Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Certainty of Perseverance

by William Gurnall

From Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:13, “Having done all, to stand,” follow these distinct points:

1. He that will be Christ’s soldier must persevere.
2. There can be no perseverance without true grace in the heart.
3. Where true grace is, that soul shall persevere, or thus: true grace can never be vanquished.

The Christian is born a conqueror, the gates of hell shall not prevail against him. He that is born of God, overcometh the world (1 John 5:4). Mark from whence the victory is dated, even from his birth: there is victory sown in his new nature, even that seed of God which will keep him from being swallowed up by sin or Satan. As Christ rose, never to die more, so does He raise souls from the grave of sin, never to come under the power of spiritual death more. These holy ones of God cannot see corruption. Hence, he that believes is said in the present tense to have eternal life. As the law, that came four hundred years after, could not make void the promise to Abraham, so nothing that intervenes can hinder the accomplishment of that promise of eternal life, which was given and passed to Christ in their behalf before the foundation of the world. If a saint could any way miscarry, and fall short of this eternal life, it must be from one of these three causes: 1. Because God may forsake the Christian, and withdraw His grace or help from him; or 2. Because the believer may forsake God; or, lastly, because Satan may pluck him out of the hands of God. A fourth I know not. Now none of these can be.

1. God can never forsake a Christian. Some unadvised speeches have dropped from tempted souls, discovering some fears of God’s casting them off; but they have eaten their words with shame, as we see in Job and David. Oh what admirable security has the great God given to His children in this particular!

a. In promises. “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5). He assures us there never did or can so much as arise a repenting thought in His heart concerning the purposes of His love and special grace toward His children; (Rom 11:29) “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Whom He loves, He loves to the end.

b. God, to give further weight and credit to our unbelieving and misgiving hearts, seals His promise with an oath; see Isaiah 54:8, 9, “With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee.” He goes on and tells them, “The mountains shall depart” (meaning at the end of the world, when the whole frame of the heavens and earth shall be dissolved), “but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed” (v 10). Now, lest any should think this was some charter belonging to the Jews alone, we find it (v 17), settled on every servant of God as his portion: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord , and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” And surely, God that is so careful to make His children's inheritance sure to them, will give them little thanks who busy their wits to invalidate and weaken His conveyances, yea, disprove His will; if they had taken a bribe, they could not plead Satan’s cause better.

c. In the actual fulfilling of these promises (which He has made to believers) to Christ their advocate. As God before the world began, gave a promise of eternal life to Christ for them, so now has He given actual possession of that glorious place to Christ (as their advocate) where that eternal life shall be enjoyed by them; for as He came upon our errand from heaven, so thither He returned again to take and hold possession of that inheritance which God had of old promised. And now, what ground of fear can there be in the believer’s heart concerning God’s love standing firm to him, when he sees the whole covenant performed already to Christ for him, whom God has not only called to, sanctified for, and upheld in the great work He was to finish for us, but also justified in His resurrection and jail delivery, and received Him into heaven, there to sit on the right hand of the Majesty on high, by which He has not only possession for us, but full power to give to all believers.

2. A second occasion of fear to the believer that he shall not persevere may be taken from himself. He has many sad fears and tremblings of heart, that he shall at last forsake God: the journey is long, and his grace weak. Oh, says he, is it not possible that this little grace should fail, and I fall short at last of glory? Now there is such provision made in the covenant as scatters this cloud also.

a. The Spirit of God is given on purpose to prevent this. Christ left His mother with John, but His saints with His Spirit, to instruct and keep them, that they should not lose themselves in their journey to heaven. Oh how sweet is that place, (Eze 36:27) “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.” He does not say they shall have His Spirit if they will walk in His statutes; no, His Spirit shall cause them to do it. But maybe you are afraid you may grieve Him, and so He in anger leave you, and you perish for want of His help. The Spirit of God is indeed sensible of unkindness, and upon a saint’s sin, may withdraw in regard of present assistance, but never in re g a rd of His care. The Spirit withdrew from Samson, and he fell into the Philistines’ hands; this makes him cry to God, and the Spirit puts forth His strength in him again. So here, the office of the Spirit is to abide for ever with the saints; (John 14:16) “He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever.”

b. It is one main business of the intercession of Christ to obtain of God perseverance for weak grace. “I have prayed,” says Christ to Peter, “that thy faith fail not.” But was not that a particular privilege granted to him, which may be denied to another? O sirs, do we think that Christ’s love looks as quint? Does He pray for one child more than another? Such fears and jealousies foolish children are ready to make up; and there f o re Christ prevents them, by bidding Peter, in the very next words, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32); that is, when you feel the efficacy of My prayer for your faith, carry the good news to them, that their hearts may be strengthened also: and what strengthening had it been to them, if Christ prayed not for them as well as for Peter? Does Christ pray for us? Yea, does He not live to pray for us? Oh, how can children of so many prayers, nay, of such prayers, perish? Say not, your weak faith shall perish, till you hear that Christ has left praying, or meets with a repulse.

3. Let us see whether Satan be able to pluck the Christian away. Abundant provision is made against his assaults. The saint is wrapped up in the everlasting arms of Almighty Power; and what can a cursed devil do against God, who laid those chains on him which he cannot shake off? When he is able to pluck that dart of divine fury out of his own conscience which God has fastened there, then let him think of such an enterprise as this. How can he overcome you, that cannot tempt you but in God’s appointed time? And if God set Satan his time to assault the Christian whom He loves so dearly, surely it shall be when he shall be repulsed with greatest shame. Away then with that doctrine which says, One may be a saint today, and none tomorrow; now a Peter, anon a Judas. O how unsavory is this! It is a principle that at once crosses the main design of God in the gospel covenant, reflects sadly on the honor of Christ, and wounds the saint’s comfort to the heart . This truth calls for a word or two of caution. Though there is no fear of a saint’s falling from grace, yet there is great danger of others falling from the top of this comfortable doctrine into a careless security, and presumptuous boldness: that which is a restorative to the saint’s grace, proves an incentive to the lust of a wicked man. What Paul said of the law, we may truly of the gospel: sin, taking occasion from the grace of the gospel, and the sweet promises thereof, deceives the carnal heart, and works in him all manner of wickedness. Indeed sin seldom grows so rank anywhere, as in those who water its roots, with the gospel. Two ways this doctrine may be abused:

1. Beware of falling into a neglect of duty upon the score: “If a Christian, you cannot fall away from grace.” To neglect duty upon such a persuasion, is contrary to Christ’s practice, and counsel or command.

a. His practice—Though Christ never doubted of His Father’s love, nor questioned the happy issue of all His temptations, agonies, and sufferings; yet He prays, and prays again “more earnestly” (Luke 22:44).

b. His counsel or command—He told Peter that Satan had begged leave to have him to sift him. But withal He comforts him (who was to be put hardest to it) with this, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Surely our Savior, by this provision made for him and the rest, means to save them a labor that they need not watch and pray? No such thing; after this (v 40), He calls them up to duty, “Pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” Christ’s praying for them was to strengthen their faith, when they should themselves pray for the same mercy; it was not to nourish their sloth, that they needed not to pray. Christ’s prayers in heaven for His saints are all heard already, but the return of them is reserved to be enclosed in the answer God sends to their own prayers. A Christian cannot in faith expect to receive the mercies Christ prays for in heaven, so long as he lives in the neglect of his duty on earth.

2. Take heed of abusing this doctrine into a liberty to sin. Shall we sin because grace abounds? Grow loose because we have God fast bound in His promise? God forbid! None but a devil would teach us this logic. It was a great height of sin those wretched Jews came to, who could carouse and quaff while death looked in upon them at the windows. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” They discovered their atheism therein. But what a prodigious stature in sin must that man be grown to, that can, under the protection of a promise, draw this encouragement to sin from the everlasting love of God! Let us eat and drink, for we are sure to be saved.

Grace cannot dwell in that heart which draws so cursed a conclusion from the promises of God’s grace: the saints have not so learned Christ. The inference Paul makes from the sweet privileges we enjoy in the covenant of grace, is not to wallow in sin; but having these promises, to cleanse ourselves from all the filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1). It is the nature of faith to purify the heart. Now the more certain report faith brings of God’s love from the promise, the more it purifies the heart, because love, by which faith works, is thereby more inflamed to God; and if once this affection takes fire, the room becomes too hot for sin to stay there.

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