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TEXT: I Peter 1:3-5
SUBJECT: Watson on the Perseverance of the Saints #3
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll move on in the study we began a few weeks ago: it's called Thomas Watson on the Perseverance of the Saints.
The Bible teaches that all believers in Christ persevere, that is, we endure the hardships of life and live for God until we die. Our devotion to the Lord is never perfect and, often, not consistent, but it is real and it never leaves us. To be saved, believers must persevere: the Lord says so-"He who endures to the end, shall be saved". The others won't be saved! People who profess faith in Christ and then fall away from the Lord, from obedience, from prayer and Bible reading and communion with Him will not go to heaven when they die-no matter how well they started the Christian life!
I very firmly believe in justification by faith alone! But it is not bare or naked or invisible faith that justifies! No, the faith that justifies the sinner also makes him a saint. If you want to go to heaven, you must persevere. What you did ten or twenty or fifty years ago-no matter how sincere you were at the time-is not enough. To be with Christ in heaven, you must live for Christ on earth.
This is what the Bible teaches and it's what our study is about. Thus far, Thomas Watson has made two major points: first, he tells us what perseverance is and is not, and then he tells us how we come to persevere: (1) by the means of grace, (2) by the work of the Spirit in our souls, and (3) by the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ offered for us in heaven.
Now he moves on to what he calls the
"Arguments to prove the saint's perseverance".
His arguments are pointed the Roman Catholic Church that-then and still-teaches that a Christian can fall from grace and be lost in the end, and the Church of England, that didn't teach it, exactly, but leaned very much that way at the time.
Watson wants to demonstrate-from the Bible-that true believers cannot be lost-either in this world or in the world to come.
He has six arguments to support his case. Let's get to them.
THE TRUTH OF GOD
His first argument is.
"From the truthfulness of God. God has both asserted it and promised it. `I will give them eternal life and they shall never perish' (John 10:28). 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 and they shall not depart from Me' (Jeremiah 32:40). God will so love His people that He will not forsake them; and they shall so fear Him that they will not forsake Him. If a believer should not persevere, God would break His promise. `I will betroth you unto me in righteousness and lovingkindness' (Hosea 2:19). God does not marry His people and then divorce them. God's love ties the marriage knot so fast that neither death nor hell can put it asunder".
This-I think-is the strongest argument of all. If you believe it, all the others become unnecessary. Believers cannot fall from grace because God says they cannot fall from grace and what God says is true.
Watson has cited several verses to this effect, but others come to mind. I think, especially, of the Lord's promise:
"All whom the Father gives Me will come to Me and he who comes to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
In our text, Peter makes the same promise. He says we are
"Kept by the power of God through faith for salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time".
Just before this, he says our inheritance is,
"Incorruptible, undefiled, that fades not away, reserved in heaven for us".
You don't have to be a logic-chopper to put the two together: we are kept for an inheritance and an inheritance is kept for us. And both are kept by God's Almighty power and wisdom.
The promises of God are not always easy to believe; some, in fact, are impossible to believe. And yet-believe them or not-they are kept. The Lord promised a baby to a woman ninety years old. She laughed at it (and so did her husband, who was even older!), but it still came to pass! God promised a Kingdom to a dead man. His best friends didn't believe it for a minute. But the next Sunday morning, the Lord kept His promise, by raising them man from the dead and giving Him the throne of David.
Looking at the failures of other people and recalling our own tends to discourage us something awful. If others can't make it, how can I? How can I possibly stand up under the weight of my temptations? I can't do it! But then, in my despair, I remember the promise of God. And I then know-despite all the arguments to the contrary-that I will keep on keeping on. God is for me and if He is-who can be against me?
Believers will persevere-every one us will-because God cannot lie.
This is the first argument.
THE POWER OF GOD
"The second argument is 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 (II Corinthians 1:21); God the Son confirms (I Corinthians 1:8); God the Holy Spirit seals (Ephesians 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 free will might overcome temptation and persevere. Augustine confutes them. `Man prays to God for perseverance, which would be absurd if he had the power in himself to persevere'".
The most reliable man in the world is not always reliable. A man promises to take care of his wife-no matter what-he says. For twenty years, he keeps his word. When the economy goes bad, he works harder, when he loses a job, he find another one; he's the kind of man who goes to work when he's tired, when he's depressed, when he doesn't feel his best. He's a reliable man-she can count on him.
But then he has a stroke-one that debilitates his mind and body. He cannot keep his promise. He wants to, but he can't. If it were humanly possible, he would, but that's the point, it is not humanly possible. Is the man a liar? No he isn't. He's a man whose power to make a living depends on many things outside of his control.
But what is outside of God's control? What can He not do if He wants to do it? He can do anything He wants to; He will do everything He has promised to do-without any chance of failure. But God has promised to preserve all His people, and that means we will be preserved: the power of God backs the promise of God.
This is Watson's main teaching on the point, but then he takes a quick digression. Pelagians are people who believe man's free will is equal to-if not greater-than God's power. You're listening to a Pelagian when you hear someone say: God has done all He can do: now it's up to you.
If the Pelagians are right, then the saints may not persevere-true believers may fall from grace and be lost. That's what they say: but they don't go far enough. In fact, if they're right, the saints will not persevere-true believers will fall from grace and be lost-every one of us!
Why? Because of what we are (see Romans 3) and because of what Satan is-"the god of this world who has blinded the eyes of those who are perishing".
Thankfully, most Pelagians don't really believe what they say they do. For they too-if they're Christians-pray for God to save them, to keep them, to deliver them from temptation, and so on.
Believers will persevere because God will see to it. And His power is sufficient to bring His will to pass. That's the second argument.
"The third argument is taken from God's electing love. Those whom God has chosen from all eternity cannot fall away finally; but every true believer is elected for glory and to glory he must come. What can frustrate election or make God's decree void?"
The Bible plainly teaches a doctrine of election. To "elect" is to choose. God is the Elector and His people are the Elect. The election takes place before the foundation of the world and includes everything necessary to save the ones who are chosen-save them in this life and save them forever.
If God chose to save His people from their sins, and if-at the same time-He chose to provide everything they need to be saved-how can we not be saved? What can get in the way?
Well, of course, our sins and unbelief can get in the way. But you weren't listening: God provides everything we need to be saved-including the gifts of faith, repentance, and perseverance. The gifts are not just offered, but given.
Election is not salvation (many Calvinists are wrong here!). Election is for salvation. And if God has willed it, who can unwill it? Who can undo the plan of God?
Ephesians 1:4 is not easy to twist and turn:
"Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and just before Him."
II Thessalonians 2:13 tells the rest of the story:
"God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth".
Romans 8:28ff has been called The Golden Chain:
"Those He foreknew, He also predestined.those He predestined, He also called.those He called, He also justified.those He justified, He also glorified".
There's a debate on what "foreknowledge" means, but that's not the point at the moment: the point is: foreknowledge leads to predestination leads to calling leads to justification leads to glorification. What's left out of the plan? And the repeated use of the word, "those" indicates everyone included in one step is included in all the others too!
We have often abused the doctrine of election. To many of us, it is little more than a doctrine to argue about. That is not why God revealed it: He told us about it so that we would have comfort in times of temptation and failure. Our failures are real; our temptations are strong, but God's electing love is mightier than all these!
Saints will persevere because God has chosen them to! That's the third argument.
UNION WITH CHRIST
"The fourth argument is taken from the believer's union with Christ. They are knitted together with Christ.As it is not possible to separate the leaven and the dough once they are mixed together, so it is impossible for Christ and believers, once they are united to be divided".
This is one of Watson's best illustrations! A believer is not united to Christ the way-let's say-a Mason is united to his lodge. He can leave the lodge if he wants to and the lodge can throw him out if it wants to. No, we are united to Christ the way that yeast and dough are united in a loaf of bread. At first, they are separate: dough in one hand, yeast in the other. But once they are mixed up, they cannot be divided.
If Christ is already in heaven, then we will be in heaven. And that means, we will persevere, for that's the way to heaven. At the end of Romans 8, Paul gives a long list of appalling things: death, life, angels, powers, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, created things-and says not one of them-or any combination thereof-can
"Separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord".
Being in union with Christ is incredible! It means we are as loved as Christ is! And, thus, we can no more fall from God's favor than He can!
That's the fourth argument for perseverance.
"The fifth argument is taken from the nature of a purchase. A man will not lay down his money for a purchase that can be taken back. Christ died to purchase us for Himself. Would He have paid this price that we might believe for a time, and then fall away? Do you think Christ will lose His purchase?"
Well, do you? Did the Lord Jesus Christ buy us on the cross or not? If He didn't, what did He do? And, if He did purchase our salvation at the price of His own blood, will He get what He paid for or not?
Did Christ buy your salvation on the cross? If He did, you will be saved-and that means you will persevere. You must persevere-even if you're weak and stupid-because the Lord will not be cheated: what He paid for, He gets. And-if you're a Christian-He paid for you.
That's the fifth argument.
THE BELIEVER'S TRIUMPH
"The sixth argument is from the believer's victory over the world. The syllogism is this: He who overcomes the world perseveres in the faith. But the believer overcomes the world. Therefore, a believer perseveres in grace. `This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith (I John 5:4). A man may lose a battle in the field, yet win the victory in the war. A child of God may be foiled in many battles with 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".
This one speaks for itself. All believers overcome the world (cf. I John 2:13,14, 4:4). But overcoming the world is just another way of saying "persevering to the end". If we do the one-which we do-then we also do the other.
We all lose many battles with the flesh, the world, and the devil. But-by the grace of God-we win out in the end. As the old man once said to me, "The best revenge is outliving your enemies". And that's what we do: we lose, we fall back, we make a mess of things, but we survive in the faith. And go to heaven.
SUMMARY AND CHALLENGE
Watson has given six arguments to prove that believers-all believers-endure to the end and are saved at last. The first five are distinctly God-centered; number six is, too, though not as clearly as the others.
This means we can put our hope in our Father, our Savior, and our Indwelling Spirit, and our hope will not be disappointed in the end.
Keep it up. God is for you. Amen.
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