Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the errors of those
I. Who teach that the perseverance of true believers is not an effect of election or a gift of God produced by Christ’s death, but a condition of the new covenant which people, before what they call their “peremptory” election and justification, must fulfill by their free will.
For Holy Scripture testifies that perseverance follows from election and is granted to the chosen by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession: “The chosen obtained it; the others were hardened” (Rom. 11:7); likewise, “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not, along with him, grant us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised—who also sits at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:32-35).
II. Who teach that God does provide believers with sufficient strength to persevere and is ready to preserve this strength in them if they perform their duty, but that even with all those things in place which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God is pleased to use to preserve faith, it still always depends on the choice of human will whether or not to persevere.
For this view is obviously Pelagian; and though it intends to make people free it makes them sacrilegious. It is against the enduring consensus of evangelical teaching which takes from humanity all cause for boasting and ascribes the praise for this benefit only to God’s grace. It is also against the testimony of the apostle: “It is God who keeps us strong to the end, so that we will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).
III. Who teach that those who truly believe and have been born again not only can forfeit justifying faith as well as grace and salvation totally and to the end, but also in actual fact do often forfeit them and are lost forever.
For this opinion nullifies the very grace of justification and regeneration as well as the continual preservation by Christ, contrary to the plain words of the apostle Paul: “If Christ died for us while we were still sinners, we will therefore much more be saved from God’s wrath through him, since we have now been justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:8-9); and contrary to the apostle John: “No one who is born of God is intent on sin, because God’s seed remains in him, nor can he sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9); also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ: “I give eternal life to my sheep, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
IV. Who teach that those who truly believe and have been born again can commit the sin that leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit).
For the same apostle John, after making mention of those who commit the sin that leads to death and forbidding prayer for them (1 John 5:16-17), immediately adds: “We know that anyone born of God does not commit sin” (that is, that kind of sin), “but the one who was born of God keeps himself safe, and the evil one does not touch him” (v. 18).
V. Who teach that apart from a special revelation no one can have the assurance of future perseverance in this life.
For by this teaching the well-founded consolation of true believers in this life is taken away and the doubting of the Romanists is reintroduced into the church. Holy Scripture, however, in many places derives the assurance not from a special and extraordinary revelation but from the marks peculiar to God’s children and from God’s completely reliable promises. So especially the apostle Paul: “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39); and John: “They who obey his commands remain in him and he in them. And this is how we know that he remains in us: by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24).
VI. Who teach that the teaching of the assurance of perseverance and of salvation is by its very nature and character an opiate of the flesh and is harmful to godliness, good morals, prayer, and other holy exercises, but that, on the contrary, to have doubt about this is praiseworthy.
For these people show that they do not know the effective operation of God’s grace and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and they contradict the apostle John, who asserts the opposite in plain words: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, but what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he is made known, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Moreover, they are refuted by the examples of the saints in both the Old and the New Testament, who though assured of their perseverance and salvation yet were constant in prayer and other exercises of godliness.
VII. Who teach that the faith of those who believe only temporarily does not differ from justifying and saving faith except in duration alone.
For Christ himself in Matthew 13:20ff. and Luke 8:13ff. clearly defines these further differences between temporary and true believers: he says that the former receive the seed on rocky ground, and the latter receive it in good ground, or a good heart; the former have no root, and the latter are firmly rooted; the former have no fruit, and the latter produce fruit in varying measure, with steadfastness, or perseverance.
VIII. Who teach that it is not absurd that people, after losing their former regeneration, should once again, indeed quite often, be reborn.
For by this teaching they deny the imperishable nature of God’s seed by which we are born again, contrary to the testimony of the apostle Peter: “Born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable” (1 Pet. 1:23).
IX. Who teach that Christ nowhere prayed for an unfailing perseverance of believers in faith.
For they contradict Christ himself when he says: “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32); and John the gospel writer when he testifies in John 17 that it was not only for the apostles, but also for all those who were to believe by their message that Christ prayed: “Holy Father, preserve them in your name” (v. 11); and “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you preserve them from the evil one” (v. 15).