The Church Part 2: The Westminster Confession of Faith

May/June 2014

This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.

WHERE WAS YOUR CHURCH BEFORE THE REFORMATION? Roman Catholics have thrown this question at evangelicals over the centuries. Of course, we might quip, “Our church was in the Bible, where yours never was!” We could point out that the Roman papacy was an innovation that arose long after Christ, and in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries was split among two or three rival popes.

However, we might also respond with the Westminster Confession that the church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. This means that the true church passes through times of darkness, weakness, or persecution when it is largely hidden. We think of Elijah crying out, “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). The official church of Israel had given itself over to idolatry. Yet God had preserved seven thousand
faithful worshipers, a hundred of whom were hiding in a cave (1 Kings 19:18; 18:4).

We should not take Christ’s promise to preserve His church (Matt. 16:18) to mean that the visible church will always be faithful or that the true church will always be strong. In the fourth century, godly Athanasius was repeatedly forced into exile because many powerful leaders were Arians who denied that Christ is the eternal Son of God. But the faithful overcame this heresy and purified the church.

The Confession calls us to a realistic view of local churches. Congregations are more or less pure with respect to what is taught in them, how the sacraments are administered, and how public worship is conducted. One need only read Christ’s words to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3) to see that churches often slide into errors of doctrine or practice. When someone says he wishes we could go back to the ways of the first-century church, perhaps we should ask if he means the church in Corinth? They had problems with division, pride, a celebrity mindset, incest, failure to implement church discipline, fornication, people getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper, and false teaching about the resurrection. Nevertheless, Paul addressed them as “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2).

The best of churches are subject both to mixture and error. There may be hypocrites among the members of a true church and great Christian leaders can make great mistakes, though they are sincere believers. Sadly, some churches and denominations have fallen into such profound errors that they can no longer be called true churches of Christ. Though it is possible that some true believers remain in them, the official teachings and practices of their churches deny fundamental truths of God’s law and gospel. Let us watch and pray, lest our churches slip into this terrifying pit.

However, we should not fear that the church will disappear from the earth, for there shall be always a church on earth. The Son of God said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). One name for believers is overcomers. The world wages war against Christ and His church, but “the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). Though we are called to watchfulness, we are to watch in hope, for the wedding day of Christ is coming, and His bride, the church, will be beautiful on that day (Rev. 19:7–8).

Westminster Confession of Faith (25.6)
There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.

THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH revolves around Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church, which is His body, and He must have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). He has supreme authority (Col. 2:10). The church submits to Him as its Lord (Eph. 5:22–24). He is the source of our life (Eph. 4:15–16). When men claim to follow Christ but really follow their own personal notions or traditions and man made rules and forms of worship, they are not holding the Head (Col. 2:18–23). Christ must always be first, or we have ceased to be the church of Christ.

One of the great heresies of the Roman Catholic Church is their exaltation of a man to the place of Christ. The Pope or Bishop of Rome takes the title “Vicar of Jesus Christ, meaning that he acts as Christ’s representative, ruling as the supreme head of the church on earth. He is also called “Pontifex Maximus,” meaning supreme or great high priest (Lev. 21:10, Vulgate), but the Bible says our great high priest is Jesus, the Son of God (Heb. 4:14). Invoking the authority of Peter, the Pope claims to speak infallibly on matters of faith or life, placing his own words on the level of the words of Christ.

It may surprise modern readers that the Westminster Confession calls the Pope the Antichrist. Today the Antichrist is popularly conceived to be a great military leader who will rule the world with supernatural powers. But in the Scriptures, the word antichrist is used of false teachers who deny fundamental teachings of the faith. John wrote, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists” (1 John 2:18; cf. 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7).

The Lord Jesus warned that “false Christs, and false prophets” will come (Matt. 24:24). Paul foretold the coming of the “man of sin, the son of perdition” who would exalt himself to the place of God in the temple (2 Thess. 2:3–4). The Westminster divines believed (and make a good case for their beliefs in their frequent writings on this subject!) that the office of the Papacy (not any one individual Pope) fulfilled these prophecies, asserting its claim to rule the universal church, which is the New Testament temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).

Thus the Westminster Confession closes its chapter on the church with a solemn warning. Christ alone is the head of His church. He who dares to usurp Christ’s place becomes an enemy of Christ. The confession of the true church has ever been, “Jesus is Lord!” It was this conviction that led early Christians to choose death rather than to worship the emperor of Rome, and the same conviction strengthens the church in every age. The blessed hope of the church is the return of her King, and her prayer is ever, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Rev. Paul Smalley is Dr. Beeke’s teaching assistant.

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.

The Church Part 1: The Westminster Confession of Faith

Westminster Confession oF Faith (25.1) The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

After Peter Confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord makes this remarkable pronouncement: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The Greek word translated “church” means a number of persons called together in a public assembly (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). When the Jews translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, this word was used for the congregation of Israel at Mt. Sinai (Deut. 4:10; 9:10), and later assemblies, especially for worship (2 Chron. 6:3, 12, 13; Ps. 22:22, 25; Joel 2:16).

Christ seized this word with a rich history in Israel and claimed it as His own: My church. He is the Lord of the congregation of God’s worshipers, the King of the true Israel (Phil. 3:3). Christ builds the church by His power, and He promises that Satan will never overthrow it.

This church transcends each local congregation of worshipers. A local church can die spiritually (Rev. 3:1), and Christ Himself may remove its light (Rev. 2:5). There are many sad sights of empty buildings where a church once met or where formerly faithful churches have fallen into heresy. But Christ said that His church cannot fail.

Therefore Christ spoke of what the Westminster Confession calls “the catholic or universal church,” both the church worldwide and the church in heaven and on earth. (The word catholic comes from a Greek word meaning universal or international, and does not necessarily or exclusively refer to Roman Catholicism.) Some of the church’s members are already in glory (the church triumphant). Some still fight the good fight of the faith on earth (the church militant). But all are one people called out of the world into holy union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). When we meet in local congregations, we join with saints in heaven and throughout the earth to worship God through Christ as one great assembly (Heb. 12:22± 24).

The Confession has a number of things to say about the universal church.

First, this church is invisible. That does not mean its members are ghosts that meet in phantom buildings; it means that the universal church is defined in ways that are spiritually discerned and not physically seen. The church is not a building but a people who worship in spirit and truth, a temple built with living, personal stones (John 4:20± 24; 1 Peter 2:5). It is not a particular denomination and cannot be defined by allegiance to any mere man such as the pope of Rome (1 Cor. 1:12± 13). At certain times and places, the true church may exist as hidden gatherings of believers fiercely persecuted by leaders of the visible church (Rev. 13:11± 15).

We cannot produce a complete list of the church’s members, for some whom we thought to be saved fall away and show that they never really belonged (1 John 2:19). Not everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord is known to Him or saved by Him (Matt. 7:21± 23). The church’s membership is not defined by participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for some who receive the sacraments are not in Christ (Acts 8:13, 18± 24; 1 Cor. 10:1± 8), and some true believers do not have the opportunity to receive them (Luke 23:39± 43).

The true church is defined by invisible factors. The qualifications for membership are the secret election of God and the internal work of the Holy Spirit to produce faith. We can see evidence of these divine operations in the fruit of the Spirit, but the true identity of the church is invisible. Yet it is visible or known to God: “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).

Second, the church consists of the elect. God elected or chose individuals in order to save them from their sins, adopt them as His children and heirs, and make them holy by union with Christ (Eph. 1:4). The church is “a chosen generation,” joined to Christ who is Himself “chosen of God, and precious” (1 Peter 2:4, 9). The Bible says, “Christ died for the church” (Eph. 5:25), that is, He decreed to redeem the elect long before any of them were born (Eph. 4:5). Their names were “written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,” and when they believe in the Lamb, they overcome the world because they are “called, and chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:8, 14).

Third, the church is in union with Christ as the bride or spouse of the Lord. The church was promised to Christ in God’s eternal counsels (2 Tim. 1:9) and is betrothed to Christ by the Spirit in effectual calling (1 Cor. 1:9; 6:17). As Christ’s spouse, the church is the object of Christ’s redeeming love and His nourishing and cherishing affection (Eph. 5:25, 28± 29).

Fourth, the members of the church are joined to Christ in a living, organic, and personal union, knit to Him as closely as the members or parts of a man’s body (Eph. 5:30– 31). Since Christ is the church’s head, He rules over it as Lord and the true members of the church submit to His Word as it washes them clean (Eph. 5:23, 24, 26).

This unspeakable privilege of union with Christ makes the church the recipient of the fullness of Christ’s graces, “his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). There is no station in life higher or more privileged than to be a member of the true church!

Westminster Confession of Faith (25.2) The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

In this section the Westminster Confession discusses the visible church. We make this distinction because the church is a people called together, but the call is twofold. There is an external call through the voice of the preacher (Matt. 22:9–10, 14), and an internal, effectual call through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul (1 Cor. 1:23– 24). We can see the people who have outwardly responded to the preacher’s call, but we cannot directly view the inward working of the Spirit.

Sometimes people find the distinction of visible/invisible confusing. Are we talking about two different churches? By no means! Perhaps an analogy would help. An old Dutch divine, Wilhelmus à Brakel, compared it to the soul and body of a man. We recognize that human beings have an invisible aspect and a visible aspect to their lives. The soul is hidden within the body, but we do not divide the soul and body of a living man. We do not expect people to walk around as souls without bodies. Nor do we say that a body without a soul is really a man—it’s just a corpse.

In the same way, we recognize that the church has an invisible aspect and a visible aspect. The invisible church is hidden within the visible, but we do not divide them into two churches. The claim to be part of the invisible church while having nothing to do with the visible church is as plausible as spirits walking around without bodies—and almost as frightening. On the other hand, a church without a vital union with Christ by the Holy Spirit is not a true church. It is an institutional corpse. In reality, the invisible church shows itself on earth in and through the visible church.

The Confession teaches us that the visible church is also universal, adding the explanatory note that it is not confined to one nation. From the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God’s visible church consisted of Israel and those few foreigners such as Rahab and Ruth who were joined to Israel. The risen Christ commissioned His servants to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), and this they did by planting churches in many lands (Acts 14:23).

Historically, Reformed and Presbyterian Christians have taught that the universal church is visible not only in local churches but also in the order or structure that binds many congregations together into one, such as classes or presbyteries, and synods or general assemblies. This church polity is distinguished from Congregational (and Baptist) polity, in which the visible church has no higher authority than the elders who rule over local congregations, though congregations may consult together and cooperate in missions.

The visible church consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion. That is to say, membership of the visible church is defined by those persons who confess the faith, who publicly declare that they believe in Jesus Christ, and who obey the teachings of Christianity. The New Testament argues that personal trust in Christ will produce a public confession of Him before men (Rom. 10:9–10), and warns that those who refuse to confess Christ will not be owned by Him on Judgment Day (Matt. 10:32–33). A true profession of Christ as Lord also includes receiving the sacraments and walking in obedience to God’s laws (Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 2:38, 41; 1 Cor. 11:26). The visible church has a responsibility to exclude from its membership those who embrace serious error or sin and refuse to repent.

In addition to professing believers, the confession declares that the children of those that profess the true religion are also members of the visible church. Here the Confession stands on the pattern of the covenant that is universal in Scripture, whereby promises made to believers are extended to include their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). Note that membership in the visible church is no guarantee of membership in the invisible church. Nonetheless, the practice of the visible church must conform to the promise, and so children of believers are to be baptized and received as members of the church.

Though it is true that some in the visible church are not saved, we should never fail to cherish the visible church. The Confession says that it is the kingdom of Christ and the house and family of God. The exiled Judean poet expressed it well: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:5, 6).

It may shock modern evangelicals, but the Confession also says that there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the visible church. The Book of Acts tells us about many miracles done by the apostles and visits from angels. But in nearly every case where someone is saved from sin, it is by the ministry of the church. Even when an angel visited Cornelius, the angel did not proclaim the gospel to him, but directed him to the apostle Peter, “who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). We do not deny that God may use a gospel tract or well-placed Bible to convert a sinner. But His ordinary means are set forth in Paul’s argument for the necessity of preaching: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Therefore, cherish the visible church, faithfully attend its assemblies, and make diligent use of the means of grace it provides, for God is pleased to use the preaching of the Word to save sinners.

Westminster Confession oF Faith (25.3) Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto

Some People think that true spirituality is so mystical that we really do not need the church with its creeds and confessions, and its forms of worship, so long as we follow what God says to our hearts. A personal relationship with the Lord surpasses everything else, even the plain teaching of the Bible. Other people put so much stock in the sacraments that they think receiving baptism, attending church, and taking the Lord’s Supper virtually guarantees their salvation unless they do something really bad. Reformed Christianity, in contrast to these extremes, does not separate the life of the visible church and the invisible work of the Spirit, but emphasizes both as crucial to knowing and pleasing God.

We treasure the church because Christ has given to the visible church the means by which He saves His people. First, Christ gives them the ministry, that is, men gifted and called as servants of the Word. Paul taught that the ascended Christ builds up His body by giving ministers of the Word to the church (Eph. 4:10± 12). These men are not saviors but only servants of God and stewards of God’s truth (1 Cor. 4:1). Still, ministers who are faithful in their lives and teachings are instruments by which God saves the church from sin and brings it to glory (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:10).

Second, Christ gives to the church the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1± 2), the Holy Scriptures. We are grateful that in America we live in an age of unprecedented access to the Scriptures (just a click away on the internet). But the church, as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:15), still plays a central role in preserving the Scriptures, guarding their faithful translation and interpretation, promoting education and literacy, reading them as part of public worship, and encouraging the private reading of the Bible in personal devotions and family worship.

Third, Christ gives the ordinances to the church. By “ordinances” the confession refers to the public means of worship which Christ ordained or commanded, such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, public prayer, and singing praise to God (see Confession, 21.5). The holy God inhabits the praises of Israel (Ps. 22:3), and many times God’s people have experienced His presence dwelling with them as they worship together on the Lord’s Day. Indeed, Christ promised His special presence when believers assemble in His name (Ps. 22:22; Matt. 18:20).

Christ commanded His church to preach the Word and to use the ordinances, and promised, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19± 20) implying that these means of grace will never grow obsolete and we must faithfully use them to the end of the world. Far from despising the means, we should use them with great expectation, for as we use the means, Christ is present with us. And Christ will not let His church fail.

However, we do not turn the means of grace into a surrogate Christ, but instead, as the Confession says, believe that Christ must make them effective by His own presence and Spirit. Mechanical rituals and even the preaching of sermons do not have any inherent power to do spiritual good. Reformed Christianity rejects the ex opere operato (“by the work having been worked”) principle of the Roman church where the mere performance of the liturgy confers grace. Instead, the church constantly remembers Christ’s words, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Rev. Paul Smalley is Dr. Beeke’s teaching assistant.

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Westminster Confession oF Faith (25.1) The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

Effectual Calling: The Westminster Confession of Faith

March 2014

Westminster Confession of Faith (10.2) This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.

Charles Spurgeon once sat listening to a boring sermon, and his mind began to wander. He asked himself how he had become converted. It was because I prayed. But then it occurred
to him, why did he pray? I was moved to pray by reading the Scriptures. But the questions persisted; why had he read the Bible? And suddenly, Spurgeon realized that God was at the
bottom of it all, and He is the author of saving faith.

We often want to claim something for ourselves in our conversion. One way of doing this is to say that God looked ahead into history and foresaw that you would trust in Christ, given the opportunity to do so. God therefore chose you, in this scheme, because He knew you would choose Him. But why would you choose Him? No one seeks for God (Rom. 3:11). In reality, we only choose Him because He first chose us.

The Westminster Confession reminds us that God did not choose or call you because He knew that you would respond positively. God announced the destiny of Esau and Jacob when they were “not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth” (Rom. 9:11).

God did not save you because you were better or more worthy than anybody else. He did not succeed in converting you because you cooperated more than other sinners do. Salvation
is by grace alone (Eph. 2:8–9). You were dead in sin, utterly unable to move towards God and horribly offensive to His holiness (Eph. 2:1–3). You played no more role in your effectual calling than a corpse plays in its being raised from the dead (Eph. 2:5).

This is what the Confession means when it says that mankind “is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit” (cf. Titus 3:5). We contribute nothing to our salvation except our desperate need. That is not to say that unconverted people can do nothing at all; the same legs that take them to a bar can carry them to a church service. They can read, listen to, and think about the Word of God (Acts 17:10–11). They may even fear God’s wrath. Like the blind man, they can cry out for Christ to have mercy upon them until He gives them sight. Sadly, most fallen human beings are not willing to do even what they can.

Most importantly, lost sinners cannot stir up the least drop of saving faith, hope, or love in themselves. Man is perishing in spiritual inability. Without the Holy Spirit, they are unable to receive the truths of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14), unable to submit to God’s law (Rom. 8:7–8), and unable to come to Christ (John 6:44). They cannot bow before the Lord Jesus and confess Him unto salvation (1 Cor. 12:3).

Grace alone makes us alive and enables us to repent and to believe, love, obey, and hope in Christ. Whoever believes in Christ has been born of God—the perfect tense of “has been born” showing that our faith comes from God’s regenerating work within us (1 John 5:1). We do not love God by nature, but by grace, we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19)
This is why Paul erupted into praise to God whenever he heard that someone had been converted (1 Thess. 1:2–4; 2:13). Why else would he thank God for the faith, hope, and love of converts, unless all the glory or credit for them must go to God? Let us therefore praise God fervently for our effectual calling, and rejoice whenever a sinner repents! As the psalmist teaches us to sing:

Lord, if Thou shouldst mark transgressions,
In Thy presence who shall stand?
But with Thee there is forgiveness,
That Thy Name may fear command.

Hope in God, ye waiting people;
Mercies great with Him abound;
With the Lord a full redemption
From the guilt of sin is found.
—Psalm 130:3, 4, 7, 8

Westminster Confession of Faith (10.3)
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: so also, are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

God has wrapped some things in a cloud of mystery. We dare not venture into the darkness of such mysteries with the feeble light of our speculations, but must rest content in the beams of light shining from the Word. One such mystery is God’s purpose in the death of those mentally incapable of understanding the gospel, whether infants or adults.

We cannot say that such persons are sinless. David confessed that he was in sin from the moment of his conception in his mother’s womb (Ps. 51:5). Sinners go astray from their infancy, showing their inward corruption even in early childhood by speaking lies (Ps. 58:3). Nor can we say that they are free from guilt, for their death shows that they are bound up in Adam’s fall and condemnation, even before they commit any willful act of transgression against the law of God (Rom. 5:14, 18). Children and mentally impaired adults, “descending from [Adam and Eve] by ordinary generation” (WCF 4:3), are included in the “all” who sinned in Adam and fell with him in his transgression.

How can they be saved? God’s ordinary way of saving sinners is to call sinners effectually through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14). In fact, though there are many religions in the world, there is no other name but Jesus by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Those who follow other religions have no relationship with the true God and have no hope (Eph. 2:12).

But the Bible sheds a beam of light when it reveals that God can save infants. John the Baptist was leaping for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when he heard the voice of Mary, the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:41–44). The unborn child was already filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). There is
much we don’t understand, but clearly God had saved the infant in the womb and moved him to rejoice in Christ. Therefore, we know that God is able to save sinners with underdeveloped or impaired mental capacities.

The Confession declares this comforting truth, but does so cautiously, saying that God saves “elect infants” and “elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” God will have mercy on those whom He will have mercy (Ex. 33:19). The Confession does not say whether all persons in the world dying in infancy are elect, or only some. The Westminster divines evidently felt that we should not rush in to dogmatize where Scripture is largely silent.

However, we can hope in the character of God. “Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9). He is our covenant God, whose blessings overflow to us and to our children. After David’s infant son perished because of the consequences of David’s sin, he had the faith to say, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:24). Certainly the covenant people of God may entrust their children and childlike ones into the hands of a faithful God. David celebrates God’s covenant faithfulness and reminds us that behind the promise stands the unchanging love of God:

Unchanging is the love of God,
From age to age the same,
Displayed to all who do His will
And reverence His Name.

Those who His gracious covenant keep
The Lord will ever bless;
Their children’s children shall rejoice
To see His righteousness.
—Psalm 103:17, 18
(The Psalter, No. 278:4, 5)

Thus, we affirm that, based on God’s character and His covenant commitments to His own, it is His normal way to save children of believers whom it pleases Him to take away in infancy. That’s why the Canons of Dort say, “Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy” (1.17). This principle is also applicable to the mentally impaired, so that we believe that God’s normal way is sovereignly and mysteriously to call them to life eternal in Christ by placing the seed of regeneration in their souls.

Westminster Confession of Faith (10.4)
Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.

The Lord Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait [narrow] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13–14). Christ’s teaching about the narrow way does not sit well with modern religious relativism, but the Son of God speaks with divine authority and we must listen to Him.

The Westminster Confession addresses two cases of people who are not in the narrow way to life. In the first case, they go to church and hear the gospel preached. They may experience some work of the Holy Spirit upon their souls, such as conviction of sin (John 16:8), happiness at the message of God’s love (Matt. 13:20–21), and insight into the meaning of the Bible (Heb. 6:4). Perhaps they even exercise some spiritual gifts for ministry (Matt. 7:22). They may even for a time joyfully profess to be followers of Christ (Matt. 13:20–22). But they are not saved. Why not?

The Confession declares that “they never truly come to Christ.” Coming to Christ does not mean going up front in a meeting or reciting a prayer. Coming to Christ means trusting in Christ alone for eternal life and joy (John 6:35). Whatever else they do, these people do not repent of sin
and believe on the Lord Jesus as their only Savior. They are guilty of the great sin of unbelief, and therefore God’s wrath abides on them (John 3:36). Their good works and religious duties are done in vain because they do not proceed from a true faith, and “without faith it is impossible
to please God” (Heb. 11:6).

Yet the Confession probes deeper. Why didn’t they come to Christ? Someone might answer that it was their own free choice not to believe. This view only begs the question, why then did they choose not to believe? The Confession has the answer. They were called by the ministry of the Word, but they were not effectually called by God. And why didn’t God effectually call them? He did not call them because they were “not elected,” not chosen by God and “ordained to eternal
life” (Acts 13:48). This is what Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Many hear the gospel invitation to come to Christ, but few are elected by God. Therefore, they refuse to come to Christ and perish forever.

The second case is those “not professing the Christian religion.” They may profess another religion or profess to have no religion at all. They may try to live a good life according to their conscience (“the light of nature”). They may fervently follow their own religion. They may be very noble and even sacrifice themselves for their god or their country. But they are not saved. Why not? Again, it is because they do not come to Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Christ is the only Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). All other ways are excluded. No other way has been provided.

This exclusiveness may make God seem very harsh and unfair, but in fact it is necessary because God is very holy and just. Are you offended at the thought that God must effectually call a person through the gospel in order for him to be saved? If so, you should ask yourself why we need to be saved. And saved from what? The answer is that people are not innocent or basically good. They are sinners, and they deserve to be condemned and punished.

Sinners don’t deserve God. Sinners don’t desire God. Citing many passages from the Old Testament, Paul writes in Romans 3:10–12, “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” When Christ sends His Word and Spirit to a sinner, His love compels Him to seek after someone who
hates Him. He embraces someone who spits in His face. He pursues someone who is running away from Him.

Far be it from us to accuse God of injustice. Rather, let us marvel and be amazed that God effectually calls anyone out of the band of rebels that our race has become. Why would He do it? Ephesians 2:4–5 tells us, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved).” Abundant mercy! Boundless love! Triumphant life! Glorious grace! The inspired salmist paints this picture of saving grace at work:

Rebels, who had dared to show
Proud contempt of God Most High,
Bound in iron and in woe,
Shades of death and darkness nigh,
Humbled low with toil and pain,
Fell, and looked for help in vain.

To Jehovah then they cried
In their trouble, and He saved,
Threw the prison open wide
Where they lay to death enslaved,
Bade the gloomy shadows flee,
Broke their bonds and set them free.
—Psalm 107:10–14
(The Psalter, No. 293:1, 2)

Finally, the Confession confronts our modern tendency to modify the claims of Christ to accommodate the claims of those who profess some other religion. “To assert and maintain” that such persons can be saved in some other way than the way of Christ is “very pernicious,” that is, destructive, ruinous, even fatal, since we are encouraging a vain hope in these people, one that will lead ultimately to their being “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9). Therefore, this view is “to be detested,” that is, abhorred and rejected.


Rev. Paul Smalley is Dr. Beeke’s teacher’s assistant.


Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Charles Spurgeon once sat listening to a boring sermon, and his mind began to wander. He asked himself how he had become converted. It was because I prayed. But then it occurred
to him, why did he pray?

Effectual Calling: Westminster Confession of Faith (17.1)

February 2014

They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally, nor finally, fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

Someone has said that a half-truth is often a great lie. Someone else quipped that you should beware of a half-truth, because you may have gotten ahold of the wrong half. Such is the case
with the statement, “Once saved, always saved.” Often people say “once saved, always saved” in the context of making a decision for Christ. They mean that if you ask Jesus into your heart or pray to accept Christ as your personal Savior, then no matter what you do, you are going to heaven. Famously, one advocate of this view has said publicly that all one needs is thirty seconds of saving faith! Many people object against such an idea out of concern for the health and holiness of the church. They are right to do so because it is not biblical truth. It is also not the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Reformed Christianity teaches that God preserves His people so that they continue to follow Christ in faith and obedience all the way to glory. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the promise, grounds, and necessary watchfulness of perseverance in its seventeenth chapter. The first paragraph of WCF 17 states the promise of perseverance. Those in “the state of grace…shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” To persevere is to persistently and patiently pursue Christ through pain and persecution, in spite of assaults, temptation, lapses into sin, and struggles with unbelief.

This promise is precious because you must persevere in order to be saved (Heb. 3:6, 14). Christ warned His disciples that they will face persecution. “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22; cf. 24:13). He said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4). To abide is to continue in a vital relationship to Christ as your source of life. The Apostle Paul wrote that you are reconciled to God and will be presented as blameless in His sight, “if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). Perseverance is not optional to salvation; rather, it is one of the surest marks of true faith.

God’s love therefore secures the perseverance of His people so they will enter the joys of His glory. As a term of the new covenant in Christ, He promises: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jer. 32:40). Everyone born again by God’s grace overcomes the world by faith (1 John 5:3–4). Even as his faith is tested by painful trials, God keeps him safe by using His power to preserve and purify his faith (1 Peter 1:5–7).

God’s grace creates people who willingly persevere in faith. He does not drag them kicking and screaming into the kingdom or save anyone against their will: “It is God which worketh in
you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Rather, He draws them to come to Christ in faith, and Christ will never cast them out or lose even one of them, but will raise every one of them up to glory on the last day (John 6:37–40). Even when many who have professed to be Christ’s disciples turn back from Him and some treacherously betray Him, true believers will not leave Him because they know only He can give them eternal life (John 6:66–71). They have a God-given appetite that only Christ can satisfy, and they will cling to Him forever.

Someone might object that both the Bible and experience show that some Christians do fall away from Christ. Yes, it is a sad fact that they do. The confession wisely speaks of the perseverance of only those “whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit.” This is not everyone who comes to church or responds positively to the gospel. Christ Himself teaches that some “receive the word with joy” and “for a while believe,” but trouble or temptation cause them to fall away (Luke 8:13). However, they were not true believers, for in the same Scripture the Lord said that they “have no root”—the gospel never pierced their stony heart to create saving faith. They experienced God’s truth and Holy Spirit as soil that receives the rain but produces thorns and not good fruit, and so they ultimately fall away (Heb. 6:4–8). Apostasy among professing Christians should grieve us but not shock us. The promise of perseverance belongs to those whom God has called, justified, and sanctified, in the outworking of His sovereign election in love (Rom. 8:29–30).

Another person might object that true believers still fall into sin. Again, we must agree. However, the confession says that God’s children cannot “totally, nor finally” fall from grace. Yet they may experience partial and temporary falls. David fell into adultery and murder until the Lord broke his
heart with repentance (Ps. 51). Peter denied his Lord when Satan was sifting him as wheat. How frail we are! But we also remember Christ’s words to Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Christ guaranteed that Peter’s faith would not totally or finally fail, but he would turn back in repentance (which is what “converted” means in this context). The intercession of our Mediator guarantees that not one of His people will be finally lost. We will discuss the rock-solid grounds for the perseverance of the saints in more detail when we consider the second section of WCF 17.

Westminster Confession of Faith (17.2)
This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

The Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not feed the complacency of the proud and hypocritical. It fosters the hope of the humble and dependent. John Newton wrote
of the believer, “He believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord. This gives him a habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit.” David captures true Christian experience when he sings:

Afflictions on the good must fall, but God will bring
them safe through all; From harmful stroke He will defend, and sure and full
deliv’rance send.
The Lord redemption will provide for all who in His
grace confide;
From condemnation they are clear who trust in Him with holy fear.1

The perseverance of saints is rooted and grounded in God’s grace and faithfulness.

Whereas the first section of WCF 17 tells us the promise of perseverance, the second section tells us its ground or basis. This is solid ground, giving believers “certainty and infallibility”
in their hope. The Lord does not desire for His children to live in constant doubt about their future, but in assurance of eternal life with Him in glory (1 John 2:28–3:3; 5:13).

The confession begins with what perseverance of the saints does not depend on, namely, “their own free will.” Do not misunderstand this; the confession does not deny that perseverance involves many acts of our will. Christians persevere not as robots but as willing believers, and perseverance is a duty as well as a grace (Heb. 12:1). Believers daily choose between
faith and unbelief, obedience and disobedience, Spirit and flesh, life and death (Deut. 30:19; Gal. 6:8). Having been justified, they must “work out” the implications of salvation with an eye on the coming day of the Lord (Phil. 2:11–12). However, their willing and working comes from God working in them according to His will (Phil. 2:13). Their faithfulness is a gift from God’s faithfulness (1 Thess. 5:23–24). Therefore, believers must persevere, but their perseverance does not depend on them but on the grace of the Lord.

The confession now proceeds to tell us the four-fold basis of Christian perseverance, reflecting the work of the three persons of the Trinity who have promised complete salvation in the covenant of grace.

First, the perseverance of the saints cannot fail because of the unchanging love of God the Father for those whom He has chosen. Out of the rich generosity of His fatherly heart, He selected people to make them holy and blameless as His adopted children (Eph. 1:3–5). He knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19). He has loved them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). His plans do not change and His purposes cannot fail (Ps. 33:11). He will discipline His children (Heb. 12:4–11), but He will not condemn them (Rom. 8:1), for even His most severe chastening is intended to save them from being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32).


Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally, nor finally, fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

Effectual Calling: The Westminster Confession of Faith (10.1)

January 2014

Westminster Confession of Faith (10.1)

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

“Why am I a Christian when so many other people are not?”

Many godly people have asked this question. They realize that they are no better than other sinners. Yet now they rejoice in the riches of Christ, while others go on living in sin and misery. Isaac Watts expressed it well when he wrote,

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

Ultimately, the answer must be the Lord. Christ is the great evangelist. Whenever the gospel is preached, it is Christ who preaches even if the hearers belong to nations far off that never heard the physical voice of Jesus of Nazareth (Eph. 2:17). Unlike mere human evangelists, this great Evangelist has the power to call sinners effectually, that
is, to cause them to hear His Word, to understand it, to believe it, and to obey its command to come to Him for
salvation and life.

The Shepherd calls to sinners by the Word, and His sheep know His voice and follow Him and are enfolded with His people (John 10:3, 16). He laid down His life for His sheep, and though others will not believe Him, yet His sheep hear and recognize His voice and follow Him all the way to glory (John 10:11, 26–28). Christ’s voice has the power to raise the dead (John 11:43–44), and He is raising the spiritually dead to believe in Him and live
(John 5:24–25).

The Westminster Confession of Faith recognizes and explains this reality in this chapter on effectual calling. Webster’s defines “effectual” as “characterized by adequate power to produce an intended effect.” In terms of the gospel as preached by Christ (Mark 1:14, 15), effectual calling is extending a call that has power to produce the intended response of repentance and faith. Note that “effectual” goes one step beyond the more common word “effective” by including the idea of purpose. An effectual call is one that can produce not just any result but the intended result. It effects or works the result designed by the one who issues
the call. Such a call is said to “answer to its purpose.”

Effectual calling must therefore be the work of God and not man. It is an exercise of the sovereignty that belongs only to God. Paul describes God’s sovereignty at work for our salvation in the “golden chain” of Romans 8:30:

“Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” We are justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1). God’s call is the outworking of His eternal decree of predestination, and it results in justification. So it must have power to produce the faith that justifies the sinner. It is more than the gospel call, invitation to salvation, and offer of Christ (Matt. 22:14); it is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose and grace in a person’s life and experience (2 Tim. 1:9). For the same
people are predestined in Christ to eternal life, called to faith in Christ, justified by their faith in Him, and ultimately glorified with Him.

It should also be noted that this term is unique to the Westminster Confession. The Westminster divines were attempting to clarify the ambiguity that often surrounds the word regeneration. The term can refer to one’s initial experience of saving grace; it can also refer to the ongoing and progressive work of sanctification, or the daily renewing of our lives. By coining the term “effectual calling,” the divines made it clear that they had in mind the initial quickening of the sinner, enabling him to believe and be saved, as distinct from the further regeneration or renewal of his life as a believer.

The Confession rightly highlights God’s sovereignty over the persons who hear, and the timing of God’s effectual call. The Lord is so utterly in control of this call and our resulting faith that He often calls precisely those people whom we would least expect—the foolish, the weak, the base, and the despised people of this world (1 Cor. 1:26, 27), while passing by many others. While the wise and powerful of this world sneer at the gospel, “unto them which are called” the gospel shines with the glory of “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). God

turns on the light in their hearts, and they are captivated by the divine beauty of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Have you experienced this?

God effectually calls sinners on His own timetable. The Lord converted Saul, the great persecutor of the church, “when it pleased God” to do so (Gal. 1:15). We cannot manipulate conversion, for our times are in His hand and God wrote all the days of our lives in His book before we were born (Ps. 31:15; 139:16, marginal note 7). Yet the ministers of the Word must be faithful to preach and to pray, for God calls by His Word and Spirit (John 6:63), and
in answer to our prayers. And if we are not saved, then we must diligently listen to the preaching of that Word with the cry that God would open our eyes to behold its truth and our hearts to receive it.

The Westminster divines explained God’s work in the soul with biblical metaphors. First, it is a transforming light: “enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God.” To be sure, there is a degree of illumination that only convicts and may bring moral reformation but does not save (Heb. 6:4). Wicked Felix trembled at Paul’s preaching, but he did not repent of his covetous ways (Acts 24:25, 26). In effectual calling, this light dawning in the heart is nothing less than a quickening or resurrection of the inner man (Eph. 2:1–7), previously dead in sin. It produces an experiential knowledge of God in Christ that is in its essence a new life born in the soul (John 17:3). “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light”
(Eph. 5:14).

Second, effectual calling is a heart transplant: “taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh.” Here the divines alluded to Ezekiel 36:25–27, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” In place of a “whorish heart” that rejects God and runs to idols (Ezek. 6:9), the Lord promised to give His people a tender, responsive, believing heart towards Him.

Third, effectual calling is a sovereign persuasion: “renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ.” To be sure, sinners resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). But He sweetly conquers them with God’s love. God does not draw people to Christ against their will. The Lord works upon their wills to make them willing to obey Christ (Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:12–13). He draws them to Christ in such a way that “they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.” Yet this is an “effectual drawing” that always results in their coming to Christ and being saved (John 6:37, 44). God works upon our hearts so that we love Him (Deut. 30:6). Thus we say with Watts,

’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
And then we can sing with David:
Thou bidst me seek Thy face, and I,
O Lord, with willing heart reply,
Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
Hide not thy face afar from me,
For Thou alone canst help afford;
O cast me not away from Thee
Nor let my soul forsaken be,
My Saviour and my Lord.
— Psalm 27:8, 9 (The Psalter, No. 73:2b, 3)


Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Why am I a Christian when so many other people are not?” Many godly people have asked this question. They realize that they are no better than other sinners. Yet now they rejoice in the riches of Christ, while others go on living in sin and misery.

God’s Eternal Decree: The Westminster Confession of Faith (3.1)

December 2013

Westminster Confession of Faith (3.1): God from all eternity did, by the most wise (Rom. 11:33) and holy counsel of His own will, freely (Rom. 9:15, 18), and unchangeably (Heb. 6:17) ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11): yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28); nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).

Nowadays we hear much of a God who tries His best but can’t be blamed if things don’t work out very well. All manner of obstacles frustrate God, we are told. Natural laws tie His hands from intervening. Random accidents make a mess of things. The devil runs loose. Worst of all, God’s pleadings with humanity often fall upon deaf ears and He can do nothing about it. How frustrated this God must be!

Nevertheless, it is said, as God watches from a distance He hopes that men and women will exercise their free wills to discover His love and their own self-worth. Such is the “kinder and gentler” deity of our day. It is no wonder that some label the religion of the age as moralistic therapeutic deism.

The Bible knows nothing of a frustrated God. Psalm 115:3 sets God apart from all idols by declaring, “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” God works out His plan in all things: He “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). The word “counsel” means a wise plan including goals and ways of getting them done.

God has a plan. Every intelligent person makes plans; only a fool sets goals but gives no thought to the means by which he will accomplish them. A good and wise God would never have created the world without a plan for what He desired to see take place in it. His counsel is eternal, a purpose formed in His mind before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

God’s plan is perfect and unchanging. Many of our plans are frustrated despite all our intelligence and effort. We must shift to plan B, or C, or Z. It is not so with God; His plans never fail. “The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:10–11). Therefore, those whom God has chosen to bless are truly blessed (v.12)! His sovereign will guarantees our ultimate and perfect happiness.

The Holy Scriptures call God’s plan “the decree of the most High” (Dan. 4:24) because it is the authoritative command of the supreme King. The Confession is entirely biblical then in speaking of God’s “decree” by which He did “ordain” events. For example, the Bible says that God’s “decree” established the properties of creation (Ps. 148:6; Prov. 8:29; Jer. 5:22), the destruction of sinners (Isa. 10:22; Zeph. 2:2), and the triumphant kingdom of His Son (Ps. 2:7). He “ordained” or appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born (Jer. 1:5).

God’s decree is all-comprehensive. God has decreed when the rain will fall and where the lightning will strike (Job 28:26). Regardless of what men may decide, no good thing and no bad thing can take place apart from God’s decree (Lam. 3:37–38). God’s counsel was formed long ago and includes all that will take place to the very end, including the rise and fall of kings and nations—and His counsel will stand (Isa. 14:24–27; 46:10–11).

It is not just the big things that God has decreed. Whether you will live to see tomorrow depends on His will (James 4:15). The condition of every little bird and every hair on our heads is wrapped up in His plan (Matt. 10:29–30). For this reason, our Lord Jesus said, God’s children need not fear men (Matt. 10:31). Westminster theology is a doctrine of hope and confidence.

The Westminster divines were careful, however, to fence off the doctrine of God’s eternal decree from any kind of fatalism. First, they insisted that God is holy and righteous while decreeing sin. He cannot sin, nor does He entice anyone to sin (James 1:13). God uses sinners as tools in His sovereign hand to accomplish His good and righteous purposes (Isa. 10:5–7, 15). They plan evil but His plan overrules theirs for good (Gen. 50:20). God knows how to draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

Second, they taught that God’s decree does not nullify the reality of man’s will. God predetermines events but people are still responsible for their choices (Luke 22:22). Men’s choices flow from their own hearts (Prov. 4:23; Mark 7:21). But God’s will rules over men’s hearts so that their choices fulfill His purposes. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). People dream and scheme, but God’s plan will stand (Prov. 19:21).

Third, they taught that though God’s decree is the primary cause why all things happen, there are still “second causes” which God uses as means to His ends. God decreed that His Son would die, yet He did it by the hands of wicked men (John 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28). Some events, like the rolling of dice, are truly random or contingent on a human level, although God still controls exactly how they land (Prov. 16:33)— perhaps to judge greedy gamblers!

Therefore God’s eternal decree does not encourage us to be lazy and careless in our use of proper means to do good. If God intends to prosper you, ordinarily He does so by moving you to work hard at your vocation, for “the hand of the diligent maketh rich” (Prov. 10:4). If God plans to save your soul, often He begins by motivating you to attend the preaching of the Word, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

What God’s eternal decree does encourage is humility. Let us never think or speak boastfully about what we intend to accomplish. Apart from His will we can do nothing. Let us never proudly say, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Let us rather proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!”


Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Westminster Confession of Faith (3.1): God from all eternity did, by the most wise (Rom. 11:33) and holy counsel of His own will, freely (Rom. 9:15, 18), and unchangeably (Heb. 6:17) ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11): yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28); nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).

Family Worship & Holiness among the Puritans

January 2014

Tim Challies interviewed our editor over a period of eight weeks on the final eight chapters of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, and placed these articles on the Challies blog. We are printing them in this periodical with his permission. All eight articles deal with how the Puritans brought theology into practice. This article deals with family worship and holiness in Puritan thought

1. To hear people talk about the Puritans, you would imagine they were harsh toward their children, making them endure endless hours of family worship. Is this accurate? Endless hours in family worship would have been impossible for most people in the seventeenth century. In Puritan New England, many people were farmers who had to work hard to grow food. Children also had much to do in school, household chores, and working alongside their fathers and mothers to learn a vocation.1 The Puritans also took time for recreation. They enjoyed hunting, fishing, shooting competitions, and wrestling—two New England Puritan ministers were famous amateur wrestlers.2 They enjoyed music in their homes, owning guitars, harpsichords, trumpets, violas, drums, and other instruments.3 So there was a lot to do; family devotions were one part—albeit the most important part—of a busy daily schedule. The Puritans aimed at pithy instruction and heart-moving prayer. Samuel Lee wrote that in all our teaching of the family we should beware of boring the children by talking too much. Long devotions overburden their little minds; it is better to hold their attention by using spiritual analogies with flowers, rivers, a field of grain, birds singing, the sun, a rainbow, etc.4

2. The Puritans regarded family worship as a duty. Did Puritan pastors ensure that fathers were carrying out this duty? How would they have helped families do this well? The Puritans did take this duty seriously. For example, in 1647, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith. Three days earlier, they had adopted the Directory for Family Worship, and required ruling elders and ministers to discipline heads of households that neglected family worship.5 In another branch of Puritanism, in 1677, the congregational church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, covenanted together to “maintain the worship of God” in their families, “educating, instructing, and charging our children and our households to keep the ways of the Lord.”6

Puritan pastors helped families, first, by preaching on this subject; second, by writing books about family worship and devotional books useful for family worship; third, by writing simple catechisms or promoting an official catechism; and fourth, by visiting each family in the church and catechizing the children. Parents often invited the minister over for a meal, after which the minister would lead family worship. Pastoral visits held parents accountable by revealing the level of knowledge of their children and also modeled what family worship should be.7

3. I know it is difficult to speak in averages, but maybe you could tell us what the average Puritan’s family devotions might have looked like. How long would they have spent and what things would they have done?

The Puritans did not favor the following of a precise form for worship of any kind, but they did lay out principles. They called Christian parents to lead their families in the daily practice of five steps: (1) reading the Scriptures to their families; (2) leading the children in memorizing and understanding a catechism; (3) discussing biblical truth for edification such that each family member can ask questions and share thoughts; (4) praying together, which included acknowledging God as the Lord and Provider of their family, confessing their sins to Him, thanking Him for their blessings, presenting their petitions to Him for the needs and troubles of the family, and interceding as a family for friends and the nation; and (5) singing psalms to the Lord.8

It is difficult, if not impossible, to say how long the average family devotions lasted for the Puritans. No doubt it varied, also due to the ages of the children. Personally, I recommend five to ten minutes in the morning and fifteen to twenty minutes in the evening. For more practical details on implementing devotions, see my little book, Family Worship.9

4. You say, “We must beware of allowing corrupting influences into our private lives and homes.” What kind of corrupting influences do we allow in our homes today that the Puritans would have forbidden? The Puritans would probably be more concerned with the content of media than the form of technology. The typical American home has its doors wide open for all kinds of intruders to come in, steal, and destroy the treasures of the soul. Christians must practice great discernment to guard their homes against:

(1) Lawlessness. One recent video game earned a billion dollars in sales within three days of its release. It is obviously wildly popular. The problem is that the game revolves around
theft! And how many popular songs promote fornication and adultery? Breaking God’s laws is a very serious matter. Are you entertaining yourself with the things God hates?

(2) Worldliness. It might be an open rejection of God, a grossly immoral life, or blatant conformity to popular culture. But it might be much more subtle. Worldliness is any love not ruled by love for God. It could be pleasing people above God, seeking physical prosperity above spiritual holiness, valuing temporal gains above eternal glories, living to move forward rather than upward, or walking in pride instead of humility. In short, it is corrupt human nature without God. Someone of this world is controlled by what the Puritans called this world’s trinity: the quest for pleasure, profit, and position. The Puritans would ask of an activity: does this help my family to love Christ more, to hate sin more, and to pursue walking in the King’s highway of holiness more?

(3) Lightness. Life has light moments when we all break into laughter, but lightness (or levity) is using humor and entertainment to keep weighty realities out of our minds. We live in a culture that tries to turn life into “Comedy Central.” The tragedy is that it turns us away from the overflowing joy God gives through a sober consideration of gospel truth. Are you leading your family to fill their minds with distractions or with the hope of Christ

The Puritans would ask us today—not out of legalism but out of jealousy for the well-being of our family’s souls: What are we bringing into our homes through the music we listen to, the jokes and stories we tell, the books and magazines we read, the images we hang on the wall or welcome onto the screen, and the games and sports we play or watch? Read
Philippians 4:8, and take inventory.

1. Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, New Edition (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 66–68.
2. Bruce C. Daniels, Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New
England, Tenth Anniversary Edition (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 166–72.
3. Daniels, Puritans at Play, 57.
4. Samuel Lee, “What Means May Be Used towards the Conversion of Our Carnal Relations?” in Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 1:150.
5. “Act for Observing the Directions of the General Assembly for Secret and Private Worship, and Mutual Edification; and Censuring Such as Neglect Family-Worship,” August 24, 1647, in Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1994), 418.
6. Cited in Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 80.
7. Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, ed. William Brown (Edinburgh: Banner
of Truth, 1974), 172–256.
8. Directory for Family-Worship, in Westminster Confession of Faith, 419; Matthew Henry, “A Church in the House,” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry (1855; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 1:251–57.
9. Joel R. Beeke, Family Worship (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009).

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

To hear people talk about the Puritans, you would imagine they were harsh toward their children, making them endure endless hours of family worship.

The Pilgrim Mentality of the Puritans

Interview with Tim Challies (

Tim Challies interviewed our editor over a period of eight weeks on the final eight chapters of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, and placed these articles on the Challies blog. We are printing them in this periodical with his permission. All eight
articles deal with how the Puritans brought theology into practice. The first article deals with Puritan theology being shaped by a pilgrim mentality.

1. This chapter discusses the pilgrim mentality. Most of us are familiar with Pilgrim’s Progress, but should we understand
that the pilgrim mentality was prevalent across most or all of the Puritans?

Yes, the Puritans consistently saw the Christian life as a pilgrim’s journey to heaven. They suffered much and chose obedience over compromise, keeping their eyes upon Christ and heaven. J. I. Packer says, “The Puritans have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as essentially the gymnasium and dressing-room where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in knowing how to live.”1

2. Could you give a short definition of that pilgrim mentality and tell us what difference it made to the Puritans?

The pilgrim mentality is living against this world in hope of glory in another world by faith in Christ.

Like Moses, believers in Christ today choose to trade this world’s pleasures for present suffering and future glory with Christ (Heb. 11:24–26). Jeremiah Burroughs said that faith has power “to take off the heart from the world” because its “primary work” is “for the soul to cast itself upon God in Christ for all the good and happiness it ever expects…upon God as an all-sufficient good.” This weans our affections from the world, and enables us to wait patiently on the Lord (Ps. 37:7).2

Faith also empowers believers to rejoice in what we do not see, for, as Burroughs said, “Faith makes the future good of spiritual and eternal things to be as present to the soul, and to work upon the soul, as if they were present.”3

The Puritans lived in a world of suffering, political oppression, epidemic plagues, and civil war, where many of their children never survived to adulthood. They also suffered because of their stance against worldliness and false worship. Yet they had a vibrant joy and hope. They were positive people. Why? John Trapp said, “He that rides to be crowned, will not think much of a rainy day.”4

The Puritans enjoyed God’s creation, but did not entangle themselves in the pleasures and pursuits of this world, because they were headed for something better. William Perkins said, “Pilgrims take but little delight in their journeys, because they think themselves not at home.” They used this world as if they did not use it, for it was passing away (1 Cor. 7:31).5

Christians must long to leave this world and be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Perkins said that a “pilgrim” is “always thinking” of his homeland “and sighing after it.” Christians must desire heaven (Heb. 11:16), seek heaven (Col. 3:1), and use this world not as an end in itself but as a means to gain heaven.6

3. What do we stand to gain, as contemporary Christians, if we regain something of this pilgrim mentality? What do we stand to lose or to miss if we do not regain it?

First, we would gain a more antithetical stance towards this world. This is not isolationism, where we try to hide from sin and the devil (impossible!), but warfare, where we stand for righteousness against the wickedness and accusations of the world. Peter speaks of this when he calls believers to abstain from sinful desires as “strangers and pilgrims” in the world, precisely because lusts war against our souls and the world accuses us of evil (1 Peter 2:11).

This world is not a friend to help pilgrims to heaven; it is dangerous country we must traverse on our way there. William Ames said, “This may serve to admonish us, not to place our inheritance or our treasure in the things of this world, [and] to exhort us, to lift up our hearts always toward our heavenly country; and to gain all those things that may help us forward.”7

Second, we would gain a strong foundation for suffering and dying. Perkins said that one of Christianity’s great lessons is that “we must live that we may die in faith.” Few Christians today consider how to suffer well and how to die for God’s glory (Phil. 1:20), but how many of us will avoid pain and death?

To deal with these inevitable realities (if the Lord tarries), we need vision that penetrates beyond the horizons of our mortality. Perkins said that faith is like the tall mast of a ship which a sailor may climb and see land while it is still “afar off” (Heb. 11:13).8 As pilgrims of faith we need not fear death. Thomas Watson said that “death will put an end to a weary pilgrimage”—it will take away the pilgrim’s staff and replace it with a crown.9

Third, we would gain unshakable optimism and hope. I share the same concerns that many American Christians have about the direction of our government and popular culture. But I think that we face a danger as great as persecution and societal decay: I fear that evangelicals are in danger of bitterness and despair. Could it be that we have forgotten that this world is not our home?

The Puritans conquered by the blood of the Lamb. Some scholars might say that the Puritans ultimately lost every political and ecclesiastical battle in which they engaged, but I believe that they triumphed in the spiritual battle for the kingdom, and genuine believers still today are more than overcomers in Christ. John Owen said, “Though our persons fall, our cause shall be as truly, certainly, and infallibly victorious, as that Christ sits at the right hand of God.” Christ has won the victory, He will bring His kingdom, and all His called and chosen people will share in it (Rev. 17:14).10

Ultimately, the pilgrim mentality is not about just a place but a person. Christians should see all their earthly lives as a journey to see the face of God. My dad prayed hundreds of times with us in family worship, “Lord, let our lives be primarily a preparation to meet Thee in the righteousness and peace of Christ.” That’s the prayer and God-centered desire of a pilgrim.

1. J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life
(Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 13.
2. Jeremiah Burroughs, Moses’ Self-Denial, ed. Don Kistler (Grand Rapids:
Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2010), 87.
3. Burroughs, Moses’ Self-Denial, 93.
4. John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, ed. Hugh
Martin (London: Richard D. Dickinson, 1867), 1:92 [on Gen. 24:61].
5. William Perkins, A Commentary on Hebrews 11 (1609 Edition), ed. John H.
Augustine (1609; repr., New York: Pilgrim Press, 1991), 73 [on Heb. 11:9].
6. Perkins, A Commentary on Hebrews 11, 107 [on Heb. 11:16].
7. William Ames, A Commentary upon the First Epistle of Peter, in The Workes
of the Reverend and Faithful Minister of Christ William Ames (London: Iohn
Rothwell, 1643), 53.
8. Perkins, A Commentary on Hebrews 11, 95, 79 [on Heb. 11:13].
9. Thomas Watson, “The Saint’s Desire to Be with Christ,” in Select Works
(Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, and Co., 1829), 2:14.
10. John Owen, “The Use of Faith, If Popery Should Return upon Us,”
in The Works of John Owen (1850–1853; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth,
1965), 9:508.

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

All eight articles deal with how the Puritans brought theology into practice. The first article deals with Puritan theology being shaped by a pilgrim mentality.

Seven Problems With Arminian Universal Redemption

The Arminian view is by far the most popular view of the atonement in the Christian church today. However, serious objections must be lodged against Arminian universal redemption, among which are these:

• It slanders God’s attributes, such as His love. Arminianism presents a love that actually doesn’t save. It is a love that loves and then, if refused, turns to hatred and anger. It is not unchangeable love that endures from everlasting to everlasting.

It slanders God’s wisdom. Would God make a plan to save everyone and then not carry it out? Would He be so foolish as to have His Son pay for the salvation of all if He knew that Christ would not be able to obtain what He paid for? I would feel foolish if I went into a store and paid for something but walked out without it. Yet Arminianism asks us to believe that this is true of salvation—that a purchase was made, a redemption, and yet the Lord walked away without those whom He had redeemed. That view slanders the wisdom of God.

It slanders God’s power. Arminian universalism obliges us to believe that God was able to accomplish the meriting aspect of salvation, but that the applying aspect is dependent on man and his free will. It asks us to believe that God has worked out everyone’s salvation up to a point, but no further for anyone.

It slanders God’s justice. Did Christ satisfy God’s justice for everyone? Did Christ take the punishment due to everybody? If He did, how can God punish anyone? Is it justice to punish one person for the sins of another and later to punish the initial offender again? Double punishment is injustice.

• It disables the deity of Christ. A defeated Savior is not God. This error teaches that Christ tried to save everyone but didn’t succeed. It denies the power and efficacy of Christ’s blood, since not all for whom He died are saved. Hence, Christ’s blood was wasted on Judas and Esau. Much of His labor, tears, and blood was poured out in vain.

• It undermines the unity of the Trinity. Just as parents must work together to run a family effectively, so the triune God co-labors in each of His persons with identical purposes and goals. One person cannot possibly have in mind to save some that another person has not determined to save, but Arminian universalism implicitly teaches just that. It denies the Father’s sovereign election, since Christ would have died for more than God decreed to save, thereby making Christ seem to have a different agenda than that of the Father. That would have been anathema to Jesus, who asserted that His entire redemptive ministry was consciously designed to carry out a divinely arranged plan (John 6:38–39).

Similarly, Arminian redemption disavows the saving ministry of the Holy Spirit when it claims that Christ’s blood has a wider application than does the Spirit’s saving work. Any presentation of salvation that makes the Father or the Spirit’s work in salvation lag behind Christ’s work contradicts the inherent unity of the Trinity. God cannot be at odds with Himself. Arminianism is inconsistent universalism.

• It rejects all of the other points of Calvinism. The Arminian view of the atonement rejects the doctrine of total depravity, teaching that man has the ability within himself to receive and accept Christ. It rejects unconditional election, teaching that God elects on the basis of foreseen faith. It rejects irresistible grace, teaching that man’s will is stronger than God’s. It rejects the perseverance of the saints, teaching that man can apostatize from the faith.

• It detracts from the glory of God. If God does everything in salvation, He gets all the glory. But if God can do only so much and not everything, then the person who completes the application of salvation gets at least some glory. That is why there is so much emphasis in mass evangelism on the free will of man. Universal atonement exalts the will of man and debases the glory of God.

• It perverts evangelism. We repeatedly hear today in evangelistic messages: “Christ died for you. What will you do for Him?” But do we ever find in the Bible that someone is told personally “Christ died for you”? Rather, we find the work of Christ explained, followed by a call to everyone: “Repent and believe the gospel.” The message is not “Believe that Christ died for you” or “Believe that you are one of the elect.” It is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

• It disparages the intrinsic efficacy of the atonement itself. Arminians teach that Christ’s work induces the Father to accept graciously what Jesus accomplished in place of a full satisfaction of His justice. It is as if Jesus persuaded His Father to accept something less than justice demanded. That is why Arminius claimed that when God saved sinners, He moved from His throne of justice to His throne of grace. But God does not have two thrones; His throne of justice is His throne of grace (Ps. 85:10). Arminianism forgets that the atonement does not win God’s love but is the provision of His love.

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Arminian view is by far the most popular view of the atonement in the Christian church today. However, serious objections must be lodged against Arminian universal redemption, among which are these:

How We Husbands Should Love Our Wives

September 2013

Few men appreciate long articles on how to behave—especially as to how we ought to treat our wives, so here, based on Ephesians 5, are our duties summed up in terms of their pattern and their practice.

The Pattern Our basic precept for marriage is, “Husbands, love your wives” (Eph. 5:25a). Following Christ’s pattern of loving His bride, each of us is to love his wife in these ways:

1. Absolutely. Christ gives “Himself” for His bride—His total self (v. 25). He holds nothing back. That is obvious from what He has done (think of Calvary), is doing (think of His constant intercession in heaven), and will do (think of His Second Coming). So we too are called to radical, absolute giving of ourselves to our wives in authentic love.

2. Realistically and purposely. Like Christ, who goes on loving His bride, the church, despite her spots and wrinkles, so that He can present her sanctified—without spot or wrinkle—to His Father in the Great Day (vv. 26–27), so we husbands are called to keep on loving our wives despite their shortcomings, aiming to have a sanctifying influence on them. Our love must be both realistic (remembering they are sinners just like us) and purposeful (aiming for their holiness).

3. Sacrificially. Christ nourishes and cherishes His bride at His own expense (vv. 28–29). So ought we husbands treat our wives at our own expense with the same care that we treat our bodies. If you get something in your eye, you give it immediate, tender care. Do you treat your wife with that same care when she is hurting?

The Practice Here are six ways we should be demonstrating this pattern of love for our wives:

1. Show great interest in your wife as a person. Care about her. Conversational communication is critical. Spiritual fellowship is paramount. After worship or fellowship, ask her what she learned and how her soul fared. Ask her how her day went and how the kids behaved today. Ask her about her dreams, fears, and frustrations. Learn to listen; learn to reflect her feelings back to her so that she opens up the more.

2. Pray for your wife privately and with her. Lay out her needs before God. Be earnest in praying for her spiritual growth, for Christ to meet her daily needs, for relief in physical and emotional difficulties. Let her feel your strength and your tenderness on her behalf at God’s throne of grace.

3. Love your wife lavishly. Love her as she is—faults included. Please her (1 Cor. 7:33). Respect and honor her, and treat her tenderly (1 Peter 3:7). Tell her every day how much you love her. Shower her with affection—verbal affection, physical affection, emotional affection, spiritual affection. Cherish her as God’s special gift to you.

4. Heap praise and compliments on her. Tell her how beautiful and wonderful she is in your eyes. Be intimate, specific, creative, and repetitive in your compliments. Compliment her kindness, her smile, her dress, her hair, and a thousand other things. Compliment her with affection in your voice, with love in your eyes, and with arms of embrace. Praise her in the presence of others (Prov. 31:28). Never allow the children to speak disrespectfully to her or about her.

5. Learn your wife’s language of love. If she loves daisies and you prefer roses, get her daisies. Does she enjoy walking together? Walk with her. Eating out? Take her out. Learn to love what she loves as much as possible. Cultivate shared friendship and interests. My wife loves biking; I never did, but I do now! I have learned to like it because I want to please her and I love being with her. (I’ve given up on gardening, though.) The more you find to do in common—worshiping God, walking, talking, taking trips, doing hobbies, visiting mutual friends—usually the better your marriage will be.

6. Provide your wife with biblical, tender, clear servant leadership, not ruthless authoritarianism. Using Christ as your pattern, delight in serving her (Matt. 20:25–26). Be the spiritual leader of your wife and children. Be the father-shepherd. Lead your family daily in Bible study and prayer. Be a teaching prophet, an interceding priest, and a guiding king. Be a gentle giant in your family—the loving head, not the mean fist!

How We Fight against Backsliding

Backsliding is a season of increasing sin and decreasing obedience in those who profess to be Christians. Not every sin is backsliding. Christians must sadly expect their lives to consist of a continual cycle of sinning and repenting of sin by faith in Christ crucified (1 John 1:9–2:2). In backsliding, however, this cycle of repentance is largely broken and spiritual ground is lost. The longer we persist in backsliding, the less right we have to claim to be true Christians (1 John 2:3–4), for repentance is of the essence of true Christianity (Acts 2:38; 20:21).

Backsliding from Christ is thus a serious matter. It dishonors God, disregards Christ as Savior, grieves the Spirit, tramples God’s law underfoot, and abuses the gospel. And it is a sin as common as it is terrible. God laments in Hosea 11:7 that His people are “bent”—that is, prone—to backslide from Him. The propensity to sin resides in all of our hearts, as does a deep desire to avoid repentance. Little wonder, then, that God warns us so often in Hosea, Jeremiah, and other prophets to abhor and fight against backsliding.

Backsliding usually begins when believers let themselves drift from God, His Word, and His ways. We then slip away gradually, sometimes imperceptibly. One weakness leads to another. Most commonly, backsliding begins with coldness in prayer and then moves to indifference under the Word. Inner corruptions then multiply. The world is loved more and fellow believers are loved less. Man-centered hopes soon replace God-centered desires.

Backsliding reaps bitter results. It injures God’s holy and worthy name. It makes us spiritually numb so that our consciences become desensitized, and it results in the church’s overall decay.

So how do we fight against this abominable sin—a sin that is so unworthy of our Lord?

First, we must return to the Lord and stop running from Him. We must heed Hosea 14:1, “Return unto the LORD thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.” We must repent by recognizing our sinful condition, remembering our past obedience, searching out our sin, grieving over it, confessing it, and fleeing from it.

Second, we must pursue righteousness by returning to Christ Jesus. To that end, we must return to a diligent use of the means of grace. That means returning seriously to the Bible. Attend diligently to sound preaching of it. Read it privately every day. Share regular devotions in your family. Memorize and meditate on key verses. Engage in a serious Bible study with one or more friends.

It also means returning diligently to prayer, even when you do not feel like it. Hosea 14:2 says: “Take with you words and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.” Pray the Scriptures back to God. Attend and pray at prayer meetings. Pray with close friends. Pray daily in and with your family. Pray for the Holy Spirit to restore the weeks, months, or perhaps even years, that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).

Read solid, sound Christian literature that will do your soul good. As you read, pray much for grace—justifying grace, sanctifying grace, adopting grace, reviving grace, strengthening grace, reviving grace, and sovereign grace.

Buttress your reading by journaling and/or finding an accountability partner. Two good spiritually minded friends will do you more good than ten or twenty friends who may be Christians but with whom you cannot communicate from heart to heart.

Above all, take refuge to Christ Jesus every day—yes, ten times a day. Flee to Him as your Savior and Lord, your righteousness and strength, your justification and sanctification, your praying and thanking High Priest, and your able and wise Physician. Let Him be your all-in-all.

Don’t rest until you are in your old way of communion with Christ again. And be assured, He will receive you back. He is a Savior of second chances; He delights to forgive even seventy times seven.

Come back home to your approachable Savior who loves to receive penitent sinners. Welcome home penitent, backsliding prodigal—welcome home in Christ to the Father’s arms, lips, words, and tears of mercy (Luke 15:20–24). Your God and Savior delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). By the Spirit’s grace, believe this amazing truth, embrace it, and live it out.

Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Few men appreciate long articles on how to behave—especially as to how we ought to treat our wives, so here, based on Ephesians 5, are our duties summed up in terms of their pattern and their practice.

The Triumph of Divine Grace

Editorials for the last two months have considered Satan and the original temptation in Genesis 3 which led to Adam and Eve’s fall, and the troubles and trials that the fall ushered in. This concluding editorial considers the triumph of divine grace in Genesis 3.

The Triumph of Divine Grace

From what we have seen, it may appear that Satan has won a major victory. Though the devil himself fell under God’s condemnation, he succeeded in severely damaging God’s prize possession, the living image bearers of God. However, here in the very shadow of the fall God reveals that He will triumph gloriously over Satan by redeeming mankind. And wondrously, Adam receives this promise by faith and testifies of his hope in the Lord.

1. The Promise of Redemption

The Lord God said to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Satan had tempted the woman to turn away from God, and she chose to become an enemy of the Lord. But the Lord reverses the situation: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman.” By His sovereign, heart changing grace, God turns the woman against the devil, which means that she will again follow the Lord. Praise God for the power of His converting grace!

God declares a spiritual war between two seeds. “Seed” means offspring or children. As Genesis 4 makes clear, some of mankind will continue to live as the seed of the serpent, following Satan as their spiritual father and head. John calls them “the children of the devil” and uses Cain as an example of them and their evil ways (1 John 3:10, 12). But God will give the woman another “seed” who, like Abel and Seth, fear the Lord and call upon His name by faith (Gen. 4:25–26; Heb. 11:4). They are her true spiritual descendants (cf. Rom.4:11–12). Spiritual combat between the devil and the children of the world on one side, and the righteous children of God on the other, has ensued throughout this age.

God tells the serpent that the woman’s seed “shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Here is the great promise of victory. God envisions one particular “seed,” a singular “him,” that will come. This battle will come to a climax in the conflict between the serpent and the One who is preeminently the “seed” of the woman, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13; 4:4–5). The seed will suffer from the serpent’s attacks. Indeed, He will suffer rejection, agony, death, and the curse itself. But the seed, our Lord Jesus Christ, will prevail! He will crush the serpent’s head! He will die so “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Though the first Adam fell, Christ will stand forever as our last Adam (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:45).

This word to the serpent holds the Lord God’s promise of redemption to Adam and Eve. He was calling them once more to hope in His Word.

2. The Profession of Hope How did Adam respond?

Genesis 3:20 says, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” Prior to this her name was Ishah, meaning “woman” or “wife,” but now Adam calls her by the new name of “life,” which is what Eve (Havah) means. We would perhaps not be surprised if Adam had called her “death” because her eating of the fruit had brought death to all. How could Adam name her “Life” when God had pronounced a death sentence upon them?

The only answer is that Adam placed his hope in the promise of the woman’s seed. He believed God’s promise that one of her descendants would conquer the serpent, and in so doing conquer sin and death, too. He believed this with faith so strong and real that he gave a lasting testimony to this hope, by naming the mother of his children “Life.” In her triumphant seed, her children would find grace and eternal life.

Not only was this a profession of hope, but it was also a reaffirmation of his love for his wife. Adam repented of his hateful blaming his wife for his own sin. He must have taken responsibility for his actions, as we all should, and once again embraced her as God’s gift to him. In fact, he needed her more than ever, for through her God would raise up the Savior.

God confirmed Adam’s hope with a visible sign. They were about to be sent out of the garden into the dangers and raw elements of a cursed world. How pitiful they must have looked with hearts pierced by sin, clothed in their coverings of fig leaves! Yet they put their hope in the Lord. God responded with compassion. Genesis 3:21 says, “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

God Himself covered their shame, and He did so with the skins of animals that were required to give up their blood. Later we read of Adam’s descendants offering blood sacrifices to the Lord (Gen. 4:4; 8:20). What a picture this is of the Lamb of God! He shed His blood and laid down His life to cover our sins. The Lord was saying to Adam that if we trust in His promise of a Savior, then by Christ’s death God will cover our shame, remove our guilt, and be our shield forever.


The fall of man is a most important historical fact and a crucial doctrine for our faith. Without believing it, we will stumble about in this world perplexed by sin and suffering its consequences but never knowing why. We will ask the wrong questions, such as, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” instead of asking, “Why do good things happen to people as bad as we are?” We will reduce the gospel to a spiritual Band-Aid, cheap and shallow grace which men can easily put on (and just as easily take off). We will lack a robust view of the glorious, sovereign, and holy God whose judgments are in all the earth, but whose love is simply astounding and whose grace comes to us in Christ with all the power and all the merit that sinners need to be justified in His sight.

A missionary once sat down with a native assistant. The missionary told him that he wanted to produce a simple tract they could give out in the villages to spread the gospel. The tract would have a picture of two cliffs separated by a great gulf. On the one cliff was the holy presence of God; on the other was a portrayal of man in his sin. Various pages through the tract showed man in his efforts to try to reach God, putting planks across the great chasm that sin had caused. Then on the final page, there was a picture of a cross bridging the gap between sinful man and God in His holiness. The young missionary was quite impressed with this tract.

But the native helper said, “I appreciate your tract, but I think it would be more helpful to write a story of a loving father who had a beautiful garden. That garden was walled around. He said to his son in that garden, ‘Son you can do whatever you like in that garden; it’s yours and I want you to enjoy it. But please, please, do not climb on the wall.’ Well, one day the boy did climb on the wall and, sure enough, he fell. As he went over the edge of that wall he realized that the wall had been placed right on the edge of a terrible chasm. He tumbled down the rocks, feeling the pain of everything hitting him. He was ashamed and terrified of what his father would think of him. He lay there at the bottom of the ravine with many broken bones, unable to move.”

Then the mission helper said, “The father came to that wall and he looked down in the ravine at his son, and what do you think he did? Did he yell down into the ravine, ‘I told you not to do it! Now you need to climb back out of the pit you fell into’? No, he did not say that. The religions of the world tell people to climb up the cliff to salvation. But of course that cannot be done. But the gospel of grace is that Jesus Christ slides down into the ravine, getting bruised and cut by the sharp rocks. Christ puts His loving arms around us and carries us gently back up the cliff. Christ brings us back to Paradise, where all our wounds are healed. And best of all, Christ walks with us daily so that we can never fall over the cliff again.”

The missionary had to admit that the native worker’s illustration was more biblical than his own. Our fall has left us not just separated from God, but utterly unable to do anything to come back. We have not just walked away from God; we have fallen. If we would be saved, Christ must do it all.

Perhaps as you have considered the message of Genesis 3, God has come to you and said, “Where are you? What is this that you have done?” Perhaps you have come to recognize that all your good works and excuses are just so many fig leaves that cannot cover your shame. Dear friends, we all enter this world under bondage to corruption, shame, alienation, and spiritual death. The day will come when God confronts us with His law, His glory, and His wrath.

But God’s promise still holds out hope to you. The fall is deep, but the love of Christ goes deeper. God offers you His Son. God calls you, yes, He commands you, to trust in His Son. Call upon the name of the Lord, and He will save you. And He will bring you to a place better than the first Paradise, for there you will have Christ, the last Adam, the Son of God as your portion forever.


Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

From what we have seen, it may appear that Satan has won a major victory. Though the devil himself fell under God’s condemnation, he succeeded in severely damaging God’s prize possession, the living image bearers of God.

The Benefits of Salvation: How We Obtain Assurance and Persevere in Faith


Genuine assurance and perseverance are sorely lacking among Christians today. The fruits of assurance and perseverance—diligent use of the means of grace, heartfelt obedience to God’s will, desire for fellowship with Him, yearning for His glory and heaven, love for the church, and intercession for revival—all appear to be waning. We desperately need rich, doctrinal thinking about assurance and perseverance coupled with vibrant, sanctified living.

What is “assurance of faith” and what is “perseverance of the saints” and how do we obtain them? How do assurance and perseverance assist each other in the Christian life?

Assurance of Faith

Assurance of faith is the conviction that, by God’s grace, I belong to Christ, have received full pardon for all sins, and will inherit eternal life. If I have true assurance, I not only believe in Christ for salvation but also know that I believe.

Such assurance includes freedom from guilt, joy in God, and a sense of belonging to the family of God. Assurance is also dynamic, varying according to conditions, capable of growing in force and fruitfulness. As James W. Alexander said, assurance “carries with it the idea of fullness, such as of a tree laden with fruit, or of a vessel’s sails when stretched by a favouring gale.”

Assurance is obtained (1) by clinging to the promises of God, (2) by the Spirit’s confirmation of the marks and fruits of grace within us, (3) by the direct testimony of the Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God, and (4) by resting in God’s outstanding track record of faithfulness toward us (Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF], Ch. XVIII, Sec. 2; Canons of Dort [CD], Fifth Head, Art. 10).

Perseverance of the Saints

We first must ask, who are the saints? Many would extend “eternal security” to all baptized persons, or to all who have made decisions for Christ at evangelistic meetings. Scripture and the Reformed Confessions speak only of the perseverance of saints, defined as those “whom God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit” (CD, Fifth Head, Art. 1); and “they whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit” (WCF, Ch. XVII, Sec. I). By the preserving work of the triune God (1 Cor. 1:8–9), such people will persevere in true faith and in the works that proceed from faith, so long as they continue in the world.

Some theologians want to speak of the preservation of the saints, rather than perseverance. These two notions are closely related, but not the same. The preserving activity of God undergirds the saints’ perseverance. He keeps them in the faith, preserves them from straying, and ultimately perfects them (1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 24). We may be confident that God will finish the work of grace He has begun in us (Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 12:2). Believers are preserved through Christ’s intercession (Luke 22:32; John 17:5) and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 1 John 2:27).

Perseverance itself, however, is the saints’ lifelong activity: confessing Christ as Savior (Rom. 10:9), bringing forth the fruits of grace (John 15:16), enduring to the end (Matt. 10:22; Heb. 10:28, 29). True believers persevere in the “things that accompany salvation” (Heb. 6:9). God does not deal with them “as unaccountable automatons, but as moral agents,” says A. W. Pink; believers are active in sanctification (Phil. 2:12). They keep themselves from sin (1 John 5:18). They keep themselves in the love of God (Jude 21). They run with patience the race that is set before them (Heb. 12:1). That is how they persevere, and they are aided in this by the Holy Spirit.

The Relationship of Assurance and Perseverance

Assurance helps the believer persevere, first, by encouraging him to rest on God’s grace in Christ and His promises in the gospel; and second, by presenting these as a powerful motive for Christian living. The Puritan Thomas Goodwin said that assurance “makes a man work for God ten times more than before.”

Perseverance opens the way for assurance. If a man does not believe in the perseverance of the saints, he cannot be sure he is going to heaven. He may know he is in a state of grace, but he has no way of knowing whether or not he will continue in that state. Thus assurance is wedded to the doctrine of perseverance. Perseverance serves to confirm and increase assurance. Those who persist in doing the works that spring from faith will usually attain high levels of assurance over a period of time. Assurance and perseverance are two sides of one coin. You cannot persevere in grace without growing in assurance, and you cannot grow in assurance of faith without perseverance.

How We Obtain Assurance and Persevere in Faith Dr. Joel R. B


Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Genuine assurance and perseverance are sorely lacking among Christians today. The fruits of assurance and perseverance—diligent use of the means of grace, heartfelt obedience to God’s will, desire for fellowship with Him, yearning for His glory and heaven, love for the church, and intercession for revival—all appear to be waning.