As to Conditions (11)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This eleventh and final article in the series 'As to Conditions' was written by Herman Hoeksema in the June 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Once more we meet with the term condition in the Canons of Dordrecht, and again the word is put in the mouth of the Remonstrants. It is found in Chapter 5, Rejection of Errors, 1: ‘The true doctrine having been’ explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:
“Who teach: That the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will. For the holy scripture testifies that this follows out of election, and is given the elect in virtue of the death, the resurrection and intercession of Christ: ‘But the elect obtained it and the rest were hardened.’ Rom. 11:7. Likewise: ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ Rom. 8:32–35.”
The question here, therefore, is whether the grace of perseverance is conditional or unconditional. We know that in article 5 of the well-known Remonstrance that was composed in Gouda, 1610, the Arminians made that grace of God unto the perseverance of the saints conditional and contingent upon the free will of man. They did not say so in so many words, but nevertheless plainly suggested it in the following article:
“Those who are grafted into Christ by a true faith, and therefore partake of his vivifying Spirit, have abundance of means by which they may fight against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and obtain the victory, always, however, by the aid of the grace of the Holy Spirit; Jesus Christ assists them by his Spirit in all temptations, and stretches out his hand; and provided they are ready for the contest, and seek his aid, and are not wanting to their duty, he strengthens them to such a degree that they cannot be seduced or snatched from the hands of Christ by any fraud of Satan or violence, according to that saying, John 10:28, ‘No one shall pluck them out of my hand.’ But whether these very persons cannot, by their own negligence, desert the commencement of their being in Christ, and embrace again the present world, fall back from the holy doctrine once committed to them, make shipwreck of their conscience, and fall from grace; this must be more fully examined and weighed by the holy scriptures before men can teach it with full tranquility of mind and confidence.”
That already in this article itself the grace of perseverance is made contingent upon the will and the efforts of man is plain, for instance, from the words “provided they are ready for the contest, and seek his aid, and are not wanting to their duty, he strengthens them to such a degree that they cannot be seduced or snatched from the hands of Christ by any fraud of Satan or violence.” And besides, at the close of this article they plainly suggest that before they can accept the Reformed truth of the perseverance of the saints, it must be made plain to them from holy scripture. The final result was that the followers of Arminius so modified this article that it asserted the possibility of falling away from grace. And in the article of the Canons which we quoted above it is plainly stated that according to the Arminians perseverance is not a fruit of election, but a condition of the new covenant, so perseverance is another condition in order to remain in the covenant of God.
Now in order to understand the question that here concerns us, we do well to distinguish between two aspects of what is usually simply called perseverance, the aspects, namely, of preservation and perseverance.
The first aspect refers to the divine factor, the second to the human factor in the perseverance of the saints. The first may be called that act of God whereby through his almighty power and efficient grace he keeps the elect in the midst of the world, in the midst of all temptations of Satan, the world, and their own sinful flesh, in such a way that they can never permanently and ultimately fall away from grace and fail to obtain the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that never fadeth away. The second aspect is the act of man, that is, of the regenerated child of God, of the believer, whereby he fights against sin and the devil and the world, keeps his garments clean, and has the ultimate victory.
The all-important question is, of course: what is the relation between these two aspects, between the act of God in preservation and the act of the believer in perseverance?
Is it such, that in the power of God the believer is utterly passive? Does God preserve him as a stock and block unto the final salvation? Does the act of preservation mean that God simply holds his hand, and that therefore he is perfectly safe? May the preservation of believers unto salvation be compared to a man that buys a ticket in a Pullman car and simply goes to sleep until the angels wake him up at the station called heaven? Some seem to think that this conception of preservation and perseverance is very Reformed indeed. God, they say, must do it all, and any conception as if man himself must put forth effort in order to be saved and to persevere in the midst of the world is considered Arminianism. Yet this is not the case. The grace of preservation never works this way. God’s part of the covenant, although he performs it alone and unconditionally, never excludes man’s part, for the simple reason that the grace of God always works in and through man as a rational, moral agent.
On the other hand, the question may be asked whether in preservation and perseverance man is ever first. That, of course, is fundamentally the conception of all Arminians and Pelagians and also of all kinds of Synergists, that speak of a cooperation between God and man so that each does his share in the work of salvation. They present the work of preservation as wholly or in part contingent upon man’s perseverance. The believer cannot persevere without the grace of God, they admit; but God will give that grace only on condition that man really wants it, asks for it, and earnestly strives to persevere. God helps those that help themselves. Hence, the will of man and his earnest effort unto perseverance is the prerequisite, or condition, unto God’s act of preservation. In that case there is no real perseverance of the saints. A chain depends for its strength on its weakest link. And if, say, some forty-nine links of a chain consist of a strong steel, while the fiftieth link is a silk thread, the chain is useless. And if the preservation of God, no matter how strong it is in itself, is contingent upon the weak will of man, there is no perseverance of the saints whatever.
Hence, our Reformed fathers repudiated both of these views. They must have nothing of the stock and block theory, nor must they have anything of the Arminian error of man’s perseverance as a condition unto God’s preservation.
They proceeded, as always, from unconditional election, from that to unconditional preservation, and, on the basis of this, to perseverance as a fruit of preservation. Thus it is evidently in the article which we quoted above, and thus it is in all the articles on the perseverance of the saints as taught in the Canons of Dordrecht.
According to election God gives them the grace of preservation unconditionally and efficaciously. They are preserved in the power of God, according to 1 Peter 1:4. He works within them to will and to do, according to Philippians 2:13. This work of God is absolutely first and unconditional. There can never be any conditions which man must fulfill as prerequisites for the work of God. Nevertheless, this power of God is not like a strong fortress in which man can afford to wait effortless and feel perfectly safe. On the contrary, the believer is preserved in the power of God, but also through faith. And that means that this power of God unto preservation works in and through him as a rational, moral creature, so that he fights the good fight of faith even unto the end, that no one may take his crown. The grace of preservation is God’s part in the covenant. But the grace of perseverance is man’s part, which always is the fruit of God’s part.
But these two parts are never so related that man’s part is a condition which he must fulfill in order that God may fulfill his part.
The grace of God is always unconditional.