Westminster Seventeen: Of the Perseverance of the Saints

1. They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved (Phil. 1:6; 2 Pet. 1:10; John 10:28–29; 1 John 3:9; 1 Pet. 1:5, 9).

All who are truly called by God will not fail to persevere to the end. This does not apply to those who claim to have been effectually called, or who are in covenant with God, but it most certainly applies to the genuinely regenerate. Holding to the perseverance of the saints does not mean that we hold to the final perseverance of every covenant member. We hold to the final perseverance of those who are genuinely converted to God.

2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father (2 Tim. 2:18–19; Jer. 31:3); upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:10, 14; 13:20–21; 9:12–15; Rom. 8:33–39; John 17:11, 24; Luke 22:32; Heb. 7:25), the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them (John 14:16–17; I John 2:27; 3:9), and the nature of the covenant of grace (Jer. 32:40): from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof (John 10:28; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 2:19).

While the doctrine is called perseverance of the saints (for that is what the saints do), this fruit is not grounded in the choices or free will of the saints. It is revealed there, but does not originate there. Rather, perseverance arises from the work of the triune God in salvation—the free election of the Father, the potency of the Son’s passion and prayers, and the presence and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the seed of God is within the elect, and it will grow to fruition. The fulfillment of the covenant of grace in the lives of the elect is not a matter of contingencies. From all this we know that men who are once effectually called are always effectually called.

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins (Matt. 26:70, 72, 74); and, for a time, continue therein (Ps. 51:14): whereby they incur God’s displeasure (Isa. 64:5, 7,9; 2 Sam. 11:27), and grieve His Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts (Ps. 51:8, 10, 12. Rev. 2:4; Song 5:2–4, 6), have their hearts hardened (Isa. 63:17; Mark 6:52; 16:14), and their consciences wounded (Ps. 32:3–4; 51:8); hurt and scandalize others (2 Sam. 12:14), and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (Ps. 89:31–32; 1 Cor. 11:32).

But all is not sunshine. The elect may stumble and fall, and many of them do. Because of external temptations from Satan and the world, and internal corruptions like lust and laziness, the elect may fall into gross sin. Further, they may continue in their rebellion for a time. During such times, they bring down on their own heads the displeasure of God and the grief of the Holy Spirit. They cannot continue to enjoy the blessings associated with the Christian faith while in such a state. They have their comforts and graces taken from them. They find themselves hardened for a time. They wound their own consciences—which means that their consciences cannot function as they ought to. They hurt others in the faith, and they set themselves up for temporal chastisements. They, being elect, are not vulnerable to eternal punishment, but the discipline meted out in this life can be severe.

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