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STUDIES ON STRONG DOCTRINE
THE PRESERVATION AND
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
By the title given to this present chapter it is manifest that the subject now before us is of a dual nature, and it is precisely because men have not recognized this that they have often introduced a one-sidedness to this grand and glorious doctrine. The Lord’s preservation of the saints and the saints’ perseverance in holiness are twin sister doctrines, neither of which can be ignored without upsetting the balance of truth. The preservation of the saints in grace is bound up with God’s eternal purpose, and part of the purpose of God is to give enabling grace to the saint so that he will persevere in holiness.
This doctrine, like the Lord’s people whom it concerns, is everywhere spoken against (Acts 28:22), and it is the subject of all sorts of evil charges and misrepresentations, which will be noticed in the course of this study. However, basically the acceptance or rejection of this doctrine turns upon one’s outlook on salvation. That is, does one recognize that "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9), in its commencement, its continuance and its consummation, or is the glory for one’s salvation given in part or in whole to man himself? It must be honestly conceded that there are some that deny this doctrine who are genuinely saved, but who have been wrongly taught, or else have never thoughtfully considered all the implications of their denial of God’s preservation of His people. Many ignorantly hold the contrary because they have never been taught the truth, and, thinking wholly in worldly terms, have accepted what seems logical to their fleshly minds because it is flattering to their carnal pride. Granted, it flatters the ego to think that a person is partially his own savior, but this is wholly contrary to all Scripture teaching on the subject. Arminianism has long played up to this natural pride, for this is its chief ally in its denial or debilitation of the sovereignty of God’s grace. This doctrine is not an isolated doctrine, totally unconnected with all other doctrines. On the contrary, it is, like all doctrines of Scripture, intimately related to all other doctrines, so that the denial of this truth necessarily involves the denial, or at least the disarrangement, of other cardinal doctrines. This has been recognized by many of the Baptists of the past, as the following quotations show.
To these other such testimonies could be added, but this will suffice to show that the great Baptist Theologians of the past have generally recognized the connection of this doctrine with other doctrines, especially with those that are called "the doctrines of grace." This is not to say that there are no deniers of, nor detractors from, this doctrine in Baptist ranks. On the contrary, there are many that claim to be Baptists that deny this precious doctrine, but their outlook on this truth is only a symptom of a greater and more serious doctrinal error. This writer has known several people that were dead set against this doctrine, but who later came to realize that they were not really saved for they were trusting in their own doings, and who, when once genuinely saved, had no more problem believing in this doctrine. Self-trust is a major element in the belief system of those that deny the saints’ security.
The Baptists that deny this doctrine are generally known as "General," "Freewill" or "Arminian" Baptists although the last term is not liked by them, and so is not generally used by them. However, the system of doctrine held by them is historically, and almost universally Arminian, and so the term is appropriate. Our study on this doctrine is a study of Bible teaching on the subject, and so, it is for the most part irrelevant what men may believe on the subject. Our responsibility is to be found in harmony with the Word of God, for this is our criterion for faith, and it is the Word that shall judge us in the latter day, not the opinions of men. But before we can get to the Biblical teaching on this subject, we must first sweep away the mountains of error that have accumulated around this doctrine. I. CONSIDER THE MISCONCEPTIONS OF THIS DOCTRINE. Many and varied are the misconceptions about this doctrine, and the hardest thing to do is to find a place to start in refuting these, for when this doctrine is correctly understood, most of these misconceptions disappear. It is the person who is ignorant of the true meaning of this doctrine that makes most of the slanderous accusations against it, and so, most of these misconceptions will be swept away when we come to consider the Biblical teaching on the subject. For this reason, we will content ourselves to deal somewhat briefly with these for the moment. The first misconception may be variously stated as follows. "This doctrine leads to licentiousness." "It teaches that you can sin all you want, yet still never be lost." "It holds that holy living is indifferent to the matter." Little wonder that so many people gasp in horror at this doctrine, when they think that it holds to such devilish beliefs as these. But none of these are any part of the doctrine of the preservation and perseverance of the saints. W. T. Connor has well remarked of this doctrine that—
This doctrine has to do with "saints," which means sanctified or holy ones, and if it led to licentious living, they would immediately cease to be holy ones. The true doctrine does not lead to licentious or careless living; it is only a perverted form of this doctrine that would do so. Neither does it teach any person that he can sin all he wants yet never be lost, or that holy living is indifferent to the matter. The moment anyone forsakes holy living and plunges into unrestrained sin, he destroys all proof that he has received the saving grace of God, and so, there are no promises of eternal security that apply to him. Let us remember that, according to Titus 2:11-14, the same grace that saves, also sanctifies—makes holy—and if one is not living a holy lifestyle, he has serious reason to doubt that he has received saving grace. Nor can these two forms of grace be separated one from another. They are an indivisible unit.
The truth is, that every true saint not only sins all that he wants, but he sins much more than he wants, for he has the principle of grace in him, and that moves him to love his Lord. Therefore the more he grows in grace, the more holy he will become, and the more he will mourn over his sins, and so far from making his assured preservation an excuse to sin more and more, he will be ashamed that he sins as much as he does. Nor does this imply sinless perfection in the saint. This leads us to consider a second misconception, namely, that the saint has the same nature after salvation that he had before, and that his desires and ambitions, thoughts and attitudes and his outlook and walk will be the same afterward that they were before. This is to overlook the fact that man is changed when he is born again, and he therefore has two natures, a carnal and a spiritual, which will henceforth be at war with one another. Two texts only are needed to establish this. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). "For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:17). The new man of the heart "wills" (so the Greek rendered "would" means) to please God, but because the old man of the flesh has not been changed one whit, it will be in constant antagonism to the will of God. Paul was inspired to cite his own experience of this internal warfare in Romans 7:14-25, where he uses the Greek word for "will" seven times, most of them showing the fleshly will’s rebellion against the will of God. See especially verse 18, and contrast verse 22.
Any saint is susceptible of, and certainly will, fall into sin from time to time. This is because he still has a fleshly nature that is unrenewed and will continue to be until the resurrection, and which will therefore love to continue in sin. But it is just as certain that his renewed nature will hate that sin, and will desire to turn from it in revulsion if it has the spiritual strength to do so. Hatred of sin is as much a part of the new nature, as love of sin is of the old nature. It is in the nature of the hog to love the mud wallow, and he will constantly return to it. On the other hand, a sheep’s nature is to hate a mud wallow, and while it may occasionally fall into mud, his natural dislike of it will move it to get out as soon as possible. Doubtless this is the very reason why the Scripture uses these two terms for the unsaved and the saved respectively. Man reacts according to his prevailing nature, and so far from a constant love of sin proving that the saint can be lost, it only proves that many that claim to be saints are not so in reality, but are only deceived souls.
Here, then, is a third misconception. Too many jump to the erroneous conclusion that just because a man professes to be saved he truly is; and so when that man later manifests his real character by returning to sin, they think that he has apostatized and become lost again. Peter speaks of such people as follows: "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. 2:22). John likewise says: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:19). There are many Judas Iscariots that are numbered with genuine saints for a time, but then show their true colors in due time by forsaking the way of holiness. Apostasy is no fruit of salvation, and any professed saint who permanently turns back from Christ only proves that he was never truly saved. The writer to the Hebrews declares this, for after speaking of such, he says, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak," Heb. 6:9. And again, on the same subject, he says, "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:38-39). Note here: (1) There are certain things that accompany salvation, and soul apostasy is not one of them. (2) The faith of the justified man is not a momentary, transient thing, but is a continuing, living thing. (3) God has no pleasure in the apostate. (4) But neither the writer nor those addressed were of the sort that draw back unto perdition. (5) On the contrary, they are characterized by a faith that extends to the final saving of the soul. The faith of God’s elect does not stop short of that goal. God does not just parole people until their first serious slip, but He pardons them, which is a permanent, irreversible thing. This misconception rests entirely upon supposition—supposition that a man was once saved, when his subsequent life proves unequivocally that he was not. It is strange how often man opposes his own suppositions against God’s clear declarations. Not only does he suppose men to be saved when Scripture declares them not to be, but he opposes many hypothetical suppositions that he thinks may overthrow the doctrine. But all the suppositions and hypothetical situations in the world cannot have any bearing upon even one of God’s declaration, for "a supposition puts nothing in being, proves nothing, is no instance of matter of fact." —John Gill, Body of Divinity, p. 569. Turner Lassetter, Atlanta, 1950. A fourth misconception is based upon a misunderstanding about sin in the saint. It is erroneously assumed that this doctrine teaches that one may and must reach sinless perfection in this life, and that such a person will never be tempted, or if he is, that he will never fall into sin. But every true saint’s experience is a contradiction of this idea, for we are all conscious (unless Satan has blinded us to our own sins) that we each one sin daily, and are more often tempted, but may not succumb to the temptation. This is because we have two natures, and the old nature of the flesh is the sinful one, which constantly desires to sin, and often does if not controlled by the spiritual nature. Because we are still joined to the flesh, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (Eph. 4:22), there will be constant temptations and often the flesh will sin, so that sinless perfection will be impossible so long as the born again spirit is joined to the unrenewed body. But this in no way contradicts this doctrine, for this doctrine teaches that it is man’s spiritual nature that is now saved, and which cannot sin, and so, cannot be lost again. The ungodly actions of the flesh cannot besmirch the saved soul, but it can hurt his testimony before the world, and, if the saved person will not control his fleshly lusts, there can result the chastisement of the Lord, even to the point of taking away his physical life. This is God’s way of stopping runaway sin in the saint by cutting off the instrument of sin. When sin is of such a serious nature as to require death, it is "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). This is God’s answer to uncontrolled sin in the saint: He will separate him from the instrument of sin to keep the spirit from being lost. Thereby God will prevent apostasy from becoming final. A fifth misconception is that the ability and responsibility of staying saved lie entirely with the individual himself, and that he must complete by his own works that which God began in regeneration. This is very flattering to the carnal pride and vanity of man, but it is not scriptural. "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). God’s working in His people never ceases until the Saviour’s return, when they are finally beyond danger and there is no further need of His preserving works. But worse still, the denial of God’s all-sufficiency for the final salvation of the saint actually tends to produce that which is under God’s curse—a trust in the sufficiency of man. "Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord" (Jer. 17:5). John L. Dagg well says:
The Scriptures are very express, both in the denial of man’s ability to contribute anything toward his final salvation, and in the Lord’s all-sufficiency to save man. "[We] rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Rom. 7:18). "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). From this last verse the following facts must be noted: (1) The ability is solely the Lord’s. (2) It is an ability to save totally, completely, to the uttermost. (3) The human requirement is that they "come unto God by him," and not by human ways, works or will. (4) The Lord’s means of accomplishing this total salvation is by Jesus ever living "to make intercession for them." Any kind or degree of trust in the flesh to continue or to complete salvation is a form of idolatry, and is under the curse of God. All through Scripture God is set forth as the only object of man’s trust for any spiritual need. This misconception is often based upon another. The sixth misconception is generally expressed in the question, "But what happens when the believer’s faith fails? Is he not kept secure only so long as he continues to have faith?" It is true that faith is a necessary thing to be pleasing in God’s sight (Heb. 11:6), but many look upon faith as a momentary thing in the Christian, whereas it is a living thing, continually fed by the grace of God so that it can never fail completely. However, the life of faith lies not in man, but in Christ’s intercession for His people. J. M. Pendleton observes:
That this intercession of Christ was not restricted to Peter or to the apostles, but is actually made for all saints, is evident from John 17:20: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." Every believer since the twelve apostles falls into this category, for every one of us has come to believe in Christ through the word of former believers in a chain of witnesses that flows all the way back to the apostles. The faith of the true saint cannot utterly fail so that he will be lost for the simple reason that the Lord Jesus Christ prays for His people that their faith fail not, and so they are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (1 Pet. 1:5). And though this is accomplished "through faith," yet we are expressly told in many places that faith itself is God’s gift (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 1:29; Heb. 12:2, et al). Thus, even the means that God employs to keep believers from apostatizing are His gifts to them. That the required faith is a "faith unto salvation" suggests that one’s initial trust in the Lord to save puts one into a state of salvation that is hedged about on every side by the omnipotent power of God. Thus the saved cannot get out of that state of salvation until something more powerful than God comes on the scene to overcome God’s power. A seventh supposition is based upon the warnings to the saved to persevere in holiness. Some say that inasmuch as the Scriptures warn of the possibility of falling away, therefore it must be certain that some will fall away and be lost, but this does not follow. The warnings and the hypothetical cases are the very means employed to keep the true believer from presuming that God’s preservation make it unnecessary for him to persevere in holiness.
It is also to be noted that most of the warnings are couched in hypothetical terms: "If any man abide not in me" (John 15:6). "If they shall fall away" (Heb. 6:6). "For if we sin wilfully" (Heb. 10:26). "For if after they have escaped" (2 Pet. 2:22). But concerning these subjunctives, which indicate a hypothetical case, G. S. Bishop has well said:
It is an interesting fact to be noted, that those who deny the eternal security of the true saint of God have never been able to produce a single clear instance of any true believer ever being lost eternally. Nor have they ever been able to prove that any who had been declared to be finally lost were ever genuinely saved. Thus, they are forced to grasp at figures of speech, suppositions given by way of warning, misinterpretations, etc., when the real problem lies in their unwillingness for salvation to be of the Lord that the glory might all be His. There is no glory for man in a doctrine that is based wholly in the grace of God. When men get their theology straightened out as to Who is the Saviour, they will have no trouble with the doctrine as to Who keeps men saved. An eighth misconception is based upon one’s feelings. That is, a person who has once had the full assurance of salvation, gets into a depressed state, and he assumes that he is now lost because "I don’t feel saved." We live in an age in which emotions are made the all-important things, and consequently many people are deceived because they are led by their feelings instead of by the truth of God’s Word. This fallacy also works the other way as well, for some who are obviously lost people because they are trusting other things than Christ for their salvation, will argue, "But I feel that I am alright!" Be not deceived in this! Most of our feelings come from our fleshly nature and for this reason are wholly undependable, being under the domination of Satan. Emotions have their place in Christianity, but they are not the criterion for the truth, and so feelings can be deceiving. A. J. Gordon has the following to say:
Therefore, it does not matter how one "feels;" that will not prove him to be either saved or unsaved. What is important is whether he has trusted Christ for salvation. Yet even faith is not the first thing in this matter, for there must first be Gospel facts before one can believe and be saved. Thus the proper order is: (1) Facts—the good news of an accomplished salvation. (2) Faith—a reliance upon Christ’s finished work for our salvation. (3) Feelings—peace and joy from the assurance that our soul’s destiny rests wholly in the Lord’s keeping. There is but one safe criterion for judging this doctrine, and that is what the Scriptures say. Feelings are too variable and too subject to the influence of personal temperament and daily problems to be trusted.
All of these misconceptions are based upon erroneous views of this doctrine, or upon misinterpretations of Scripture, and this is true of other, less common and less applicable objections to this doctrine. When men get a proper understanding of what this doctrine really is, and get the correct interpretation of Scriptures associated with it, then almost all objections and misconceptions about it will disappear, and those that remain will be prompted by prejudice and self-trust more than by anything else. J. F. Strombeck notices the most common errors in attacking this doctrine.
II. CONSIDER THE MEANING OF THIS DOCTRINE. The very basic foundation of this doctrine, which shapes its meaning, is that God alone saves man, and in doing this, He saves man completely—from all sins, past, present and future, and for all time and for eternity. The whole range of misconceptions about the doctrine of the eternal security of the saint is based upon the idea that God and man cooperate in salvation. That man consequently contributes something toward his salvation, so that, if somewhere along the line after he is saved, he ceases to contribute his part, he must of necessity revert to a lost condition. Thus, there is always an element of self-trust in the denial of this doctrine. But Scripture represents man as totally incapable of doing any acceptable spiritual work for his salvation. "I will declare thy righteousness and thy works; for they shall not profit thee" (Isa. 57:12). "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:4-5). By contrast Titus 3:8 declares, "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men." Works done before one has believed unto salvation are unprofitable, but works done after salvation are profitable. But not profitable to salvation, for they contribute nothing to one’s salvation, which he already has from the moment of a saving faith, but they are profitable for rewards, the "necessary uses" of Titus 3:14. Faith always marks the point in time when one is saved—not where he starts to be saved, or when he begins to strive for salvation—and faith itself is not a human virtue or ability, for "all men have not faith" (2 Thess. 3:2), but is the gracious gift of God to His elect (Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1). For a fuller discussion, see Chapter Nine, on "Faith." Christ alone gives life, and He gives it to all whom the Father has given to Him in the Covenant of Redemption. "As thou has given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:2-3). Here is a definite limitation on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and it is also to be noted that He gives eternal life, He doesn’t just offer it. This is the meaning that many want to put on texts that speak of Him giving eternal life, but that is a perversion of the truth. Salvation is of the Lord—it is wholly of the Lord, and so, any supposed deterioration or failure of salvation must be the Lord’s fault, but who will be so bold and blasphemous as to charge the Lord with this? But also involved in the meaning of this doctrine is that God saves men completely and eternally. In many places salvation is spoken of as God giving men eternal or everlasting life. How can that end which is eternal or everlasting? Some challenge this as meaning nothing more than "age lasting life," but Scripture knows of but two ages in this context—the present age, which is limited, and the age to come which is endless (Matthew 12:32; Eph. 1:21), in both of which "world" is literally "age." In Luke 18:30 the age to come is contrasted with "this present time." The present "age" or time is of limited duration, but the "age to come," which is frequently called in the original language "the age of ages," is nowhere limited in any way, but in many places can be properly understood only of timelessness, unlimited duration, eternity. Blessedly, it is the term used to describe man’s salvation, but how could man’s salvation be so described if there is the constant possibility of it being lost or terminated? It would certainly be a very short eternity or age if this could be so. The extent of salvation defines the meaning of this doctrine, for salvation is: (1) From all sin. Note the word "all" as descriptive of different aspects of sin in the following texts. "And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses [by good works]" (Acts 13:39). "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2:13). "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin... If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7,9). To the same effect is Acts 10:43, though the word "all" is not used of sin. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." Since there is no limitation on "sins," it is obvious that all sins are comprehended. This is proven by Hebrews 9:22. "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission." This being the case, then if any of a man’s sins are not purged by the blood of Christ he is eternally stuck with them, for there is no other provision made for the taking away (remission) of them. Those that hold to a universal atonement—i.e., that by His death Christ took away all sins except that of unbelief—would do well to ponder this dilemma. If His death took away "all sins of all men" without exception, then all without exception will ultimately be saved; but if He took away all sins from all men without exception except that of unbelief, then what provision is made for the taking away of that? Must Jesus die a second time to purge that? Or must man’s works atone for that one sin? If so, then man is his own savior, and Jesus has done no more for those that are eternally saved than for those that are eternally lost. See further Chapter Six, Section One, on the "Atonement." (2) Salvation is from all circumstances. The same God Who saves men is also the One Who controls all circumstances, so that there is nothing that can separate the saved person from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). There is no circumstance that can intervene so as to overcome the soul that has trusted in Jesus, for He ever continues as our High Priest. "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified"( Heb. 10:14). "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him" (Col. 2:9-10). It is both presumption and blasphemy for any man to think that he can add to the Divine perfection and completeness of the plan of salvation by his own corrupt works of self-righteousness. (3) Salvation is for all time. In many places, God promises eternal or everlasting life to believers, and the Greek word used for these terms is the strongest time word known to the Greek language. The great tragedy is that men simply will not accept God at His Word. They choose rather to argue and debate the meaning, when the real problem lies in their unwillingness to accept what God says. Both physical and spiritual life are promised to the believer: "And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). "And I give unto them eternal life; and they never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). This last verse is the strongest statement in the Bible on this subject, and it presents a many-fold security. The spiritual life of the Lord’s people is a free gift. It is not conditioned upon anything that man does. And as if this were not enough, the Lord declares that they shall never perish—in the Greek text a double negative is used for emphasis. They "shall never, ever perish," which is incorrect in English, but perfectly proper in Greek. Not only is there a double negative here, but the Greek text has the added phrase "unto eternity." To this is added the statement that no one can pluck there out of the hand of the Saviour. And in the verse following, the strength of the Father’s hand is added to that of Christ. Then verse 30 shows the unity of purpose between the Father and the Son to save the elect. It takes some devilish boldness to teach that a saved soul can be lost in the light of these verses. If salvation is not eternal, it is not salvation at all, but is simply a momentary stay of execution, a mere reprieve. But the Bible knows nothing of such a mockery of salvation. These verses bring us to consider another aspect of this doctrine, which shapes the meaning of it, namely, that the power of God alone explains why the believer does not fall from his exalted position and relationship. Viewed solely from the human side, there is not only the possibility, there is the absolute certainty that one would fall from salvation if anything of man was required. But this is a one-sided view that does not take in the whole of the doctrine. Viewed from the Divine side, there is no possibility of the saint ever losing his salvation, for God Himself sustains him. J. P. Boyce well remarks on Hebrews 6:4-6 that—
The following texts show that the saint’s preservation rests in the Lord, and not in himself. "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). "For the which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). "To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:4-5). "...to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called," Jude 1. "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour" (Jude 24-25). To these could be added many more which are equally clear and incontrovertible, but these will suffice to convince any that are willing to take at face value the Bible teaching on this subject. Yet even the power of God must not be considered as a merely mechanical force that retains the saint in a state of grace. To hold such a view is to miss another important side to this doctrine. God’s power does indeed maintain the saint in a state of grace, but He does this through the use of means, by the causing of the saint to be a saint in deed, and not just in profession. Holy living is the only proof that any person has that he has been truly born again, as the Saviour Himself showed. "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). This is the acid test of a man’s profession.
Thus, we must expect what the Scriptures everywhere teach will be the course of life for the real saint—a constant struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. There will indeed be problems, persecution and a constant warfare, both within ourselves and with the outside world, and the true saint will persevere in the warfare until it is finished and the victors are crowned. There will be skirmishes that are lost, but the final victory is already determined upon by the Lord. Yea, indeed, it has been accomplished already. The empty tomb is proof of that. This is why we must not make too much of our own little personal skirmishes in the great spiritual warfare. They have nothing to do with the final outcome, but only serve to train and to discipline us in the Christian warfare, and to teach us how little we can trust in ourselves. At the same time they teach us to persevere with all that is within us, yet also to repose no confidence in the flesh, but to trust all to the Lord’s workings. Persevere we must, but our perseverance is not the cause of our preservation. It is only a proof that we are of the character of those whom the Lord has determined to preserve.
But there is also more involved in this doctrine than God’s power put forth, and the saint’s perseverance in grace. One of the basic principles involved in salvation is that the believer is saved because of the relationship he sustains to God, not because of any human works. Here is where so much of the religious world goes astray: it assumes that life can come about because of good works, but this is never true under any circumstances. Life can only come from antecedent life, which is no doubt one of the reasons why salvation is referred to as a birth. But as no person can be unborn, so salvation can never be reversed. It is true that in the realm of mortal life, death ensues in the natural course of events, but this is not the natural course of events in the spiritual realm, for salvation is spoken of as everlasting life. Thus, there are two and only two possibilities if a professing Christian is lost: either he never had the life that is everlasting, or else he has it and so cannot lose it, for it is everlasting. Any other position involves a contradiction of either the word "have" or the word "everlasting." If men become partakers of the Divine nature in the new birth, as 2 Peter 1:4 declares that they do, then it naturally follows that there is a relationship between them and God, and this relationship enters into this doctrine. Can God die? If not, then how can we conceive of any part of the Divine nature dying, so that the partaker of it is lost? The truly born again person cannot die spiritually, for it follows that the relationship that we sustain to God through the new birth guarantees the continuance of the life of God in our souls. Some would perhaps object that we are not natural sons of God, but are only adopted sons of God. This is not so, and is based upon a misunderstanding of the doctrine of adoption. See Chapter Twelve for the Scriptural teaching on Adoption. It is true that Jesus Christ alone is by His original nature the Son of God. But the believer, by being born again, is made a partaker of the Divine nature by grace, and sustains the relation of a son to the eternal God, and so must ever continue in this relationship.
Many reject this doctrine because of what they suppose will be the adverse consequences of holding it, chiefest of which are that it either leads to licentious living, or else that it promotes pride and presumption while hindering the exercise of the grace of God. Because of this, it will now be necessary to consider— III. THE MOTIVATION OF THE DOCTRINE. By this we mean that we intend to consider this doctrine from the following standpoints. First, the world’s attitude toward this doctrine. Second, why God has wrought such a program of salvation. And finally, what this doctrine, when properly understood, accomplishes in the life of the true child of God. From the standpoint of the world, this doctrine generally motivates the unsaved to a scorn of it, for the natural man is self-righteous and self-sufficient until grace teaches him otherwise. And so, in accordance with his natural trust in human works and effort, he ridicules all that is not in accordance with his works for salvation system. Thus the doctrine manifests man’s true nature by drawing out his innate corruption and rebellion. God’s Law makes sin to become exceeding sinful (Rom. 7:13). Natural man is like the waters of a muddy river, which, when it is calm and undisturbed, as in a glass, all the mud settles to the bottom out of sight, and the water may appear moderately clean. But let them be roiled up and its awful muddiness is fully manifest. The roiling up did not make the waters to be muddy; it only manifested it.
Any doctrine which reveals the awful depravity of man, and his inability to save himself and keep himself saved, stirs up the enmity of the natural man, because it removes all ground for him to trust in his supposed natural goodness, and hurts his enormous pride in himself. Nothing is more hateful to the natural man than the grace of God, for it leaves him absolutely nothing in which to glory in himself. Hence the statements of Romans 3:27; 1 Corinthians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8-9. The drive for self-esteem daily takes great multitudes to perdition, for it prevents them from humbling themselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:5-7), that they might receive grace’s eternal goodness. It is the mistaken idea of many people that God never wants to disturb man in any way for fear that man will turn his back on God and rebel against Him, and so, God will fail in His attempt to save man. But one has only to read the accounts of Jesus’ preaching and teaching to see that He often deliberately antagonized the self-righteous and self-sufficient that their true character might be revealed, and that they might be driven from their pretended discipleship to Him. Our Lord Himself said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). And His practice of driving away the self-righteous and self-sufficient by His doctrine is recorded in John 6:65-66. "And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." The emphasized words are literally "out of this," and refers to the circumstances or teaching. Jesus declared that no one could contribute to his own salvation, but that each one was dependent wholly upon God’s grace, which shows that then as now the teaching of the Lord’s sovereignty in grace drives away the proud and self-sufficient. We must not, therefore, be surprised if in our own day, the teaching of the Lord’s sovereignty in the commencement, continuance and consummation of salvation is offensive to many of the hearers, and thins their ranks greatly. This is often its intended purpose, for the Lord is not interested in numbers for numbers’ sake. He often drives away the individual that would take the crown of glory from the Lord’s head and place it upon his own head by claiming to have a part in saving himself, or keeping himself saved. This brings us to consider a second motivation for this doctrine. God makes such a glorious promise that He shall keep the saint secure so that the glory for salvation in all three tenses may be His. It is in the context of salvation that Isaiah 42:8 is spoken. "I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images (which includes man himself" (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 11:7). The glory for both the Lord’s power and His wisdom is at stake in this matter, for He has pledged Himself to save His people, not just to hold them in temporary safety, only to later let them fall away and be lost eternally.
Thus, when the believer contemplates the glorious position that he occupies as a child of God—that he is preserved from falling by the enabling grace of God—so far from it making him proud or careless or self-sufficient, he is driven to his knees in humble gratitude for the assurance that "he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). Any person who would abuse such grace, and make it an occasion to unrestrained sinning, shows himself not only to not be a saint, but to actually be a devil incarnate. To such a person the Scriptures promise perdition, not preservation. Our Lord has not only promised to preserve true saints that He might be glorified for His love, wisdom and power, but also because this is the only way in which man can be assuredly saved eternally. Considered from the human standpoint, there is not only the possibility of the saint falling away, there is the absolute certainty of it unless God puts forth His sustaining power. Thus, this doctrine motivates the saint to daily trust in the Lord, and to have no confidence in the flesh in any form or degree (Phil. 3:3). God indeed preserves the saint, but He does so through the use of means—by keeping his faith in active exercise. Alvah Hovey says:
This doctrine motivates true saints to live holy, for the simple reason that holiness is the proof of salvation. It is the fruit of the new birth, and the man that does not live a holy life is not lost because of an unholy life, but rather he lives an unholy life because he has never had a new nature imparted to him that would enable him to live holy. It is a great mistake to think that men are saved by living holy lives; holy lives only prove that one has been saved by God in His grace and mercy. Sadly, too often evidences are mistaken for the cause.
Properly understood, this doctrine moves every partaker of it to unceasing gratitude, for it shows us that though we are unworthy, yet we have been made a partaker of God’s saving grace. And that though we have all the elements of failure and final apostasy in us by nature, yet our gracious Lord puts forth His enabling grace to sustain our faith and holiness so that we shall persevere in right ways to the end of life.
It will take eternity itself for God to reveal to us all that He has accomplished by His grace in us. "That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). CONCLUSION: Saints persevere because God preserves them, and not the opposite, as some would try to make it appear, which is nothing less than man’s attempt to steal the glory for his salvation from God, and take it unto himself. Wherein is the difference in the two views? The former view glorifies God as the source of final salvation, and so the One to Whom all glory is due, while the latter view glorifies man’s ability, and so he takes unto himself the praise that belongs alone to God.
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