Louis Berkhof: Perseverance of the Saints in History

Heretical theologian Louis Berkhof commenting on “The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints in History”:

“The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is to the effect that they whom God has regenerated and effectually called to a state of grace, can neither totally nor finally fall away from that state, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved. This doctrine was first explicitly taught by Augustine, though he was not as consistent on this point as might have been expected of him as a strict predestinarian. With him the doctrine did not assume the form just stated. He held that the elect could not so fall away as to be finally lost, but at the same time considered it possible that some who were endowed with new life and true faith could fall from grace completely and at last suffer eternal damnation. The Church of Rome with its Semi-Pelagianism, including the doctrine of free will, denied the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and made their perseverance dependent on the uncertain obedience of man. The Reformers restored this doctrine to its rightful place. The Lutheran Church, however, makes it uncertain again by making it contingent on man’s continued activity of faith, and by assuming that true believers can fall completely from grace. It is only in the Calvinistic Churches that the doctrine is maintained in a form in which it affords absolute assurance. The Canons of Dort, after calling attention to the many weaknesses and failures of the children of God, declare:

‘But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.'[V, Art. 6.]

The Arminians rejected this view and made the perseverance of believers dependent on their will to believe and on their good works. Arminius himself avoided that extreme, but his followers did did not hesitate to maintain their synergistic position with all its consequences. The Wesleyan Arminians followed suit as did several of the sects. The Reformed or Calvinistic Churches stand practically alone in giving a negative answer to the question, whether a Christian can completely fall from the state of grace and be finally lost” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 545).

A corroborating commentary from heretic Peter J. Leithart:

“Reformed theologians differed on the related issues of temporary faith and temporary enjoyment of the benefits of salvation. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, some in the Protestant church of England held to what they described as the ‘Augustinian’ view that some reprobates could temporarily enjoy soteriological benefits. The English delegation to the Synod of Dort (1618) submitted a request that the Synod remove its condemnation of the view that some reprobates may be regenerated and justified for a time. High as high Calvinism can get, the Synod of Dort accepted the petition and removed the condemnation.

According to Samuel Ward’s account, the English delegation’s argument was threefold:

‘We ourselves think that this doctrine is contrary to Holy Scriptures, but whether it is expedient to condemn it in these our canons needs great deliberation. On the contrary, it would appear

1. That Augustine, Prosper and the other Fathers who propounded the doctrine of absolute predestination and who opposed the Pelagians, seem to have conceded that certain of those who are not predestinated can attain the state of regeneration and justification. . . .

2. That we ought not without grave cause to give offence to the Lutheran churches, who in this matter, it is clear, think differently.

3. That (which is of greater significance) in the Reformed churches themselves, many learned and saintly men who are at one with us in defending absolute predestination, nevertheless think that certain of those who are truly regenerated and justified, are able to fall from that state and to perish and that this happens eventually to all those, whom God has not ordained in the decree of election infallibly to eternal life. Finally we cannot deny that there are some places in Scripture which apparently support this opinion, and which have persuaded learned and pious men, not without great probability.’

This is an altogether remarkable statement. It views Reformed theology as a continuation of a tradition going back to Augustine, continuing through the middle ages, and strives to maintain continuity with that tradition: Any confession that excludes Augustine, they implied, can’t be good. It worries about offending Lutherans. It advocates a Reformed confession that expresses the views of the ‘saintly men’ who serve as ministers of the Reformed churches, rather than an impersonal confession that reflects the views of only one segment of the church. Substantively, it defends the Reformed credentials of a view that would summarily be excluded from nearly every Reformed church today.”

This highlights and confirms how certain theologians in history viewed  Calvinist or Reformed theology as a continuation of a theological tradition going back to Augustine of Hippo. It is important to note how cognizant they were in seeking to maintain their continuity with a damnably heretical tradition at the expense of essential gospel truth. Certainly many did not hold to the particular damnable heresy that Augustine held to, but they just as certainly were not going to judge righteous judgment against the revered Augustine. It is clear that they respected the self-righteous faces of men more than the redemptive glory of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

For related posts see the following:

Augustine gets a pass (1)

Augustine gets a pass (2)

Little Auggy