There is a doctrine so diabolical, so sinister and wicked that it deserves, in this author’s opinion, a unique claim to the name “The Devil’s Doctrine.” This teaching is sheer poison to the soul which embraces it. Like a spiritual AIDS, it kills the soul’s built-in immune system, the conscience, and it convicts the sinner in his sins and errors almost without hope of conversion. It either throws the sinner into a bottomless despair for his sins, or (more often today) it forces him into another sin against the virtue of hope: the deadly sin of presumption. The doctrine is none other than the familiar Calvinist one of “perseverance of the saints,” commonly expressed by that snidely presented query: “Are you saved, brother”?
The teaching is totally unbiblical and untraditional. In other words, it isn’t Christian. Yet, many who call themselves Christian, especially in America, hold this doctrine and make it a major part of their religion. Various Baptist and Presbyterian sects hold it as revealed truth, as do countless nondenominational, independent “Bible Churches” influenced by these larger sects.
John Calvin (1509-1564), the Swiss Protestant “Reformer,” authored a system of grace known by the acronym, TULIP. “Five Point” Calvinism, as it is called, holds the following doctrines: (1) “Total Depravity” from original sin; so total, in fact, that man lost his free will in the fall. (2) “Unconditional Election,” which means that those who are predestined to heaven are saved without any merit or good will on their part (consequently, those predestined to hell can literally do nothing about it). (3) “Limited Atonement,” which means that Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was only for the elect, and not for all men. (4) “Irresistible Grace,” the idea that God’s grace is impossible to resist (by bad will), therefore, we do not and cannot cooperate with God. If He gives us the grace to do something, like puppets, we do it no matter what. (5) “Perseverance of the Saints,” which would have us believe that once we are put in the state of grace, we cannot lose that state, but will infallibly be saved. “Once saved, always saved,” is the Calvinist battle cry associated with this last part of TULIP.
So that the reader does not think mine is a rude caricature of this teaching, I cite C. H. Spurgeon (1834-92), a famous English Calvinist preacher of the last century. Spurgeon, a Baptist, gives us this Calvinistic doctrine in its simplicity: “[N]or can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.” (Charles H. Spurgion, “A Defence of Calvinism.”) Ironically enough, this same fiery preacher claimed, “The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s [Scottish Calvinist founder of the Presbyterian Church] gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.”
Such is the error we mean to refute in this article. As we will see, neither St. Paul nor St. Augustine preached the “truth” that was preached by Calvin, Knox, or Spurgeon.
Given the internal logic of TULIP — and it is ruthlessly logical with itself, each piece fitting perfectly with the others — if any one of its five planks is destroyed, the whole Calvinist platform tumbles down. Therefore, this article, which is intended only to refute “perseverance of the saints,” will effectively refute the whole Calvinist system.
There are several passages in Holy Scripture that repudiate the “once saved, always saved” position. We present some of them here, but by no means pretend to include all of them. Since most “eternally secure” Protestants use the King James Version of the Bible, for the sake of polemics, all of the Biblical texts we will use in this article will be from that Bible (not that we in any way endorse this Protestant Bible over our Catholic Douay-Rheims). We should note that the grammar conventions and orthography (spelling conventions) of the original are preserved in these Bible quotes.
The Old Testament
Justification, or Righteousness, existed in the Old Testament and the holy people of that time were called to persevere in their holiness. The Old Testament shows us example after example of saints and sinners. One interesting Old Testament pair is King David and his son, Solomon. David, who was holy and just, became a terrible sinner, but then repented and died a saint. He is regarded as a saint by the Catholic Church. His son, Solomon, while he was more wise than his father and had achieved great personal holiness, fell away and became an horrendous sinner: an adulterer, idolator, murderer, etc., all sins which, by name, exclude people from heaven. (Of course, we don’t know how he died, but most authors are not optimistic about his salvation. The Church does not regard him as a saint.)
The Old Testament book of Ezechiel teaches the following doctrine: “But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die. Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.” (Ezekiel 18:24-26.)
This passage clearly shows that the “righteous” man (the just man, the man in the state of grace) can “fall away” from that righteousness and “die” in his “sin.” In Scriptural language, to “die in one’s sins” is to be a reprobate, damned. As our Lord said, “for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
The Gospels should always be our starting point in the New Testament, since therein are recorded the sacred utterances of the Son of God Himself. Jesus personally assures us, “he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22). Commenting on this verse, Saint Cyprian (AD 200-258) says, “So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent” (On the Unity of the Church, 21). Cyprian here shows the classical distinction Catholics make between being “saved,” i.e., in heaven; and being “justified,” i.e., put in the state of grace while on earth. The first in the order of time is justification, from which, if we persevere, we “ascend to the summit of salvation.”
In the Parable of the Sower, recorded in the eighth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, the Divine Master illustrated for us the different ways the Gospel is received by different people. As the sower (God) spread his seeds (the faith), four different things happened: “(1) some fell by the way side… (2) some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture… (3) some fell among thorns… (4) other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.”
The group that concerns us is the second, of whom our Lord says, “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13).
They “receive the word,” and they “believe,” but then they “fall away.” Remember what Spurgeon said: “[N]or can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.” He confesses that he cannot comprehend — will not accept — the Gospel as it was preached by Jesus Christ.
Next we proceed to that author most used (and abused) by all of the so-called “Reformers,” St. Paul. In his Epistle to the Romans (11:19-22), he says, “Thou wilt say then, The branches [the Jews] were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear, For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” [The capitalizations within the sentence are in the original. This same convention appears in some of the biblical passages to follow.]
Here we have St. Paul addressing believing, genuinely born-again Christians who lived in Rome. As he puts it in the beginning of the Epistle (1:7): “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints…” He further says of these people to whom he writes that their faith “is spoken of throughout the whole world” (1:8). He also calls their faith, “the mutual faith, both of you and me” (1:11). These Romans, then, had the same faith as Paul; therefore they were true believers. And they were “beloved of God,” that is, in the state of grace, justification, or “friendship of God.”
According to the Calvinist doctrine, these Romans were safe. They had the “blessed assurance” of their salvation because they were true Christians (after all, since they had a mutual faith with an inspired writer of the Bible, they had to be true Christians). Why then does St. Paul tell them to “fear” that they could be “cut off”? The answer is simple: Though they presently believe and are “beloved of God,” they can fail to “continue in his goodness” and lose their salvation.
Again St. Paul affirms that the justified Christian can lose grace, when he tells the Galatians, who were being deceived by Judaizing heretics: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). The guilty Galatians were “removed from him,” that is, removed from Christ. He affirms in the third chapter of the same epistle that they, “having begun in the Spirit,” now fail to “obey the truth” (Gal. 3:1-3). Recall once again what Spurgeon said above, that he opposes, “a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.” The Gospel of St. Paul is such a one, since he accuses the Galatians of being removed from Christ and brought to a different doctrine.
Saint Paul himself — who was called directly by Christ, who bore the wounds of Christ in his body and had been raptured to the third heaven — feared for his own salvation. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Cor. 9:27). Are we any better than the Apostle?
The Catholic Epistles (“General Epistles” in the King James Version) furnish us with more examples. St. Peter warns, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
With vivid allegory, St. Peter shows the misery of the believer who has “escaped the allurements of the world” and then is “again entangled therein.” Since, in accordance with our Lord’s formula “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48), the believer is entrusted to keep Christian Faith and morals, the “latter end” of the fallen from grace “is worse with them than the beginning.”
The Prince of the Apostles emphasizes his point in the next chapter: “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
After enumerating the great evils of those “having not the Spirit,” Saint Jude exhorts the faithful: “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). To “keep” is to “not lose.” St. Jude would not waste the inspired words of his epistle, if it were impossible for them to fail to keep the love of God.
St. John, again speaking to people who have already been made just, says, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
St. James, in his epistle, gives the example of an erring believer and how he can be brought back: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). “Any of you”! Note again that he is talking to people who are of the flock. If a Christian errs from the truth and is converted, the good man who helps him reaps these spiritual benefits.
The whole spirit of Scripture, with its countless warnings to be vigilant, to practice virtue, to avoid sin, to fear God, to keep hope, etc., tells us the just can lose what he has been given, and does so by his own free will. If the true Christian cannot lose his righteousness, then God’s issuing a whole series of moral commands in Scripture is something of a waste of words. The command not to sin is superfluous — either because the true believer cannot sin, or because, even if he did sin, it really wouldn’t matter since he is still saved. (As we will see, this second view — sin really doesn’t matter — is the common Protestant opinion.)
Paul, who says that fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, is a fool for telling Timothy to “keep thyself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22) since Timothy, the true believer, either cannot commit fornication, or if he did, would not thereby lose his righteousness. He is a fool for telling Christians to “grieve not the holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30) if by doing so they would still have “blessed assurance” of their salvation. Too, he is a fool for commanding that we “be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26) unless sins against charity presented a spiritual danger: the danger of becoming a reprobate. St. Peter’s exhortation to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8), makes him equally a fool, since the “blood bought” Christians to whom he wrote were assured of their salvation.
Our Lord, too, would be guilty of great folly for His many exhortations in the Gospels, like this one: “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” Why “watch” and why “pray” if the justified Christian is guaranteed to “stand before the Son of man” in heaven at the end of time? Countless other exhortations and warnings could be cited. Anyone who picks up a Bible and reads for a few minutes will find one himself.
From Scripture we move to the early witnesses of the Apostolic Faith, the Fathers of the Church. Were they Calvinist? No. They flatly oppose the doctrines of Calvin regarding free will and perseverance. We will begin with two early authors. The first-century author, Hermas (+c. 80), says “But if any one relapse into strife, he will be cast out of the tower, and will lose his life. Life is the possession of all who keep the commandments of the Lord” (The Shepherd 3:8:7). Ignatius of Antioch (+c. 110) lets us know that repentance is possible for those who lapse: “And pray without ceasing in behalf of other men; for there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. For cannot he that falls arise again, and he may attain to God?” (Letter to the Ephesians 10) Note the use of the words “arise again,” which suggests that they had, previous to their fall, “arisen” to Christian justice.
Calvin admitted that St. John Chrysostom’s (+407) teaching on grace and free will was “for many ages taught and believed.” Chrysostom clearly didn’t hold the Protestant view when he said, “Whom he draws, he draws willingly,” a clear proof of the necessity of our cooperation with divine grace. In fact, Calvin goes to the trouble of attempting a refutation of that Father (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, chap. 3, sec. 10). But in order to legitimize his heresy, Calvin had to present his new teaching as something ancient. Therefore, he appealed to the authority of St. Augustine. But Augustine, “the Doctor of Grace,” was in no way a Calvinist, for in one sentence, he rejects TULIP: “If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, `I have not received,’ because of his own free choice to evil he has lost the grace of God, that he had received.” (Rebuke and Grace, chap. 9 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, a Protestant edition) In the same work, a work which the African Bishop wrote to show the benefit of a rebuke for the sake of repentance, he writes “…we still rebuke those, and reasonably rebuke them, who, although they were living well, have not persevered therein; because they have of their own will been changed from a good to an evil life, and on that account are worthy of rebuke; and if rebuke should be of no avail to them, and they should persevere in their ruined life until death, they are also worthy of divine condemnation for ever.” (Rebuke and Grace, chap 12 in NPNF edition) By way of beating a dead horse, permit me to insert yet another reminder of the lie of the Calvinist Spurgeon: “The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day…”
Another early Christian (and a foremost authority on the Bible), St. Jerome (+420), also holds the Catholic view (he was a Roman Catholic, after all). Jerome had a celebrated controversy with a heretic named Jovinian. One of Jovinian’s principal errors was that the just man could never sin. He used this text from St. John as his major apologetic: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (I John 3: 9).
In St. Jerome’s refutation of Jovinian, he gives the following paraphrase as the true understanding of that text: “Therefore I tell you, my little children, whosoever is born of God, committeth no sin, in order that you may not sin and that you may know that you will remain sons of God so long as you refrain from sin.” (Against Jovinian, Book II, chap. 2. emphasis added.) In the two italicized portions, Jerome teaches (1) that the just man has the free will to choose to sin, and (2) that he will forfeit his justice if he does sin.
He continues in the same vein, commenting on the Our Father, “Why do we pray that we may not enter into temptation, and that we may be delivered from the evil one, if the devil cannot tempt those who are baptized? The case is different if this prayer belongs to the Catechumens, and is not adapted to faithful Christians. Paul, the chosen vessel, chastised his body, and brought it into subjection, lest after preaching to others he himself should be found a reprobate…” (Against Jovinian, Book II, chap. 3).
At the beginning of this article, we stated, “The teaching is totally unbiblical and untraditional. In other words, it isn’t Christian.” The above proofs from Holy Scripture and the Fathers authenticate this.
What the Church Teaches
For the record, we should cite the authority of the Church condemning Calvin’s view of perseverance. The Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) was convened primarily to condemn the Protestant heresies that had started earlier in the same century. In two canons, the council censures the teachings of Calvin on perseverance. Canon 15 states, “If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.” Canon 16 adds, “If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.”
Thus the Church backed up with her solemn authority the teaching which had, since the beginning of the Church, been believed by all Catholics. It was only necessary that she do so because the likes of Calvin questioned the orthodox doctrine.
The Devil’s Doctrine?
The Church was harsh on Calvin’s teaching for good reason: It is error. But is it really justified to say that it is the “devil’s doctrine”? Yes. Let me illustrate with a true account of something that just happened to me. When I was preparing this article, I wanted to find an example of a modern church that teaches “eternal security.” Spurgeon has gone to his reward, but I wanted a living example to show the præternatural evil of this heresy. I had a few Chick Tracts that I got at a truck stop, so I flipped through them to see if they had this teaching. (For those who are unfamiliar with Jack Chick, he runs an international fundamentalist “ministry” which produces and distributes small cartoon tracts.) None of the four tracts I had explicitly expressed the “blessed assurance” doctrine, but they all had this on the inside back cover:
Nobody else can save you. Trust Jesus today!
- Admit you are a sinner.
- Be willing to turn from sin (repent).
- Believe that Jesus Christ died for you, was buried and rose from the dead.
- Through prayer, invite Jesus into your life to become your personal Saviour.
What to Pray:
Dear God, I am a sinner and need forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ shed His precious blood and died for my sin. I am willing to turn from sin. I now invite Christ to come into my heart and life as my personal Saviour.
Did you accept Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour?
Next to the question, there were two check boxes, one marked “yes” and the other “no,” with a line to write down the date.
Having no direct proof that Chick promotes the Calvinist doctrine on perseverance, I took advantage of the phone number on the back of the tract. I told the lady who answered the phone that I had a question about the Bible. She put me on the line with “Brother Jim,” who was only too happy to preach to me. I posed the question, “If I say this prayer and mean it in my heart — really mean it — (he interrupted me to assure me that he knew I meant it)… does this mean that I’m saved”?
“YES!” came the reply.
“Can I lose that…?”
“NO!” (He also assured me that my name was written in the book of life!)
I asked him about what St. Paul had told the Romans and the Galatians (see above) regarding being “cut off,” “removed …unto another gospel,” etc. His answer was that we can be cut off from fellowship, but not friendship. Neither are we removed from sonship. He gave the typical Calvinist example that when you are born “biologically” (i.e., naturally) your parents will always remain your parents, so when you become a son of God, you can’t lose that either. (This is a poor example, since a child can be cut off from his inheritance by being disowned, and salvation is our supernatural inheritance. The question, then, becomes, “So God doesn’t have the same right that even a natural parent has to disown his bad child?”)
It didn’t take long before he hung up on me, but my mission was accomplished. Without any tricks or manipulations from me, he said that I would literally never forfeit my salvation once I said Jack Chick’s little prayer. Nothing could ever make me go to hell. Literally nothing. I was amazed. (For the record, I neither told any lies nor even suggested a single untruth during the conversation. I mostly asked questions and let him answer. The few declarative sentences I used — e.g. “I read this tract,” “I am reading from the King James Bible,” etc. — were all true.)
This is why “blessed assurance” is diabolical: Somebody finds a Chick tract at a truck stop. He’s lived a bad life and knows it. He reads the tract that shows pictures of people like him being thrown into hell by the angels, while nice Calvinist folks are flying up to heaven. He gets a little scared, but then he sees that all he has to do is say the “Chick prayer” and he’s saved. He recites the prayer — probably becoming very emotional — in some private place in the truck stop. Then he hops in his rig and goes on his merry way, thinking that nothing he does can keep him from heaven. If he gets drunk, commits adultery, or repeatedly cheats the Teamsters out of his dues, he is still saved. If he feels guilty, he calls “Brother Jim” at Chick Publications, who tells him that the devil wants him to doubt his salvation, but since he was born again, he cannot go to hell. Since his salvation is already accomplished (it’s a “finished work”), the man never sincerely and humbly prays to be saved, which prayer God would hear and reward with grace. That grace, if cooperated with, would lead him to the truth (Catholicism).
This satanic psychology doesn’t go just with Chick tracts, but with most common forms of Fundamentalist, Evangelical, or Reformed Protestantism, no matter where they can be found. These people have infected themselves with the dirty needle of presumption. When a Catholic talks with one of them about the Faith, the very first thing that comes to mind, no matter what doctrine is being discussed, is “I’m already saved.” The fundamentalist repeats it like a mantra, and treats any contrary evidence (Holy Scripture, etc.), as the devil trying to get him to doubt his salvation so that he can’t lead others to God.
Of course, God’s grace can convert the fundamentalist, but one task of the Catholic is to show him that he cannot have such assurance of his salvation. Once this diabolical “first line of defense” is knocked down, if he has good will, his conversion will begin.
A Catholic Alternative
But what is the alternative to the Protestant “perseverance of the Saints”? Hope. The Christian should never fall into the sin of despair, thinking that he cannot be saved. But neither is he permitted to presume that he will have the grace of final perseverance. What all sound authorities say, including Fathers and Doctors of the Church, is that we may, with the indispensable aid of divine grace, obtain the grace of perseverance by constant and unremitting prayer. Indeed, what better thing is there to pray for than one’s salvation? The prayer of St. Peter, simple as it is, is a good starting point: “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:30)