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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Of the Ones That Got Away and of the Perseverance of the Saints

OF TROUT: It dawned on me today that some of my most memorable trout are the ones that got away. Specifically, three fish hooked on three different streams come to mind. The first may well be the most memorable of all.

It all began back in the 1950s when I was a toddler and my dad, unbeknownst to me, had taken a fly tying course at the local YMCA from George Harvey, the premiere Penn State fly fishing authority. But Dad quickly thereafter abandoned the craft for other kinds of fishing. For some reason, however, he kept his fly tying vice and thread and hooks, mostly unused, and a copy of Harvey's A Simplified Course in Fly Tying, stashed away in an old black suitcase. Years later as a child I discovered that case and would from time to time pull it out and ponder someday taking up fly tying and fly fishing. And I can still remember at about the age of ten the absolute excitement of picking out and buying with my own money my first fly rod, a seven-foot Eagle Claw, at the old Ace Auto store in downtown Washington, PA.

Well, finally that day came when I tackled my first clumsy attempts at tying a fly--a cork bass popper. At least it stuck to the hook and with a little green paint and deer hair legs it kind of looked like a frog. I can't recall ever catching anything on it, but I was hooked.

Number 1: The first memorable trout that got away came some years later on a tiny cork bug that I had duplicated on Dad's vice from an issue of Outdoor Life. Perhaps it wasn't fly tying in the classic sense with feathers and all, but it was fairly simple and the pictures of the fellow having a field day on the trout of Pennsylvania was good enough for me. I tied up a handful and waited eagerly for the day when I could actually try them out. I shall never forget the day that Dad took me to Dunbar Creek, and standing on the shore and flipping that cork bug into the middle of a deep still pool, and having the most extraordinary sensation of watching that trout, well over a foot long, come out of nowhere to rise and suck in that bug. And then to feverishly raise my rod tip and know it was hooked--the fight was on. After several minutes I had worked the trout to the edge of the stream, ready to lift him out, and swoosh....he was gone.

Number 2: Fishing for the first time in Colorado on a family vacation, wading in the Arkansas River upstream from Salida. My son-in-law for several days had been having a terrific time with his spinning rod catching and releasing brown trout of immense proportions, in my humble estimation. Did I tell you that I have never really been a very good fisherman? Well, let's just say I had not caught a one in the Arkansas. This was fly fishing a major trout river, a first for me, and I was obviously having trouble picking the right fly and fishing it in the right way. I was at least a little disappointed. I decided to tie on a Mickey Finn, a brightly colored streamer, casted it upstream and drifted it down in the edge of a deep current. And bam, a take! After several breathless minutes of the fight I finally saw this enormous brown trout ripping through the water with my fly in its mouth. Upstream, downstream, upstream! Around my feet, then gone again. Time and again I sought to get the net in just the right position. So close, then, with a final tug, the line went limp and the trout disappeared into the deep.

Number 3: Again fishing with my son-in-law--this time we were fishing in southwest North Carolina on Big Snowbird Creek, a nice size stream, but the water was running high and murky from recent rains. Neither of us were having much success, but I was glued to a particular deep hole that had several pockets, runs, submerged logs and boulders. Surely there had to be a trout lurking somewhere. Cast after cast--nothing, not even the slightest strike. I had to have been there nearly a couple of hours but who is counting time when you're fishing. This angle and that--nothing.

Finally, I cast across the current to the far bank where the exposed roots of a tree jutted out into a swirl that paused only a second or two before swept away in a rush. The current would pull the line away quickly, so it was only possible to drop the fly in the swirl in the hopes of enticing a trout that might have been taking refuge under the bank under the roots. It worked. The Black-nosed Dace hit the water, sunk a few inches, and swoosh--out rushed the trout, grabbed the fly, and immediately sought to retreat to his lair. Somehow I was able to bring him out into the current where the combination of the force of the water and the strength of a nice-sized fish again made the landing difficult. It went on for several minutes. But once again, alas, he was gone and so was the flex of the fly rod. It was over. I could only lean back against a larger boulder and sigh. Unbeknownst to me my son-in-law from behind had witnessed most of the ordeal.

The ones that got away. Did I really catch them? Well, yes and no. In the end, they got away. So near and yet so far....Well, enough about trout. What about men?

OF MEN: An inquirer recently asked: Does the OPC believe that one can lose his salvation once he has accepted Christ as his savior?

My answer follows:

Your question relates to the doctrine of "the perseverance of the saints." The OPC believes in the perseverance of the saints, which teaches that true saving faith perseveres unto eternal life. A person who has received eternal life does not lose it. In this regard, the OPC accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith (http://opc.org/wcf.html) as a faithful summary of what the Scripture teach on this important doctrine. Indeed an entire chapter is devoted to this very matter as follows:


Of the Perseverance of the Saints

1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God's displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

In scriptural terms, we can think of the prayer that Jesus says He prayed for Peter, when Satan sought to ‘sift him like wheat’ (Luke 22:31). Jesus says, however, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Jesus obviously knows that Peter’s faith will not fail, for He knows that Peter shall turn again, even after his sorrowful three-fold denial, to prove himself as a faithful apostle. Yes, true Christians sometimes stumble, even fall into grievous sins; but they shall not finally and eternally fall away.

True faith, saving faith, is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). The Westminster Shorter Catechism (http://opc.org/sc.html) says, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Answer to Question 86). He who believes in Christ has eternal life (John 6:47). Jesus will lose none of those whom the Father has given to Him (compare John 6:37 with John 6:39). No one can snatch the true sheep of the Good Shepherd out of His hand (John 10:28). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish” (John 10:27-28). True believers “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:5).

Still, we must recognize that not all who profess faith necessarily have true saving faith. The true, God-given faith perseveres to the end. But in the gospel of John, we read of folks who ‘believed’ in Christ, who eventually turned away from Him. That is, they believed He was a good teacher. They believed He could do miracles. They even believed to the extent that they wanted to make Him their earthly king John 6:15). But we read of some of those very followers of Christ (‘disciples’) who “withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). They withdrew because they could not accept Jesus as the ‘true food’…‘the bread that came down out of heaven’ (John 6:53-58). Amazingly, this was just a short time after they had witnessed the feeding of the 5000 that they stopped following Him. And it is in that same context that Jesus speaks to the twelve, saying that He had chosen them, yet He knew that one of them was a devil (John 6:70).

Jesus knew whom He had chosen; He knew one would betray Him. We do not know God’s secret decrees, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” (John 6:64). We cannot look into men’s hearts as Jesus the Son of God could. So it is that wolves sometimes disguise themselves as sheep and make their way into the church. Members are received into the church on their testimony and the credibility of their walk in keeping with those words. Elders should exercise great care in receiving members, but even so, they cannot be infallibly sure that true saving faith is at work in a person’s heart. Sometimes, those who seem to have faith, fall away and are lost, proving that their ‘faith’ was not real saving faith after all and that they were never really saved.

This is a most sobering and humbling truth. May God’s grace comfort and encourage you according to that true faith that looks to Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin and Satan and death.

To God be the glory,

In Christ,

R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Sewickley, PA


  1. This was beautifully written, enjoyed the read and uplifting message!! Thank you

  2. The stream photos were taken by my son-in-law on the Big Snowbird Creek (July 2006).