By Bob Kirkland
From the book Calvinism: None Dare Call It Heresy (Lighthouse Trails, 2018)
The word perseverance is found only once in the Scriptures. Ephesians 6:18 commands the believer to be, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” This verse is speaking of perseverance in prayer and has nothing to do with persevering unto salvation. The dictionary meaning as well as the meaning of the Greek word here is to hold to or adhere to a course of action.1
CALVIN’S PERSEVERANCE IS NOT ETERNAL SECURITY
Many Christians wrongly assume that the Calvinist theory of “the perseverance of the saints” [the “P” in T.U.L.I.P.] is synonymous with the doctrine of eternal security. The biblical doctrine of eternal security teaches that one who has been truly saved by God’s grace is kept eternally saved by God’s grace. God has not left our eternal destiny in our ability to persevere. For God to do that would result in a salvation by works.
Citing Augustine, John Calvin wrote, “[T]hose who do not persevere unto the end belong not to the calling of God.”2
Calvin also stated:
[W]hat they [the Christians at Corinth] had attained so far is nothing, unless they keep steadily on; because it is not enough that they once started off on the way of the Lord, if they do not make an effort to reach the goal.3
In Calvinist author A. W. Pink’s book Practical Christianity, Pink taught, “[I]f there is a reserve in your obedience, you are on the road to hell.”4
Pink also said:
Something more than believing in Christ is necessary to ensure the soul’s reaching Heaven.5
Reformed minister John Otis states that, “maintaining an unforgiving spirit . . . will surely destroy our souls in hell.”6
In his book, The Doctrine of Sanctification, A. W. Pink stated:
[H]oliness in this life is such a part of our “salvation” that it is a necessary means to make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in heavenly light and glory.7
Calvinist theologian and co-founder of the Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. John Murray states:
[L]et us appreciate the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and recognize that we may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end.8
DID THE MEN GOD USED TO WRITE OVER FIFTY CHAPTERS OF THE BIBLE NOT PERSEVERE?
For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods . . . his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel . . . he kept not that which the LORD commanded. (1 Kings 11:4,9,10)
The man whom God used to write Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon turned away from God into idolatry and apostasy.
As noted, A. W. Pink said, “If there is a reserve in your obedience, you are on the road to hell.” How do Calvinists put this all together? Would they have us believe God predestined an unsaved (non-elect) man to write Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon and then when He was finished with him sent him to Hell?
WHAT ABOUT SAINTS WHO DIDN’T PERSEVERE?
First Corinthians 1:2 tells us this letter was written, “Unto the church.” It says they were “saints.” How does Calvin’s perseverance of the saints fit in with these saints God repeatedly referred to as “carnal”?
First Corinthians 5:13 commands the saints at the local church in Corinth to, “put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” The fact that they were not dealing with sin in their church is an example of the saints not persevering because the whole church was guilty of not dealing with a serious matter.
In the seven churches in Revelation, only one was found acceptable. By Calvin’s guidelines, the members of all these churches were going to Hell.
The Bible has many specific examples of believers who did not persevere according to John Calvin’s theory.
Noah got drunk, Abraham was a liar, Jacob schemed, Samson failed, David fell into sin and was responsible for the death of a man, Moses didn’t follow God’s instructions and was not allowed to enter the promised land, John Mark quit, Peter cursed and denied Christ, and all the disciples forsook Jesus. The list goes on and on. Yet, A. W. Pink said, “If there is a reserve in your obedience, you are on the road to hell,” That means all these people were on the road to Hell! And where does that leave us?
There is actually no eternal security in the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints” because no one can ever know—even at the end of his life—if he had really persevered enough. And from a biblical standpoint, saints persevering for salvation are on extremely dangerous ground; as the apostle Paul points out, if you are depending on your works, works will not save you.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. . . .
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:16, 21)
Calvinists believe the “perseverance of the saints” offers them eternal security, but in actuality, it brings them more insecurity than ever regarding their salvation. Here, the persevering is left up to the strength of the believer rather than resting on the promises of God that assure us eternal life is based on what He has already done, not what we do. It is our part to believe, repent, and put our trust in Him and His part to save and preserve us.
Eternal security does not give believers permission to sin any more than the fathers of the faith, who stumbled, had an excuse for their sins and failures. However, the wonder of the Cross is that our sins are fully paid for—paid in full. Jesus said, “It is finished.” Our redemption has been entirely purchased. We can rest in the assurance of salvation that the Gospel offers, as expressed by the apostles and prophets. But Calvinism, while it claims to be wholly dependent on the grace of God for salvation, has actually turned everything upside down with the teaching of the “perseverance of the saints,” making salvation a works-based religion where grace is not truly grace. With Calvinism, the responsibility of salvation is put on the believer thereby nullifying grace altogether. Paul explained this when he said:
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6)
NO ASSURANCE OF SALVATION
Even John Calvin himself did not possess assurance of salvation. Writing in his will shortly before his death in 1564, he declared:
I testify also and profess that I humbly seek from God, that He may so will me to be washed and purified by the great Redeemer’s blood, shed for the sins of the human race, that it may be permitted me to stand before His tribunal under the covert of the Redeemer Himself.9 (italics in original; underline added)
John 3:36 says:
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Calvin taught that he could not believe unless God first regenerated him and gave him faith to believe. It is not surprising, therefore, that Calvin or any Calvinist cannot have an assurance of salvation and, therefore, he must adhere to his perseverance of the saints theory.
No Calvinist can be sure of his salvation because he might be predestined just to think he is saved. After all, playing little head games with people would not be wrong for Calvin’s “God” since Calvin’s “God” is glorified by sending billions of people who had no choice to Hell for eternity.
MORE CALVINISTS ON PERSEVERANCE
Calvinist pastor John Murray says:
[W]e may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end.10
How much holiness? Are we talking about sinless perfection? Calvinist theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878), in referring to evidence of being elected, said:
The only evidence of election is effectual calling, that is, the production of holiness. And the only evidence of the genuineness of this call and the certainty of our perseverance, is a patient continuance in well doing.11
Again, John Murray stated:
The perseverance of the saints reminds us very forcefully that only those who persevere to the end are truly saints.12
In the perseverance discussion, John MacArthur states that “you may be a spiritual defector who hasn’t defected yet.”13
“I WAS TERRIFIED!”
In an article titled “Assurance of Salvation,” the highly popular Calvinist teacher, the late R. C. Sproul (d. 2017) wrote:
A while back I had one of those moments . . . suddenly the question hit me: “R. C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?” Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.14
There is not a person in the world who believes what John Calvin taught who should not be terrified concerning the reality of his salvation.
I began to take stock of my life, and I looked at my performance. My sins came pouring into my mind, and the more I looked at myself the worse I felt. I thought, “Maybe it’s really true. Maybe I’m not saved after all.” . . . Then I remembered John 6:68. Jesus had been giving out hard teaching, and many of His former followers had left Him. When He asked Peter if he was also going to leave, Peter said, “Where else can we go? Only You have words of eternal life.” In other words, Peter was also uncomfortable, but he realized that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option.15
Uncomfortable with Jesus? This doesn’t line up with Scripture that promises peace with God and eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ and accept His sacrifice on the Cross as a penalty for their sins. Consider these passages:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. (1 John 2:25)
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
A. W. Pink’s “solution” for supporting Calvinism is to change the meaning of words to support his theory; Sproul’s “option” is to be “uncomfortable with Jesus,” which he considered “better than any other option.” It is very difficult to understand why any Christian with a basic understanding of the Scriptures would accept another gospel that is not only heretical and very dangerous but strips a believer of the assurance and peace that the Scriptures promise to “whosoever will.”
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981 edition), p. 978.
- John Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism: God’s Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence (Reformed Free Publishing Association, Kindle edition from the 2009 2nd edition), Kindle location 532.
- John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), p. 197.
- A.W. Pink, Practical Christianity (Zeeland, MI: Reformed Church Publications, 2009), p. 16.
- A. W. Pink in December 1947, cited in Iain H. Murray’s The Life of Arthur W. Pink (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981 edition), pp. 248-249.
- John Otis, “Who is the Genuine Christian?” (The Counsel of Chalcedon, 1988), p. 20; article on file with publisher.
- A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification (Prisbrary Publishing, Kindle edition, Arthur Pink Collection Book 16), Kindle location 374, citing Puritan Walter Marshall, 1692. This book is also available on Amazon in a print edition published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, July 9, 2016, and the quote is found on page 27.
- John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2015 edition), p. 164.
Chapter 8: No Assurance of Salvation
- Norman F. Douty, The Death of Christ (Irving, TX: Williams & Watrous Pub. Co., Revised and Enlarged Edition, 1978), p. 176, citing John Calvin from F. F. Bruce’s “Answers and Questions,” Questions 1331, in The Harvester (Exeter) January 1966.
- John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2015 edition).
- Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1983 edition), p. 292.
- John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, op. cit., p. 165.
- Philip F. Congdon, “Soteriological Implications of Five-Point Calvinism” (Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1995, Volume 8 | No. 15, https://faithalone.org/wp-content/uploads/1995/09/Journal-of-the-Grace-Evangelical-Society-Vol.8-Autumn-1995-No.15small.pdf), p. 63.
- R. C. Sproul, “Assurance of Salvation” (Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries, Inc., 1989), p. 20; cited in Dave Hunt’s book, What Love is This?, op. cit., from chapter 29, endnote #25.
(photo from Calvinism: None Dare Call it Heresy; designed from photo from Alamy.com; used with permission)