ABSTRACT OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY.
FINAL PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
THE doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints teaches that those who are effectually called of God to the exercise of genuine faith will certainly persevere unto final salvation. This is not taught of a class of mankind in general, as something that will usually be true of the persons composing that class, but of each individual in it,--so that not one will finally apostatize or be lost; but each will assuredly persevere and be saved.
This fact is taught explicitly in the word of God, which sets it forth as due to the purpose and power of God and the grace which he bestows, and not to any excellence or power in the believer. Indeed, such is stated to be the weakness of man that, if left to himself, he would assuredly fall, against the danger of which he is constantly warned; a danger to which even the best instructed and most sanctified are liable, and which is evidenced by the sins which are committed, which are often of a most heinous character, sometimes extending to actual denial of the faith, and backsliding from God; showing that but for God's mercy and grace, final apostacy would occur. But, from the danger thus due to himself, he is rescued by the power and grace of God, who, by his watchful preservation, keeps guard over his unworthy children, preventing their total estrangement from him, and bringing them finally unto the salvation he has designed for them. In so doing, however, he does not act independently of their co-operation, but leads them unto salvation through their own perseverance in faith and holiness.
1. The Scriptures teach the final salvation of all believers.
(1.) The Psalmist sang, "Though he fall, he shall not utterly be cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. . . The Lord loveth judgement, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved forever." Ps. 37:24-28. The wise man said: "The path of the righteous is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Prov. 4:18. Isaiah, referring to the true Israel of God, said "Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. . . Every one that is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory; I have formed him; yea, I have made him." Isa. 43:1, 2-7. "Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end." Isa. 45:17. "The heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished." Isa. 51:6. "Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." Isa. 55:3. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." Jer. 32:40.
Christ himself, referring to the "false Christs and false prophets," who shall rise professedly in his name, teaches the impossibility of deceiving the elect of God by saying "So as to lead astray if possible even the elect." Matt. 24:24. He likewise declared "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgement, but hath passed out of death into life." John 5:24. To the Samaritan woman he said, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life." John 4:14. He also affirmed even more expressly the final salvation of each of his people by declaring: "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, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father which hath given them unto me, is greater that all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:27-29.
The apostle Paul presents the effectual calling of those whom God had foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, as connected absolutely with their being glorified by him. Rom. 8:30. In the same chapter, vv. 35-39, he declares their separation from the love of Christ impossible. Writing to the Corinthians, he assures them that Christ will "confirm" them "unto the end," so that they shall be "unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ," adding "God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." 1 Cor. 1:8, 9. To the Philippians he also declares himself "Confident of this very thing that he which hath begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ." Phil. 1:6. In like manner he says to the Thessalonians " The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you and guard you from the evil one." 2 Thess. 3:3. Peter also writes to the "sojourners of the dispersion" as unto the persons who had been begotten unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded, through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Pet. 1:3-5.
(2.) This doctrine is inseparably associated with the other doctrines of grace which we have found taught in God's word. So true is this, that they are universally accepted, or rejected together. The perseverance of the saints is a part of every Calvinistic confession. It is rejected by Romanists, Lutherans, and Arminians. All the evidence, therefore, of the truth of the doctrines already examined, may be presented in favour of this which is a necessary inference from them. In like manner, all the independent proof of this doctrine confirms the separate doctrines, and the system of doctrine, with which it is associated.
2. The Scriptures declare that the sure salvation of each believer is due to the purpose of God. This would be naturally inferred from some of the doctrines to which reference has just been made. But it is distinctly asserted. Those who believe are said to have been "ordained to eternal life." Acts 13:48. Those finally glorified are said to have been foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, and, therefore, called. Rom. 8:29. Referring to the falling away of some, the apostle writes to Timothy declaring that nevertheless the "Firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim. 2:19), thus establishing the identity of those that are thus known with those who shall remain steadfast. Our Lord himself declared this final salvation to be the will of God. "This is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." John 6:39.
3. The final salvation of the believer is ascribed to the power of God.
It is the power of Christ, and of God, which makes it impossible that the sheep shall be snatched from their hands. John 10:27-29. It is God that will perform the good work which he had begun. Phil. 1:6. "It is God which worketh in you," says the apostle to the Philippians, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Phil. 2:13. Peter addresses his readers as those "Who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Pet. 1:5. He likewise invokes that "Grace . . . and peace be multiplied" to those who "have obtained a like precious faith," . . . "seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." 2 Pet. 1:1-3. The Apostle Paul declares that it is God that is to be thanked because of the growth of faith. 2 Thess. 1:3. In the same chapter he says, "We also pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness, and every work of faith, with power." 2 Thess 1:11. It is in reliance, upon this power, that Paul triumphantly wrote to Timothy, "I know him whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day." 2 Tim. 1:12.
4. The final salvation is also ascribed to the grace of God. Not only is the power of God exercised; but it is graciously exercised. His aid is a gift of unmerited favour. The apostle to the Romans asserts that salvation must needs be of faith, that it might be of grace, "to the end that the promise may be sure to all seed." Rom. 4:16. It is only "as many as are led by the Spirit of God" that "are the sons of God." Rom. 8:14. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy." Rom. 9:16. This gracious character, which is ascribed to the whole work of salvation, is not less true of it in the end, than in the beginning. Hence, when the apostle prays for his brethren at Thessalonica, "may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," he immediately adds "faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it." 1 Thess. 5:23, 24. That faithfulness consists in the fulfillment of gracious promises, and not of matters of obligation and duty.
5. That the perseverance of believers depends necessarily upon the purpose and power and grace of God, will still further appear from the natural weakness of the Christian and his liability to fall. Even an innocent and pure human being must be fallible, because he is a mere creature, and may therefore choose evil instead of good. We have a sad illustration of this in the fall of our first parents. It may be doubted whether the confirmation of holy angels, or saints, is due to anything in themselves, or in their condition, or state. It is most probable that their only ground of confidence is in the purpose and promise of God. But the Christian is not free from sin. He does not in this life attain perfect sanctification. Hence the constant tendencies to sin, the liability to temptation from within, and from without, and the utter dependence upon the grace of God for his progress in the divine life. These have been pointed out in the discussion about his sanctification. The Scripture teaches the fact expressly in such passages as 1 John 1:8-10, and 2:1. It is also to be inferred from the frequent warnings against the power of temptation, and the necessity of resisting it from whatever source it may arise. We are taught not only the liability to sin from our own corrupted natures, and from the influences of the world around; but also that we have a spiritual enemy to contend with in Satan who zealously, and with much craft and subtilty, seeks the destruction of the children of God.
Nor does the Bible alone give warnings of what may possibly happen, but the religious experience also of the Christian which is one of constant struggles against the evil of sin. These struggles the word of God teaches not only to be consistent with a state of gracious acceptance with God, but to be an evidence of such a state; inasmuch as they show the believer is no longer "dead in trespasses and sins," but is engaged in a conflict to destroy, and escape them. In this warfare the strange condition is presented of divine strength perfected in human weakness. While the Scriptures command watchfulness and prayer against temptations (Mark 14:38), and enforce the command by the fearful conflict of our Lord in Gethsemane, they also encourage believers by the assurance that "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it." 1 Cor. 10:13. "Wherefore," said the apostle, "I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak then am I strong." 2 Cor. 12:10. In the preceding verse he gives the reason why he thus rejoices, viz.: He said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness."
6. The weakness thus taught of the Christian is not confined to those who have just begun their career of faith, or who are babes in Christ, but is found also in the best instructed, and most sanctified, to such an extent as to make necessary their continued watchfulness and prayer. It was to those whom the apostle wrote, "in every thing ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge . . . so that ye come behind in no gift," 1 Cor. 1:4-7, that he found it necessary to say "let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall," 1 Cor. 10:12. They also whose "faith" was "proclaimed throughout the whole world," Rom. 1:8, needed the warning "Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by the faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee." Rom. 11:20, 21. They were our Lord's chosen companions whom he taught to pray, "Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Matt. 6:13. These also were the ones to whom primarily the warning of Christ was given with the accompanying scene at Gethsemane. Even Paul at the very moment in which he declared, "I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air," added, "but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected." 1 Cor. 9:26, 27.
7. Nor are examples wanting, not merely of faults and errors committed by Christian men, but of grievous sins; and these in men of the highest religious privileges and attainments. Such was the desertion of Christ by all the apostles, when he was betrayed into the hands of his enemies (Mark 14:50), the thrice denial of his Lord by Peter (Mark 14:66-72), the sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39) and the blameworthy conduct of Barnabas at Antioch. Gal. 2:11-13. All of these are instances of grievous falls in those who were true believers in Jesus. They can also be paralleled in the lives of God's true servants in the Old Testament times, in the sin of Abraham, Gen. 20:5-13; of Moses, Num. 20:7-13; of Eli, 1 Sam. 2:22-36; of David, 2 Sam. 12:1-14; and of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 20:12-21.
The extent to which this weakness of man is seen to exhibit itself is evidence not only of what, but for the intervention of God, might occur in each case, but, also, that, so far as man is concerned, the final apostasy of each one is not only possible but probable, nay certain. We thus have additional proof that the final salvation is due to the purpose, power and grace of God.
8. This salvation, is, however, secured only through the co-operation of the believer. It is not one bestowed on him in his sins; but through deliverance from his sins. It is not merely preservation by God, but also perseverance of the believer, in faith and holiness, unto the end. It is the good work begun in the Christian which is performed until the day of Jesus Christ. Phil. 1:6. The confirmation to the end secures that they shall be "unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." I Cor. 1:8. The preordination is unto conformity to the image of his Son. Rom. 8:29. This is secured by various means:
(a.) Faith is one of these.
Christians "by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation." 1 Pet. 1:5. "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." 1 John 5:4. "As many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name." John 20:31.
(b.) It is also accomplished by consecration to God.
This is earnestly enjoined upon the people of God because of the great privileges bestowed upon them. Paul besought the Romans by the mercies of God to present their bodies a living sacrifice unto God. Rom. 12:1. He urged the Ephesians to be followers of God, as dear children, and walk in love, not allowing certain sins which he mentioned to be once named among them as they were unbecoming to saints. Eph. 5:1-4. The writer to the Hebrews, also, surrounding himself and his brethren with a cloud of martyrs, exhorts "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith." Heb. 12:1.
(c.) Self-purification from sin is another of the means.
We find Paul urging upon his brethren at Rome "Neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God," Rom. 6:13. So, also, in view of their adoption by God, he exhorts the Corinthians, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," 2 Cor. 7:1. "They that are of Christ" are said to "have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof," Gal. 5:24. The Apostle John declares that "every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he (Christ) is pure," 1 John 3:3.
(d.) The warnings of God's word are also means to the same end. They imply the importance of Christian exertion, and the value of effort as well as the possibility of danger. The Hebrews were warned that they should fear lest, a promise being left of rest, any of them should seem to come short of it. Heb. 4:1. They are especially warned to go on unto perfection, upon the statement that "As touching those who were once enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fall away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame," Heb. 6:4-6. This was a description of such persons as they themselves were; of real Christians. They were, in themselves, in real danger of such a fall. They were only secure from it through the purpose and power and grace of God. This danger was therefore a fit cause for exhortation to them to push forward unto perfection. There were doubtless many around them who had appeared, or had professed to have the privileges here referred to, who, by their desertion of Christianity, were inflicting grievous evil upon the cause of Christ. These Christians were tempted to commit the same sin. Should they do this, they could not be renewed again unto repentance; and this warning was given as the means under God of restraining them from sin. It is thought by some that this passage shows the possibility of a fall from grace, and therefore is contrary to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It is admitted that, regarded in their own strength only, there was this possibility of fall in the persons addressed. But the doctrine we are considering does not regard the believer as preserved and as persevering only through himself. He is thus kept by God; not by his own power. One of the means by which this is done, is that he is warned of the danger in which he is of himself, that he may co-operate with God, so as not only to be preserved, but also to persevere in the divine life. Of like purpose, and to the same effect, are the other warnings found in the tenth chapter of this epistle in verses 26-29, 38, and those in 2 Pet. 2:20, 22, and elsewhere in the Scriptures.
The means mentioned are only some of the numerous ways in which the Christian is led to persevere in the divine life, actively co-operating with the grace of God. It is because God bestows, and man attains, as the apostle Peter so completely sets forth in his preceding remarks, that he exhorts his brethren, "give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure," adding, "for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Pet. 1:10, 11. It is because of the divine help afforded through the incarnation, and humiliation, and consequent exaltation of Christ Jesus, that the apostle could urge the Philippians, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Phil. 2:12, 13.
It will be seen, from the preceding statements, that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not deny that Christians are liable to sin, not that they do sin, nor that they do turn away from God, and backslide from their Christian profession, and even fall into grievous wrong, by which they displease God, and lose confidence and hope in him, and become barren and unfruitful in good works: nor does it deny that final apostasy would be possible to the Christian if he were left to the exercise of his own will, subject, as he would be, not only to the natural fallibility of a creature, but to the still continuing lusts of his flesh, and tempted not only by these, but by the attractions of the world, and the malice of Satan. But it asserts, that it is the purpose of God that none shall finally be lost who have been given to Christ by the Father, and have been by faith vitally united with him, and justified through him; and that, for the fulfillment of this purpose, the power of God is sufficient to keep them unto final salvation, and the love of Christ is so invincible, in his forbearance, mercy, and grace, that nothing can separate them from it. It also teaches, that they are not saved while indulging in sin, and walking after their own lusts; but that they are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit, which enables them to persevere in the divine life in co-operation with his influences, that their life and salvation is not a mere gift without effort on their part, but a growth through perseverance unto the end in the use of the appointed means.
It is well to notice briefly some of the objections presented to this doctrine.
1. One of the most plausible of these is based upon the apostasy of the nation of Israel despite the many promises with which it was blessed.
But the analogy of God's dealings with his ancient people, favours, rather than opposes, the doctrine of final perseverance. Their history presents to us just such cases of backsliding and recovery, as have been pointed out as true of Christian believers. The backsliding was through their sin, the recovery through the power and grace of God. The one followed the other, at greater, or less intervals, but always followed it. Is it said, however, that Israel is now entirely cast away? But such is not the teaching of the word of God. Paul expressly denies this, and teaches their restoration to God when the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. Rom. 11:26. It is to be remembered also that the calling of Israel was that of the nation, and not of the individual within it. That fact that many Israelites have been lost eternally and beyond rescue, does not affect the fulfillment of any gracious purpose of God towards the nation as such.
There are many, however, who interpret all the promises for the future as made simply of the gathering of the spiritual Israel. Even were this position incorrect there has been no failure in God's covenant relation to the natural Israel, for the promises to it were all based upon the condition of their faithfulness to God. God, therefore, has not failed, even if he has cast them off forever.
It is especially to be noticed, also, that the new covenant made in Christ, is one which includes not only the promise of the blessings, but of the establishment in his people of the conditions upon which these blessings depend. The nature of the new covenant is set forth in the prophecy of Jeremiah, and, with its statements, many other Scripture passages concur. From its very nature, it is impossible that the blessings promised in it should not be given to all the people of God. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days: saith the Lord; I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Jer. 31:31-34. See also Jer. 32:38-40.
2. It is again objected that the warnings against apostasy, and exhortations to perseverance, imply the impossibility and danger of fall on the part of those to whom they were addressed. Even if this were absolutely true, it would not be proof that any have fallen away, or shall fall away. These very warnings might become effective to guard against the danger, as the signs set up in hazardous places, are the means by which the danger is avoided. But, as has been already explained, this danger arises solely from the believer if left to himself; the certainty that he will not finally fall away depends upon God's purpose to preserve him, and to enable him to persevere. These warnings and exhortations are, therefore, perfectly consistent with his safety, and are the signs of danger which God sets up to prevent the fall of his servants.
3. It is objected, however, that, while we have instances of some who are rescued from their grievous sins and backslidings, the Scripture also gives examples of others who are left to perish. But the doctrine of God's word is that of the perseverance of believers; of the elect of God; of those called to be saints. An examination of the cases mentioned will show no reason for believing those who thus fell away to have been of this class. Indeed, in most cases the contrary is taught. The case of Judas is the most prominent. It would seem more nearly to correspond, than any other, with the privileges referred to in Heb. 6:4, 5, and yet Christ proclaimed his condition, as not that of a Christian, about a year before his betrayal. "Did I not choose you the twelve, and one of you is a devil? Now he spake of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot." John 6:70, 71. We need no better proof that this man, in the betraying of our Lord, did not fall from a state of grace and salvation into the perdition to which he was doomed.
So also as to Simon Magus, Peter expressly declared, "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. . . I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:21, 23. The apostle John seems, in general terms, to state the truth as to all those who finally depart from the faith. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest how that they all are not of us." John 2:19.
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