THE PERSEVERANCE AND PRESERVATION OF THE SAVED
Some have erred in presenting the preservation (safety, security) of the saved as if it were independent of perseverance. Such a presentation tends toward antinomianism. It also tends to represent salvation as physical or mechanical, rather moral and spiritual accomplishment. It furnishes the Arminian with ammunition. It teaches only a half truth. It is not calculated to make saints as considerate as they ought to be walk. Inspired writers avoided this extreme and its dire results by combining both the human and divine phases of salvation. They taught that salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end. But they also taught that God saves men, not by mechanical law, nor irrespective of their response to Him; but in full harmony with their nature as voluntary creatures, by requiring them to obey His will and working in them in such a way as to move their will and elicit their cooperation with Him as He fits them for His presence. Thus He is glorified in them in both time and eternity. Thereby grace is prevented from being a cloak of lasciviousness.
The framers of the New Hampshire Declaration of faith were wise and happy indeed in their statement on this matter, which is as follows: "We believe that such only are real believers as endure to the end; that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark that distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special Providence watches over their welfare; and that they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
The statement of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith is also eminently worthy of note: "Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, and given the precious faith of His elect, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace . . .but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved . . ."
Note that both of these statements emphasize perseverance as well as preservation. We are in perfect harmony with these historic statements of Baptist and Bible faith; and while in our elaboration of the subject we shall have occasion to discuss things not mentioned in these statements, we shall not be required in stating our convictions freely and fully to say anything contrary to them.
1. PERSEVERANCE REQUIRED
"If ye continue in my word, then are ye any disciples indeed" (John 8:31).
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me . . If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:4, 6).
". . . continue ye in my love" (John 15:9).
"Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord" (Acts 11:23).
"Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted 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 shalt be cut off" (Rom. 11:19-22).
"...the gospel . . . by which ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I have preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain" (1 Cor. 15:2). To believe in vain is to have only intellectual faith.
"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel . . ." (Col. 1:21-23).
"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised); ... For if we sin wilfully (sin as the law of our lives, live under the power of sin) after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin" (Heb. 10:23, 26).
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness spring- ing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (Heb. 12:14,15).
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God!' (Rev. 2: 7).
"He that overcometh shall not be death" (Rev. 2:11).
Many and varied are the attempts that are made to explain away the evident meaning of these passages, but all such attempts are futile. They defy all impractical theorists, an advocates of preservation as a coldly abstract logical deduction, in teaching that none will reach the final abode of God's saints except those who abide in Christ, cleave unto the lord, continue in the faith and the goodness of God, endure to the end, keep in memory the gospel, follow holiness, and overcome. This we believe as strongly as did Arminius or any of his followers; for it is the indisputable truth.
II. PERSEVERANCE ASSURED
But this does not mean that any whom God saves will be lost.
Nay, verily; the Scripture is just as emphatic in declaring that all true believers all the regenerated, will persevere.
Note the following passages:
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).
"No one who is a child of God is habitually guilty of sin A God-given germ of life remains in him and he cannot habitually sin" (I John 3:9-Weymouth's translation).*
If escape from the second death, and the privilege of eating of the tree of life are for overcomers, then these things are for all whom God regenerates. A regenerated person cannot sin as "the law of his life, as the ideal tendency of his being; does not belong to the sin sphere" (Sawtelle). Thus a regenerated person cannot go back into sin, but is certain to persevere to the end; because God's seed ("the divine principle of life" --Vincent) perpetually abides in him.
This does not mean that the child of God cannot back- slide temporarily and fall into much sin; but it does mean that he will not again live permanently in sin. David and Peter are instances in point here.
Perseverance is brought about by the power of God. This is a part of the work of salvation, and 'salvation is of the lord' (Jonah 2:9).
1. By His Spirit.
*For detailed exposition of this passage see refutation of theory of sinless perfection in this life in chapter on Sanctification. Please turn to it.
Further, A. T. Robertson says: "The present active infinitive hamartanein can only mean 'and he cannot go on sinning'" (Word Pictures).
"And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, cuing, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit in our hearts keeps us in fellowship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
"... in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of Promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased Possession, unto the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13,14).
"... he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). This good work is sanctification begun in regeneration. God begins it and will finish it. He does this through the working of His Spirit.
God not only, through the spirit, maintains our faith but he also works in us to cause us to obey His will.
2. Through His Word
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
"For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:13).
". . .deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). If God let us alone and did not, in His own ways, subdue the flesh, then the spirit would not be saved. In other words, we should be lost.
"Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh . . . And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16,24,25).
". . . if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:11,12).
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present evil world . . ." (Titus 2:11,12).
"But wilt thou know, 0 vain man, that faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:20).
"And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue . . . knowledge . . . temperance . . . patience . . . godliness . . . brotherly kindness . . . charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was once purged from his old sins [the apostle argues here from one's own profession]. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. . ." (11 Pet. 1:5-10).
"If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15).
"And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). That is, the man on with the hope of likeness with Christ in the resurrection will carry on, as God works in him, a process of purification, fighting, fighting back against the motions of sin in his body.
That these commands and warnings do not imply an absolute possibility of believers falling away from Christ is proved by a parallel case. In Acts 27.22-24 we have account of God's revelation to Paul enroute to Rome. We read:
"And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, Io, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee."
But a little later, when the storm had grown worse, and the shipmen were about to desert the ship, we read:
Was it actually possible that any on the ship would be lost? He who says so, blasphemes God; for he says that it is possible for God to lie. God said there should be no loss of any man's life. This had to prove true, because it was the word of the God who cannot lie. But Paul told the centurion and the soldiers that this could be fulfilled only by the shipmen staying in the ship. AND THEY STAYED. God used that warning to accomplish His predetermined will.
So it is with warnings about losing our faith. They do not imply an actual possibility of it, for God that cannot lie has declared that He will glorify all He justifies. These warnings are God's objective means of accomplishing the very thing He has determined. From a human standpoint, falling away from Christ is possible, but God, will not permit it. He uses His Word to elicit our voluntary perseverance. Thus He deals with us as personal beings, and not as machines or inanimate objects.
3. Through the Intercessory Work of Christ.
"Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11).
And now "he is able to save them to the uttermost (to the last one, absolutely, completely), that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). God always hears Jesus when He prays (John 11:41, 42).
4. On the Basis of Christ's Atoning Work.
Note the following passages:
"Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Rom. 4:7,8).
"Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom. 10:4).
"Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:33,34).
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
These passages require little comment. They teach very clearly that Christ fully satisfied the law for us and that the law, therefore, now has no power to condemn us. We are under it no longer with respect to our standing before God. Christ took our place on the cross. We now take His place in our standing before God, "that we may have bold- ness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17).
5. Under the New Covenant.
Having passed from under law, we are now under grace and the new covenant (Heb. 8:6-12; 10:16-22; Jer. 32:40), in which God says, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; ... their sins and iniquities will I remember no more" and "I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me."
"But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (I Cor. 11:32).
This means that, although God does not deal with the believer under the law, does not mete out legal punishment to him; yet He does not let him go on in sin. He chastens him as a son, and thus preserves him that he should not come under the condemnation of the world.
7. In Execution of His Eternal Purpose.
"For whom he did foreknow, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Rom. 8:29,30).
We do not need here to enter into a discussion of the ground of our election, since we have done that in a previous chapter. No matter what that was, the above passage unmistakably informs us that those whom God saves He knew beforehand, even in eternity, because He was infinite in knowledge in the beginning. Then all that He knew as His own, as those whom He would save, He foreordained, called, justified, and glorified in His purpose. That is, He determined that they should be called, justified, and glorified. Thus all He justifies He will glorify. That obliges Him to maintain their faith, for there can be no justification without faith.
"Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Pet. 1:15).
"We (the saved) are not of them draw back unto perdition, but of the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39'
"Whosoever drinketh (the Gr. means 'once for all'- Robertson) of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst (never need to be saved again); but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).
"For the gifts and calling of God are not repented of" (Rom. 11:29). This means that He never changes His mind and takes back the gift of salvation or revokes the calling that brings us to Him. Note Rom. 8:30 and 2 Tim 1:9 for meaning of calling.
". . . after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13,14). This sealing is nothing less than the abiding and inseparable presence of the Spirit in the heart of the believer, by which the believer is constrained to persevere in faith and righteousness.
"For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). All the saved are sanctified in the sense of this passage. It means that they have an eternally perfect standing before God on the basis of Christ's death. This means that Christ suffered for all our sins up to the very end of our lives. God, having laid them on His Son, cannot now punish us for them.
"... him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" John 6:37).
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Since all things work for our good, nothing can bring about our condemnation.
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" (I John 10:27,28). These are all positive statements. There are no ifs in the passage.
IV. OPPOSING ARGUMENTS ANSWERED
The following passages and cases may be cited as disproving what we have said about perseverance and preservation:
1. I Cor. 3:12-15.
Some may urge this passage against our position as to the perseverance of the saints, taking it to teach that a believer can
so live as to have no reward in Heaven. This passage teaches no such thing. The case is hypothetical. It shows what would take place if a believer should so live as to lose all reward. It does not affirm that this will be true of any believer. And in the light of 1 John 5:4 and 3:9, as well as other passages, we are not justified in concluding that such can be true.
Some people will argue that a saved person can lose his salvation because of certain ones known to them who, they believe, were saved and then went back into sin permanently, even sinking lower in sin than they had ever been. Our reply to this argument is: "Let God he found true, though every man he found a liar (Rom. 3:4-translation by A. T. Robertson). God has said that all that are born of Him overcome the world. I John 5:4. He has said that those who are born again cannot "go on sinning" (I John 3:9). He has said they cannot perish and that nothing can separate them from His love. John 10:27,28; Rom. 8:35-39. Shall we believe God or man?
All such cases as are now being considered are decisively disposed of by Heb. 3:14, which reads: "For we are become (Gr. perfect tense, should be 'have become'-Robertson) partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end." If we don't, it proves that we were not made partakers of Christ, were not saved, in the beginning.
3. FALLEN ANGELS AND ADAM
Certain angels and Adam fell from their righteous estate and were involved in condemnation, but this does not prove that the saved today can do likewise. Note these contrasts between fallen angels and Adam on the one hand and those saved through Christ on the other hand:
(2) God had not elected and predestinated them to stand, but He has elected and predestinated the saved to ultimate glorification. Rom. 8:29,30.
(4) Neither angels nor Adam had promises that they would be kept and that they would not perish, but the saved have such promises. I Pet. 1:5; John 10:28.
(5) Neither angels nor Adam were sealed by the Holy Spirit, but believers are. Eph. 1:13,14; 4:25.
(6) Neither stood on the basis of Christ's atoning death.
4. THE JEWS
The Jews fell as a nation and not as individuals. They fell under law and not under grace. They fell from national privileges and not from salvation. Hence their case, like that of angels and Adam, proves nothing concerning the matter under consideration.
Deut. 42:48-52. Because of sin, Moses was not permitted to enter Canaan, but that he did not lose his salvation is proved by his appearance on the mount of transfiguration with Elijah and Christ. Matt. 17.3.
6. KING SAUL
We must interpret Scripture by Scripture to get the truth. In the light of New Testament teaching that every regenerated soul will overcome the world as a result of God's preservation we must deny that Saul was ever saved, though it is said of him that "God gave him another heart" (I Sam. 10:9). Scripture binds us to understand from this that God gave him only new intentions and impulses; not a new heart in the sense of regeneration.
Psa. 51.11,12. In this passage David prayed, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." This was due to the fact that the Holy Spirit, under the old dispensation, did not abide constantly in believers. His presence was a special favor of God and could be lost by sin. But since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has dwelt permanently in every saved heart, and, by means of His presence and work, the believer, as we have noted, is sealed until the day of redemption. Thus now He remains. For further discussion, see Chapter 9. It is well, before passing to note that David did not pray for a restoration of salvation, but only of the joy of salvation. This may be lost, and is lost when any coldness or sin temporarily disturbs the believer's fellowship with God.
This passage is easily explained by Ezek. 33:13, which reads: "When I say to the righteous man, that he shall surely live: IF HE TRUST IN HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS and commit iniquity," etc. The passage under consideration speaks of the doom of the man who is righteous as to his own works and turns there from. This passage has nothing to do with the man to whom God has imputed righteousness without works. Rom. 4:6-8. The death threatened is death in the Babylonian siege that was to come. All the way through Ezekiel God promises to save the obedient, but to destroy the wicked in this siege.
9. MATT. 12:43-45
The going out of the unclean spirit here does not represent conversion, since the house from which he went was left empty. The heart is not left empty in conversion, but is occupied by the Holy Spirit; by whom we are sealed, sealed against the return of sin, until the day of redemption. Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:13,14.
We have here in general a picture of human reformation, but in particular it is a description of Jews. They had formerly abandoned the evil spirit of idolatry, but now had become worse than ever through their rejection of their Messiah.
10. 11 PET. 2.20-22
It is not said of these false teachers that they were ever saved. If they had been, they would not have turned back. I John 5:4; 3:9. They bad escaped "the pollutions of the world" through reformation. They are likened to a hog or a dog. A saved person is neither a hog nor a dog, but a sheep; and Christ said of His sheep: "My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
Since all the regenerate overcome the world, those represented in these verses (parable of the sower) must be regarded as having only intellectual faith. An intellectual faith may work a great change in the life, and there may seem to be real indication of conversion; but after a while, under difficulty and trial, it fails. There are multitudes of cases of this kind today.
12. JOHN 15:2
The branches in this parable must be thought of as grafted branches, for none are in Christ by nature. Some branches are grafted properly, so that they have life-giving and sustaining connection with the vine. Others are grafted improperly, and do not have such connection with the vine as to continue to grow permanently and to bear fruit. It is thus with disciples. The branches here are all who profess faith in Christ. Some of these branches are grafted to Christ with real heart faith. They live and bear fruit. Others are grafted with only intellectual faith, as those indicated in Matt. 13:20,21. They do not endure, and bear no acceptable fruit. They are the ones that are pruned away. All true branches remain, as we have indicated.
This passage is equivalent to Phil. 3:8-14. In both passages Paul recognizes that the only final proof of one's salvation is perseverance in faith and righteous living to the end, as we have emphasized. Paul knew that unless he proved his salvation by overcoming the world, he would be proved to have believed in vain and to be a reprobate. This is all these passages indicate. They are perfectly in harmony with the teaching of this chapter.
14. HEB. 6:4-6
It is the opinion of the author that this passage describes believers, saved people. The principal reason for this conviction is the statement that if there are any who fall away it is impossible "to renew them AGAIN unto repentance." The Greek for "renew" is a form of the word found in Titus 3:5, where we read of "the renewing of the Holy Spirit." This seems to mean that the ones alluded to had been once renewed by the Holy Spirit unto repentance, or, in other words, had been regenerated.
But the passage is only hypothetical. It does not say that a saved person can fall away; it only says that if he should, he could not be saved again. And this is not believed by the advocates of the doctrine of apostasy. They believe that a man can lose his salvation and get it back again. Sometimes in Scriptures issues are considered wholly apart from other issues. This seems to be the case here. The author confines his attention to the one issue of what would be the state of a man if he did fall.
15. REV. 8:5
This passage does not mean that some may have their names in the book of life and, because of unfaithfulness, have them blotted out. It is simply an assurance to believers that no matter what they must go through with, their continued faith and perseverance is an assurance that they will receive all the blessings of salvation. It is an assurance. that Christ will not forsake them.
We must interpret this passage in the light of all the declarations and promises of God's Word respecting believers. In the light of this fact, this passage can be taken as applying only to those who merely profess to be saved. Such ones must be considered as addressed on the basis of their own profession, as is often the case in the Bible. We have noticed that no overcomer will have his name blotted out of the book of life. Rev. 3:5. Then since all that are born of God will overcome (I John 5:4), none of them can suffer the loss here indicated.
The difficulty in the book in the thought of a man losing his part of life when he never did have such a part, as is true with mere professors, is explained by a comparison of Matt. 13:12 and Luke 8:18. These passages are parallel. In the first we read: ". . . whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath." Is this not impossible? But note the second passage: ". . . whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he THINETH HE HATH (R. V.)." So it is with the loss referred to in this passage.