The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

amazingbackintograceMichael Horton explains that when teaching the biblical doctrine of eternal security for the Christian, The Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints is a more accurate term than “once saved, always saved”:

Some who believe that Christians are eternally secure give their doctrine the slogan “once saved, always saved,” but that slogan is very misleading. The slogan suggests that once persons make a decision for Christ, they can then go off and do their own thing, fully confident that no matter what they do or how they live, they are “safe and secure from all alarm.” That simply is not biblical.

The new birth, to be sure, is an event. In other words, at some point in your life, the Holy Spirit moves and creates new life in your soul. But salvation is more than that. Justification, too, is a one-time declaration, but salvation also involves a process of, over time, becoming righteous, which is called sanctification.

Sanctification is the Christian life, the daily pursuit of God and the transformation of the heart, mind, and will. Our priorities and our view of life are drastically altered, revolutionized, and reversed. We did not cooperate in our justification. But we must cooperate with God in our sanctification.

Some Christians have the idea that they must sit back and let the Spirit do everything. But…the process toward maturity in Christ is not based on a passive view of life. Another way of saying sanctification is “taking the bull by the horns.” We do not wait for the Holy Spirit to perform some supernatural number on our lives: he already has done this for us! We actively pursue holiness and Christ-centeredness in our lives, recognizing that the same One who commands us to work, persevere, and obey gives us the supernatural ability to do so. Just do it! You do the work; but recognize that, if the work is done, God has done it in and through you.

So then, when we speak of “once saved, always saved,” we are not taking into account the full scope of salvation. We have been saved (justified), we are being saved (sanctified), and we will one day be saved (glorified). You cannot claim to have been “saved” (justified) unless you are being sanctified. Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

Jesus made it plain throughout his ministry that one could not become his disciple (and, therefore, could not receive eternal life) unless that person was willing to “take up his cross daily” and follow Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes denying yourself, dying to sin, and deferring to others.

These terms identify a concept that is not in vogue today. When even many church leaders are telling people to “believe in yourself” and are preaching a gospel that is more concerned with fulfilling our desires than God’s, we have difficulty falling unreservedly into the arms of the Savior in whom we find our only confidence. But of course, we cannot ever tailor-make the gospel to fit our self-serving expectations.

Romans 8:30 makes clear the chain of salvation, a chain whose links cannot be broken: “And those he predestined, those he also called; those he called, he also justified; he justified, he also glorified.” Can one be predestined, called, justified, and lost? This verse teaches us that when God starts something, God finishes it. Did you grant yourself salvation? Did you gain it yourself in the first instance? No, salvation was a gift. Remember, God justifies and condemns: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom: 8:33-34).  God never plants trees that do not bear fruit: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  And the conclusion we can draw from James is, if you don’t have the fruit, check the root!

Since God initially gives us the grace to believe in him and to turn from self, why would he not give us the grace to keep on trusting in him?  One simply cannot believe in the possibility of losing salvation through moral failure and in salvation by grace at the same time.

We have the responsibility to “go onto maturity” (Heb. 6:1). So we are responsible to persevere, but not for our perseverance. We are responsible to be saved, but not for our salvation.

To lose our salvation, we would have to return to a condition of spiritual death. Of what sort of regeneration would the Holy Spirit be the author if those whom he has resurrected and given eternal life are capable of dying spiritually again? “Well, can’t you commit spiritual suicide?” one might ask. Not if we take seriously the claim of 1 Peter 1:23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.”

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), pp 170-174.

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The Inconsistent Synergism of ‘Eternal Security’ – Michael Horton

charles_stanleyToday, many within the American Church speak of ‘Eternal Security’.  Charles Stanley is one key example that teaches this doctrine.  In this system, Charles Stanley actually is Arminian in the other four points of Calvinism and because a person “makes a decision for Jesus”, well Jesus is just kind of stuck with them, regardless of the lack of fruit or evidence of true faith in Christ.  This doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ is inconsistent with the Reformed Protestant view known as ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ (or the ‘P’ in TULIP).  In the Reformed understanding of the five points of Calvinism, salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.  Michael Horton in his recent book, For Calvinism very thoughtfully engages the ‘inconsistent synergism’ of the doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ commonly taught by Charles Stanley among many others.  Sadly, Reformed folk get a bad wrap for holding to ‘Eternal Security’ even though it is a view inconsistent with our system of doctrine and Reformed Confessional standards.  ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ is an altogether different doctrine than what has become known as ‘Eternal Security’ or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’.  Reformed Protestants are not ‘Antinomians’ as the Assemblies of God would have us to believe as they lump Charles Stanley in within the pale of Calvinism and leave Reformed Protestants impaled.  Just take a look at our Reformed Confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Standards.

Michael Horton writes in For Calvinism:

Neither the Roman Catholic and Orthodox nor the Arminian view is Pelagian . Both insist on the necessity of grace, but this grace is regarded as making final salvation merely possible; it becomes effectual only to the extent that the believer cooperates with its infused powers.

If these rival views of perseverance represent a consistent synergism, another important view can be identified as inconsistent synergism. Generally known as eternal security, this view seems in some respects indistinguishable from the perseverance of the saints. However , at least as it is articulated by many of its leading proponents, this view locates security in the believer’s decision to accept Christ. 25 Although genuine Christians may fail to grow in their sanctification and persevere in their faith — in fact, they may never even begin to bear the fruit of righteousness— they are assured of eternal life. Such “carnal Christians” may leave the church, even deny Christ , and thereby lose the blessings of living as “victorious Christians” as well as the rewards in the next life for faithful service, but they will be saved, though “only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3: 15). 26

Although advocates often represent this position as moderate Calvinism, it is more appropriately identified as moderate Arminianism. This is why I have identified it as “inconsistent synergism.” After all, it denies that human beings are incapable of responding to God in faith apart from a prior regeneration, bases election on foreseen faith, rejects the particular scope of the atonement, and maintains that the Spirit’s sovereign call may be resisted. Even its teaching of eternal security is based on the believer’s decision to accept Christ, which renders this view actually closer to Arminianism than to a Calvinist interpretation of perseverance of the saints.

Over every form of synergism, Confessional Lutheranism strongly affirms a monergistic soteriology: God alone saves; it is not a process of human cooperation with God’s grace. Nevertheless, from a Reformed perspective the Lutheran system represents an inconsistent monergism. Confessional Lutheranism affirms total depravity and unconditional election while nevertheless holding with equal rigor to a universal atonement and the possibility of resisting the Spirit’s inward calling through the outward gospel. Lutheranism affirms with Reformed theology that the elect will persevere and “those who still take pleasure in their sins and continue in a sinful life do not believe” (Augsburg Confession, Art. 20); yet also holds that it is possible that (1) the elect may lose their salvation for a time (e.g., David, Peter), but not finally; and (2) others might once have truly believed, been regenerated and justified, but then lose all of these gifts through apostasy. 27

According to some Lutherans, salvation can only be lost through unbelief, while according to others it may also be lost due to mortal sin. 28 How can one say that God alone saves, from beginning to end, while also affirming the possibility of losing one’s salvation? It seems undeniable that this gift depends in some sense on the sinner’s nonresisting, although this conclusion is rejected by Confessional Lutherans.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints reflects a consistently monergistic view of salvation as entirely due to God’s grace alone from beginning to end. With the writer to the Hebrews, we can acknowledge the tragic reality of apostasy or falling away from the covenantal sphere of the Spirit’s activity through Word and sacrament without concluding that these visible members of Christ’s body were actually regenerated branches of the vine. Although some professing members may be devoid of saving faith, those who receive the reality that is promised to them in Word and sacrament are assured that they will continue to trust in Christ. In spite of the weakness of our faith and repentance, we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us,” so that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 37, 39). Now that is a message that takes command of our hearts and minds, leading us to worship and out to our neighbors with the best news that they will ever hear!

Horton, Michael S. (2011-10-25). For Calvinism (Kindle Locations 2129-2162). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.  (pp. 122-123 in the paperback)

Is Perseverance of the Saints Different from Eternal Security

The Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints — Michael Horton

Assemblies of God Position Paper on the Security of the Believer (Backsliding)

Full Obedience, Straight Up

Full_ObedienceI recently visited a mega church for a speech conference and was amazed at some of the mantras on signs. “Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ & Live in Full Obedience to Him.” Yep, that’s right – “Full Obedience.” Just “Do it.” We left a mega church nearly 10 years ago because law and gospel were not clearly distinguished. Messages were simply so ‘law heavy’ and loaded with imperatives that church simply became oppressive. It was essentially ‘try harder’. Sadly, moving into Reformed circles it seems that many are not aware in ‘our’ churches that they also give GoLawspel (a mixing of law and gospel) to their people. The law demands perfect obedience and only Jesus Christ was the One who fully obeyed. Jesus performed obedience in our place and rescues us because of his obedient life, death, and resurrection. Now, because he has gone before us and obeyed on our behalf, we do bear the fruit of a redeemed life, but imperfectly so.

For those of you crushed by the mixing of law and gospel and oppressiveness of sermons loaded with “DO” and rarely “DONE” (what Christ has accomplished for you to rescue and comfort you) the following articles on law and gospel are a good place to begin thinking through these issues.

Then search for a church where the pastor will give you Christ in Word and Sacrament to comfort and nourish you along the way.

Christ Our Only Hope – Horton

GospelDriven_HortonArrested, arraigned, and indicted, in repentance we turn away from ourselves – our untruths, our sins, and our fraudulent claim to righteousness – and in faith we look  Christ for salvation and every spiritual gift. To put it differently, in repentance we confess (with David) that God is justified in his verdict against us and in faith we receive God’s justification. The righteousness of God brings us to our knees and guilt, while the gift of righteousness from God raises our eyes to Christ as our only hope. Dead to sin and alive to Christ once and for all in regeneration (Rom. 6:1-11), we are called to die daily to our old self and live daily by “the free gift of God,” which “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 12 – 23). Michael Horton, The Gospel Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World p. 121

Distinguishing Law and Gospel Always Under Attack

The paradigm of distinguishing Law and Gospel is under attack.  The overarching fear seems to be that antinomianism will prevail in the church and practical holiness will not be pursued.  In this brief 3 minute video, Michael Horton, author and professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, defines the Gospel in a narrow sense.  Some accuse this definition of the ‘Gospel’ of being out of accord with the Reformation understanding of the gospel.  It’s claimed he presents a ‘truncated gospel’ and some have called this some form of ‘Modern Day Reformed Thought’.

Here are some quotes from The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, (Escondido, California: den Dulk Foundation, 1990) Vol. 1 on the Gospel in the Narrow Sense https://covenantnurture.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/the-gospel-in-the-narrow-sense-herman-witsius/ These quotes provide evidence that Dr. Horton is completely in accord with the Reformation in his definition of the gospel.  Witsius elsewhere speaks of the 3rd use of the law throughout the Economy of the Covenants.  Michael Horton does the same in his writings and on his program the White Horse Inn.  The difference is Horton is attacked today by those that profess faith in Christ, even from within the Reformed churches.

What do God’s two words of Law and Gospel actually accomplish?  Michael Horton has some very helpful thoughts from his systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, p. 755-56.

It is important to recognize while God’s Word is living and active, its  “two words” of law and gospel do different things.  The law kills by revealing our guilt, while the Spirit makes alive by the gospel (2 Co 3:6-18).  By speaking law, God silences and convicts us; by speaking the gospel, God justifies and renews us.  God’s energies, mediated by human language, not only inform us of judgment and grace but judge and save.
                Specifically, the gospel is that part of God’s word that gives life.  While everything that God says is true, useful, and full of impact, not everything that God says is saving.  First Peter 1:23-24 adds, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  Furthermore, it is not the word in general but the gospel in particular that is credited with this vivifying effect: “This word is the good news that was preached to you” (v. 25).  Similarly, Paul says that “faith comes from hearing… the word of Christ,” and more specifically, “the gospel of peace,” (Ro 10:15, 17).  Salvation is not something that one has to actively pursue, attain, and ascend to grasp, as if it were far away, but is as near as  “the word of faith that we proclaim” (v. 8).  We do not have to bring Christ up from the dead or ascend into heaven to bring him down, since he addresses us directly in his word (vv. 6-9).  The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Ro 1:16).
                Calvin observes that some parts of God’s Word engender fear and judgment.11 “For although faith believes every word of God, it rests solely on the word of grace or mercy, the promise of God’s fatherly goodwill,” which is realized only in and through Christ.12 “For in God faith seeks life,” says Calvin, “a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and only in a freely given promise.”13 The only safe route, therefore, is to receive the Father through the incarnate Son.  Christ is the saving content of Scripture, the substance of its canonical unity.14 “This, then, is the true knowledge of Christ, if we receive him as he is offered by the Father: namely, clothed with his gospel.  For just as he has been appointed as the goal of our faith, so we cannot take the right road unless the gospel goes before us.”15

11. Calvin, Institutes 3.2.7; 3.2.29.
12. Ibid., 3.2.28-30.
13. Ibid., 3.2.29.
14. Ibid., 1.13.7.
15. Ibid., 3.2.6.

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, p. 755-56 by Michael Horton

Heidelberg is helpful here too.  We get faith from hearing the Gospel preached.

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

65. Since, then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from?

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

More resources for learning how to distinguish Law and Gospel are available here:

Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation

Christ_The_Lord_HortonYears ago, after having read John MacArthur books on the ‘Lordship Controversy’ I read Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, edited by Michael Horton.  Finally, there was a book I could recommend on this controversy that shaped its arguments carefully from a Reformation perspective.  The contributors include a spectrum of Reformed and Lutheran writers and was very helpful to me.  Recently, Westminster Seminary California’s Office Hours dedicated an entire program to discuss with Michael Horton this controversy that continues to haunt even Reformed and Lutheran circles.  The podcast is available here

This excellent book is available through the Westminster Seminary California bookstore

Michael Horton wrote in the preface –

The purpose of this volume is not to provide an exhaustive defense of what we would regard as the biblical position on the ‘lordship salvation’ debate. Indeed both leading spokesmen on either side, Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Jr., have offered some reason for discomfort over the terms lordship/no-lordship salvation. As James Boice, J.I. Packer, and others have argued in their works, no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges. In this book, there is no doubt that we are taking a firm stand against what I would rather label the “no-effective-grace” position. While Hodges insists that he is only following the Bible, apart from any theological system, it is clear that he is missing the point of the gospel itself–to make enemies friends, to reconcile sinners to God, to break the power of sin’s dominion, and to bring new and lasting life to those who before were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

It is, in part, because of that tendency, sometimes evidenced on both sides in this debate, to pretend that one is reading the Bible without any theological influences or biases, that motivated us to get involved in this sensitive and emotional issue. Both Hodges and MacArthur claim the Reformers for support. In our estimation, there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the Reformers’ favor for their novel views. The antinomians (that is, those who denied the necessity of Christian obedience) of the Puritan era so pressed the Reformers’ defense of justification to the the point where there was no place left for sanctification. However, the modern antinomianism, represented by Ryrie and Hodges chiefly, appears not to be motivated by an unbalanced fear that any talk of human responsibility will take away from God’s glory, but by fear that any talk of the effectiveness of grace will erode confidence in human responsibility and choice. In other words, the antinomians since the Reformation have erred by denying human cooperation to the point where every divine operation is while dependent on human willing and running, contrary to the words of the apostle Paul (Rom 9:16).

Nevertheless, this book is not merely an endorsement of John MacArthur’s position, either. We will argue that MacArthur at certain points risks confusion on some fundamental evangelical convictions, particularly, between justification and sanctification. It must be said, however, that MacArthur has been most gracious in considering our concerns and we have been in dialogue with him for some time now. Significant changes have been made, as he has fine-tuned his definitions and applied a more specific theological framework to his exegesis. Revisions will appear in forthcoming editions of The Gospel According to Jesus and we are grateful for MacArthur’s eagerness to discuss these issues. While other differences remain, there is a great deal of discussion taking place and there is every reason to believe that the chief differences lie in the realm of definitions and pastoral practice rather than substance. MacArthur’s humility has been a lesson to us and we hope that we will be able to show our critics the openness he has shown us.

Nevertheless since we are reviewing a position, and not a person, and most readers of this volume will have read the earlier edition of The Gospel According to Jesus, we have retained our criticisms on these points for the reader’s benefit, noting MacArthur’s revisions at the appropriate places. Let me also say that John has graciously allowed me to read the draft of his book, The Gospel According to the Apostles, which should be released about the same time as this volume. The sequel is clear, precise, and cautious, and it ought to correct the misunderstandings not only of those like Hodges, who have misrepresented MacArthur’s position through caricature and hyperbole, but even perhaps the misguided zeal of some “lordship salvation” disciples as well.

It is because both positions claim to be echoes of the Reformation that we thought the debate was in need of a more historical treatment. For that reason, one will not find in Christ the Lord a comprehensive exegetical treatment. While there are chapters devoted to covering the biblical material (which is, after all, our “only rule of faith and practice”), the book has a decidedly historical tone to it. It is offered unabashedly as a “Reformation response” to the positions thus far presented, not because the Reformers and their successors were infallible, but because evangelical Protestantism owes a debt of gratitude to them for digging the gold out of the rich spiritual veins through the centuries so that we could learn from those who have gone before us. Theology, preaching, teaching, counseling, and pastoral care are not done in a vacuum; we are all influenced and shaped by our own traditions, upbringing, seminary education, and church curricula, and these are all shaped by certain theological systems. It is the goal of this book to help rub the sleep from our eyes, to drive away the naive assumption that we can just be “Bible teachers” without careful theological reflection from a particular systematic point of view.

The Reformers were certainly not infallible–they would be the last to say they were–but they were wise, wiser than any of us around these days. And we would be poor stewards of the inheritance God has given us through them if we did not at least attempt to gain their counsel on these important debates.

Michael Horton

Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation

Contributors include:
– W. Robert Godfrey
– Michael Horton
– Alister McGrath
– Kim Riddlebarger
– Rick Ritchie
– Rod Rosenbladt
– Paul Schaefer
– Robert Strimple

More Office Hours programs are available here: http://wscal.edu/resource-center/office-hours/