Thursday, July 12, 2007

Declaration #8: Perseverance

"The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ's mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards." So reads the eighth declaration of the PCA's Report on the Federal Vision.

This one's a toughie, especially in the light of passages like Heb. 6:4-6 which list repentance, enlightenment, tasting of the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, and experiencing the power of the age to come as among those blessings that may be a part of the experience of a believer who ends up an apostate.

How do we deal with this? Do we insist that these blessings are common rather than saving, or do we suck it up, admit that they're saving, and resign ourselves to the fact that true believers can be ultimately lost?

Of all the views I've come across, R. Fowler White's is the most intriguing. He argues that these are indeed saving blessings predicated upon apostates, but that these "benefits of Christ's mediation" are attributed to them not because the writer has secret knowledge of God's eternal decree, but because such blessings must be attributed to all within the covenant, even though one's profession may be a false one (something only God knows). He writes:

"On the premise that the faith of their audiences was covenantally credible, the [New Testament] writers ascribed to them all sorts of blessedness.... On the premise that the faith of their audiences was undifferentiated, the writers exhorted their audiences to perseverance (and were covenantally bound to do so)..." (The Auburn Avenue Theology, 213).
Unlike the Federal Visionists, who insist that if these blessings are attributed to an entire church then each and every member must have each and every one, White is arguing that one's covenant membership entitles him to the benefit of the doubt, even if the one to whom such saving blessings are attributed is, from the standpoint of the divine decree, a reprobate.

Thus, we can affirm with our forefathers in the faith that "True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, [and] their inseparable union with Christ... can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (WLC 79)."