The Perseverance Of The Saints: A History Of The Doctrine -- By: John Jefferson Davis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:2 (Jun 1991)
Article: The Perseverance Of The Saints: A History Of The Doctrine
Author: John Jefferson Davis

The Perseverance Of The Saints: A History Of The Doctrine

John Jefferson Davis*

I. Augustine

The first extensive discussion of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is found in Augustine’s Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance, written in A.D. 428 or 429 in the context of the controversies with Pelagius on the issues of grace, original sin, and predestination.1 At the very outset Augustine affirms the grace of God as the ultimate basis for the believer’s final perseverance: “I assert… that the perseverance by which we persevere in Christ even to the end is the gift of God.”1 From a human perspective it is inscrutable why, given two pious men, one should be given the grace of final perseverance and the other not. From a divine perspective it must be the case that the individual who perseveres is among the predestined while the other is not.2 The one who fails to persevere has not been called according to God’s plan and chosen in Christ according to God’s purpose.3

God’s sovereignty in election and predestination, then, is the basis for Augustine’s understanding of final perseverance. The grace of God “which both begins a man’s faith and which enables it to persevere unto the end is not given in respect of our merits, but is given according to His own most secret and at the same time most righteous, wise, and beneficent will; since those whom He predestinated, them He also called, with that calling of which it is said, ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’ “4 It is clear for Augustine, based on his understanding of the Pauline texts in Romans, that God’s elect will certainly persevere to the end and attain eternal salvation.

Unlike Calvin and those in the later Reformed tradition, however, Augustine does not believe that the Christian can in this life know with infallible certitude that he is in fact among the elect and that he will finally

* John Davis is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

persevere. According to Augustine “it is uncertain whether anyone has received this gift so long as he is still alive.”5 The believer’s life in this world is a state of trial, and he who seems to stand must take heed lest he fall.6 It is possible to experienc...

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