This devotion reflects on Main Point V of the Canons of Dort.

Like the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort are about comfort. This comes through most clearly, perhaps, in the fifth point of doctrine, the “perseverance of the saints.”

That label is deceptive and has been misunderstood in two ways. It is not about a certain stick-to-itiveness that Christians obtain that allows them to work through all the obstacles to the faith that meet them on life’s way. Nor is it, second, the old canard “once saved, always saved,” as though since God had us on the “saved” list whenever predestination took place within the eternal council, we could be sure that, no matter what, we’re on the way to heaven.

In fact, this point of doctrine is better labeled the “perseverance of God.” The fifth point continues Dort’s meditation on the nature of God—God as the one whose love reaches back (or up or out) into eternity.

In this section, Dort frees us to be honest. Faith is not a straight line, a sort of resource that enables us to overcome the horrors that confront us and that shake our confidence that God triumphs. There often come times when we simply lose hope, when what confronts us overtaxes our resources. And there are times when we stumble over our own feet, when we actively turn away from God, fall prey to temptation, and are certain that we have made ourselves unworthy of God’s love.

The God who is love persists in love (the Old Testament calls this “steadfast love,” chesed). And God’s Spirit does not leave us but wrestles with us and for us.

Where? How? Look around. The Spirit works in countless ways: through the word of a friend, the love of a partner, events in contemporary history, and so on.

But the Spirit also works, even primarily, through the church where the word comes from Scripture or the pulpit, the sacraments sustain, and more, the community of faith prays with us and for us, walks beside us, and believes during the hours when we cannot. And so we, together, persevere because God perseveres.

Prayer

Loving God, thank you for hanging onto me, for sustaining my faith when doubt sweeps over me, when I rebel, or when my energy for seeking you is sapped. Your love is steadfast.
Amen.

At 400 years old, the Canons of Dort might seem like ancient history. Thankfully, they’re anything but.

Written in the midst of a conflict that threatened to tear the Netherlands apart, they insisted that salvation was pure grace. That’s a truth we still need to hear.

To celebrate their birthday, we’re offering devotional riffs on each of the main points of the canons:

About the author

Allan Janssen

Allan Janssen served as pastor of churches in the Hudson Valley of New York and Bergen County, New Jersey, for forty years and taught at New Brunswick Theological Seminary for twenty years. He is a General Synod Professor emeritus. He lives in Glenmont, New York, with his wife, Colleen.