The London Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) had a high and yet measured opinion of the 1689 Confession of Faith as he articulated in this note to his church:
This ancient document is the most excellent epitome of the things most surely believed among us. It is not issued as an authoritative rule or code of faith, whereby you may be fettered, but as a means of edification in righteousness. It is an excellent, though not inspired, expression of the teaching of those Holy Scriptures by which all confessions are to be measured. We hold to the humbling truths of God's sovereign grace in the salvation of lost sinners. Salvation is through Christ alone and by faith alone.1
For both Spurgeon and all Christians orthodox in theology, it is always to the Bible alone from whence faith and practice must be discerned and practiced. The 1689, however, offers an “expression of the teaching of those Holy Scriptures.”
Had the Baptist Union of Spurgeon’s day adopted such a robust confession of faith, it might have avoided serious theological slippage. The confession could have served as a protection from doctrinally unsound men entering the Union and provided a means for false teachers to be excluded from the Union. However, instead of hearing and heeding Spurgeon's warnings, the keepers of the status quo chose to maintain a form of peace instead of embracing a substantive confessional identity.
Spurgeon was but one leader in a line of leaders prior to and since issuing the confession to appreciate its value. It is important to note that The Baptist Confession is unified. Its teaching on all points, including the perseverance of the saints, is essential to the whole.
As Spurgeon viewed the entirety of the Confession as built upon "God's sovereign grace," so should the doctrine of perseverance be also viewed through such a lens. Salvation from God's decree in eternity to the perseverance of the saints and their presentation and safe-keeping in Heaven is indeed God's sovereign work, and He has promised to lose none of his children. The perseverance of the saints is a work of God yet passionately worked out by Christians. What could be more comforting for repentant and believing sinners whom God sovereignly elected and sent his Son to die for and his Spirit to call to repentance and faith via the preaching of the Bible than to know that they will persevere in the faith by the grace of God?
The Perseverance of the Saints
The title of chapter seventeen, “The Perseverance of the Saints”, is instructive in and of itself. It is the saints—and the saints only—who persevere. The promise of perseverance is not given carte blanche to all people but exclusively to and for the people of God, the saints. "Saints" is not a reference to especially spiritual Christians but to all, of high or low estate, who truly belong to Christ by grace through faith in Christ. The humblest sinner who believes joins with the most productive saints in all of history in the glorious perseverance. To persevere in something is to stay the course—or, better yet, to stay the course by being kept on the course. Both God's preservation and man's perseverance are resident in the doctrine. Saints (those set apart as God's holy ones by grace) keep the faith, and with determination, focus, and endurance, they stay the course. However, it is not their keeping but God's preservation of them that secures their ultimate salvation.
There are numerous striking points from this first paragraph. The most pronounced is its emphasis on God's work.
A Sovereign and Distinguishing Call
God has accepted certain people, namely those who are "effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit." The confession distinguishes the general, indiscriminate call of the gospel which goes forth to all sorts of people through the preaching and witness of God’s servants from the effectual call which accomplishes what it is designed to accomplish. The indiscriminate is offered to people indiscriminately—without any sense of whether or not they are God's elect. Preachers and Christian witnesses cannot know who the elect are, nor are they to be overly concerned with such; it is their job to preach the gospel to everyone. The effectual call is the Holy Spirit applying the indiscriminate gospel call to the hearts of those whom God has graciously elected from before the foundation of the world. It is the effectual call that is clearly in view in Romans 8:30: “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (NKJV). The same people whom God predestined before time, he called in time. And those whom he called in time, he justified. The result is that those same people predestined, called, and justified are viewed in the present tense as already glorified. Such underlines both the effectual nature of the call and the certain reality of perseverance (Matthew 22:14; Romans 8:28-38).
The Necessity of Faith
God's calling and setting apart certain people does not negate the place of "precious faith." Faith in Jesus Christ is required for one to come into saving union with God. Faith involves an intellectual ascent to the truth about Christ and his gospel, heart love for Christ, and a desire and willingness to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. Yet the authors of the confession emphasised that "precious faith" is that which belongs unto "His elect", and such is a gift from God. Faith is given to God's elect, who then must exercise that faith in Jesus Christ by responding positively to the gospel message. Of course, perseverance indicates that those with saving faith in Christ will keep the faith and not ultimately abandon Christ, though they may slip into times of seeming unbelief. Though slipping, they are never void of faith, nor will they remain in even the perception of unbelief (Ephesians 2:8-10; Hebrews 11:1-7).
A Promised Perseverance
The Perseverance of the Saints is a most precious doctrine, for it is the foundation of all comfort and gospel assurance. Yet its preciousness is found mostly in its God-glorifying effect. True Christians are those accepted by God via election, calling, and faith in Christ. Those whom God has elected, called, and justified by faith will never fall from such a state of God's merciful and sovereign grace; they will persevere. This is because they are upheld by God, who has granted unto them eternal life in Christ. God's great gift of salvation and all of its accompanying gifts are irrevocable because God cannot and does not lie (John 10:29; Hebrews 6:18).
A Perseverance Through Trial
The word "perseverance" implies something must be persevered through; it anticipates that troubles await the true Christian, troubles that must be fought through and endured with God-centred focus. Storms bring rain, wind, and waves that crash against believers, leaving them battered, bruised, and weathered, yet their foundation is built not upon shifting sand but stable rock—Christ himself. To the rock of Christ and his promises, believers in Jesus are firmly and irremovably anchored. Christians face doubt, discouragement, and danger. Their view of God will often be clouded, and questions will rush into the crevices of their mind from time to time. They have no personal power to endure such stormy waters except that they are kept and enabled by the power of God. God holds them securely, the rock stands immovably, and his promises overpower the stormy winds with perpetual reminders that their names are written in the Book of Life (Psalm 94:14; Hebrews 13:5-6).
This paragraph offers comfort to the saints because they are not upheld by their own will but by God and his "decree of election." The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is anchored on the character of God and his election of certain sinners from before the foundation of the world. God's keeping of his saints from falling is guaranteed by his election and "unchangeable love" for his people. This guarantee of perseverance is the result of the righteous life of Christ. Those whom God elected, Christ came and lived and died for. He fulfilled God's law and, therefore, all righteousness. Christians are not dependent on their own merits, strength, or staying power to be kept by God but on God himself—his promises in eternity past, the work of Christ in time and space, the believer's union with him, the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit who indwells believers, and all according to the unalterable promises of God (Romans 11:29).
This final paragraph rings with honest declarations as it recognises the real struggle of true Christians against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Christian is tempted to befriend the world for sordid gain. He faces an ongoing battle with fleshly desires and has a real opponent in the devil and his demons who have destruction in their teeth. This paragraph also assumes the importance of godly means designed to keep Christian’s persevering, means such as Bible intake, prayer, and the Lord’s Day worship services. It is ever a possibility that true Christians may fall into “grievous sins,” “incur God’s displeasure and grief his Holy Spirit,” and other resultant consequences of sin. Such said, God’s promises remain that Christians are under no condemnation nor can they be separated from God’s love, which will be indicated by repenting of sin and persevering through faith in Christ and obedience to his will (Romans 8; Of the world, flesh, and devil see Ephesians 2:2-3; I John 5:5; I John 2:15-17; Romans 7:15-25; James 4:7-10).
Charles Spurgeon wrote to his church in London concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession:
Be not ashamed of your faith; remember it is the ancient gospel of martyrs, confessors, Reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. Let your lives adorn your faith, let your example recommend your creed. Above all, live in Christ Jesus and walk in Him, giving credence to no teaching but that which is manifestly approved of Him, and owned by the Holy Spirit. Cleave fast to the Word of God, which is here [in the confession] mapped out to you. May our Father, who is in Heaven, smile on us as ever!2
Spurgeon’s words are a clarion call to all of us to stand confidently on and to declare our faith boldly. After all, it is not just an ancient faith that many have died for, but, most importantly, it is the impeccable, infallible, and inerrant word of God. Spurgeon’s reminder is well taken: it is not sufficient to simply confess the faith—something he and the authors of the Baptist Confession want us to do—but we must live the faith and let our lives be congruent with the faith we profess. The Lord is our judge, and his Word is the plumbline that indicates our profession's validity and any confession to which we claim adherence. The Baptist Confession or any other must take a knee before the supreme standard of Holy Scripture. That said, Spurgeon and multiple thousands of others have believed that the confession is indeed a faithful expression of the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Saturday 14th August 2021
1 C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled From His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1897–1900), 2:160.
2 Ibid., 160-161.