Perseverance of the Saints
We come now to the final message in our series on the Doctrines of Grace. We’ve used the acronym “TULIP” as a way to easily remember each of these fundamental doctrines. So today we’re talking about the perseverance of the saints. Our text is Job 17:9, “The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” The righteous shall hold on his way. That’s the essence of the doctrine of perseverance. Those who are made righteous by the grace of God, those who are made righteous in Christ, those who are born of His Spirit shall hold on their way. Those with clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.
A dictionary definition of perseverance is: “continuance in a state of grace until it is succeeded by a state of glory.” Sometimes the doctrine is referred to as preservation. The dictionary definition of preservation is: “to keep from injury or destruction; to defend from evil; to protect or save.” Obviously, that fits as well, because God’s people persevere as a result of His preserving grace. When we speak of final perseverance, we are therefore saying that those whom God has chosen, redeemed, and effectually called cannot totally or finally fall, but shall be eternally saved. In Romans 8, we find this wonderful declaration of God’s purpose in the saving of a people—sometimes referred to as the chain of grace—which makes it very clear that all who are embraced by grace, all who are chosen by God, are secure in His love and mercy. Verse 30 of Romans eight asserts that “whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” All of the ones who are foreknown, all of the ones who are predestinated, are the same ones that are called. And all of the called are the ones who are justified, and the justified are glorified. We see no place whatever in this for a single soul, loved and chosen by God in the covenant, to fall away and be eternally lost. We are secure because of the grace of God. Jesus spoke of this in the tenth chapter of the gospel of John, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life...” (vv. 27-28). What kind of life is it? It’s not temporary. It’s not for a limited period of time. It’s eternal life. “...and they shall never perish...” Now language couldn’t be much plainer than that. “...they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one” (vv. 28-30).
God Will Not Forsake
Though at times the child of grace may walk in the dark and not have a sensible sight of God’s love, the Lord does not actually forsake His child. By experience you know this to be true; but, more importantly, God’s Word declares it. There are times that we feel to be in darkness, times that we feel that the Lord is far from us. We try to pray and have no sense that He hears us. David said, “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee” (Psalm 31:22). In Isaiah 49:14, we read that “Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” You may have felt, at various times, “If the Lord loves me, why do I have all these trials? Why is my burden so heavy? It seems that the Lord has forsaken me.” But then the Lord responds by asking the question, “Can a woman forget her sucking child?” We would normally expect that a mother would never desert that nursing child that depends upon her, and yet we have seen before that in some terrible, distorted frame of mind a mother can bring harm and even death to her own children. Yet he says while we would normally consider that a mother would not forget her own child, “yea, they may forget...” He takes into account human frailty, and says, “...they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” God makes a clear, “I will not forget thee.” “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” It’s not that God had to write the name on the palms of His hands because otherwise He would forget. I think He expresses it this way for our own benefit. If our names are on the palms of His hands and ever in His presence, He obviously is not going to forget. So the child of grace may travel in darkness. He may have to deal with doubt and fear. He may question his own status. But the promise of God is that He will not desert and forget His own.
The Relationship Will Not Be Severed
Through sin and disobedience, the child of God may lose the joy of his salvation and be chastened by his Heavenly Father, but the relationship with the Father cannot be severed. David, who was described as the sweet singer of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, fell into deep sin. But in Psalm 51:12 he prays, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” He doesn’t pray, Lord, give me back my salvation. He says, Lord, I’ve lost the joy of Thy salvation. He comes to the Lord in clear confession of his sin. He doesn’t try to defend or excuse himself. He says, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (v. 4). David is humble before God. This is an evidence of a true child of grace. A person who can go on in a sinful course day after day, week after week, year after year—with no conviction, repentance, or turning—gives no evidence of the grace of God. Yes, God’s own children may fall, and fall into deep sin as did David, but they are brought to acknowledge it and to turn from it. Peter, one of those disciples who was in the inner circle of the friends of Jesus, denied Him, and yet Peter was restored and preached a powerful message on the day of Pentecost. Abraham, when he went down to Egypt, lied about his wife, and yet he was a child of grace. We see why the child of God will persevere in Psalm 37, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand” (vv. 23-24). That’s encouraging, is it not? Not that any man is good in and of himself, but his steps are ordered by the Lord. He delights in his way and if he falls, he’ll not be utterly cast down because the Lord upholds him with His hand.
If you’ve been at that place where you have stumbled, you have failed, you have dishonored the Lord—or you’ve denied him, even as Peter did—what words of encouragement to know that we shall not be utterly cast down because the Lord will uphold us.
Hebrews chapter 12 describes the fact that the chastening rod will be utilized by our Heavenly Father when we stray,“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (vv. 6-7). We live in a day when man, in his self-made philosophy, says that the Biblically appointed remedy of correcting a child in an act of disobedience is out of date and should no longer be implemented. A parent says, “I love my child so much, I can’t apply the rod.” God says I love my children so much I will apply the rod. I’ll chasten every son whom I receive.
There Are False Prophets and Professors
Perseverance is that which distinguishes true believers from false professors. Matthew 10:22 says, “...he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” John says, in his epistle, that “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19). Now, that text certainly is not in contradiction to what we have just read about the Lord restoring His own when they have fallen and lifting them up and correcting them through chastisement. But it is saying that there are some individuals who may make a profession of faith in Christ initially, but then turn out in the end to have been insincere. Someone might say, “That’s a little alarming, to think that somebody might make a profession of faith and be deceived.” Well, that’s a reality that the Word of God makes crystal clear. Jesus taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that “every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:19-20). Now, a word of caution needs to be given here. I have seen people who felt like they were expert fruit inspectors, and they were constantly trying to determine whether this person was truly a child of God, or this person was not. The Lord knows them that are His, and it’s not left to us to try to determine what is in a person’s heart. But, certainly, what’s on the inside is going to come forth to the outside. “...by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils?” (vv. 20-22). These people did more than just make a profession. They were doing things that they thought were right. They were casting out devils — all in the name of Jesus Christ! They were very religious people. “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (v. 23). The Lord has known His people in the covenant of grace from all eternity, but these individuals are described as those whom He did not know. The Lord says I never knew you.
After seeing perseverance defined, we want to note now that the Scriptures also speak of perseverance from the standpoint of encouraging it. In 1 John 2:3 we read, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” How is it that we know we’re His? That we keep His commandments. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (vv. 4-6). If you’ve struggled, even over this past week, with temptations to ignore the commandments of God, receive this encouragement and admonition: he that abides in Christ ought to walk as Christ walked, in obedience to the Word of God. In the next chapter we read, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (3:10). There’s a difference between the children of God and the children of the devil. “...whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God...” It doesn’t mean that they’re going to reach a state of sinless perfection. In this very epistle he says that if we confess our sin that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He also says that if we claim that we have no sin, that we have deceived ourselves, the truth is not in us. But those who do righteousness give evidence of being His.
In Acts 11 we read Peter’s report, to the saints at Jerusalem, of God’s working among the Gentiles, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (vv. 17-18). God calls men to repent. And yet, when you repent, you have to say, “God granted me repentance.” You see, all the glory, all the praise, goes to Him. It’s entirely by His grace that men believe. The apostle Paul says, in Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” The salvation is God’s gift. The faith is God’s gift. It’s all of grace. So only one name can be praised, and that’s the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some have said, “If I believed that one cannot fall from grace, I’d live anyway that I wanted to.” Do you know what that person is saying? He is, in effect, suggesting: “The only reason I’m doing right is because I’m running from Hell. If it wasn’t for that, I’d go on wallowing in sin.” But the people of God, because of the work of Christ, are redeemed from all iniquity and zealous of good works, Paul tells us (Titus 2:14). Paul speaks more personally in 1 Corinthians 15, saying, “by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all...” Paul said I was a zealous laborer. I labored more than anybody else. “...yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” How was it that this work was accomplished? By the grace of God. Paul addresses the Philippians from the same perspective, exhorting them, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). Here’s the admonition. But is that something that we can do in and of ourselves? Verse 13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” God is supplying the grace for everything that is accomplished.
How wonderful this thought is! How encouraging in our darkest times. When we look at ourselves and we feel our unworthiness—when we’re in those difficult times of feeling that the Lord has hidden His face—it is glorious to know that perseverance is promised. The promise of perseverance is founded on the character of God. Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Why is it you’re not consumed? Because God changes not. Because God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Isn’t that good to know? “...therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Titus, chapter one, verse two, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began...” God promised it. He cannot lie. Romans chapter 8 speaks of the invincibility of Christ’s love. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (35). Sometimes it may appear that those things are going to separate us. But what is the answer to the question? The answer is no, “...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Rather than separating us from His love, His love is displayed as He sustains us in the trial. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Friends, you can work that text any way you want to and there’s no possibility of finding any loophole or anything else that could possibly occur to separate you from the love of God — things past, things present, things to come, up, down, sideways, every direction, every power, every influence, every creature, nothing, nothing, nothing, can ever separate you from the love of God that’s given us in Christ Jesus our Lord! First Peter, chapter one says also that we are kept because of the power of God. Verse four, “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith...” God gave you the faith to begin with and He’s keeping you through faith now. You’re being kept by the power of God through faith, “...unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” So, because of God’s love and God’s power, you cannot be separated from Him. In Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “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...” Can you imagine that God would start a work that He wouldn’t finish? He warned against those that might seek to build a house but not count the cost, and therefore would have to discontinue the effort. I want to tell you Jesus Christ knew the full cost before He ever came to this Earth. And through the Spirit of God, having begun a good work in you, He will perform it, He will complete it.
Ye pilgrims of Zion, and chosen of God, Whose spirits are filled with dismay, Since ye have eternal redemption thro’ blood, Ye cannot but hold on your way.
As Jesus, in covenant love, did engage, A fullness of grace to display, The powers of darkness in malice may rage, The righteous shall hold on his way.
This truth, like it’s Author, eternal shall stand, Tho’ all things in nature decay; Upheld by Jehovah’s omnipotent hand, The righteous shall hold on his way.
They may on the main of temptation be toss’d Their sorrows may swell as the sea; But none of the ransomed shall ever be lost; The righteous shall hold on his way.
Surrounded with sorrows, temptations, and cares, This truth with delight we survey, And sing, as we pass thro’ this valley of tears, The righteous shall hold on his way.”