation of the Perseverance of the Saints that I have ever read by Reformed proponents there is an insistance placed upon the believer where he is enjoined to persevere in holiness!
Perseverance of the Saints clearly teaches that holiness on the part of the believer is necessary to reach heaven!
I’ll end with a quote from Art Pink, “There is a deadly and damnable heresy being widely propagated today to the effect that, if a sinner truly accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, no matter how he lives afterwards, he cannot perish. That is a satanic lie, for it is at direct variance with the teaching of the Word of truth. Something more than believing in Christ is necessary to ensure the soul’s reaching heaven.” And Charles Hodge, therefore, “Neither the members of the church nor the elect can be saved unless they persevere in holiness; and they cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort” (See Vance, 566-67).
Grace and peace,
Antonio da Rosa
Of course there are some who take exception with the traditional understanding of Calvinism’s Perseverance point. Disagreement isn’t proof. In fact, I don’t know of a single doctrine I hold that there aren’t people who disagree in conservative / evangelical circles (I felt safe about eternal consequences…but then, Rob Bell!).
I don’t deny that there are many reformed folks who elevate the importance works toward final entrance into heaven (in fact, my entire book, Back to Faith, is about this very point). Yet, that doesn’t mean the Perseverance view is primarily about that tangent. Perseverance is essentially, but not only, about the Elect being eternally elect.
Tozer (Arminian) considered it heresy that one would have any kind of hope of heaven apart from works. Lots of these guys on both sides are known for saying this sort of thing.
I personally don’t follow Vance’s arguments or assertions on this point. It is clear that Eternal Security was a huge issue in Calvinism (along with assurance of the same)…which is EASY to see in the Council of Trent and Calvin’s Antidote. Just reading their arguments and assertions in that day shows clearly what they thought the issue was!
Here’s a statement from Trent (Catholic):
Wherefore no man ought to flatter himself in faith
alone, thinking that by faith alone he has been
appointed heir, and will obtain the inheritance,
although he do not suffer with Christ, that he may
be glorified with him. For Christ himself, though
he was the Son of God, learned obedience from the
things which he suffered; and being made
consummate, became the author of eternal life to all
who obey him. (p.2, Back to Faith, Lybrand)
Phrases like ‘has been’ and ‘appointed heir’ show how they brayed at the idea that one could know by faith that their eternity was secure. Works means one must work until the end; hence, no security and no assurance. Eternal life, in the Trent view, comes (one hopes) at the end–after obedience.
Hoekema’s point is still built on the foundation that ‘once-saved-always-saved is true’ as a ‘regardless of how one lives’ is added as the misunderstanding of Eternal Security (much of the Catholic/Arminian/Calvinist debate. If we remove ‘Eternal Security’ from the Perseverance point, it all falls apart (or worse yet, Wesly and Tozer totally agree with Calvin and Zwingli.
It really is just a matter of interacting with the original documents. Not unlike ‘history’ these days, we often don’t go back and read the originals, but rather have ‘historians’ tell us what it all means. For example, Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America clear affirms a ‘wall of separation’ existed between the church and the state (didn’t use that phrase exactly); yet, to hear our Christian historians tell it, no wall ever existed until it was invented late in the game. We only need to read the originals to get to the point.
It is uninteresting and hard to defend that the Perseverance point is not essentially about Eternal Security (and tangentially about assurance…enduring faith and/or works).
Moreover, we are inundated with a variety of characterizations of ‘Calvinists’ from within and without the camp that Calvin himself would have certainly been amused (or nauseated) at the whole mess.
Personally, I am fond of many aspects of Calvinism (and despise others). What drives this debate seems more built from agendas than scriptures or original documents. We own them a debt and I don’t see how or why I would want to dismiss that and vilify them.
Thanks for posting my comment and your response.
I believe that original documents” were interacted with when the Canons of Dort were shown to give reponsibility to do works as a means by which God perseveres the elect.
In the Canons of Dort, under its Perseverance of the Saints heading, responsibility lies upon the believer to [V.2.] “mortify the flesh,” “exercise… piety,” “press… forward to the goal of perfection”; [V.3.] “be constant in watching and prayer”; [V.7.] “diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”; [V.10.] “preserve a good conscience, and… perform good works”; [V.12.] “practice… gratitude and good works”; [V.13.] and “continue in the ways of the Lord.”
V.14. is furthermore instructive, stating, “…God… preserves… this work of grace… by the hearing… of his Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, as well as by the use of the sacraments.”
Even if, for the sake of argument, the original documents could be proven to cede your point as made in this article, it must be recognized that doctrine, no matter which ‘tradition’ it comes from, is not static. There can be a point made that today’s Calvinism is not Calvin’s Calvinismm. The Perseverance of the Saints as a doctrine should be viewed with reference to the significance and meaning that current day Reformed Propenents give it.
If we were to define Free Grace Theology or many of its doctrines through men like Chafer or Walvoord, or Ryrie, we would not be left with an accurate picture of the movement, certainly not in areas of Assurance and the like.
Thanks for the time,
Thanks for your thoughts.
My thinking on this is that we have to take DORT as a whole. So, when you say, “I believe that original documents were interacted with when the Canons of Dort were shown to give reponsibility to do works as a means by which God perseveres the elect,” I’m thinking about the other aspects of the elective purposes of God as explained in DORT.
In particular, since God has irresistibly called those who He chose before the foundation of the world, works cannot have an effect on God such that He uses the believer’s works as an instrument of perseverence (preservation) toward the elect. Instead, DORT seems to be getting at the role of works in validating the believer’s being included among the elect…that is, that the believer can know he is elect. This is why it also talks about not having doubts if one ‘comes back’ after a season of sin.
As to the evolution of movements— don’t you think at some point the movement has changed enough to call it something else? Like moving from modernism to post-modernism.
In my mind, it is mistaken to call things Calvinism which clearly are not Calvinism (though I can say things are Calvinistic). If the modern Calvinists have changed Calvin, why not just call themselves something more appropriate and accurate? Of course, many of them have not…the neo-puritan Calvinists (Piper, Deaver, Sproul, and MacArthur) try to lay came to ‘real’ Calvinism.
The same with Free Grace. At some point the ‘evolution’ itself means that it is no longer a reptile, but is instead now a bird 😉 I believe we can sufficiently disagree with the founders / original thinkers such that we can only say we are in the Free Grace Tradition. Why not call it something else?
If the basics are no longer adhered to (like the cross as necessary content for faith…see my open letter at http://docyouments.googlepages.com/GESGospel.LybrandOpenLetter.04-14-09.pdf), then why hold on to the lable?
At one time I was strongly Keswick in my understanding of a walk with God. Now I’d say I’m very sympathetic toward the view, but I don’t think I would hold the label well. My Bible Church leadership and background was sympathetic to the Brethren Movement, but we weren’t a Brethren church.
At the point we say we have come to the full knowlege of the truth of God, I believe that we stop growing. Free Grace theology was founded on men who were interested in what the texts say, rather than the creeds. They grew in their understandings through the passing of time, so that I am certain that they strengthened, modified, and even changed various understandings of doctrines in the course of their lifetimes. If the bar of knowlege is set to what Chafer, or Walvoord, or Ryrie has taught, then I submit that these men, themselves, would be adament to assert that it is set too low!
Furthermore, such men would not be company to a brutal, reactionary response to men of like mind and of their fold based upon implicit faith in tradition. These men would allow through the course of time, study, prayer, and questioning, issues to be hashed out in a godly manner. They would give ear to men, such as Zane Hodges, who had a reverance to the Word and the same principles of study of it as they, rather than allow or be company to men who would mischaracterize and demonize them.
Growth has occurred as new issues have arisen and men in the movement have tackled them by continuing to go to the text. The issues of later generations have not necessarily been the same as those of the former ones. Unfortunately all are not equally inspired to continue forward and question and test and study, but are content to sit on their laurels and rest in their traditional understandings.
I could respond to your judgment thus: if the basics of Free Grace theology are no longer adhered to (like faith alone in Christ alone, but rather is held an endless regress of doctrinal pre-qualifications, and the exchange of assent to a creed for the gift of eternal life), then why hold the label? It is manifestly evident that grace is not free if one has to be pre-qualified and/or exchange their adherence to a creed in order to have everlasting life.
The fact of the matter is that movements grow and that can be a good thing if they are changing based upon truth. The “label” ought not to be denied if the principles at the foundation remain the same, but the expression of the truth is strengthened and clarified based upon a continual, and relentless appeal to the Scripture. Free Grace theology is faith alone in Christ alone — this is the basic and 1st tenet of it. Everything must be measured against this dictum. It can be shown that the promise-only segment alone adheres to it strictly.
On the Calvinism note, it seems to me that writers have picked up on the “tension” and apparant contradictory nature of Dort in processing these two theological pronouncements contained in it:
1) God will keep the elect and they will persevere
2) God uses the elect’s works as a means of their perseverance
Both statements are equally true of Dort and the wranglings of mind and thought that has arisen out of these two seemingly antithetical statements have been captured for us in the writings of Reformed proponents since the time of Calvin. Depending on what theological topic they are on, and their theological mood at the time, they have emphasized one over the other, but regard both to be equally true.
Inconsistency and contradiction is the inevitable outcome of creedal statements that are the writings of man and not infallible as the text of Scripture. Too, then is the writings of men who would rather parse the statements of the creeds, Reformers, and Divines, rather than mine the consistent and non-contradictory nature of the Word.
On this note, this is my last response to this article, unless you ask for clarification or desire other feedback. Thus I leave you to give your final word on these matters.
Thanks again for allowing me to post and to share my mind.
Antonio G. da Rosa
Perseverance in the Dortian sense (and in all forms of Calvinism that is trying to be faithful to the prime directive of the Reformed concept of a divine decree)is about inevitability. The prime directive is unconditional election. Irresistible grace, regeneration before faith, a limited atonement corresponding to a limited election are the logical implications of an unconditional election that corresponds and conforms to the all encompassing decree as understood by Calvinist and his most consistent followers. Unconditional election is the engine and perseverance is the caboose to use a train analogy. The fifth point is the Back Door To Calvinism but it takes you to down the same road. It is actually impossible to be free grace and embrace even one of the five points understood Calvinistically. Of course, as R.C. Sproul Sr., people affirm what something else they affirm denies.
Correction and addition-Perseverance in the Dortian sense (and in all forms of Calvinism that is trying to be faithful to the prime directive of the Reformed concept of a divine decree)is about inevitability. The prime directive is unconditional election. Irresistible grace, regeneration before faith, a limited atonement corresponding to a limited election are the logical implications of an unconditional election that corresponds and conforms to the all encompassing decree as understood by Calvinist and his most consistent followers.
Unconditional election is the engine and perseverance is the caboose to use a train analogy. The fifth point is the Back Door To Calvinism but it takes you to down the same road. It is actually impossible to be free grace and embrace even one of the five points understood Calvinistically. Of course, as R.C. Sproul Sr. says sometimes people affirm what they also deny.
Lordship Salvation is, Calvinistically Speaking, the fifth point on steroids. Free grace says that one is secure eternally when they believe in Christ and we can be sure we are secure because we believed in Christ. Perseverance of the saints says you are secure in Christ if you were unconditionally elect. In Calvinism, if you persevere in faith and righteousness to the end you can be almost certain that you were elected unconditionally. Calvin himself believed that God could be letting you think he elected you by giving you what appears to be proof of election but may in fact not prove anything except that God elects some and not others and we only know if we were or were not elect when we get to heaven or hell (see Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews).
Hi George. We met at a Southern California GES conference a few years back, and you gave me a signed copy of your book. Are you still doing Russian ministry?
I think a tension is present when, in Reformed thought, as shown in Dort:
1) God preserves the work of grace in the elect
2) Works, a responsibility of the elect, are said to inevitably characterize their lives and
3) God uses the elect’s faithfulness and works to preserve them
At this level, the Reformed Perseverance of the Saints is at odds with Free Grace Theology’s Eternal Security. The mode by which God preserves the elect is different. Quite simply put, to say that God secures the destiny of His people even partially through their faithfulness and works (albeit inevitable works) is but a shadow of Eternal Security, where they are secure based upon nothing more than God’s faithfulness to His word and promise.
What are your thoughts on that?
grace and peace,
Antonio da Rosa
Glad you dropped by! You said, “Calvin himself believed that God could be letting you think he elected you by giving you what appears to be proof of election but may in fact not prove anything except that God elects some and not others and we only know if we were or were not elect when we get to heaven or hell (see Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews).”
I would genuinely love this quote and reference if you can put your hands on it easily!
Thanks for dropping by…you are welcomed (as is everyone). I only ask that we all (me especially!) communicate with grace kindness, even in the midst of intense disagreement. You have especially been gracious here and I thank you.
As to my last thought (I think we are stuck at a disagreement on when one leaves a movement), I will add the statement from the Westminster Confession on Perseverance:
I add this to underscore how they (Calvinists of the era) lead off…”neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace”…this is fundamentally about Eternal Security.
I think George is right in how it is tied to unconditional election, though this too is preceded in thought— God’s will & mans’ depravity are in play.
At any rate, I still have hopes we will not fall into the ploy to think persevering in works is the essence of the 5th point of Calvinism (so called).
A couple of points:
1. I think you are making my point (wanted to see if you agree) when you say, “In Calvinism, if you persevere in faith and righteousness to the end you can be almost certain that you were elected unconditionally.” The shows the aspect of ‘persevering in good works’ belongs to the ‘how to’ of assurance. An elect person is elect and security (whether he knows it or not). The essential of the 5th point is that the elect cannot be lost. This is the same emphasis in the Westminster Confession —
2. I remain skeptical about “buy one point buy all five” and would love a very simple schematic of the argument. I get logic, and I get it’s failure (non sequitur or bad premise/bad conclusion). If the 5th Point is about Eternal Security I think I can get there, but I see nothing inherent in the logic of the first 4 points that lead to the 5th being about continuing in works/faith until the end. Help me 🙂 I also don’t think the logic turn from some of the points to their next in line as the only valid way. I know the originators saw it, but that doesn’t mean anything in a logical analysis.
Many thanks, and
Here’s what stumps me about the debate:
I guess I look at it more as the “preservation of the saints” and the “perseverence of the Saviour”. But I’m a free grace Baptist, what would I know :~)
Sorry I am so late to the conversation. Lord willing I am going to update my old but never published book Lordship Salvation-Back Door To Calvinism. I do remember meeting you Antonio and the great conversation we had. If you take up this discussion again, let me know. In Christ, George
You said that “At any rate, I still have hopes we will not fall into the ploy to think persevering in works is the essence of the 5th point of Calvinism (so called).
To be very precise, all five points understood Calvinistically are about theistic fatalism. I cannot imagine how it would be possible to read the Institutes (which Calvin’s followers did) without embracing theistic fatalism, which all consistent forms of Calvinism does. Your very unreformed free grace friend. I feel we have been time jumping.
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