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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Preservation is the gracious work of the Triune God
Text:CD 5 Article 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95:1-3

Psalm 16:1-3

Psalm 16:4-5

Hymn 1

Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  John 10:22-30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The title at the beginning of this chapter of the Canons of Dort says “Fifth Head of Doctrine:  the Perseverance of the Saints.”  And, yes, that’s the name we often give to this doctrine of grace.  One unfortunate thing about this name is that it could leave someone with the impression that this is all about how God’s people stick it out or persevere to the end (to persevere means you stick it out until the end).  The impression could be there with this doctrine that this is about something that people do out of their own strength and power.  Of course, if you read the chapter carefully, you’ll find that this is not the case at all.  But given the fact that people are often quick to jump to conclusions and given the fact that many today are lazy or sloppy when it comes to theology, it does need to be pointed out that this is a doctrine of grace.  And by that we mean to say that perseverance is something that God gives to his people without their earning it or deserving it.  God’s people persevere because they are preserved by the gracious work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   

Before looking at the work of each individual person, let’s briefly take a look at what we confess in article 3.  The Synod of Dort gave us three good reasons why people who have been converted by God could not stay standing if left on their own.  Even after having been regenerated, people remain dependent on God’s strength and power.  The first reason why is because we have the remnants of indwelling sin.  This is the old nature we heard about last week.  The second reason:  the temptations of the world.  By the world, we mean the world of unbelief which includes individuals, institutions, cultural trappings, and so on.  The world is there and it can draw us away from God with its temptations.  This is why we’re told in James 4:4 that friendship with the world is enmity with God.  Finally, we have the adversary, Satan himself.  Satan also will actively work to tempt us, just as he did our first parents Adam and Eve.  Remember what it says about him in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  He is there, he is real and he is dangerous.  In fact, the power of this three-headed monster, our old nature, the world and the devil, is not to be underestimated. 

On the other hand, we also have the supreme power of God.  We confess that God is faithful.  And in his faithfulness to his people, he does two things:  First of all, in his mercy he confirms them in the grace once given to them.  That means God strengthens his people in their walk with him.  The second thing is that he powerfully preserves them until the end.  When God elects someone, calls someone, and regenerates someone, he doesn’t stop there and leave that person on their own.  He continues working in their life to keep them safe in his care and protection until the day that they’re called home or the day that our Lord Jesus returns.  You can think here of those beautiful words of Philippians 1:6, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  God began the good work and he’ll finish what he’s started.  You can count on it.

Now let’s turn and consider the work of each of the persons of the Trinity in preserving us so we persevere.  We’ll begin with the Father.  What is it that the Father does to preserve us to the end? 

It begins with the will or the decree of the Father.  In John 6:39-40, our Lord Jesus spoke about the will of the Father.  In verse 39, he said it was the will of the Father that he would lose none of all those people who were given to him.  In verse 40, he said it was the Father’s will that everyone who looks to Christ in faith would find eternal life and be raised up at the last day.  From elsewhere in Scripture, we know that the Father has written the names of the elect in the Lamb’s book of life from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8).  In other words, God’s decree of election includes the fact that those chosen will persevere.  It was not only that they were chosen to believe in Christ, but also that they were chosen to stick it out until the end.  It is election unto eternal life and that necessarily includes preservation and perseverance.

Closely connected with this is the love the Father has for the elect.  Listen to these beautiful words of Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  God’s love for his people Israel was the reason why he chose them.  He chose them because of the love which flows out of his covenant or special relationship with them, his promises.  The same is true for God’s people today.  God loves his people.  And God is almighty and powerful and that means he is going to use his power to exercise and show that love he has for his people.  His love and his power mean he is going to keep his people in the face of the temptations from the devil, the world, and our own flesh.      

So, it is the Father’s will that the elect would persevere and this flows out of his love for them. But there is more.  In our reading from John 10, in verses 28-29, we hear our Lord Jesus speaking these words, “I give them [the sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  These are powerful words!  With respect to what the Father does, we can note two things here in this text.  First of all, the Father gives the saints into the hands of the Son.  He entrusts them to his care.  That refers to the fact that believers are the special possession of our Lord Jesus.  You can think here of what we confess in Lord’s Day 1 of the Catechism, “That I am not my own, but belong both with body and soul, in life and death to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”  But at the same time, and this is the second thing, we are still in the Father’s hand.  We are not only Christ’s possession, we also live in the shade of the Father’s providence so that not a hair can fall from our heads without his will. 

Brothers and sisters, the good news is that God the Father will never let go of those who believe.  As believers, as God’s people, we have his sure promise that he will not falter in carrying us to the end.  This doctrine gives us enormous comfort in various circumstances of life.  Think only of the believer dying from Alzheimer’s disease.  She may reach a point where she no longer recognizes anybody in her family, not even her own husband or children.  Think of the believer who may not even be able to speak about his faith anymore as he approaches the end of his life.  If it depended upon us to persevere, we would look at this situation and pity this poor hopeless person.  We would say there is no hope, no salvation.  But because we know our gracious Father and what he does, we can be comforted.  We can know that this person’s eternal destiny is safe and assured because of who the sovereign God is and what God has done in this person’s life, because of God’s will, God’s promises, and God’s love.  We have comfort in God’s preservation.  It does not depend on man and man’s effort.  Perhaps we see that more clearly in a case where someone has Alzheimer’s, but it is true for all who believe.  Just when we think that our perseverance depends on us, God comes with his Word and says, “No, you’ve got it wrong.  I began your salvation and I will complete it.  It is me working in you.  If it was you, you would not stand for even a minute.”  

Now let’s consider the work of the Son in this perseverance.  In John 6:37, our Lord Jesus says he will never drive away those who come to him.  When someone, by God’s grace, believes, the Son promises he will never push them away.  If we put this positively, the Son will always hold on to those who believe in him. 

In John 10:28, we also read that Jesus gives the sheep eternal life.  The good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The result is not a half-salvation or a temporary salvation, but full, eternal salvation.  Jesus promises in John 10:28 that the sheep shall never perish and no one can snatch them out of his hand.  He is the Shepherd par excellence, the one who never sleeps, never takes a coffee break, never turns his eyes away from the sheep for even a moment. 

Sticking with the gospel of John, in John 17 we have what we call the high-priestly prayer of Christ.  In verse 12 of that prayer, he tells the Father about his disciples, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.”  Throughout his entire ministry on earth, Christ faithfully carried out his task as the Good Shepherd.  He says that he kept his disciples safe “by that name you gave me.”  In other words, he kept them in the name of the Father.   That means he kept them and protected them in the salvation God had revealed.   God’s name is who he is – the God who saves.  We know that our Lord Jesus continues to do these things.  He is with us by his Spirit, he protects us, he keeps us safe in the name of the Father.  In all these ways, he gives us more grace to preserve us so that we will persevere until the end. 

As if this wasn’t enough, he also continues to intercede for us or stick up for us in heaven.  Romans 8:34 tells us that Christ is at the right hand of God and is constantly interceding for us against the accusations of the devil.  His intercession is definitely connected to our perseverance.  In John 11:42, Jesus says the Father always listens to him.  This is great news for us!  We know that Christ is on our side, constantly and fervently interceding for us.  Because the Son is on our side, the Father is on our side as well!  And if they are on our side, who is left to condemn us?  Who is left to keep us from persevering? 

Our Saviour Jesus is the Son of God who has made us also into sons of God.  Through our union with him by faith, God looks at us as his favoured children who are in line to receive an inheritance.  Nothing and no one can take that away from God’s elect.  Our Lord Jesus persevered in his life on earth.  Because we are in him, rooted and grounded in him, we too will persevere in our lives on earth.  The Son will do these things in us and for us.  Loved ones, this is truly gospel truth.  It’s great news.  It does not depend on us and our ability to do anything or to measure up in any way.  In the Son and through the Son, only because of him, we are eternally secure.  So, in our lives as Christians, it’s important that we always keep in our minds the words of Hebrews 12:3, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith….”  Notice there that he is the author of our faith, but also the perfecter.  He will make our faith perfect some day, he will also make us perfect.  We have his promise that those who believe today will someday be glorified with him.  The Son has worked wonderful things, he is working wonderful things, and he will still yet do even more wonderful things.  What a Saviour!          

And then there’s lastly the work of the Holy Spirit in our preservation and perseverance.  The important passage here is Ephesians 4:30.  We read there, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  The same truth is also taught in Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”  When we talk about preservation, the Holy Spirit is first of all a seal.  He is the guarantee that what we experience now is just a foretaste of what is coming in the future.  We have him living in us and he is God’s promise that it is all for real.  Not only is it real now, it is going to keep on being real. 

Through the creation of faith and through the maintenance, preservation and growth of faith, the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to us.  Together with the Word of God, together with Scripture, he is the means or the instrument by which God works to keep us going in our Christian life.  Quietly working behind the scenes, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings it all home to us.  Through him living in us, we have union with our Saviour and all the benefits that come with that, including perseverance.

Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence, we know God is always there.  Sometimes people think of God as being distant and unconcerned with their lives.  But read Psalm 139.  David writes there about how God is near and how this is a good thing.  He says in verse 7, “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?”  And not only is God near, he is near to us in a good way, in a protecting way, a way that will keep us safe to the end.  In Psalm 139:10, David says that no matter where he goes, God’s right hand will hold him fast.  God’s Spirit is always with him and will preserve him so that he perseveres even in the face of enemies or other difficulties. 

So, also with the Holy Spirit, we have good news when we think about his role in our perseverance.  Through him and his dwelling in us, we know God is there.  We know that God does care.  God will sustain and guide us so that we will make it.  And there need not be any doubts about it.     

The gospel is that we have a God who saves.  The good news is that there is a Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who sovereignly together bring about our salvation.  In this sermon, we’ve looked at their individual roles, but the truth is that they work in unity.  You cannot separate the work of the Father from the work of the Son, nor the work of the Son from that of the Spirit, or the work of the Spirit from that of the Father.  They together in perfect harmony preserve us so as to bring about our perseverance in the faith, and indeed all things with respect to our salvation. 

The result is not only our comfort (and that is surely a benefit), but most importantly of all, God’s glory and praise.  The Canons of Dort were originally written in response to the false teachings of the Remonstrants.  But the Synod of Dort was always clear that the deepest concern was the glory and honour of God.   This wasn’t about winning a theological debate for the sake of winning.  The brothers at the Synod of Dort were passionate about ensuring that God would consistently and most fully receive all the credit and praise.  We can be thankful that their passion has been passed on to us in the Canons of Dort.  When we look at article 3 we see man as helpless by himself.  Man standing by himself before the three-headed monster of the devil, the world and his own flesh – he’s in a dire predicament.  But then there is God.  The Triune God is faithful!  The Triune God shows his mercy.  The Triune God powerfully preserves his people.  He is the God who acts and helps the helpless.  Brothers and sisters, that’s plenty reason for us to be thankful and bring him honour, glory and praise now and always.  AMEN.     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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