Preservation of the Saints
November 15, 2009 / No. 3489
Dear Radio Friends,
The preservation of the saints is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures that all whom the Father elected eternally and all whom Jesus redeemed with His own blood and all whom the Holy Spirit irresistibly calls to salvation will be surely kept by God’s power in faith. And they shall be brought to eternal glory in heaven. We can put it in these words: The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to take, I will not, I will not, I will never forsake.
The truth of the preservation of the saints, or the fact that a true believer, saved by God’s grace, will not and cannot fall away from his faith, this truth calls us to lift up our eyes unto the hills from whence cometh our help ( Ps. 121). Specifically, it directs us to two mountain peaks of faith: to the truth of God’s absolute power, and to the truth of His unbreakable faithfulness. We lift up our eyes to the mountain peak of God’s absolute power. We read, “My Father is greater than all” ( John 10). And no man is able to pluck the sheep out of His hand. And then we lift up our eyes unto the mountain peak of God’s faithfulness. II Timothy 2:13: “He abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” Psalm 89:34: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”
The teaching that a person’s salvation depends on the will or the work of the sinner falls under this judgment of God: it has no comfort. It has no confidence. If salvation depends upon me, upon my will, my ability, or merit, or the merit of any man, I will be lost. But the truth of the preservation of the saints glorifies God. And it brings confidence to the heart of believers. It brings personal confidence: “The LORDwill perfect [complete] that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands” (Ps. 138:8). And: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Jesus teaches this wonderful truth in His prayer in John 17:11, 12. In John 17 Jesus is praying that we might have the assurance of God’s keeping us. It is one of the most beautiful and profound prayers in all of the Bible. It is an intimate prayer of Jesus that He brings to the Father just hours before the cross. All the truths of God’s sovereign and saving grace are woven throughout that prayer. And Jesus prays, not only for our hearts to understand our Father’s eternal election, not only that we would understand the Father’s gracious provision of the Son to stand in our place upon the cross, not only that we would understand the irresistible love of the Father to keep us, but Jesus prays that our hearts might be secure in the truth of the preservation of the saints.
We read in John 17:11, 12: “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” Jesus is praying, as I said, and His prayer is to the Holy Father. He prays that the Father would keep or guard and protect “those whom thou gavest me.” This prayer arises out of the fact that we are in the world, says Jesus. The fervency and the urgency of the prayer arises from this consideration: “I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee.”
So, in Jesus’ prayer there is a contrast between the place where Jesus would soon be (heaven), and where we now are (earth). Jesus sees that soon He will be no more in the world. He will be raised from the dead and He will ascend into heaven on the fortieth day. And He will be crowned with the glory of the Father. Jesus says, “I will, then, soon be in Thy presence—the place of the fullness of joy, before the eternal throne of God. But My church,” He says, “is in the world. And in the world they will be subject to waves of sorrow, temptations. They must pass through desert lands of trial. They will be under the constant attacks and assaults of their own sins and of the Devil and of the wicked world. So, I come to Thee, Father. I am going to that place where no enemy can follow Me, where no weariness and despair can possibly be, where there is no sin and no darkness. I will soon come to Thee. But these, my children whom I have saved in My cross, these are in the world. They are in the place that is hostile to their faith.”
One day Jesus Christ is going to return for all of His own. But until then His church and His people are in the world. And so long as they are in this present world, they have a battle of faith to fight. And they have sin raging within them. They have a journey to complete. They have a race to run. They have a prize to pursue. They have foes who will oppose them.
And what are we of ourselves? If you look at the disciples who were with Jesus during His earthly ministry, you see that they were nothing without Him. And then there is Satan. Satan, we read in I Peter 5, goes about seeking to destroy God’s children. And then there is the world, the influences and the pressures of this world to conform—that we, as God’s children, take on the mold of the world, that we be drowned in its sin and materialism. Simply put, if we were left to our own strength, we could not continue as His church and people. So Jesus prays. Which also tells us today what we should do. We should be praying.
But Jesus prays for us personally. He says, “Keep those whom Thou hast given Me.” And He says in verse 20: “Neither do I pray for these alone [that is, His present disciples], but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” So our Savior prays for us. We should think about that as we confront temptations and lust and anger and hopelessness—Jesus prays. And His prayer is not generic but it is specific. He prays for us each day, throughout the day. He prays for His church in the world according to their present need. What keeps us from falling? What stands between us and the waves of temptation? What holds us up? This: We have an advocate—Jesus Christ, the Righteous. He is the One who has prayed that our faith fail not.
And the prayer of Jesus is not a wish, it is not an impotent desire. He prays to His Holy Father. The Holy Father is God triune. He is the God who has willed to bring us into covenant life with Himself. He is the Holy Father who works to keep the believer in his faith. Jesus is not praying to an idol, but He prays to the living and the true God, the God who is powerful to preserve and to keep His children.
Still more. Jesus prays based on the love of God. He says, “Holy Father, keep those whom Thou hast given to Me. This has arisen out of Thine own eternal love. Father, now take care of them. As Thou hast loved eternally, keep them in that love. And bring them to eternal glory.”
The preservation of saints is God’s eternal power, the power of His grace and love, to keep us unto eternal salvation; to keep us in a life of faith and repentance; to restore us unto faith and repentance; to keep us from falling into eternal punishment; to bring us at last across the Jordan; and to preserve us in the state of grace.
God accomplishes this through the use of means. We might ask: What are those means? The means are, first of all, God’s own name. We read in John 17:11, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.” “Guard them by Thy power, and by the honor of Thy name.” God’s name represents all that God is. God’s name stands for who He is. His name represents Him as the sovereign and the faithful and the holy God; as the One for whom nothing is too hard; as the name that is strong and mighty.
But God’s name also refers to His honor. That is why Jesus prays, “Keep them through thine own name.” God’s name reflects upon Himself. Therefore, the question is: Is there a power able to take away from God? Is there a power that is able to rob from God? And Jesus prays, “Father, for the honor of Thy name, that Thy name may be known as the God of all strength and glory; keep them by the power of Thy own name.”
But there is another reason why we are preserved. We are preserved not only by the strength of God Himself, and by the honor of His name, but also because we have been given to Jesus. We have been given faith in Jesus Christ. And true faith is unbreakable. Now, you might ask, Is that indeed so? Do we not see a falling away from faith? Do we not see that churches apostatize from the Christian faith? Do we not see that former members, who once confessed Jesus Christ, abandon the truth of God and forsake Christ and live a sinful life? And does not church history teach this throughout—that there is a constant falling away and abandoning of the holy life of a believer? This is indeed grievous. There is nothing so grievous.
But the question is: Does this prove, then, that the saints are able to fall away? Jesus addresses this when He says, “None of them whom Thou hast given Me is lost, but the son of perdition.” There Jesus is speaking of Judas Iscariot. Judas, who was very close to Him; Judas, who apparently was a believer. He never truly was. He had the appearance of a believer, but he was not a believer. He had never been given to Jesus in God’s decree of eternal election. But outwardly, and for various reasons, it looked as if he was a believer. The son of perdition, says Jesus, is lost. That is, one can have the false appearance of a child of God but never have the genuine work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. Such may indeed be exposed in their hypocrisy.
But the true child of God, the one whom the Father has given to Jesus, the one who has been entrusted to Jesus for eternal salvation—of these, says Jesus, none of them is lost. God will preserve every one of them.
The means that God will use is His word. Jesus says in John 17:8, “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.” He says again in verse 17: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” The word of God, the gospel of the grace and the glory of God, revealed in the Holy Scriptures, the word as it is faithfully preached and taught in the church—this word is the mighty power of God whereby God preserves and keeps us in the state of faith. God works His powerful grace through the word. We must read the word. We must hear the word preached to us. This is why the fiercest attacks of Satan are against the word. He wants to remove the word or corrupt the word or destroy the word of God. The devil is no fool. He knows what means God uses for the preservation of the saints. Therefore his attack is focused on taking away that word of God. So also in our own personal lives. We become too busy to read the Scriptures. Perhaps our church attendance becomes spotty. Perhaps we begin to despise different doctrines. Then our spiritual decline is inevitable. It is through the word, purely taught and faithfully expounded to us through the preaching, that God preserves us in our faith.
The response to this truth is that we will be resolved to fight even unto the end, to persevere, as Paul says, in the good fight of faith.
There are some who say that if you believe in the preservation of the saints, you will go out and live a sinful and a careless life, that the result will be: Why should we not sin, since we shall be saved anyway? Is that the way that you feel? Do you feel free to sin because God has sworn to keep you in your salvation? If you feel that way, then you must ask: Do you know the Lord at all? Has His grace truly worked within you? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? Do you and I know that the one who truly is for me is God? Do we truly know God? Do we know the power of God? Do we rest in God? Then we will seek also to please God. We will rely upon God. We will turn to God in the hour of our trials.
Those who are assured of their preservation will not take this truth to justify a carnal way of life. But, rather, distrusting themselves, knowing the greatness of their sin, they will fly to God for their strength, for their comfort. And they will fight the good fight of faith. They will walk in love. They will walk in love with one another. They will seek to live as children of God. And they will have assurance.
Take these words, now, upon your heart: I shall not perish. Yes, as a child of God, we shall go through many a trial. There will be many problems and many worries and many pressures coming upon us all at once. But we shall not perish. And we shall not perish, not because of our own strength, not because of our own worth, not because of our own spiritual mettle or resiliency, but because the sovereign Father will preserve, even unto the end, all of His own—because the sovereign Father will hear the prayer of His Son. His Son, our intercessor at God’s right hand, prays for us. He prays, “Holy Father, I am no more in the world; but these are in the world. And I come to Thee. Keep them through Thy own name—those whom Thou hast given Me—that they may be one.”
The Father hears that prayer. By His Holy Spirit He keeps us in faith. He works in us a desire to love and cherish the Holy Scriptures and to hear those Scriptures preached to us. And He preserves us. This is our comfort in life and in death: God is faithful to me.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. And we pray that it may be written upon our hearts, that it may give us comfort and strength in this day. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.