Berkhof: Perseverance Is By Grace Alone Through Faith Alone

The doctrine of perseverance may also be proved in an inferential way.

a. From the doctrine of election. Election does not merely mean that some will be favored with certain external privileges and may be saved, if they do their duty, but that they who belong to the number of the elect shall finally be saved and can never fall short of perfect salvation. It is an election unto an end, that is, unto salvation. In working it out God endows believers with such influences of the Holy Spirit as to lead them, not only to accept Christ, but to persevere unto the end and to be saved unto the uttermost.

b. From the doctrine of the covenant of redemption. In the covenant of redemption God gave His people to His Son as the reward for the latter’s obedience and suffering. This reward was fixed from eternity and was not left contingent on any uncertain faithfulness of man. God does not go back on His promise, and therefore it is impossible that they who are reckoned as being in Christ, and as forming a part of His reward, can be separated from Him (Rom. 8:38, 39), and that they who have entered the covenant as a communion of life should fall out.

c. From the efficacy of the merits and intercession of Christ. In His atoning work Christ paid the price to purchase the sinner’s pardon and acceptance. His righteousness constitutes the perfect ground for the justification of the sinner, and it is impossible that one who is justified by the payment of such a perfect and efficacious price should again fall under condemnation. Moreover, Christ makes constant intercession for those who are given Him of the Father, and His intercessory prayer for His people is always efficacious, John 11:42; Heb. 7:25.

d. From the mystical union with Christ. They who are united to Christ by faith become partakers of His Spirit, and thus become one body with Him, pulsating with the life of the Spirit. They share in the life of Christ, and because He lives they live also. It is impossible that they should again be removed from the body, thus frustrating the divine ideal. The union is permanent, since it originates in a permanent and unchangeable cause, the free and eternal love of God.

e. From the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Dabney correctly says: “It is a low and unworthy estimate of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and of His work in the heart, to suppose that He will begin the work now, and presently desert it; that the vital spark of heavenly birth is an ignis fatuus, burning for a short season, and then expiring in utter darkness; that the spiritual life communicated in the new birth, is a sort of spasmodic or galvanic vitality, giving the outward appearance of life in the dead soul, and then dying.” According to Scripture the believer is already in this life in possession of salvation and eternal life, John 3:36; 5:24; 6:54. Can we proceed on the assumption that eternal life will not be everlasting?

f. From the assurance of salvation. It is quite evident from Scripture that believers can in this life attain to the assurance of salvation, Heb. 3:14; 6:11; 10:22; 2 Pet. 1:10. This would seem to be entirely out of the question, if it were possible for believers to fall from grace at any moment. It can be enjoyed only by those who stand in the firm conviction that God will perfect the work which He has begun.

…The denial of the doctrine of perseverance virtually makes the salvation of man dependent on the human will rather than on the grace of God. This consideration will, of course, have no effect on those who share the Pelagian conception of salvation as autosoteric—and their numbers are great—but certainly ought to cause those to pause who glory in being saved by grace. The idea is that, after man is brought to a state of grace by the operation of the Holy Spirit alone, or by the joint operation of the Holy Spirit and the will of man, it rests solely with man to continue in faith or to forsake the faith, just as he sees fit. This renders the cause of man very precarious and makes it impossible for him to attain to the blessed assurance of faith.

—Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 547–549.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Piper and Schreiner don’t actually ever say that any of those who are now justified will fail to be given the life of the age to come. Their problem is not Pelagian. The problem is Augustinian in that justification is being defined as being predestined to persevere instrumentally by means of a new disposition which is now able to do enough obeying and working in order to gain the life of the age to come. The problem is that they don’t know what the law demands and what justification is.

    Many Augustinians still don’t have much time for a distinction between what God does in us and what God already finished outside us in Christ. Even when it comes to Christ’s priestly work, the emphasis is on Christ’s present intercession and not God’s federal imputation of Christ’s death to those under Christ’s headship.

    Augustine–“give what you command, and command what you will.”

    The soundbite from Augustine is wrong if we understand it to mean that Christians now CAN obey the law ( or if it is used to imply that God in neonomian fashion now lowers the standard of the law to the level of what we in the new covenant are now gifted to do) .

    It is often the case that God does NOT give us to do what God commands. The law is not the gospel, grace is not works , and the ability to keep the law is not gospel grace.

    It’s still too late for justified sinners to keep the law in order to sanctified. Those who are already saints are commanded to obey the law.

    I was born a sinner, even though I did not cause myself to be born, and I am still a sinner, even though God has given me birth from above and faith in the gospel. Being still a sinner, I still need justification before God, and not by my own death but by Christ’s death.

  2. Moo has now got on the Piper/ Schreiner bandwagon—-“Justification in Galatians”, p 172, Moo’s essay in the Carson f (Understanding the Times)—Nor is there any need to set Paul’s “juridicial” and “participationist” categories in opposition to one another (see Gaffin, By Faith Not By Sight, p 35-41). The problem of positing a union with Christ that precedes the erasure of our legal condemnation before God ( making justification the product of union with Christ) CAN BE ANSWERED IF WE POSIT, WITHIN THE SINGLE WORK OF CHRIST, TWO STAGES OF “JUSTIFICATION”, one involving Christ’s payment of our legal debt–the basis for our regeneration–and second our actual justification=stemming from our union with Christ.”

  3. I agree with everything in the quotations from Berkhof. I have read them through carefully five times. They do not, however, as far as I can tell, support the title of this post: “Berkhof: Perseverance Is By Grace Alone Through Faith Alone.” Ultimately, perseverance is certainly by grace alone, but it is definitely not by faith alone. Sorry, it just isn’t. Faith is the alone instrument of justification. There should be no question about that. Yet perseverance is achieved (I’m not afraid of that term in a Christian context) through faith working by love, by an active faith that produces the fruit of the Spirit. If you don’t want to say “Sanctification is by faith and works,” then read – or better, memorize – Westminster Confession of Faith 13.1:

    “They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

    And sorry, markmcculley, Christians CAN NOW obey the law – Not perfectly, of course, but in a way that pleases our heavenly Father. I have grown weary of the current trend from the “contemporary grace movement” to downplay Christian obedience and progressive sanctification. Away with such talk. It’s past time to return to a healthy emphasis on that holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.”

    • We need to define “sanctification” and make a distinction between our traditional use of the word and the Bible use of the word. The Bible has different senses of “sanctification”—- both by the Spirit (II Thessalonians 2:13) but also “set apart and perfected by the blood” (Hebrews 10:10-14 ). David Petersen’s book Possessed by God is a good place to start to think about definitions. So also is AW Pink’s book on Sanctification..

      But in our traditional language, when we say ‘sanctification”, we tend not to be talking about Christ’s death or about the Spirit causing us to hear the gospel. We tend to be thinking about the new birth as creating in us a new disposition which causes us to gradually get better, almost as if we were no longer sinners but only “of course not perfect”

      If we are talking about “sanctification by Christ’s death (Hebrews 10:10-14 ) then we need to notice the parallel to Christ’s death as the source (the righteousness God imputes) of justification. But if we are talking about the Holy Spirit causing us to understand and believe the gospel (II Thessalonians 2:13) , in that sense the Holy Spirit is the source of “sanctification” in a different way than the Holy Spirit is the source of justification.

      The gospel is about the law, because the gospel tells us how Christ’s death satisfied the law for the elect. The gospel demands a faith that repents from the old shameful life of trusting ourselves (even with grace ) to satisfy the law. To hear the gospel is to turn from the sin of trusting our obedience (thank you I am not like that sinner) to move us past justification to finally later at some point be acceptable in God’s presence.

      We learn to take sides against ourselves. We can’t even die for ourselves, much less obey imperfectly enough to gain blessing and reward from God. It is Christ’s death which not only justifies the ungodly but also sets apart all those God has already set apart by election.

  4. “In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause.”
    (John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote)

Comments are closed.