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TEXT: I Peter 1:3-5
SUBJECT: Watson on Perseverance #2
Three weeks ago we began a study of Thomas Watson on the Perseverance of the Saints. Watson was a Puritan pastor whose books are still quite readable--and good for the soul. Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll get back to it.
The term, perseverance of the saints, is not in the Bible, but its teaching is for sure. It means believers in Christ cannot be lost-either in this life or in the life to come. On the second point, most Evangelical Christians agree: once saved always saved. But what does it mean to be saved? And how does being saved affect your life here on earth? Can one believe in Christ, live without serving Him for the rest of his life, and go to heaven when he dies? That's what some teach.
But the Bible does not! No, the Word of God teaches that Christians are saved both in this life and in the life to come. And being saved means having fellowship with Jesus Christ-a fellowship resulting in a lifetime of worship and service. Neither is perfect, but both are real. Believers are kept by the power of God through faith.
In the first part of his chapter, Watson tells us what perseverance does not mean. It does not mean:
All believers in Christ persevere; those who do not persevere are not believers: they may seem to be, but that's all: they seem to be. The grace and wisdom of God are so great that no one-not even one-of His people can fall short of salvation-because He has willed it and what He wills, He brings to pass! Isaiah 46:10:
"My counsel shall stand; I will do all my pleasure".
The great preacher and hymn writer, Toplady sums it up as well as anyone:
Not one of all the chosen race,
But shall to heaven attain;
Partake on earth the purchased grace
And then with Jesus reign.
Having said all this, we now come to the second part of the chapter. Personally, I would not have arranged it this way, but the more I think about it, the better I like Watson's way of laying it out. Instead of proving the doctrine (as I would have done), he gives the means of perseverance. This is important, for we are always tempted to give them a seat in the back of the bus!
But old Tom does not do that. He knows that thinking about persevering in Christ is not the same as doing it! And to do it, we have to make use of the means of grace. That's what he starts with. He puts it in the form of a question:
By what means do Christians come to persevere?
How do we stay with Christ? Why are we kept while others fall away? The issues are important. So let's get to them.
THE MEANS OF GRACE
By the help of ordinances, as of prayer, the Word, and the sacraments. Christians do not persevere as they sit still and do nothing. We are not passengers in a ship who are carried to the end of their voyage while they sit. We persevere by the use of means-as a man wins the race by running or a boxing match by fighting. As Paul said, `Except you abide in the ship, you cannot be saved' (Acts 26:41). Believers shall come to shore at last, arrive at heaven. But, `except they abide in the ship-that is, in the use of ordinances--`they cannot be saved'. The ordinances cherish grace; as they beget grace, so they are the milk that nourishes it unto eternity".
A technical note here: we normally use the word, ordinances, to refer to baptism and the Lord's Supper. Watson uses it in a wider sense-they include the sacraments, but others things too, like prayer, Bible reading, hearing sermons, fellowship, and so on.
The Lord does not depend on these things to save us. He could save without them (and I suspect He does in the case of infants and the mentally handicapped). But even though He does not need them, He does use them. He uses the Word, prayer, fellowship, and the like to bring us to faith in Christ. And He keeps on using them to sustain that faith in Christ.
This means: if we willfully ignore or reject the means of grace, we will not persevere in the faith and we will not go to heaven when we die! Note the word, willfully. I'm not thinking of the blind man who cannot read the Bible or the woman in a coma who no longer prays or the family in the radical Muslim world where there are no churches! The Lord can sustain these people in extraordinary ways-by miracles of grace, if need be. But, ordinarily, these are His means of saving you and keeping you saved.
Watson makes an apt reference to the story of Paul's shipwreck in Acts 27. The ship is caught in a terrible storm-a storm so vicious than everyone gives up hope of living through. But an angel comes to Paul in the night and tells him everyone aboard the ship will survive-the ship won't, but the passengers will: that's the promise of God.
But the promise has a condition tied to it. Everyone must stay aboard: if the sailors go off in their lifeboats, everyone else will drown. When they try to sneak off, Paul tells the Centurion, who orders the ropes cut and the lifeboats are carried away. The ship founders on rocks, everyone jumps off and-and all the passengers make it ashore-276 to be precise.
This is a very fine illustration! There is a Divine promise made and a human condition to be met. Though the Lord has promised life to all, unless the men do what He tells them to do, they will not survive.
The condition is closely related to the promise: Paul doesn't say unless these men hop on one foot while rubbing their bellies, you cannot be saved! No, he says the sailors-who know what to do in a storm-must stay aboard and then, everyone will get out of the storm alive.
This is how the Promise of God and the means of grace fit together. He doesn't say: unless you wiggle your ears three times a day and clap your hands on Sunday, you will be lost! No, He chooses the means of keeping your faith alive and then promises that the faith will save you in this life and the next.
Salvation means fellowship with God. But reading the Bible, praying, meditating, going to church, taking the Lord's Supper, and so on, are the very ways of having fellowship with God! Thus-looked at from one angle-they save us and keep us saved.
Do you want to persevere to the end? Do you want to keep on keeping on till the Lord comes again? If you do, get busy reading the Bible, praying, going to church, and so on-and God keep you in His love!
And so, by what means do Christians come to persevere? First of all, by using the ordinances: prayer, meditation, Bible reading, church going, observing the Lord's Supper, staying in fellowship with others, and so on.
Are you doing these things? You all come to church-I can see that. But what about the other things? How's your prayer life? How often do you skip reading the Bible? Is the Lord's Supper important to you? If you want to persevere-and be saved-you must use the means of grace. So get to it.
THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT
"By the sacred influence of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is continually at work in the heart of a believer, to carry on grace to perfection. He drops in fresh oil, to keep the lamp of grace burning. The Spirit excites, strengthens, increases grace, and makes a Christian go forward in the faith. He who lives in the house, keeps it in good repair; so the Spirit dwelling in the believer keeps grace in repair. Grace is compared to a river. The river can never be dried up, because God's Spirit is the string that feeds it".
This is a big encouragement! If my growth in grace depended on the means of grace only, I'd be sunk for sure! Though I read and pray every day and hardly ever miss church, I often keep up the form of godliness better than its power. Maybe you do too.
But that's the point: God does more than give us the means of salvation! He also gives us His Spirit who creates a love for His Word, stirs us to pray, convicts us when we sin, and cheers us when things aren't going our way. The Holy Spirit Himself does all this-and more.
This is what Paul is getting at in the first chapter of Philippians:
"He who has begun a good work in you, will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ".
The Christian cannot be lost because He possesses the Spirit of God-who won't let him be lost! Not in this life; not in the life to come! That's good news to people who aren't as disciplined as we ought to be!
Watson has a couple of illustrations: the Spirit is like a man living in a house who keeps the place up. The house is the Christian, the upkeep is the work of the Spirit! The Spirit is also like a spring of water feeding a river. The river is our graces, which cannot run dry because the Spirit cannot run dry!
On this point, I believe the Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians do better than we do. On many issues, I disagree with them: but they believe in the Holy Spirit and they think He has some part in their lives! We pay lip service to these things, but how often do we think about them?
Have you thought of the Holy Spirit today? Have you thanked Him lately? Are you trying hard not to grieve Him? Are you enjoying His fellowship?
We persevere in the faith by the work of the Holy Spirit who is in us.
THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST
"Grace is carried on to perfection by Christ's daily intercession. As the Spirit is at work in the heart, so Christ is at work in heaven. Christ is ever at work praying the believer's grace may hold out: `Father, keep those whom you have given Me'. How can the children of such prayer perish?"
By His Spirit, God works in us; by His Son, God works for us. The Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven right now and up there He is praying for us-praying against our sins, praying for our grace. Do you think the Father listens to Him? Or does He turn a deaf ear to His Son? He listens to Him-of course He does! And He gives Him what He wants.
What Christ wants is our salvation. And that means, we will be saved. We will persevere because the Lord wants us to.
Have you thought of that today? Have you thanked Him for it? You thank other people for praying for you, why not the Lord-whose prayers matter most?
The Lord's intercession for us in heaven is a cheering though! It means that we won't fall short of the finish line, but we will persevere to the end and be saved.
We can count on it. Because we can count on the promise of God, on the means of grace, on the work of the Holy Spirit, and on the prayers of Jesus Christ!
God bless you-everyone-for Christ's sake. Amen.
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