Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bavinck on Perseverance & Warnings

Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics (4 volumes in all) is perhaps the finest systematic theology ever written within the reformed tradition, but only in the last few years has it been translated into English. Here is a worthy reading project for anyone interested! The fourth and final volume (subtitled: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation) was just released, and there is a phenomenal section on perseverance and apostasy in which Bavinck writes this:

"Now the question with respect to this doctrine of perseverance is not whether those who have obtained a true saving faith could not, if left to themselves, lose it again by their own fault and sins: nor whether sometimes all the activity, boldness, and comfort of faith actually ceases, and faith itself goes into hiding under the cares of life and the delights of the world. The question is whether God upholds, continues, and completes the work of grace he has begun, or whether he sometimes permits it to be totally ruined by the power of sin...[Perseverance] is a gift of God. He watches over it and sees to it that the work of grace is continued and completed. He does not, however, do this apart from believers but through them. In regeneration and faith, he grants a grace that as such bears an inadmissible character; he grants a life that is by nature eternal; he bestows the benefits of calling, justification, and glorification that are mutually and unbreakably interconnected. All of the above-mentioned admonitions and threats that Scripture addresses to believers, therefore, do not prove a thing against the doctrine of perseverance. They are rather the way in which God himself confirms his promise and gift through believers. They are the MEANS by which perseverance in life is realized. After all, perseverance is also not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner. It is precisely God's will, by admonition and warning, morally to lead believers to heavenly blessedness and by the grace of the Holy Spirit to prompt them willingly to persevere in faith and love. It is therefore completely mistaken to reason from the admonitions of Holy Scripture to the possibility of a total loss of grace. This conclusion is illegimate as when, in the case of Christ, people infer from his temptation that he was able to sin. The certainty of the outcome does not render the MEANS superfluous but is inseparably connected with them in the decree of God. Paul knew with certainty that in the case of shipwreck no one would lose one's life, yet he declares, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.' (Acts 27:22, 31)" (pp. 267-68)

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