Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
The Confession is keen to reinforce this splendid promise which is peppered throughout Scripture. We are, argues the Confession, everlastingly saved – once saved, always saved. In other words, we are being kept. The perseverance of the saints is the reality that God’s people ‘can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved’ (pg. 76). The promise is that ‘though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon’ (pg. 76).
My preferred expression of this doctrine in Scripture is Jesus’ precious words in John 10:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (vv. 27-29)
However, both Paul and John make the same promises! Paul assures the Philippian church that ‘he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (1:6). John, identifying the false teachers troubling the believers he writes to, confirms that those who are truly Christians continue in the faith (1 Jn. 2:19). The perseverance of the saints is our being kept, and that being kept is an act of God.
That this is indeed a work of God is expressed explicitly by the Confession: ‘[Christians] shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation’ (pg. 76). He does do this through means, such as: faith, repentance, love, joy, hope and ‘all the graces of the Spirit’ (pg. 76). However, in the end it is unmistakably God who has kept His saints:
The perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the mutability of the decree of election, 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, the oath of God, the abiding of His Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (pg. 77)
Again, we see this expressed in Scripture as Jude both begins and closes his letter with the concept of perseverance. He begins by encouraging the church with the knowledge that they are ‘kept for Jesus Christ’ (v. 1) and closes by reminding them that it is God ‘who is able to keep you’ (v. 24).
Against All Hope?
This is not to say that we are perfect, nor that we need not watch our life and doctrine closely since God will keep us. In fact, Jude also reminds his readers that they must ‘keep yourselves in the love of God’ (v. 21). We are not perfect, and we will neglect our life and doctrine at times. The Confession is clear about this. We will be tempted, corrupted, fall into sin, continue in sin, neglect means of grace, and grieve the Holy Spirit. As a result we will impair our graces and comforts, harden our hearts, wound our conscience, scandalise others and bring judgement on ourselves. Yet against all hope we will persevere:
Yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Jesus Christ to the end. (pg.78)
The reason this is a certainty is because Christians are those ‘who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:5).