« Prev 10. Perseverance Next »

10. Perseverance

'Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.' I Pet 1:1.

The fifth and last fruit of sanctification, is perseverance in grace. The heavenly inheritance is kept for the saints, and they are kept to the inheritance. I Pet 1:1. The apostle asserts a saint's stability and permanence in grace. The saint's perseverance is much opposed by Papists and Arminians; but it is not the less true because it is opposed. A Christian's main comfort depends upon this doctrine of perseverance. Take this away, and you prejudice religion, and cut the sinews of all cheerful endeavours. Before I come to the full handling and discussing of this great point, let me first clear the sense of it.

I. When I say, Believers persevere:

[1] I grant, that such as are so only in profession, may fall away. ‘Demas has forsaken me.' 2 Tim 4:40. Blazing comets soon evaporate. A building on sand will fall. Matt 7:76. Seeming grace may be lost. No wonder to see a bough fall from a tree that is only tied on. Hypocrites are only tied on Christ by an external profession, they are not ingrafted. Who ever thought artificial motions would hold long? The hypocrite's motion is only artificial, not vital. All blossoms do not ripen into fruit.

[2] I grant that if believers were left to stand on their own legs, they might fall finally. Some of the angels, who were stars full of light and glory, actually lost their grace; and if those pure angels fell from grace, much more would the godly, who have so much sin to betray them, if they were not upheld by a superior power.

L3] I grant that, although true believers do not fall away actually, and lose all their grace, yet their grace may fail in degree, and they may make a great breach upon their sanctification. Grace may be moritura, non mortua; dying, but not dead. ‘Strengthen the things which are ready to die.' Rev 3:3. Grace may be like fire in the embers; though not quenched, yet the flame is gone out. This decay of grace I shall show in two particulars.

(1.) The lively actings of grace may be suspended. ‘Thou hast left thy first love.' Rev 2:2. Grace may be like a sleepy habit; the godly may act faintly in religion, the pulse of their affections may beat low. The wise virgins slumbered. Matt 25:5. The exercise of grace may be hindered; as when the course of water is stopped. (2.) Instead of grace working in the godly, corruption may work; instead of patience, murmuring; instead of heavenliness, earthliness. How did pride put forth itself in the disciples, when they strove who should be the greatest! How did lust put forth itself in David! Thus lively and vigorous may corruption be in the regenerate; they may fall into enormous sins. But though all this be granted, yet they do not, penitus exeidere, fall away finally from grace. David did not quite lose his grace: for then, why did he pray, ‘Take not away thy holy spirit from me,? He had not quite lost the Spirit. As Eutychus, when he fell from a window (Acts 20:) and all thought he was dead - ‘No, saith Paul, there is life in him;' so David fell foully, but there was the life of grace in him. Though the saints may come to that pass that they have but little faith, yet not to have no faith. Though their grace may be drawn low, yet it is not drawn dry; though grace may be abated, it is not abolished; though the wise virgins slumbered, yet their lamps were not quite gone out. Grace, when at the lowest, shall revive and flourish; as when Samson had lost his strength, his hair grew again, and his strength was renewed. Having thus explained the proposition, I come now to amplify this great doctrine of the saint's perseverance.

II. By what means do Christians come to persevere?

[1] By the help of ordinances, as of prayer, the word, and the sacraments. Christians do not arrive at perseverance when they sit still and do nothing. It is not with us as with passengers in a ship, who are carried to the end of their voyage while they sit still in the ship; or, as it is with noblemen, who have their rents brought in without their toil or labour; but we arrive at salvation in the use of means; as a man comes to the end of a race by running, to a victory by fighting. ‘Watch and pray.' Matt 26:6I. As Paul said, ‘Except ye abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.' Acts 27:7 1: Believers shall come to shore at last, arrive at heaven; but ‘except they abide in the ship,' viz.' in the use of ordinances, ‘they cannot be saved.' The ordinances cherish grace; as they beget grace, so they are the breastmilk by which it is nourished and preserved to eternity.

[2] Auxilio Spiritus, by the sacred influence and concurrence of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is continually at work in the heart of a believer, to carry on grace to perfection. It drops in fresh oil, to keep the lamp of grace burning. The Spirit excites, strengthens, increases grace, and makes a Christian go from one step of faith to another, till he comes to the end of his faith, which is salvation. I Pet 1:1. It is a fine expression of the apostle, ‘The Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.' 2 Tim 1:14. He who dwells in a house, keeps the house in repair; so the Spirit dwelling in a believer, keeps grace in repair. Grace is compared to a river of the water of life. John 7:78. This river can never be dried up, because God's Spirit is the spring that continually feeds it.

[3] Grace is carried on to perfection by Christ's daily intercession. As the Spirit is at work in the heart, so is Christ at work in heaven. Christ is ever praying that the saint's grace may hold out. Conserva illos; “Father, keep those whom thou hast given me:” keep them as the stars in their orbs: keep them as jewels, that they may not be lost. “Father keep them.”, John 17:7: That prayer which Christ made for Peter, was the copy of the prayer he now makes for believers. ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,' that it be not totally eclipsed. Luke 22:22. How can the children of such prayers perish?

III. Arguments to prove the saint's perseverance.

[1] A veritate Dei, ‘from the truth of God.' God has both asserted it, and promised it. (1.) God has asserted it. ‘His seed remaineth in him.' I John 3:3. ‘The anointing ye have received of him abideth in you.' I John 2:27. (2.) As God has asserted it, so he has promised it. The truth of God, the most orient pearl of his crown, is laid as a pawn in the promise. ‘I will give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.' John 10:08. ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good, but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.' Jer 32:20. God will so love his people, that he will not forsake them; and they shall so fear him, that they shall not forsake him. If a believer should not persevere, God would break his promise. ‘I will betroth thee unto me for ever, in righteousness and lovingkindness.' Hos 2:19. God does not marry his people unto himself, and then divorce them; he hates putting away. Mal 2:16. God's love ties the marriage-knot so fast, that neither death nor hell can break it asunder.

[2] The second argument is, a potentia Dei, ‘from the power of God.' The text says, we ‘are kept by the power of God unto salvation.' Each Person in the Trinity has a hand in making a believer persevere. God the Father establishes. 2 Cor 1:1I. God the Son confirms, I Cor 1:1. God the Holy Ghost seals. Eph 1:13. So that it is the power of God that keeps us. We are not kept by our own power. The Pelagians held that man by his own power might overcome temptation and persevere. Augustine confutes them. ‘Man,' says he, ‘prays unto God for perseverance, which would be absurd, if he had power of himself to persevere.' ‘And,' says Augustine, ‘if all the power be inherent in a man's self, then why should not one persevere as well as another? Why not Judas as well as Peter?' So that it is not by any other than the power of God that we are kept. The Lord preserved Israel from perishing in the wilderness, till he brought them to Canaan; and the same care will he take, if not in a miraculous manner, yet in a spiritual invisible manner, in preserving his people in a state of grace, till he bring them to the celestial Canaan. As the heathens feigned of Atlas, that he bears up the heavens from falling: the power of God is that Atlas which bears up the saints from falling. It is disputed, whether grace of itself may not perish, as Adam's; yet sure I am, grace kept by the power of God cannot perish.

[3] The third argument is taken, ab electione, ‘from God's electing love.' Such as God has from all eternity elected to glory, cannot fall away finally; but every true believer is elected to glory, therefore he cannot fall away. What can frustrate election, or make God's decree void? This argument stands like Mount Sion, which cannot be moved; insomuch that some of the Papists hold, that those who have absolute election cannot fall away. ‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his.' 2 Tim 2:19. The foundation of God is nothing else but God's decree in election; and this stands sure; God will not alter it, and others cannot.

[4] The fourth argument is taken, ab unione cum Christo, ‘from believers' union with Christ.' They are knit to Christ as the members to the head, by the nerves and ligaments of faith, so that they cannot be broken off. Eph 5:53. What was once said of Christ's natural body is true of his mystical. ‘A bone of it shall not be broken.' As it is not possible to sever the leaven and the dough when they are once mingled and kneaded together, so it is impossible for Christ and believers, when once united, ever to be separated. Christ and his members make one body. Now, is it possible that any part of Christ should perish? How can Christ lose any member of his mystic body, and be perfect? In short, si unus excidat, quare non et alter? If one believer may be broken off from Christ, then, by the same rule, why not another. Why not all? And so Christ would be a head without a body.

[5] The fifth argument is taken, ab emptione, ‘from the nature of a purchase.' A man will not lay down his money for a purchase which may be lost, and the fee-simple alienated. Christ died that he might purchase us as a people to himself for ever. ‘Having obtained eternal redemption for us.' Heb 9:12. Would Christ, think ye, have shed his blood that we might believe in him for a while, and then fall away? Do we think Christ will lose his purchase?

[6] The sixth argument is, a victoria supra mundum, ‘from a believer's victory over the world.' The argument stands thus: He who overcomes the world perseveres in grace; but a believer overcomes the world; therefore a believer perseveres in grace. ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' I John 5:5. A man may lose a single battle in the field, yet win the victory at last. A child of God may be foiled in a single battle against temptation, as Peter was, but he is victorious at last. Now, if a saint be crowned victor, if the world be conquered by him, he must needs persevere.

IV. I come next to answer some objections of the Arminians.

[1] The first objection of Arminians is, If a believer shall persevere in grace, to what purpose are admonitions in Scripture, such as ‘Let him take heed lest he fall;' I Cor 10:02; and, ‘Let us fear, lest any of you seem to come short.' Heb 4:1? Such admonitions seem to be superfluous, if a saint shall certainly persevere.

These admonitions are necessary to caution believers against carelessness; they are as goads and spurs to quicken them to greater diligence in working out their salvation. They do not imply the saints can fall away, but are preservatives to keep them from falling away. Christ told some of his disciples they should abide in him, yet he exhorts them to abide in him. John 15:5. His exhorting them was not in the least to question their abiding in him, but to awaken their diligence, and make them pray the harder, that they might abide in him.

[2] The second objection is, It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have felt the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance. Heb 6:6.

This place of Scripture has no force in it, for the apostle here speaks of hypocrites; he shows how far they may go, and yet fall away. (1.) They who were once enlightened. Men may have great illuminations, yet fall away. Was not Judas enlightened? (2.) They have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost; the common gifts of the Spirit, not the special grace. (3.) They have tasted the good word of God. Tasting here is opposed to eating: the hypocrite may have a kind of taste of the sweetness of religion, but his taste does not nourish. There is a great deal of difference between one Perseverance that takes a gargle and a cordial: the gargle only washes his mouth - he tastes it, and puts it out again; but a cordial is drunk down, which nourishes and cherishes the spirits. The hypocrite, who has only some smack or taste of religion, as one tastes a gargle, may fall away. (4.) And have felt the powers of the world to come; that is, they may have such apprehensions of the glory of heaven as to be affected with it, and seem to have some joy in the thoughts of it, yet fall away; as in the parable of the stony ground. Matt 13:3o. All this is spoken of the hypocrite; but it does not therefore prove that the true believer, who is effectually wrought upon, can fall away. Though comets fall, it does not follow that true stars fall. That this Scripture speaks not of sound believers, is clear from ver 9: ‘But we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.'

Use one: For instruction. (1.) See the excellence of grace. It perseveres. Other things are but for a season; health and riches are sweet, but they are but for a season; but grace is the blossom of eternity. The seed of God remains. I John 3:3. Grace may suffer an eclipse, not a dissolution. It is called substance, for its solidity, Prov 8:8I; and durable riches, for its permanence. Prov 8:18. It lasts as long as the soul, as heaven lasts. Grace is not like a lease which soon expires, but it runs parallel with eternity.

(2.) See here that which may excite in the saints everlasting love and gratitude to God. What can make us love God more than the fixedness of his love to us? He is not only the author of grace, but finisher; his love is perpetual and carried on to our salvation. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life.' John 10:07, 28. My sheep, there is election; hear my voice, there is vocation; and I know them, there is justification; and they follow me, there is sanctification; and I give unto them eternal life, there is glorification. How may this make us love God, and set up the monuments and trophies of his praise! How much have we done to cause God to withdraw his Spirit, and suffer us to fall finally! yet that he should keep us, let his name be blessed, and his memorial eternalised, who keepeth the feet of his saints. I Sam 2:2.

(3.) See whence it is that saints persevere in holiness. It is to be ascribed solely to the power of God; we are kept by his power, kept as in a garrison. It is a wonder that any Christian perseveres, if you consider: (1:) Corruption within. The tares are mingled with the wheat; there is more sin than grace, yet grace be habitually predominant. Grace is like a spark in the sea, a wonder that it is not quenched. It is a wonder that sin does not destroy grace; that it does not do, as sometimes the nurse to the infant, overlay it, and so this infant of grace be smothered and die. (2:) Temptations without. Satan envies us happiness, and he raises his militia, and stirs up persecution. He shoots his fiery darts of temptations, which are called darts for their swiftness, fiery for their terribleness. We are every day beset with devils. As it was a wonder that Daniel was kept alive in the midst of the roaring lions, so there are many roaring devils about us, and yet we are not torn in pieces. Now, whence is it that we stand against these powerful temptations? We are kept by the power of God. (3:) The world's “olden snares, riches and pleasure. ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God?' Luke 18:84. How many have been cast away upon these golden sands, as Demas! 2 Tim 4:40. What a wonder any soul perseveres in religion, that the earth does not choke the fire of all good affections? Whence is this, but from the power of God? We are kept by his power.

Use two: For consolation. This doctrine of perseverance is as a bezoar stone; it is a sovereign cordial to keep up the spirits of the godly from fainting. (1.) There is nothing that more troubles a child of God than that he fears he shall never hold out. ‘These weak legs of mine,' he says, will never carry me to heaven.' But perseverance is an inseparable fruit of sanctification. Once in Christ, for ever in Christ. A believer may fall from some degrees of grace, but not from the state of grace. An Israelite could never wholly sell or alienate his inheritance. Lev 25:53. So our heavenly inheritance cannot be wholly alienated from us. How despairing is the Arminian doctrine of falling from grace! To-day a saint, tomorrow a reprobate; to-day a Peter, to-morrow a Judas. This must needs cut the sinews of a Christian's endeavour, and be like boring a hole in a vessel: to make all the wine of his joy run out. Were the Arminian doctrine true, how could the apostle say, the seed of God remains in him, and the anointing of God abides? I John 3:3; I John 2:27. What comfort were it to have one's name written in the book of life, if it might be blotted out again? But be assured, for your comfort, grace, if true, though never so weak, shall persevere. Though a Christian has but little grace to trade with, yet he need not fear breaking, because God not only gives him a stock of grace, but will keep his stock for him. Gratia concutitur, non excutitur. Augustine. ‘Grace may be shaken with fears and doubts, but it cannot be plucked up by the roots.' Fear not falling away. If anything should hinder the saints, perseverance, it must be either sin or temptation: but neither of these can. (1:) Not the sin of believers. That which humbles them shall not damn them; but their sins humble them. They gather grapes off thorns; from the thorn of sin they gather the grape of humility. (2:) Not temptation. The devil lays the train of his temptation to blow up the fort of a saint's grace; but he cannot do it. Temptation is a medicine for security; the more Satan tempts, the more the saints pray. When Paul had the messenger of Satan to buffet him, he said, ‘For this I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.' 2 Cor 12:2. Thus nothing can break off a believer from Christ, or hinder his perseverance. Let this wine be given to such as are of a heavy heart. (2.) This perseverance is comfort. (1:) In the loss of worldly comforts. When our goods may be taken away, our grace cannot. ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which cannot be taken from her.' Luke 10:02. (2:) In the hour of death. When all things fail, friends take their farewell of us, yet still grace remains. Death may separate all things else from us but grace. A Christian may say on his death-bed, as Olevianus, ‘Sight is gone, speech and hearing are departing, but the lovingkindness of God will never depart.'

Use three: For exhortation. What motives and incentives are there to make Christians persevere?

(1.) It is the crown and glory of a Christian to persevere. In Christianis non initia sed fines laudantur [It is not the beginning of the Christian life that gets glory but the end of it]. ‘The hoary head is a crown of glory, if found in the way of righteousness.' Prov 16:6 1: When grey hairs shine with golden virtues, it is a crown of glory. The church of Thyatira was best at last. ‘I know thy patience and thy works, and the last to be more than the first.' Rev 2:19. The excellence of a building is not in having the first stone laid, but when it is finished: the glory and excellence of a Christian is when he has finished the work of faith.

(2.) You are within a few days' march of heaven. Salvation is near to you. ‘Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.' Rom 13:3: Christians, it is but a while and you will have done weeping and praying, and be triumphing; you shall put off your mourning, and put on white robes; you shall put off your armour, and put on a victorious crown. You who have made a good progress in religion, you are almost ready to commence and take your degree of glory; now is your salvation nearer than when you began to believe. When a man is almost at the end of a race, will he tire, or faint away? O labour to persevere, your salvation is now nearer; you have but a little way to go, and you will set your foot in heaven! Though the way be up-hill and full of thorns, yet you have gone the greatest part of your way, and shortly shall rest from your labours.

(3.) How sad is it not to persevere in holiness! You expose yourself to the reproaches of men, and the rebukes of God. First, to the reproaches of men. They will deride both you and your profession. ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Luke 14:40. Such is he who begins in religion, and does not persevere: he is the ludibrium and derision of all. Secondly, to the rebukes of God. God is most severe against such as fall off, because they bring an evil report upon religion. Apostasy breeds a bitter worm in the conscience; (what a worm did Spira feel!); and it brings swift damnation; it is a drawing back to perdition. Heb 10:09. God will make his sword drunk with the blood of apostates.

(4.) The promises of mercy are annexed only to perseverance. ‘He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.' Rev 3:3. Non pugnanti sed vincenti dabitur corona. Augustine. The promise is not to him that fights, but that overcomes. ‘Ye are they which have continued with me, and I appoint unto you a kingdom.' Luke 22:28, 29. The promise of a kingdom, says Chrysostom, is not made to them that heard Christ or followed him, but that continued with him. Perseverance carries away the garland; no man has the crown set upon his head, but he who holds out to the end of the race. O therefore, be persuaded by all this to persevere. God makes no account of such as do not persevere. Who esteems corn that sheds before harvest, or fruit that falls from the tree before it be ripe?

What expedients or means may be used for a Christian's perseverance?

(1.) Take heed of those things which will make you desist and fall away. 1st. Take heed of presumption. Do not presume upon your own strength; exercise a holy fear and jealousy over your own hearts. ‘Be not high-minded, but fear.' Rom 11:1o. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.' I Cor 10:12. It was Peter's sin that he leaned more upon his grace than upon Christ, and then he fell. A Christian has cause to fear lest the lust and deceit of his heart betray him. Take heed of presuming. Fear begets prayer, prayer begets strength, and strength begets steadfastness. 2ndly. Take heed of hypocrisy. Judas was first a sly hypocrite, and then a traitor. ‘Their heart was not right with God, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.' Psa [28:87. If there be any venom or malignity in the blood, it will break forth into a plague-sore. The venom of hypocrisy is in danger of breaking out into the plague-sore of scandal. 3rdly. Beware of a vile heart of unbelief. ‘Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.' Heb 3:12. Whence is apostasy but from incredulity? Men do not believe the truth, and therefore they fall from the truth. Unbelieving and unstable go together. ‘They believed not in God.' ‘They turned back.' Psa 78:82, 4I

(2.) If you would be pillars in the temple of God, and persevere in sanctity;

(1:) Look that you enter into religion upon a right ground; be well grounded in the distinct knowledge of God. You must know the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the efficacy of the Holy Ghost. Such as know not God aright will by degrees fall off. The Samaritans sided with the dews when they were in favour, but disclaimed all kindred with them when Antiochus persecuted the Jews. No wonder they were no more fixed in religion, if you consider what Christ says of them: ‘Ye worship ye know not what.' John 4:42. They were ignorant of the true God. Let your knowledge of God be clear, and serve him purely out of choice, and then you will persevere. ‘I have chosen the way of truth. I have stuck unto thy testimonies.' Psa 119:90, 3I.

(2:) Get a real work of grace in your heart. ‘It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.' Heb 13:3. Nothing will hold out but grace; it is only this anointing abides; paint will fall off. Get a heartchanging work. ‘But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified.' I Cor 6:6: Be not content with baptism of water, without baptism of the Spirit. The reason men persevere not in religion, is for want of a vital principle; a branch must needs wither that has no root to grow upon.

(3:) If you would persevere, be very sincere. Perseverance grows only upon the root of sincerity. ‘Let integrity and uprightness preserve me.' Psa 25:5I. The breastplate of sincerity can never be shot through. How many storms was Job in! The devil set against him; his wife tempted him to curse God; his friends accused him of being a hypocrite: here was enough, one would think, to have made him desist from religion; but for all this, he perseveres. What preserved him? It was his sincerity. ‘My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.' Job 27:7.

(4:) If you would persevere, be humble. Chrysostom calls humility the mother of all the graces. God lets a poor, humble Christian stand, when others of higher parts, and who have higher thoughts of themselves, fall off by apostasy. They are most likely to persevere, to whom God gives most grace. ‘But he gives grace to the humble.' I Pet 5:5. They are most likely to persevere, who have God dwelling in them. ‘But God dwells in the humble soul.' Isa 57:15. Non requiescet Spiritus Sanctus nisi super humilem [The Holy Spirit will only come to rest over a humble soul]. Bernard. The lower the tree roots in the earth, the firmer it is; so the more the soul is rooted in humility, the more established it is, and is in less danger of falling away.

(5:) Would you persevere? Cherish the grace of faith. Faith is able stabilere animum [to support the spirit]. ‘By faith ye stand.' 2 Cor 1:14. Faith knits us to Christ, as the members are knit to the head by nerves and sinews. Faith fills us with love to God. ‘It works by love.' Gal 5:5. He who loves God will rather die than desert him; as the soldier who loves his general will die in his service. Faith gives us a prospect of heaven; it shows us an invisible glory; and he who has Christ in his heart, and a crown in his eye, will not faint away. O cherish faith! Keep your faith, and your faith will keep you. While the pilot keeps his ship, his ship keeps him.

(6:) Would we persevere? Let us seek God's power to help us. We are kept by the power of God. The child is safest when it is held in the nurse's arms; so are we, when we are held in the arms of free grace. It is not our holding God, but his holding us, that preserves us. When a boat is tied to a rock, it is secure; so, when we are fast tied to the Rock of Ages, we are impregnable. O engage God's power to help you to persevere. We engage his power by prayer. Let us pray to him to keep us. ‘Hold up my goings in thy path, that my footsteps slip not.' Psa 17:7. It was a good prayer of Beza, Domine quod cepisti perfici, ne in portu naufragium accidat: ‘Lord, perfect what thou hast begun in me, that I may not suffer shipwreck when I am almost at the haven.'

(7.) If you would persevere, set before your eyes the noble examples of those who have persevered in religion: Quot martyres, quot fideles in caelis, jam triumphant! [How many martyrs, how many faithful souls are even now rejoicing in Heaven!]. What a glorious army of saints and martyrs have gone before us! How constant to the death was Paul! Acts 21:13. How persevering in the faith were Ignatius, Polycarp, and Athanasius! They were stars in their orbs, pillars in the temple of God. Let us look on their zeal and courage, and be animated. ‘Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us.' Heb 12:2. The crown is set at the end of the race; and if we win the race, we shall wear the crown.

« Prev 10. Perseverance Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection