Perseverance is the continuance in any design, state, opinion, or course of action. In theological science the perseverance of the saints is a doctrine so named, which teaches that those who are truly converted by the Holy Spirit shall never finally and totally fall from grace, but shall hold out to the end and be saved. This doctrine has afforded considerable matter for controversy between the Calvinists and Arminians, the former maintaining this doctrine of Final Perseverance, the latter denying it. We shall briefly state the arguments of the Calvinists and the objections made by the Arminians.
The advocates of the doctrine of Final Perseverance found their belief upon the decree of God, whereby he has predestinated the elect to grace and glory; inferring that therefore they will certainly persevere;. and arguing that their perseverance is a part of their election, for God has decreed to keep such persons that they should not fall. (The Bible passage very generally quoted to prove the perseverance of the saints, in connection with foreordination, unconditional election, etc., is Ro 8:28-30.) It is thus; stated in the Westminster Assembly's Confession of Faith: "They whom God hath accepted in his beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, canneither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the: end, and be eternally saved." According to the Calvinistic theory of regeneration, the soul is chosen by God from eternity, its conversion and regeneration are-wholly the work of the Holy Spirit, and the work, having been begun by God for his own good pleasure, will not and cannot be abandoned by him. Or, to quote, again the words of the Westminster Assembly's Confession of Faith, "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 ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof." "The perfections of God," says Buck, "are a strong argument to prove this doctrine.
(1.) God, as a Being possessed of infinite love, faithfulness, wisdom, and power, can hardly be supposed to suffer any of his people finally to fall into perdition. This would be a reflection on his attributes, which are all pledged for their good, as a father of his family. His love to his people is unchangeable, and therefore they cannot be the objects of it at one time and not at another (Joh 13:1; Zep 3:17; Jer 31:3). His faithfulness to them and to his promise is not founded upon their merit, but upon his own will and goodness; this, therefore, cannot be violated (Mal 3:6; Nu 23:19). his wisdom foresees every obstacle in the way, and is capable of removing it, and directing them into the right path. It would be a reflection on his wisdom, after choosing a right end, not to choose right means in accomplishing the same (Jer 10:6-7). His power is insuperable, and is absolutely and perpetually displayed in their preservation and protection (1Pe 1:5).
(2.) Another proof of this doctrine is their union to Christ, and what he has done for them. They are said to be chosen in him (Eph 1:4), united to him (Eph 1:23), the purchase of his death (Ro 8:34; Tit 2:14), the objects of his intercession (Ro 5:10; Ro 8:34; 1Jo 2:1-2). Now if there be a possibility of their finally falling, then this choice, this union, his death and intercession, may all be in vain, and rendered abortive; an idea as derogatory to the divine glory, and as dishonorable to Jesus Christ, as possibly can be.
(3.) It is proven also from the work of the Spirit, which is to communicate grace and strength equal to the day (Php 1:6; 2Co 1:21-22). If, indeed, divine grace were dependent on the will of man, if by his own power he had brought himself into a state of grace, then it might follow that he might relapse into an opposite state when that power at any time was weakened; but as the perseverance of the saints is not produced by any native principles in themselves, but by the agency of the Holy Spirit, enlightening, confirming, and establishing them, of course they must persevere, or otherwise it would be a reflection on this Divine Agent (Ro 8:9; Corinthians 6:11; Joh 4:14; Joh 16:14).
(4.) Lastly, the declarations and promises of Scripture are very numerous in favor of this doctrine (Job 17:9; Ps 94:14; Jer 32:40; Joh 10:28; Joh 17:12; 1Co 1:8-9; 1Pe 1:5; Pr 4:18), all of which could not be true, if this doctrine were false." According to the Arminian theology, on the other hand, the Spirit of God is equally ready and willing to act upon all hearts; its efficacy over some rather than others depends solely upon their own free-will in choosing Christ, and yielding to the influence of the Spirit; hence, if they thereafter choose again to reject Christ, and steel themselves against the continuing influences of the Holy Spirit, they can do so, in which case they are said to have fallen from grace. This possibility of the final apostasy of the saints, Arminians assert on the authority of Heb 6:4, as well as of the many warnings against falling away which the Scriptures contain (Eze 7:20; Eze 18:24; Heb 6:3,6; Ps 135:3-5), and inasmuch as it is foretold as a future event that some should fall away (Mt 24:12-13; Joh 15:6; Mt 13:20-21), and that many have in fact fallen away, as David, Solomon, Peter, Alexander, Hymenaeus, etc. This last point has become of so much importance in the controversy that those who hold to the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints maintain that they may temporarily fall away into sin, and suffer loss by their inconsistency and backsliding, and also that those cases in which seeming Christians abandon their Christian profession and hope altogether, are explained by the declaration that the conversion in such cases was a spurious one. The Calvinists go even so far as to claim that "the difference between Arminian and Calvinist on this subject, though very considerable, is less, practically, than has sometimes been supposed, since both agree that one may give all the external evidences of having commenced a Christian life, and yet fall away and be finally lost. The real difference between them is that the Arminians hold that in such a case the professor of religion was really a Christian, but lost his religion by turning his lack upon Christ; while the Calvinist holds that the appearances were deceitful, and the professed Christian was never really a child of God" (Dr. Lyman Abbott); or, as Mr. Edwards says of all apostates, "They had no root, no oil in their vessels." To this mode of arguing the question Arminians take decided exception, since the fact that professed saints do not persevere does not prove that all real ones will do so. More properly expressed, the Calvinistic proposition stands thus: "Professed saints do not persevere. Therefore all real saints will persevere." The exposure of the hypocrite the Arminian denies to be proof that the real saint cannot apostatize, and though David and Peter were finally restored, it does riot prove that either had grace in his heart at the time of his fall. "To assert this," says Nash, "in the case of David, is to assert that a murderer and an adulterer hath eternal life abiding in him; and to assert it in the case of Peter, is to assert that a person may be in a state of grace and yet profanely deny Christ." Besides, this doctrine absolutely places the Christian higher than Adam stood in his primeval state. SEE PERFECTION. Even in his first trial Adam could fall. According to Calvinism, the Christian has reached a point where he can no more be liable to fall from God. It also removes the decision of a question from its proper jurisdiction — the final judgment — and places it at the point of conversion. It teaches that when a person becomes truly converted he is absolutely assured of eternal life, and of course his meetness for heaven is prospectively settled, and therefore, granting the conversion to be genuine, the judgment-day becomes a farce. But the most common objection raised by the Arminians is that the doctrine of final perseverance makes men careless concerning virtue and holiness, and supersedes the use of means and renders exhortation unnecessary. Its advocates, however, reply that this objection is not valid against them, "the true doctrine of Perseverance of Saints being one of perseverance in holiness and giving no encouragement to a confidence of final salvation which is not; connected with a present and even an increasing holiness," or, as Abbott puts it: "Both Calvinist and Arminian agree in urging all professed Christians to exercise diligence in making their calling and election sure, the one that they be not deceived, the other that they lose not what they have gained." The Church of England, without pronouncing any authoritative opinion on this question, declares in the 16th Article that "after we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin; and by the grace of God may rise again." "To our own safety our own sedulitv is required," is the sentiment of Hooker, in his sermon on The Certainty and Perpetuity of Faith in the Elect. See Beza, Principles; Whitby and Gill, On the Five Points; Calvin, Institutes, bk. 3, ch. 23; Williston, Harmony of Divine Truth (art. on Persev.); Cole, Sovereignty of God; Booth, Reign of Grace; Doddridge, Lectures, lect. 179; Turretin, Comp. Theology, loc. 14, p. 156; Witsius, OEconomia; lib. iii, ch. 13; Topladyt, Works, v. 476; Ridgley, Body of Divinity, qu. 79; Wesley, Works, 6:50; Fletcher, Works; Watson, Institutes; Hall, Help to Zion's; Travellers; Newton, Works; Edwards, Works, 3:509-532; Dwight, Theology, serm. 87; Fuller, Works; Goodwin, Works, p. 238, 280; Cunningham, Hist. Theol. 1:355 sq.; 2:490 sq.; Hodge, Doctrinal Theology (see Index); Whately, St. Paul (essay 4); Browne, Expos. of the XXXIX Articles; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. 35:222; Christian Remembr. Jan. 1856, p. 158; Christian Journal, vol. 8; Nevin, in Mercersb. Rev. 1857, p. 73, 197; Griffin, Park Street Lectures; Scott, Synod of Dort, p. 220; Olivers, Perseverance; Nash, Perseverance.