Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Perseverance of the Saints, Part I

The past couple of days have been quite an adventure. For the first time in my life I had to spend the night as a patient in the hospital. I am fine and at home, although the doctors still don't know exactly what is wrong. My wife and my mother both brought me copies of Calvin's Institutes to read while in the hospital, but that was more difficult than I imagined it would be. While I was attempting to read, I was constantly being interrupted by nurses, medical technicians, and doctors. I gave up and decided to read Calvin when I got home. I did meet a great guy who works in the hospital that also is a youth pastor at a Baptist church. In the short time that I spoke with Bryan, I learned that he acknowledges that God is who elects us. I love it when I meet people like him who have honestly studied the Scriptures and may not necessarily agree with what a denomination teaches. Maybe it is because I am someone who does not blindly accept other people's interpretations of Scripture, but I must study it for myself to determine God's truth in my life.

We are moving slightly out of the doctrine of predestination today and into the perseverance of the saints. This is closely tied to predestination since it really contributes to the overall doctrine of election. Calvin writes, "For those whom Christ has illumined with the knowledge of his name and has introduced into the bosom of his church, he is said to receive into his care and keeping. All whom he receives, the Father is said to have entrusted and committed to him to keep unto eternal life." In other words, those who have been given to Christ by the Father will never fall away. There is something here that at initial glance appears to be a conflict in Scripture, but Calvin resolves it by showing that there is no conflict a couple of sections later. Two verses are shown back-to-back that seem to not go well together. The first is from Romans, "Moreover 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, New King James Version). In studying this passage, it can be inferred that all who have been predestined are called. All who are called are justified. All who are justified are glorified. But Matthew records in his gospel words of Christ which do not seem to agree. "For many are called, but few are chosen," (Matthew 22:14, New King James Version). How can this be? Keep reading...

It sometimes seems that there are those who were among the elect who fall away. Some people try to complicate this issue, but simply put we can never know where another man's heart is. Sure, with some people you can easily see that their heart belongs to the world, but there are those who hearts belong to the world but they act as if they belong to God. Calvin writes that it is "plain that such persons never cleaved to Christ with the heartfelt trust in which certainty of election has, I say, been established for us." He quotes John, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us..." (1 John 2:19a, New King James Version). These people were never truly among the elect even though for a time they appeared as if they were.

Going back to that conflict presented earlier, there is a difference between what I refer to as an external call and an internal call. Calvin uses the terms general call and special call, but he means exactly the same thing. "There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word - even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death, and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts." We are instructed by Christ to give the external or general call to all nations. Only the Spirit can change someones heart through the internal or specific call to make them receptive to His Word. Matthew 22:14 was referring to a general call while Romans 8:30 was referring to a specific call. Therefore there is no conflict between those passages.

Some opponents claim that the case of Judas can be used as counterevidence to this doctrine. Christ called Judas to the apostolic position, but not unto salvation. Gregory the Great unfortunately taught that we are aware of our call, but cannot be sure of our election. If we are called, we can be sure of our election because all those who receive a specific call are among the elect. Calvin writes, "predestination, rightly understood, brings no shaking of faith but rather its best confirmation."

I will try to finish the last two sections later today, but I am really late for work. Check back later to see if this post has been amended to include sections 10-11.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your posts. I'm thankful you are home and better.

    I have attended Southern Baptist churches my whole life, first with my parents and then on my own. I came to saving faith at the age of 5, but I did not know anything about the doctrines of grace (or that I had in some small nuances been taught opposite of them) until I met my husband at a Southern Baptist seminary. At the time, he had been attending church only about half of his life but was already so very articulate about doctrines of grace that I knew what he was saying was true. I have since studied Scripture myself, of course, but the encouraging thing about "stumbling" upon those who believe and teach the doctrines of grace at that time was finding out that many of our professors also believed--and this made their teaching on any subject powerful and effective.

    My husband is now a staff member at a smallish Southern Baptist church where he and one other staffer are biblically bent toward doctrines of grace and the pastor is not so much. Sometimes I wonder if we will find our place in ministry, a good fit, that is, but for now we know we are called where we are, and we want to be faithful. Thank you again for posting!


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