In the preceding articles, the fathers confessed that believers
in this life remain weak and prone to falling into sin (Article
2,4,5), but that God holds on to His own irrespective of what
sins they fall into (Article 3,6). In Article 7 the fathers underline
that it is God who holds on to the saints so that they
do not fall away eternally.
GOD WILL AGAIN RENEW HIS ELECT TO REPENTANCE
GOD PRESERVES IN THE SAINTS HIS IMPERISHABLE SEED OF
In Article 6 confession was made of the "God, who is rich
in mercy." This God, said that article, "according
to the unchangeable purpose of His election, does not completely
withdraw His Holy Spirit from His own even in their deplorable
fall. Neither does He permit them to ... plunge themselves into
eternal ruin." Article 7 draws out why this might be.
Said the fathers in Article 7, "For in
the first place, in their fall, He preserves in them His imperishable
seed of regeneration so that it does not perish and is not
cast out." The fathers derived the word 'seed' from
the following texts in Scripture:
"Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God."
John does not say here that the believer never falls or never
commits sin, but rather that the believer does not fall and remain
in his sin forever. The believer does not continue living in
sin because God's seed remains in him. The believer is born of
God. God has worked in the heart of the believer, put His seed
in his heart.
"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides for ever."
A corruptible seed is perishable, like the seed of the bean, the
potato or wheat. From the planted seed grows a plant, but the
seed itself perishes. However, with reference to the believer
the apostle writes of a seed which grows into a plant and bears
fruit without the seed perishing. This incorruptible seed, the
seed of regeneration, being born again, is what God has worked
in the believer. This incorruptible seed marks the beginning
of a new life. In the event that the believer falls, the believer
does not die in his fall, does not perish eternally, because he
is born of an imperishable seed. Though the work of the Lord
may remain hidden in the life of the believer, God, who has begun
His work in the believer, holds on and completes His work. The
seed planted by God never perishes.
This is not what the Arminians teach. Said they, "It is
not absurd that one, having lost his first regeneration, is again
and even often born anew" (Rejection of Errors, No 8
- Error, Book of Praise, p. 574). According to the Arminians
the believer, though born again, can fall away from God so totally
that the seed of regeneration God worked in his heart perishes.
This, they add, can happen repeatedly. For that reason the fathers
saw the need for Article 7, pointing out from Scripture that though
the believer falls in this life, God's work of rebirth in the
believer always remains and so never needs to be repeated.
BY HIS WORD AND SPIRIT GOD RENEWS HIS SAINTS TO REPENTANCE
God does not let the believer who has fallen into sin remain in
his sin. In His time, God picks him up and restores him. God's
Word remains effective, bearing fruit in the life of the believer
so that he is brought back to repentance. This effective work
of the Word was evident in David's life. In 2 Samuel 11 Scripture
records David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder
of Uriah. In 2 Samuel 12 we read of Nathan being sent to David
and of the parable he tells David concerning a poor man who owned
only one little lamb, and of a rich man who owned "exceedingly
many flocks and herds" but stole and killed the poor
man's lamb. In verse 7 we read how God's Word came to David in
his specific situation, cutting into David's heart: "You
are the man!" God acted upon David at His appointed
time. As a result of Nathan's words God brought David to repentance
and confession, causing David to say to Nathan, "I have
sinned against the LORD" (vs 13). To use the words
of the fathers in Article 7, God "through His Word and
Spirit ... effectually renewed (David) to repentance."
Lord's Day 33.88-90 explains what repentance is and how the believer
demonstrates repentance. "True repentance or conversion
of man ... is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life
of the new.... (The dying of the old nature) is to grieve
with a heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God
by our sin, and more and more to hate it and flee from it. (The
coming to life of the new nature) is a heartfelt joy in God
through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the
will of God in all good works." God's work of renewal
to repentance in the heart of believers has this result, say the
fathers: "they grieve from the heart with a godly sorrow
for the sins they have committed." A godly sorrow on
the part of the believer is a keen sense of having hurt God by
sin and feeling heartfelt grief on account of this. The following
Scripture texts illustrate such godly sorrow in repentant believers:
"Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice.... The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart."
Psalm 51 records David's repentance of his sin with Bathsheba.
The psalm makes clear that David's repentance was not just a
general confession of sinfulness, but a brokenness on account
of hurting God by the adultery and murder he had committed. In
speaking of broken bones David does not mean that his bones were
physically broken on account of his sin, but that the specific
sins he committed against God and his neighbour bothered him to
the core of his being. David was not just sorry; he felt broken
"Then (Peter) began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the man!" And immediately a cock crowed. And Peter remembered he word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Then he went out and wept bitterly."
Peter fell into sin, but God preserved him in his fall and brought
him to repentance very soon after his fall. As soon as the cock
crowed Peter recalled his master's words. His depth of his grief
in the face of his sin is pointed up not just by the fact that
he "wept", but by the fact that he wept "bitterly".
This was not a shallow repentance!
THE SORROW OF THE WORLD PRODUCES DEATH
In 2 Corinthians 7:9,10 we read that on account of a transgression
amongst the saints in the Church at Corinth, there were two kinds
of sorrow possible: a "godly sorrow", such as that of
David and Peter, and a 'sorrow of the world' which produces death.
Paul says, "Now I rejoice, not that you were made
sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made
sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in
nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation,
not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces
Scripture texts which illustrate the sorrow of the world:
"Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that he had been condemned,
was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver
to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned
by betraying innocent blood", and they said, "What
is that to us? You see to it!" Then he threw down the pieces
of sliver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself."
Judas' remorse on account of his sin of betrayal and his subsequent
suicide provide an example of the sorrow of the world. It was
not a repentance in the sense of sorrow that God was hurt and
hence not a godly sorrow. If anything, one may rather speak here
of self pity.
... "lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterwards, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears."
Esau shed tears, but they were not tears of repentance for his
repentance was not a sorrow driven by the fact that he had hurt
his God. Hence his sorrow led to death.
REPENTANCE WORKED BY GOD PRODUCES FIRST GODLY SORROW, FOLLOWED BY A HEARTFELT JOY
The repentance God works in the hearts of believers produces first
a godly sorrow on account of having offended God by sin, but it
also produces "a heartfelt joy in God through Christ,
and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in
all good works" (LD 33.90). This we learn from David's
life. In Psalm 32 David says that he felt God's heavy hand pressing
down on him, so that he was driven to the point of repentance.
As a result of God working this repentance in him, David says
in verses 1 and 11, "Blessed is he whose transgression
is forgiven, whose sin is covered.... Be glad in the LORD and
rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in
heart!" David expresses the joy God worked in his life
by driving him to repentance from sin. Though the believer falls,
God preserves him, leads him to a repentance which produces godly
grief and sorrow, after which God allows him to again experience
His favour. Returned to God's favour, the believer experiences
the heartfelt joy expressed in Psalm 32. As a result, the repentant
believer desires to be busy with God's Word.
To use the words of Article 7, believers, having grieved from
the heart with a godly sorrow on account of their sins and having
sought forgiveness in the blood of Christ, "again experience
the favour of a reconciled God and adore His mercies and faithfulness
and ... they more diligently work out their own salvation with
fear and trembling."
THE GRACE OF THE TRIUNE GOD PRESERVES
The Arminian stressed that perseverance of the believer depends
not on election, nor on what Christ obtained through His death,
but only on man's free will, on whether or not man believes.
To take away any confusion on the point, the fathers made it their
business to devote another article to defend the doctrine of Scripture
that the preservation of the believer, even in his fall, is all
God's doing alone, apart from any input of man.
Said the Arminians,
"The perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election or a gift of God obtained by the death of Christ. It is a condition of the new covenant, which man before his so-called decisive election and justification must fulfil through his free will."
(Rejection of Errors No 1 - Error, Book of Praise, p.
"God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient powers to persevere, and is ready to preserve these in him if he will do his duty. But though all these things have been established which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God will use to preserve faith, even then it still always depends on the decision of the will whether he will persevere or not."
(Rejection of Errors No 2 - Error, Book of Praise, p.
The Arminians lay all the accent on the believer. According to
them, the fallen believer can only be restored if he so chooses.
God may extend a helping hand to the fallen believer, they say,
but the believer's restoration and perseverance depends ultimately
on the believer availing himself of the help God offers; man must
"do his duty."
The fathers therefore commence Article 8 by restating what has
already been confessed in Articles 1-7 concerning the weakness
of the believer and his total dependence on God for preservation:
"So it is not through their own merits or strength but
through the undeserved mercy of God that they neither totally
fall back from faith and grace nor persist in their backslidings
and are finally lost." The fathers give God alone all
the credit for the believer's preservation. The humbling truth
of this is pointed up all the more by the next revealing statement,
that "As far as (the believers) are concerned,
this (falling back from faith and grace, persisting in their
backslidings and being eternally lost) could not only
easily happen but would undoubtedly happen." With
the words of LD 52.127, we confess that "In ourselves
we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment."
If God didn't hold on to me, I would most definitely fall.
It is a humbling reality: if my preservation depended on me,
I would be eternally lost. This reality makes the following words
so wonderfully rich: "But as far as God is concerned,
this cannot possibly happen...." The wealth of this
statement is what the fathers worked out in the rest of the article
by means of confession of the work of the triune God with respect
to the preservation of the believer.
THE WORK OF GOD THE FATHER
The believer is preserved in his fall, for, "as far as
God is concerned ... His counsel cannot be changed, His promise
cannot fail, the calling according to His purpose cannot be revoked
1) God's counsel cannot be changed
The Arminians said that the perseverance of the saints does not
depend on God having elected anybody. However, Scripture speaks
differently. There God teaches that before the beginning of the
world, God decided that some men shall be saved and receive the
crown of glory; no-one would be able to pluck them out of His
hand for, "The counsel of the LORD stands for ever"
(Psalm 33:11). With reference to the "election of grace",
Paul writes in Romans 11:7 that "the elect have obtained
it." It is solely God's doing that the elect
(not some but all of them) have obtained the election of
grace. God's counsel stands. God has elected and so we are safe.
2) God's promise cannot fail
"But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you
and guard you from the evil one" (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
In the face of attacks from "unreasonable and wicked
men" (vs 2), the Lord remains faithful. His promise
that I am His stands firm: "For the mountains shall depart
and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from
you, nor shall my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD
who has mercy on you." (Isaiah 54:10). Though Satan
may try his utmost to snatch me out of God's hand, I may trust
that God's promise in John 10:28-30 cannot fail. There Jesus
says, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never
perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father,
who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is
able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father
3) The calling according to God's purpose cannot be revoked
"... whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He
called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these
He also glorified" (Romans 8:30). God has elected a
certain number. These specific persons are all called to faith,
with as result that they all believe and so are justified. These
particular ones, though, cannot fall away for "these He
also glorified." Paul is so certain that the elect (=
the called = the justified) will all be glorified (on the day
of Christ's return) that he uses the past tense: "these
He also glorified." Here is the unbreakable chain of
predestination, justification and glorification of His elect.
The number of the elect = the number of the justified = the number
of the glorified. None will be missing, simply because the calling
according to God's purpose cannot be revoked. As Jesus said:
No one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand."
And Paul said it elsewhere too: "For the gifts
and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).
When the children of God fall into sin, they cannot be lost.
Rather, they shall certainly reach their goal because God is
who He is.
THE WORK OF GOD THE SON
The believer is preserved in his fall, for, "... the merit,
intercession, and preservation of Christ cannot be nullified...."
1) The merit of Christ
The merit of Christ is a reference to His work on the cross by
which He obtained for the elect the forgiveness of sins, righteousness
and eternal life. There is forgiveness for my sins through the
blood the Saviour shed for me on Calvary. So when I fall into
sin, I need not despair that all is now lost; there remains forgiveness
in the blood of Christ. His work on the cross covered all
my sin for "Christ came as high priest of the good things
to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made
with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood
of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most
Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption"
(Hebrews 9:11,12). With His own blood Christ came
into the presence of God. No matter how gross the sin I commit,
be it the adultery or murder David committed, or Peter's blasphemy
and denial, Christ's redemptive work adequately covers it. God
the Father has chosen me for life eternal, and so no sin of mine
can nullify the merit of Christ's work.
2) The intercession of Christ
From 1 John 2:1 we learn that Christ intercedes for us before
the Father in Heaven. "My little children, these things
I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins,
we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
In heaven today Christ is busy pleading with the Father for the
sake of those for whom He died. As it were, He reminds the Father,
in the face of our sins, that He died for us, and so God has already
accepted us as righteous before Him (see Zechariah 3:1-5). Paul,
in Romans 8:34, jubilates that there is no one in all creation
-not even God Himself!- who will condemn us any more. He gives
this explanation for his certainty: "It is Christ who
died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right
hand of God, who also makes intercession for us."
The same Saviour who gave up His life for our sins is today at
the right hand of God - doing for our benefit the work of a lawyer!
Truly, "Christ has
itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us"
(Hebrews 9:24; cf LD 18.49a). Today we benefit so enormously
from Christ's presence in heaven! No sin today can turn the Father's
favour away from His own! It is as we confess in the Belgic
Confession, Article 26: "If, therefore, we had to
look for another intercessor, could we find one who loves us more
than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were His
enemies? If we had to look for one who has authority and power,
who has more than He who is seated at the right hand of the Father
and who has all authority in heaven and on earth? Moreover, who
will be heard more readily than God's own well-beloved Son?"
Though I in my weakness may fall into sin, I need not despair,
for Christ's intercessory work cannot be nullified.
From Luke 22:31,32 I learn how effective Christ's intercessory
work is. Said the Lord to Peter, "Simon, Simon! Indeed,
Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But
I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail; and
when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren."
In God's presence Christ prayed for Peter. Peter most certainly
fell, blaspheming and denying His Saviour, but so effective was
Christ's intercessory work for Peter, that as soon as the cock
crowed, Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him and he went
out and wept bitterly. (See Matthew 26:74,75).
Christ's intercessory work is effective for every believer. Says
Paul in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation
to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according
to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." In verse
34 (as already just quoted) Paul gives the reason, "Who
is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore
is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also
makes intercession for us." So convinced is Paul
that Christ's work in heaven on his behalf is effective that he
breaks out in song in the verses 38,39: "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 created thing, shall be able to separate
us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
God loves me in Christ and therefore nothing will separate me
from God or God from me.
3) The preservation of Christ
In John 10:28 Christ assures us that He holds on to us eternally
so that we shall never perish. "And I give them eternal
life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch
them out of my hand." This knowledge is a source
of rich comfort for the believer. Therefore with the words of
LD 1 I confess that my only comfort in life and death is this,
"That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul,
both in life and death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and
has set me free from all the power of the devil." No
matter the circumstance of my life, whether I stand strong in
faith or fall into sin, my comfort is that I belong to Christ
my Saviour who has paid for all my sins, even my sins of
adultery, murder, blasphemy or denial of Him. I cannot even fall
into sin without the will of my heavenly Father. Indeed, even
my fall into sin -and I sin daily- works together for my salvation.
As LD 1 continues: my comfort in the face of my sin is that my
Saviour Jesus Christ "also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall
from my head; indeed all things must work together for my salvation."
THE WORK OF GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT
Article 8 speaks also of the 'the sealing of the Holy Spirit."
These words we find in Ephesians 1:13,14: "In him you
also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of
your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed
with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee
of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,
to the praise of his glory." Just as certificates or
other official documents bear a seal as a guarantee of their authenticity,
so the sealing of the Holy Spirit guarantees that the promises
God directed to us are real for us (cf LD 18.49c). This
sealing of the Holy Spirit, said the fathers, "can neither
be frustrated nor destroyed." Though the believer may
fall, the sealing of the Holy Spirit remains.
Triune God -Father, Son and Holy Spirit- holds on to His people
so that they shall not perish. Let the Arminians believe that
true regenerate believers can and often do fall to their eternal
destruction unless "they do their duty", but we shall
stand by what God tells us in His Word and seals by His Spirit:
we are always safe with Him, no matter what may happen in our
lives and no matter how deeply we may fall. Fall we may, even
often, but never to our eternal ruin, for our God will
never let go of us. Our preservation is His doing alone.
To Him therefore be all our thanks and glory.
THE ASSURANCE OF THIS PRESERVATION
Articles 1-8 spoke of the believer's vulnerability to sin, and
insisted that even in the face of repeated fall into sin, God
holds on to His own, always. These articles pointed up the weakness
of the believer, the strength of God, and therefore the safety
and security of the believer in God's hand. This reality does
not and can not change because God is GOD. With Article 9 the
fathers move on to a new topic, focusing on how the believer experiences
this delightful Gospel.
The believer may know that God's elect are always safe, but he
may not always experience it that way. Human as we are, we have
our doubts and questions. Should we in turn feel bad because
we doubt? In Articles 9-13 the fathers shift their focus to our
human reactions and responses to the wealth of the contents of
What gave rise to the mention of this element of the believer's
assurance of his preservation was the following error of the Arminians:
"Without a special revelation we can have no certainty
of future perseverance in this life" (Rejection of Errors,
No 5 - Error, Book of Praise, p.572). In their refutation
of this error, the fathers made reference to "the followers
of the pope," for the Arminians were re-introducing the
Roman Catholic teaching that one can never be certain of his perseverance
unless he receives some sort of special revelation. Although
Article 9 does not elaborate on the grounds of the believer's
assurance (this is the material of Article 10), the fathers simply
state in Article 9 that the believer can be sure: "Believers
themselves can be certain and are certain of this preservation
of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers
in the faith."
The certainty of God's promises does not depend on how we feel.
Whether or not I feel God's promises to be true is irrelevant
to the fact that they are true. By the grace of God we
are allowed to be sure that God is faithful to His Word and promises.
In John 10:28 Jesus gave the assurance that His own shall never
perish for they are eternally safe in His hand and in Romans 8:39
Paul writes that there is absolutely nothing which can separate
us from the love of God. So sure is Paul of attaining the goal
God has set for him, that he writes in 2 Timothy 4:7,8,18 "I
have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept
the faith. Finally there is laid up for me the crown
of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will
give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who
have loved His appearing... And the Lord will
deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His
heavenly kingdom." Here Paul speaks with conviction.
He has not a single doubt that he will get there because he has
learned from Scripture that God holds on to His own.
"This assurance is according to the measure of their faith
The one person, like Paul for example, is strong in the Lord
without any doubts, but another person may feel certain the one
day, but not be so sure the next. Isn't that the reality of the
Christian life? In Ephesians 4 we read how the Lord gave office-bearers
"for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ", with this goal:
"till we all come to the unity of the faith and knowledge
of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature
of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children,
tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine,
by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they
lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow
up in all things into him who is the head - Christ - from whom
the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies,
according to the effective working by which every part does its
share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in
love" (Ephesians 4:12-16). Here Paul characterises
the Ephesians as children who need to grow; grow in the
Lord. Officebearers have been given so that the children
of God may grow from childhood to manhood, from small-in-assurance
to strong-in-assurance, convinced that the work of God in Jesus
Christ has been done not just for the benefit of others but also
for my benefit.
Lest there be the thought in my mind that I doubt too much and
therefore do not have true faith after all, I need to be mindful
of the fact that I remain touched by the brokenness of this life
and therefore my faith will go up and down. I need to grow in
faith and hence in assurance, but I will never reach full maturity
in this respect in this life. Many of the Psalms give evidence
of saints whose assurance fluctuated. See for example Psalm 13.
David, a man after God's heart, a man who loved the Lord, begins
this Psalm feeling downcast: "How long, O LORD? Will
you forget me for ever? How long will You hid Your face from
me?" (vs 1). There certainly is no expression of joy
here. Rather, David is plagued by doubt, feels distant from God,
is ready to despair: "Consider and hear me, O LORD my
God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest
my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him"; lest those
who trouble me rejoice when I am moved" (vs 3,4). Yet,
David immediately proceeds on a much more positive note: "But
I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation"
(vs 5). God Himself holds on to David in his down moments,
and carries him forward again to greater assurance. So doubt
is replaced by joy: "I will sing to the LORD, because
He has dealt bountifully with me" (vs 6). Notice how
doubt and certainty lie close together. Isn't that a normal experience
for the Christian?
I can be assured that God holds on to me, but the certainty will nevertheless go up and down according to the measure of my faith - and that can vary from day to day and from circumstance to circumstance. In order to be encouraged, therefore, I must keep the promises of God before my eyes. God wants me to cling to the promise that He holds on to me, no matter what. The certainty of God's promises depends not on my feelings, but on the Giver of the promise. God is always faithful and therefore His Word of promise is my most trustworthy assurance that He will hold on to me always, even when I fall into sin, and He will preserve me for His heavenly kingdom where I will wear the crown of righteousness which He today already has laid up for me.