Gospel Promises and Perseverance (Owen)

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 11: Continuing in the Faith One of John Owen’s many volumes is called “The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance Explained and Confirmed.”  As you might guess, it’s a great exposition of the “P” In “TULIP.”  I haven’t read it all yet, but so far it’s been very helpful and edifying.  Below is one section I ran across this morning.  It’s about gospel promises which are one more assurance that God will preserve his people.  Note how Owen distinguishes between law (covenant of works) and gospel (covenant of grace):

Gospel promises, then, are: 1. The free and gracious dispensations, and, 2. discoveries of God’s good-will and love, to, 3. sinners, 4. through Christ, 5. in a covenant of grace; 6. wherein, upon his truth and faithfulness, he engageth himself to be their God, to give his Son unto them and for them, and his Holy Spirit to abide with them, with all things that are either required in them or are necessary for them to make them accepted before him, and to bring them to an enjoyment of him.

I call them gospel promises, not as though they were only contained in the books of the New Testament, or given only by Christ after his coming in the flesh, [for they were given from the beginning of the world, or first entrance of sin, and the Lord made plentiful provision of them and by them for his people under the old testament,] but only to distinguish them from the promises of the law, which hold out a word of truth and faithfulness, engaged for a reward of life to them that yield obedience thereunto (there being an indissolvable connection between entering into life and keeping the commandments), and so to manifest that they all belong to the gospel properly so-called, or the tidings of that peace for sinners which was wrought out and manifested by Jesus Christ (Gal 3:12, Luke 2:10, Eph. 2:15, Is. 52:7).

After these paragraphs Owen goes on to expound on his definition (the opening numbered sentence above) in some detail. If you have access to this, I’d recommend it.  It’ll give you confidence in the promises of God and joy in his preserving grace!

The above quote is found in: Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 11, p. 227). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Will the Lord Leave Him? (Bunyan)

Saved by Grace Most readers of this blog are familiar with these phrases: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”  As a Christian, if you truly know your own heart, you know the reality of these words.  You know that things in this world have a strong pull and sometimes they draw you away from Jesus and you don’t act or look much like a Christian during those times.  We have to remember that this happens to other Christians too.  Other true followers of Jesus are prone to wander.  I’m not saying this to point fingers.  I’m saying this so we don’t harshly judge other Christians and quickly look down on them when they wander.  I’m saying this so we can show love, patience, and care for brothers and sisters who are currently wandering.

Thankfully Jesus’ grip on us is stronger than our grip on him.  Though we are prone to leave the God we love, he is not prone to leave the people he loves.  Here’s how John Bunyan talked about wandering (or backsliding):

…Perhaps the soul grows cold again, it also forgets this grace received, and waxeth carnal, begins again to itch after the world, loseth the life and savor of heavenly things, grieves the Spirit of God, woefully backslides, casteth off private duties quite, or else retains only the formality of them, is a reproach to religion, grieves the hearts of them that are awake, and tender of God’s name, etc.

But what will God do now? Will he take this advantage to destroy the sinner?
No.
Will he let him alone in his apostasy?
No. Will he leave him to recover himself by the strength of his now languishing graces?
No.
What then?
Why, he will seek this man out till he finds him, and bring him home to himself again: “For thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among the sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered.—I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick” (Eze 34:11, 16).

Later Bunyan talks about a child of God who wanders more than a few times:

“My people,” says God, “are bent to backsliding from me.” How many times did David backslide; yea, Jehoshaphat and Peter! (2 Sam 11, 24; 2 Chron 19:1–3; 20:1–5; Matt 26:69–71; Gal 2:11–13). As also in Jeremiah it is said, “But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return unto me, saith the Lord.” Here is grace! So many time as the soul backslides, so many times God brings him again—I mean, the soul that must be saved by grace-he renews his pardons, and multiplies them. “Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life” (Job 33:29-30 [NASB]).

I am prone to wander.  I know my sinful heart.  You also are prone to wander.  We should be patient and loving towards one another and other brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, as Bunyan pointed out from Scripture, the truth of the matter is that God will not leave us when we wander; he will bring us back again and again and again.  Since God never gives up on his people, neither should we.

 Bunyan, J. (2006). Saved by Grace (Vol. 1, p. 353). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Whole Chain Holdeth (Sibbes)

The unbreakable, unchanging love of God for his children is one of the most comforting truths in Christianity.  God’s love for us in Christ is a free love.  This means it is not dependent upon something in us or something we have done or left undone.  He knew we were ungodly sinners, yet he loved us and gave his Son to die for us (cf. Rom. 5:8).  He loves his people with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  When we stumble and fall, his grip of love does not waver. His love for us is firm and constant. Richard Sibbes explained the comforting aspect of God’s love very well in A Heavenly Conference.  Here’s an excerpt; notice how the love of the Lord is very much related to the perseverance of the saints:

Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooseth us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calleth us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifieth; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifieth he will glorify. The whole chain so holdeth, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calleth he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.

God embraceth us in the arms of his everlasting love, not that we embraced him first. When the child falleth not, it is from the mother’s holding the child, and not from the child’s holding the mother. So it is God’s holding of us, knowing of us, embracing of us, and justifying of us that maketh the state firm, and not ours; for ours is but a reflection and result of his, which is unvariable. The sight of the sun varieth, but the sun in the firmament keepeth always his constant course. So God’s love is as the sun, invariable, and forever the same.

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53-54.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Arminianism and the Stage Coach Guard (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)Here’s a helpful illustration on the perseverance of the saints by Augustus Toplady:

Arminianism represents God’s Spirit, as if he acted like the guard of a stage-coach, who sees the passengers safe out of town for a few miles; and then, making his bow, turns back, and leaves them to pursue the rest of the journey by themselves. But divine grace does not thus deal by God’s travellers. It accompanies them to their journey’s end, and without fail. So that the meanest pilgrim to Zion may shout, with David, in full certainty of faith, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all my days, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. Therefore, for preserving grace, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory,” for thy loving mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

After God has led his people through the wilderness of life, and brought them to the edge of that river which lies between them and the heavenly Canaan, will he suspend his care of them, in that time of deepest need? No, blessed be his name! On the contrary, he always – safely, and, generally, comfortably – escorts them over to the other side; to that good land which is very far off, to that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 186.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

We Get Back Up Again (Byrd)

Here’s a helpful way to talk about perseverance of the saints:

“Perseverance is humbling.  We desire righteousness, but we fall on our faces.  We look forward to the promise of eternally dwelling with God in holiness, and we know how far we are from it.  We receive God’s grace knowing that we are so utterly undeserving.  We don’t persevere by looking to ourselves.  And this is where Calvin’s teaching on the matter is so comforting.  ‘Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election.’  Sure, we will doubt that we have what it takes to persevere to the end.  That’s because we don’t.

“But Christ has already done the work for us, as the author and finisher of our faith.  All our promises are in Christ; praise God!  He had the fitness to persevere, and he is now preserving his own through his Holy Spirit to run to the end.  We will fall as we battle the flesh.  But we get back up again.  Because of the grace we have been given in Christ, we look to him and love righteousness.  We see his work on the cross and we hate sin.  We can confidently run into our Father’s arms in repentance.”

“We can be assured that we will persevere, because we see our preservation as a gift.”

Aimee Byrd, Theological Fitness, p. 94-5.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Romans 8 and Certain Salvation (Hodge)

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes Charles Hodge has an excellent summary of Romans 8 in his Systematic Theology (III.XVI.8).  In this section he gives six arguments of Paul’s proving that those whom Christ has saved will never come into condemnation.  In other words, they will be preserved.  Here’s Hodge:

The whole of the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is designed to prove the certain salvation of all who believe. The proposition to be established is, that there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” That is, they can never perish; they can never be so separated from Christ as to come into condemnation

The Apostle’s first argument to establish that proposition, is, that believers are delivered from the law by the sacrifice of Christ. The believer, therefore, is not under the law which condemns, as Paul had before said in Romans 6:4.

His second argument is that they have already within them the principle of eternal life. That principle is the Spirit of God; “the life-giving” as He was designated by the ancient Church. To be carnally minded is death. To be spiritually minded is life and peace.

The third argument for the security of believers, is, that they are the sons of God. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. That

The fourth argument is from the purpose of God. Those whom He has predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, them He calls to the exercise of faith and repentance; and whom He thus calls He justifies, He provides for them and imputes to them a righteousness which satisfies the demands of the law, and which entitles them in Christ and for his sake to eternal life; and those whom He justifies He glorifies.  There is no flaw in this chain.

Paul’s fifth argument is from the love of God. As stated above, the Apostle argues from the greatness, the freeness, and the immutability of that love that its objects never can be lost.

The sixth argument of the Apostle is that, as the love of God is infinitely great and altogether gratuitous, it is also immutable, and, therefore, believers shall certainly be saved.

The above list has been edited for length.  You can find the entire excellent discussion in volume 3 of Hodge’s Systematic Theology.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

‘Kept for Jesus’ by Sam Storms: A Review

Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security Will I fall away from Jesus?  This is one question that sometimes comes up in the Christian life – and it is addressed in the Bible.  Sam Storms discusses this topic in his new book, Kept for Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).  This book isn’t an exhaustive explanation of perseverance (preservation) of the saints; rather, it is specifically a discussion of the texts in the New Testament that teach this truth.  Storms also takes some time to deal with the difficult texts that seem to teach Christians can fall away.  In this volume, Storms frequently quotes and builds upon the work of contemporary Baptist theologians such as John Piper, Tom Schreiner, and Wayne Grudem.

There are eleven chapters in this book (covering just over 190 pages).  In the first chapter, Storms talks about perseverance in John 6 and 10.  In the second chapter, he talks about some tough texts in Matthew – specifically the “Lord Lord” text from Matthew 7, blasphemy against the Spirit in Matthew 12, and the parable of the soils in Matthew 13.  Chapter 3 is Storm’s exposition of the vine text in John 15.  The next chapter (4) is where he discusses the steadfast love of God in Romans 5 and 8; in chapter 5 he discusses Romans 8 in more detail.  1 and 2 Corinthians is the focus of chapter 6, specifically 1 Cor. 1:4-9, 11:27-32, and 2 Cor. 1:21-22.  Difficult texts (Heb. 6 and 2 Cor 13) is what Storms writes about in chapter 7.  Storms talks about perseverance in other epistles in chapter 8, and in chapters 9-10 he works through some difficult texts (e.g. Rom. 11:22, 2 Cor. 6:1-2, James 5:19-20, etc).  The final chapter asks and answers the question: “Can a Christian commit the sin unto death?”

I have to admit the overall structure of this book seemed a bit random – I was hoping it would have a more unified outline or structure.  It sort of read like a collection of articles instead of an outlined book.  Another minor critique worth noting is that though the subtitle mentions “assurance,” there isn’t a whole lot of space devoted to it.   Storms also made the common mistake of equating “Reformed” and “Calvinism” in the introduction (p. 14); not to nitpick, but it is important to remember that there is a whole lot more to Reformed theology than Five Points!  This becomes evident since Storms doesn’t talk about (for just two examples) the covenant of grace or the intra-trinitarian covenant (which both show up in the NT).

I don’t want to be too critical, however, because the book is specifically only meant to be a defense of perseverance of the saints in New Testament passages.  Storms wasn’t out to write a Reformed systematic defense and description of perseverance in this book, so I can’t critique him for not doing so!  I especially appreciated the section where Storms talks about the unforgivable sin; his treatment was superb and pastoral.  His chapter on love from Romans texts was also very helpful and edifying – God’s love in Christ means nothing can separate the sheep from the Shepherd!  There are some obvious strengths to this book, and I’m glad to have read these sections I just mentioned.  Though some “difficult” texts weren’t discussed in much detail, the ones that he discussed in detail were explained pretty well.

If you’ve read other books on perseverance that discuss these key texts or if you’ve read quite a few other books on this topic, you might not need this one.  [Also, I’m not sure “convinced” Arminians would all appreciate this book because at times Storms notes what Arminians teach but does not cite his claims.]  However, if you need a Calvinist resource that discusses NT texts about perseverance, this is one to get!  It’s not overly difficult (though it isn’t structured for a book club/reading group) or too lengthy, and it has some good explanations of the truth that no one can snatch Christ’s sheep out of his hand.

Sam Storms, Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

shane lems
hammond, wi