Fifth Head of Doctrine
The Perseverance of the Saints
Article 1 - The Regenerate Not Free From Indwelling Sin
Those whom God according to His purpose calls into the fellowship of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by His Holy Spirit, He certainly sets free from the dominion and slavery of sin, (Jn 8:34; Rom 6:17) but not entirely in this life from the flesh and the body of sin. (Rom 7:21-24)
Article 2 - Daily Sins of Weakness
Therefore daily sins of weakness spring up and defects cling to even the best works of the saints. (1 Jn 1:8) These are for them a constant reason to humble themselves before God, to flee to the crucified Christ, to put the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness, (Col 3:5) and to long and strive for the goal of perfection until at last, (1 Tim 4:7; Phil 3:12, 14) delivered from this body of death, they reign with the Lamb of God in heaven. (Rev 5:6, 10)
Article 3 - God Preserves His Own
Because of these remnants of indwelling sin and also because of the temptations of the world and of Satan, those who have been converted could not remain standing in that grace if left to their own strength. (Rom 7:20) But God is faithful, who mercifully confirms them in the grace once conferred upon them and powerfully preserves them in that grace to the end. (1 Cor 10:13; 1 Pet 1:5)
Article 4 - Saints May Fall Into Serious Sins
Although the power of God whereby He confirms and preserves true believers in grace is so great (Eph 1:19) that it cannot be conquered by the flesh, yet the converted are not always so led and moved by God that they cannot in certain particular actions turn aside through their own fault from the guidance of grace and be seduced by and yield to the lusts of the flesh. They must therefore constantly watch and pray that they may not be led into temptation. (Mt 26:41) When they do not watch and pray, (1 Thess 5:6, 17) they not only can be drawn away by the flesh, the world, and Satan into serious and atrocious sins, but with the righteous permission of God are sometimes actually drawn away. The lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other saints, described in Holy Scripture, demonstrates this. (2 Sam 11; Mt 26)
Article 5 - The Effects of Such Serious Sins
By such gross sins, however, they greatly offend God, incur the guilt of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound their consciences, and sometimes for a while lose the sense of God’s favour (2 Sam 12; Eph 4:30) – until they return to the right way through sincere repentance and God’s fatherly face again shines upon them. (Ps 32:3-5; Num 6:25)
Article 6 - God Will Not Permit His Elect to Be Lost
For God, who is rich in mercy, (Eph 2:4,5) according to the unchangeable purpose of His election, (Eph 1:11) does not completely withdraw His Holy Spirit from His own even in their deplorable fall. (Ps 51:13) Neither does He permit them to sink so deep that they fall away from the grace of adoption and the state of justification, (Gal 4:5) or commit the sin unto death or the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:31-32) and,(1 Jn 5:16-18) totally deserted by Him, plunge themselves into eternal ruin.
Article 7 - God Will Again Renew His Elect to Repentance
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. (1 Pet 1:23) Further, through His Word and Spirit He certainly and effectually renews them to repentance. (1 Jn 3:9) As a result they grieve from the heart with a godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; (2 Cor 7:10) they seek and obtain through faith with a contrite heart forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; they again experience the favour of a reconciled God and adore His mercies and faithfulness. (Ps 32:5; 51:19) And from now on they more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil 2:12)
Article 8 - The Grace of the Triune God Preserves
So it is not through their own merits or strength but through the undeserved mercy of God that they neither totally fall away from faith and grace nor remain in their downfall and are finally lost. With respect to themselves this could not only easily happen but would undoubtedly happen. But with respect to God this cannot possibly happen, since His counsel cannot be changed, (Ps 33:11) His promise cannot fail, the calling according to His purpose cannot be revoked, (Heb 6:17; Rom 8:30,34; 9:11) the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ cannot be nullified, (Lk 22:32) and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be frustrated nor destroyed. (Eph 1:13)
Article 9 - The Assurance of This Preservation
Believers themselves can be certain of this preservation of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers in the faith. (Rom 8:31-39) And they are indeed certain according to the measure of their faith, (2 Tim 4:8) by which they firmly believe that they are and always shall remain true and living members of the church, and that they have forgiveness of sins and life eternal. (2 Tim 4:18)
Article 10 - The Source of This Assurance
This assurance is not produced by a certain private revelation besides or outside the Word, but by faith in the promises of God, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God; (Rom 8:16-17; 1 Jn 3:1-2) and, finally, by the serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience (Acts 24:16) and of good works. And if the elect of God did not have in this world the solid comfort of obtaining the victory (Rom 8:37) and this unfailing pledge of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19)
Article 11 - This Assurance Not Always Felt
Scripture meanwhile testifies that believers in this life have to struggle with various doubts of the flesh and, placed under severe temptation, do not always feel this full assurance of faith and certainty of perseverance. But God, the Father of all comfort, (2 Cor 1:3) will not let them be tempted beyond their strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, and by the Holy Spirit will again revive in them the certainty of perseverance. (1 Cor 10:13)
Article 12 - This Assurance Is an Incentive to Godliness
This certainty of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and complacent, is rather the true root of humility, childlike reverence, (Rom 12:1) genuine godliness, endurance in every struggle, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in the confession of the truth, and lasting joy in God. (Ps 56:12-13) Further, the consideration of this benefit is for them an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, (Ps 116:12; Tit 2:11-14; 1 Jn 3:3) as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.
Article 13 - This Assurance Does Not Lead to Carelessness
Neither does this renewed confidence produce carelessness or neglect of godliness in those who have been restored after their fall; (2 Cor 7:10) rather, it produces in them a much greater concern to observe carefully the ways of the Lord, which He prepared beforehand. (Eph 2:10) They observe these ways in order that by walking in them they may retain the certainty of their perseverance. Then shall the face of their gracious God not turn away from them again (Ps 63:4; Is 64:7) because of their abuse of His fatherly goodness, with the result that they would fall into still greater anguish of spirit. Indeed, to those who fear God the contemplation of His face is sweeter than life, but its withdrawal is more bitter than death. (Jer 33:5)
Article 14 - The Use of Means in Perseverance
Just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the gospel, so He maintains, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, (Deut 6:20-25) by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, (2 Tim 3:16-17) and by the use of the sacraments. (Acts 2:42)
Article 15 - This Doctrine Is Hated by Satan but Loved by the Church
This doctrine of the perseverance of true believers and saints, and of their assurance of it, (Rev 14:12) God has most abundantly revealed in His Word for the glory of His Name and for the consolation of the godly, and He impresses it on the hearts of believers. It is something which the flesh does not understand, Satan hates, the world ridicules, the ignorant and the hypocrites abuse, and the heretics attack. The Bride of Christ, on the other hand, has always loved this doctrine most tenderly and defended it steadfastly as a treasure of inestimable value; (Eph 5:32) and God, against whom no counsel can avail and no strength can prevail, (Ps 33:10-11) shall see to it that she will continue to do so. To this God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory forever. (1 Pet 5:10-11) Amen.
Rejection of Errors
Having explained the true doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, Synod rejects the following errors:
Error: The perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election or a gift of God obtained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which man before his so-called decisive election and justification must fulfil through his free will.
Refutation: Holy Scripture testifies that perseverance follows from election and is given to the elect by virtue of the death, resurrection, and intercession of Christ: The elect obtained it. The others were hardened ( Rom 11:7). Also: He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ( Rom 8:32-35).
Error: God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient strength to persevere, and is ready to preserve this in him if he will do his duty. But even with all those things in place which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God will use to preserve faith, it still always depends on the decision of man’s will whether he will persevere or not.
Refutation: This idea contains outright Pelagianism. While it wants to make men free, it makes them robbers of God’s honour. It conflicts with the consistent teaching of the gospel, which takes from man all cause for boasting, and ascribes all the praise for this benefit to the grace of God alone. It is also contrary to the testimony of the apostle: It is God who will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, ( 1 Cor 1: 8).
Error: True regenerate believers not only can fall completely and definitely from justifying faith and also from grace and salvation, but indeed they often do fall from them and are lost forever.
Refutation: This opinion nullifies the grace of justification and regeneration and the continuous preservation by Christ, contrary to the clear words of the apostle Paul: God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! ( Rom 5:8, 9). And contrary to the apostle John: No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God ( 1 Jn 3:9), and also to the words of Jesus Christ: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father's hand ( Jn 10:28, 29).
Error: True regenerate believers can commit the sin that leads to death or the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Refutation: The same apostle John, after speaking of those who commit the sin that leads to death and forbidding prayer for them , immediately adds: We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin (namely, with that kind of sin); the One who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him ( 1 Jn 5:16-17) .
Error: Without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life.
Refutation: By this doctrine the sure comfort of true believers in this life is taken away, and the doubting of the followers of the pope is again introduced into the church. The Holy Scriptures, however, always deduce this assurance, not from a special and extraordinary revelation, but from the marks peculiar to the children of God and from the very constant promises of God. So especially the apostle Paul declares that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord ( Rom 8:39). And John writes: Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us ( 1 Jn 3:24).
Error: By its very nature the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance and salvation causes false security and is harmful to godliness, good morals, prayers, and other holy exercises. On the contrary, it is praiseworthy to doubt.
Refutation: This error ignores the effective power of God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. It contradicts the apostle John, who teaches the opposite with these clear words: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure ( 1 Jn 3:2, 3). Furthermore, it is refuted by the example of the saints in both the Old and the New Testament who, although they were certain of their perseverance and salvation, nevertheless continued in prayer and other exercises of godliness.
Error: The faith of those who believe for a time does not differ from justifying and saving faith except with respect to its duration.
Refutation: In Mt 13:20-23 and Luke 8:13-15 Christ Himself clearly indicates, besides this duration, a threefold difference between those who believe only for a time and true believers. He declares that the former receive the seed on rocky ground, but the latter in good soil, or in a good heart; that the former are without root, but the latter have a firm root; and that the former are without fruit, but the latter bring forth fruit in varying measure, constantly and steadfastly.
Error: It is not absurd that one, having lost his first regeneration, is again and even often born anew.
Refutation: This doctrine denies that the seed of God, by which we are born again, is imperishable, contrary to the testimony of the apostle Peter: You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable ( 1 Pet 1:23).
Error: Christ did not pray anywhere that believers should unfailingly continue in faith.
Refutation: This contradicts Christ Himself, who says: I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail ( Luke 22:32). It also contradicts the apostle John, who declares that Christ did not pray only for the apostles, but also for all who would believe through their word : Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, and, My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one ( Jn 17:11, 15, cf. 17:20).
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