The One Who Endures: The Confession
A friend of mine, a fellow pastor, spent some time as an ultra-runner. Most runners, who run with any sort of seriousness, seem to knock out a 5k or 10k for fun. Some of those will take some more time to train and get a 1/2 Marathon done. Fewer are those who go the whole 26.2 miles for Marathoner status. As a non-runner, that is a dream enough. But, then there are those who seem to have lost all sense of mooring: 25k, 50k, 100k races over trails, across the Grand Canyon–is there any end to the madness? Where do these people get such endurance? How do they persevere? Most runners I know, including my friend, will tell you that the necessary perseverance to run such distances is more mental than physical. The source of that endurance isn’t where you’d naturally think you’d find it. It’s in the mind, not the body. And so it is with our Spiritual Perseverance. We are often tempted to look for its source in one place (our free will or our desire to persevere) when, truly, it is found in another (the unchanging decree of God)!
First, one should clarify, in this age of spiritual and religious transience, that perseverance really does exist. There are those who will not fall away and will finally enter into eternal rest. However, the Westminster Confession of Faith goes a bit further on that point, saying not just that folk WILL not fall away but that they CANNOT fall away. Indeed, these persevering ones will be eternally saved. They are the ones that have been accepted in Jesus, effectually called, had the Holy Spirit of God sanctify them. In other words, the real Spiritual works done in them in time will carry them through to their appointed, eternal ending.
At times, the Westminster Divines read our minds. They seemed to know on this point that, if we saw perseverance at work in ourselves or others, we would begin to compare notes, start judging ourselves and one another, trying to discover just what each of us was doing to persevere so well. But we can’t get away with that with the Westminster Divines. They remind us quickly that the persevering work of God in our lives is founded upon God’s consistent loving and gracious character, both of which are unchanging. Its effectiveness is owed to the righteousness and intercession of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ person and work is vital to this ongoing reality of the believer, as is the person and work of the Holy Spirit and the implanting of the spiritual seed in the believer by the Lord. We need constant reminder that our position of love and acceptance before God until and through that Final Day is all due to the Covenant of Grace at work in us, not our work in it.
However… oh the pain of hearing that word on the sweet heals of the grounding of our ongoing love and acceptance in the Covenant of Grace. However, we still live in a sin-warped world, with sin-laden bodies, and sin-darkened hearts. The World, the Devil, even our very Flesh live on as our mortal enemies, working against us at every turn to tempt, demoralize, frustrate, and encourage neglect. How about you? Do you take full advantage of the Means of Grace with a view toward your perseverance? Or do you neglect them? One who does so is damaging himself. The confession unfolds the dark reality for one who begins feeding his soul with his own sense of saving power, in the face of the Lord's persevering grace in his life: “they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.”
This brings to the forefront one particular Means of Grace to be used: prayer. Of course, God’s Armor. Certainly, the Ministry of the Word. Absolutely, the Sacraments. These are all so important to the believer. But prayer can be with us each moment of each day. Pray God’s Word. Pray through the import of the Sacraments in your life. Pray for sustaining grace in the moment of temptation. Pray that your Heavenly Father, upon the merits of Christ, and through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, carries you through to that last Great Day, when you will see your Savior, face-to-face. And, then, you will see fully how He has persevered you to the end.
Joel Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.