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The Confession of Faith: A Commentary on
The Westminster Confession of Faith
by
A. A. Hodge
Chapter 17
Of The Perseverance of the Saints


SECTION I. 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.[1]

1. Phil. 1:6; 2 Peter 1:10; Rom. 8:28-30; John 10:28-29; 1 John 3:9; 5:18; 1 Peter 1:5, 9

SECTION II. 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;[2] upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ,[3] the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them,[4] and the nature of the covenant of grace:[5] from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.[6]

2. Ps. 89:3-4, 28-33; II Tim. 2:18-19; Jer. 31:3

3. Heb. 7:25; 9:12-15; 10:10, 14; 13:20-21; 17:11, 24; Rom. 8:33-39; Luke 22:32

4. John 14:16-17; I John 2:27; 3:9

5. Jer. 32:40; Ps. 89:34-37; see Jer. 31:31-34

6. John 6:38-40; 10:28; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 2:19

SECTION III. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins;[7] and, for a time, continue therein:[8] whereby they incur God’s displeasure,[9] and grieve his Holy Spirit,[10] come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts,[11] have their hearts hardened,[12] and their consciences wounded;[13] hurt and scandalize others,[14] and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.[15]

7. Exod. 32:21; Jonah 1:3, 10; Ps. 51:14; Matt. 26:70, 72, 74

8. 2 Sam. 12:9, 13; Gal. 2:11-14

9. Num. 20:12; 2 Sam. 11:27; Isa. 64:7, 9

10. Eph. 4:30

11. Ps. 51:8, 10, 12; Rev. 2:4; Matt. 26:75 12. Isa. 63:17

13. Ps. 32:3-4; 51:8

14. Gen. 12:10-20; 2 Sam. 12:14; Gal. 2:13

15. Ps. 89:31-32; 1 Cor. 11:32

This chapter teaches the following propositions: —

1. The true believer, having been once regenerated and justified by God, can never afterward totally nor finally fall away from grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end.

2. That the principle of this certain perseverance is not in any degree in the free will of the saints, but altogether — (1.) In the inherent immutability of the eternal decree of election; (2.) In the provisions of the eternal covenant of grace; (3.) In the merits and intercession of Christ; and. (4.) In the constant indwelling and preserving power of the Holy Ghost.

3. The true believer may nevertheless fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein. The occasions of which falls are — (1.) The temptations of the world; (2.) The seductions of Satan; (3.) The remaining corruptions of their own nature; (4.) The neglect of the means of grace. The effects of which falls are — (a.) God is displeased and the Holy Ghost grieved; (6.) They are themselves to a degree deprived of their graces and comforts, their hearts being hardened and their consciences wounded, and their persons visited with temporal judgments; (a.) Their conduct is a stumbling-block to all who see them, and an occasion of sorrow to their fellow-Christians.

It is obvious that adherents of the Arminian and Calvinistic systems must take opposite sides on this question. The Arminian, as we have seen, holds — (1.) That God elects persons to eternal life only on condition of their voluntary reception of grace and perseverance therein till death, as foreseen by him. (2.) That Christ died to render the salvation of all men indifferently possible and not as the substitute of certain persons definitely, to discharge all their legal obligations, and to secure for them all the rewards of the covenant. (3.) That all men have the same gracious influence of the Holy Ghost operating upon them, and that the reason why one believes and is regenerated, and that another continues reprobate, is that the former voluntarily cooperates with grace and that the other resists it. Thus, in the personal application of redemption the Arminian makes everything to depend upon the free will of the creature. Since, then, neither the decree of God, nor the atonement of Christ, nor the grace of the Holy Ghost determines the certain salvation of any individual—since the application and effect of the atonement and of the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Spirit depend, in their view, upon the free will of every man in his own case—it necessarily follows that the perseverance of any man in the grace once received must also depend entirely upon his own will. And since the human will is essentially fallible and capable of change, and in this life exposed to seduction, it follows, of course, that the believer is at all times liable to total apostasy, and dying in that state, to final perdition. Hence the Romish Church, whose doctrine is purely Arminian, declares in her authoritative Standards: “If any one maintain that a man once justified cannot lose grace, and therefore that he who falls and sins never was truly justified, let him be accursed.” (Council of Trent, sess. vi., can. 23).

The Protestant Arminians also hold that it is not only possible, but also a frequent fact, that, persons truly regenerate, by neglecting grace and grieving the Holy Spirit with sin, fall away totally, and at length finally, from grace into eternal reprobation. (Confession of the Remonstrants, 11:7).

The Calvinistic doctrine, as stated in this chapter of our Confession, is, that God has revealed his gracious purpose to cause every true believer to persevere in his faith and obedience till death; that he will never be allowed to fall away totally from grace, and therefore he never can fall away finally.

It is obvious, from this statement, that this doctrine is not open to the objections which are often brought against it.

(1.) It is absurd to say that, it is inconsistent with man’s free will. As God does not make a man come to Christ, so he does not constrain him to continue in Christ, irrespective of his will. God graciously causes a man to persevere in willing. That is the whole truth. It is a precious truth, clearly revealed, which the Arminian Christian can no more afford to give up than the Calvinist, that God can, and does, control the free wills of his people without limiting their liberty, making them “willing in the day of his power,” and “working in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” (Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13). The Arminians themselves believe that the saints will be rendered secure from falling from grace when they go to heaven, and yet that they will be nonetheless perfectly free as to their wills. If the two are consistent conditions in heaven, they can be nonetheless so on earth.

(2.) This doctrine is not liable to the charge of fostering a spirit of carnal security, on the ground that if we are once in grace we cannot lose grace or be lost, do what we please. Let it be observed —(a.) That the true doctrine is not that salvation is certain if we have once believed, but that perseverance in holiness is certain if we have truly believed. (b.) The certainty—nay, the probability—of an individual’s salvation is known to him only through the fact of his perseverance in holiness. A tendency to relax watchful effort to grow in grace because true Christians will not be allowed to fall away totally, is a direct evidence that we are not in a gracious state; and hence that the threatenings of the law and the invitations of the gospel, and not the perseverance of the saints, are the special truths applicable to our case. (c.) This doctrine teaches, not that persistent effort on our part is not necessary in order to secure perseverance in grace to the end, but that in this effort we are certain of success; for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure, (Phil, 2:13).

1. The fact of this certain perseverance is distinctly asserted in Scripture. Believers are said to be “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” (1 Pet. 1:5). Paul was confident that He who had begun a good work in them (the Philippians) will perform it (finish completely) until the day of Jesus Christ. Phil. i. 6. Jesus said, “I give unto them (my sheep) eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,” (John 10:28; Rom. 11:29).

2. The ground of this certain perseverance is not at all in the free will of the saints, but altogether —(1.) In the inherent immutability of the eternal decree of election. We saw, under chapter iii., that God’s decree of election (a.) respects individuals; (b.) chooses them to salvation and all the means thereof; (c.) is not conditioned on the use he foresees they will make of grace, but is founded on “ the counsel of his own will;” (d.) is immutable and certainly efficacious. Essence those elected to salvation through grace must persevere in grace unto salvation.

The ground of the certainty of the perseverance of saints is also laid —(2.) In the provisions of the eternal covenant of grace. We saw, under chapter vii., that the Scriptures teach that there was a covenant or personal counsel from eternity between the Father and the Son, as the Surety of the elect, determining explicitly (a.) who were to be saved; (b.) what Christ was to do and suffer in order to save them; (c.) as to how and when the redemption of Christ was to be personally applied to them; (d.) as to all the advantages embraced in their salvation, etc. Hence it follows necessarily that those embraced in this covenant cannot fail of the benefits provided for them. “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand,” (John 10:29).

This certainty is grounded —(3.) In the merits and intercession of Christ. We saw, under chapter viii., that the Scriptures teach that Christ, by his vicarious obedience and suffering as their federal representative, wrought out a perfect righteousness in the stead of his people—which people were all individually and certainly designated in the eternal covenant in pursuance of which he acted; and that he makes effectual intercession in heaven for all those, and for those only, for whom he hath purchased redemption. Since, therefore, neither Christ’s redemption nor his intercession can fail of the ends for which they are designed, it is evidently impossible that those for whom he was substituted, and for whom he acquired a perfect righteousness, and for whom he offers an effectual intercession, can fail of salvation.

The certainty of the perseverance of the saints in grace is se cured —(4.) By the constant indwelling of the Holy Ghost. He acts upon the soul in perfect accordance with the laws of its constitution as a rational and moral agent, and yet so as to secure the ultimate victory of the new spiritual principles and tendencies implanted in regeneration, (John 14:16-17; 1 John 3:9).

3. The contents of the third proposition taught in this chapter should be examined carefully in connection with the proof-texts annexed to the several clauses. They need not be further illustrated by us, since all therein contained is a matter of plain meaning and of universal experience. Observe the cases of David (2 Sam. 11:2-4; Ps. 51) and of Peter (Luke 22:54-62). The perseverance of believers in grace is wrought by the Holy Ghost, not irrespective of, but through, the free will of the man himself. Therefore it is a duty as well as a grace. The grace of it should be preached for the encouragement of the diligent. The duty, and absolute necessity of it to salvation, should be preached to quicken the slothful and to increase the sense of obligation felt by all.

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