Does Perseverance of the Saints Promote Impiety and False Assurance?

Perseverance of the Saints Impiety and False Assurance

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Herman Witsius
Economy of the Covenants
Book III, ch. 13, pp. 77-81.

Objection:

Perseverance of the saints promotes impiety and false assurance.

Answer:

XLI. Hence appears the falsehood of the calumny of our adversaries, that, by this doctrine concerning the almighty conservation of God, a wide door is opened to profaneness and carnal security. That it is highly useful and effectual for the consolation of believers, provided it is true, will not be contradicted even by those who deny it. But nothing can be effectual for the consolation of the saints, which, at the same time, is not effectual for the promoting of holiness. For in every consolation, there is a demonstration of the beneficent love of God towards the wretched sinner who is solicitous about his salvation; and the clearer that demonstration of divine love is, and the more particular the application, the stronger also is the consolation. Besides, nothing is more powerful for inflaming our hearts with love to God, than the knowledge, sense, and taste of the divine love shed abroad in them. Whoever, therefore, most amplifies the powerful grace of God in his consolation, which impudence itself will not deny we do, presents to the saints the most powerful motives to divine love and the consequences thereof.

Perseverance of the Saints Promotes Piety.

XLII. But let us more particularly show, that our doctrine is far more adapted to promote piety, than what our adversaries maintain concerning the unstable happiness of believers. And first, our doctrine doth certainly most of all illustrate the glory of God, which the opposite tends to obscure. We celebrate the infinite power of the Deity, whereby he can not only restrain our outward enemies from overthrowing our salvation, but also so fix the wavering disposition of our will, that it may not depart from the constant love of holiness; also his truth in the promises of the covenant of grace, on which we safely and securely rely; being assured, that he who hath promised will also perform; and his goodness, whereby he does not altogether reject or disinherit his children, or cut them off from the communion of Christ, even when they have fallen into some grievous sin, but by his fatherly chastisements, graciously recovers them from their fall and stirs them up to repentance; and his holiness, to which it is owing that he hides his face from his children, when, for some time, they seem to give too much way to sin, so that he does not grant them familiar access to himself, nor the influences of his consolations, but sharply stings and thoroughly terrifies their conscience with the sense of his indignation, lest he should appear to be like the sinner, or could bear with sin in his own people without resentment; and the efficacy of the merits and intercession of Christ, whereby he has acquired and preserves for himself an inheritance never to be alienated. In fine, we celebrate the invincible power of the Holy Spirit, who so preserves his mystical temple, that it neither can be destroyed, nor be made an habitation of impure spirits. But as the sum of our religion consists in glorifying God; so that which illustrates the glory of God in this manner, does most of all promote godliness.

Arminianism is Injurious to God’s Work of Salvation.

XLIII. But as the opposite doctrine separates the immutable bent of the free will to good from the efficacy of divine grace; as it maintains that God does not always perform what he has promised; as it will not grant that God’s children, when they fall into some grievous sins, are chastised with rods, but disinherited and punished by spiritual death; as it asserts that the impetration of salvation by Christ may be perfect, and in every respect complete, though none should happen actually to be saved thereby, and that Christ was not always heard in his prayers; and that the Holy Spirit is sometimes constrained, by the mutability of the human will, to give up his habitation to the evil spirit; the opposite doctrine, I say, must in many respects, be injurious to the power, truth, and goodness of God the Father, to the merits and intercession of God the Son, and to the invincible efficacy of the Holy Spirit.

Perseverance of the Saints Motivates Repentance.

XLIV. 2dly, Our doctrine is excellently adapted to allure the unconverted seriously to endeavour after conversion and repentance; for the more sure and stable that happens it, which is promised to the penitent, the more effectual is the motive taken from the consideration of it. The Scripture every where dissuades men from searching after the good things of this world, and encourages them to seek those good things which are spiritual, from this argument, that the former will perish, but the latter endure for ever. John 6:27: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” 1 John 2:15, 17: “Love not the world: the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” And indeed, what can be more powerful to excite to repentance than this reflection? “As long as I am distracted with the anxious cares of this life, let my success be ever so great, I can only amass perishing treasures, of which I may perhaps be deprived in this very life, and the remembrance of which shall certainly torment me in the next. But if I diligently pursue the work of my conversion, I shall, from the very first moment of that, obtain that love of God in Christ, from which nothing shall ever be able to separate me again; and the sooner I enjoy that, the sooner I acquire that supreme good which is possessed without any danger of having my misery renewed.”

Arminianism Breeds Procrastination to Repentance.

XLV. But the opposite doctrine is adapted to procrastinate endeavours after repentance. For, when it is inculcated on a man, that a child of God by regeneration, after having for some time been engaged in the practice of holiness, not only may, but actually has often fallen away, and become a child of the devil, been disinherited by his heavenly Father, and is with greater difficulty renewed to repentance, the further progress he had made in holiness: the thought will easily be entertained by those who hear of exhortations to repentance, that there is no occasion to press the matter of their conversion so strenuously in their tender years, lest perhaps, considering the great inconstancy of unstable youth, they be overtaken by some great sin and their condition be far worse than it was before: that it is more advisable to wait for those years (for we generally promise ourselves long life), in which both our judgment is riper, and the mind usually pursues with more constancy what it has once applied to, enjoying in the mean time the delights of this world. Now, nothing can be more pestilential than this thought, which yet this doctrine suggests.

Perseverance of the Saints Kindles Spiritual Steadfastness.

XLVI. 3dly, Our doctrine is also very powerful to confirm the elect, already converted in the spiritual life, and to quicken them to the constant practice of religion, which may be proved various ways: 1st, All the arguments which are raised from the possible apostasy of the saints, are taken from the fear of punishment and the terror of dreadful threatenings; but those taken from God’s most powerful conservation, breathe nothing but his love and the incredible sweetness of divine grace. Moreover it is certain, that the children of God, “who have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father,” Rom. 8:15, are more powerfully drawn by the cords of love, than driven by the scourge of terror; for, “that love of Christ constraineth us,” 2 Cor. 5:14. 2dly, All our religion is nothing but gratitude; but it is clear, that that person more effectually promotes gratitude, who proves by cogent arguments, that the happiness bestowed from grace, shall be perpetual by the help of the same grace, than he who maintains, that though it be truly great, yet it may be lost. 3dly, It is equitable, that the better secured the reward of our duty is, the more diligent we should be in the practice of religion. For the consideration of the reward is among those things which render the commands of God sweet, Ps. 19:10. But we assure the faithful worshippers of God from his own word, that, from their very first entrance on the course of sincere godliness their reward is sure; calling upon them with the apostle, 1 Cor. 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” But our adversaries unhappily discourage all diligence, while they teach that we know not whether our labour shall be in vain or not, since it is possible we may fall away, and so have all along laboured for nothing.

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