by Bishop J. C. Ryle
There are two points in religion on which the teaching of the Bible is very plain and distinct. One of these points is the fearful danger of the ungodly; the other is the perfect safety of the righteous. One is the happiness of those who are converted; the other is the misery of those who are unconverted. One is the blessedness of being in the way to heaven; the other is the wretchedness of being in the way to hell.
I hold it to be of the utmost importance that these two points should be constantly impressed on the minds of professing Christians. I believe that the exceeding privileges of the children of God, and the deadly peril of the children of the world, should be continually set forth in the clearest colors before the Church of Christ. I believe that the difference between the man in Christ, and the man not in Christ, can never be stated too strongly and too fully. Reserve on this subject is a positive injury to the souls of people. Wherever such reserve is practiced, the careless will not be aroused, believers will not be established, and the cause of God will receive much damage.
Many people, I fear, are not aware what a vast store of comfortable truths the Bible contains for the peculiar benefit of real Christians. There is a spiritual treasure-house in the Word which many never enter, and some eyes have not so much as seen. There you will find many a golden verity besides the old first principles of repentance, faith, and conversion. There you will see in glorious array the everlasting election of the saints in Christ—the special love wherewith God loved them before the foundation of the world—their mystical union with their risen Head in heaven, and His consequent sympathy with them—their interest in the perpetual intercession of Jesus, their High Priest—their liberty of daily communion with the Father and the Son, their full assurance of hope—their perseverance to the end. These are some of the precious things laid up in Scripture for those who love God. These are truths which some neglect from ignorance. Like the Spaniards in the days when they possessed California, they know not the rich mines beneath their feet, the mines from which the Americans have extracted such untold wealth. These are truths which some neglect from false humility. They look at them afar off with fear and trembling—but dare not touch them. But these are truths which God has given for our learning, and which we are bound to study. It is impossible to neglect them without inflicting injury upon ourselves.
It is to one special truth in the list of a believer's privileges that I now desire to direct attention. That truth is the doctrine of perseverance—the doctrine that true Christians shall never perish or be cast away. It is a truth which the natural heart has bitterly opposed in every age. It is a truth which for many reasons deserves particular attention at the present time. Above all, it is a truth with which the happiness of all God's children is most closely connected.
There are four things which I propose to do in considering the subject of perseverance.
I. I will explain what the doctrine of perseverance means.
II. I will show the Scriptural foundations on which the doctrine is built.
III. I will point out some reasons why many reject the doctrine.
IV. I will mention some reasons why the doctrine is of great practical importance.
I approach the subject with diffidence,
because I know it is one on which holy people do not see alike. But God
is my witness, that in writing this paper, I have no desire to promote
any cause but that of Scriptural truth. In pleading for perseverance, I
can say with a good conscience, that I firmly believe I am pleading for
an important part of the Gospel of Christ. May God the Spirit guide
both writer and reader into all truth! May that blessed day soon come
when all shall know the Lord perfectly, and differences and divisions
pass away forever!
I. I will first explain what I mean by the doctrine of perseverance.
It is of the utmost importance to make this point clear. It is the very foundation of the subject. It lies at the threshold of the whole argument. In all discussions of disputed points in theology, it is impossible to be too accurate in defining terms. Half the abuse which has unhappily been poured on perseverance, has arisen from a thorough misunderstanding of the doctrine in question. Its adversaries have fought with phantoms of their own creation, and spent their strength in beating the air.
When I speak of the doctrine of perseverance, I mean this. I say that the Bible teaches that true believers, real genuine Christians, shall persevere in their religion to the end of their lives. They shall never perish. They shall never be lost. They shall never be cast away. Once in Christ, they shall always be in Christ. Once made children of God by adoption and grace, they shall never cease to be His children, and become children of the devil. Once endued with the grace of the Spirit, that grace shall never be taken from them. Once pardoned and forgiven, they shall never be deprived of their pardon. Once joined to Christ by living faith, their union shall never be broken off. Once called by God into the narrow way that leads to life, they shall never be allowed to fall into hell. In a word, every man, woman, and child on earth who receives saving grace, shall sooner or later receive eternal glory. Every soul who is once justified and washed in Christ's blood, shall at length be found safe at Christ's right hand in the day of judgment.
Such statements as this sound tremendously strong. I know that well. But I am not going to leave the subject here—I must dwell upon it a little longer. I desire to clear the doctrine I am defending from the cloud of misrepresentation by which many darken it. I want people to see it in its own proper dress—not as it is portrayed by the hand of ignorance and prejudice—but as it is set forth in the Scripture of truth.
(a) Perseverance is a doctrine with which the ungodly and worldly have nothing to do. It does not belong to that vast multitude who have neither knowledge, nor thought, nor faith, nor fear, nor anything else of Christianity except the name. It is not true of them, that they will "never perish." On the contrary, except they repent, they will come to a miserable end.
(b) Perseverance is a doctrine with which hypocrites and false professors have nothing to do. It does not belong to those unhappy people whose religion consists in talk, and words, and a form of godliness, while their hearts are destitute of the grace of the Spirit. It is not true of them, that they will "never perish." On the contrary, except they repent, they will be lost forever.
"We do not hold that all whom the most discerning minister or Christian considers true Christians, will be 'kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.' God alone can search the heart, and He may see that to be a dead and temporary faith, which we in the judgment of charity think living and permanent."—Scott
(c) Perseverance is the peculiar privilege of real, true spiritual Christians. It belongs to the sheep of Christ who hear His voice and follow Him. It belongs to those who are "washed, and justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 6:11.) It belongs to those who repent, and believe in Christ, and live holy lives. It belongs to those who have been born again, and converted, and made new creatures by the Holy Spirit. It belongs to those who are of a broken and contrite heart, and mind the things of the Spirit, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. It belongs to "the elect of God, who cry to Him night and day." (Luke 18:7.) It belongs to those who know the Lord Jesus by experience, and have faith, and hope, and charity. It belongs to those who are the fruit-bearing branches of the vine—the wise virgins—the lights of the world—the salt of the earth—the heirs of the kingdom—the followers of the Lamb. These are they whom the Bible calls "the saints." And it is the saints and the saints alone of whom it is written, that they shall "never perish."
"It is grossly contrary to the truth of the Scriptures to imagine that they who are thus renewed, can be unborn again."—Leighton
Does anyone suppose that what I am saying applies to none but eminent saints? Does anyone think that people like the apostles, and prophets, and martyrs, may perhaps persevere to the end—but that it cannot be said of the common sort of believers? Let him know that he is entirely mistaken. Let him know that this privilege of perseverance belongs to the whole family of God—to the youngest as well as the oldest—to the weakest as well as the strongest—to the babes in grace as well as to the oldest pillars of the Church. The least faith shall as certainly continue indestructible as the greatest. The least spark of grace shall prove as unquenchable as the most burning and shining light. Your faith may be very feeble, your grace may be very weak, your strength may be very small, you may feel that in spiritual things you are but a child. You may doubt the reality of your own conversion. Yet fear not, neither be afraid. It is not on the quantity of a man's grace—but on the truth and genuineness of it that the promise turns. A bronze farthing is as truly a current coin of the realm as a golden sovereign, though it is not so valuable. Wherever sin is truly repented of, and Christ is truly trusted, and holiness is truly followed—there is a work which shall never be overthrown. It shall stand when the earth and all the works thereof shall be burned up.
There are yet some things to be said about perseverance, to which I must request special attention. Without them the account of the doctrine would be imperfect and incomplete. The mention of them may clear up some of the difficulties which surround the subject, and throw light on some points of Christian experience, which God's children find hard to understand.
(a) Remember, then, that when I say believers shall persevere to the end, I do not for a moment say that they shall never fall into sin. They may fall sadly, foully, and shamefully, to the scandal of true religion, to the injury of their families, to their own deep and bitter sorrow. Noah once fell into drunkenness. Abraham twice said falsely that Sarah was only his sister. Lot took up his abode in Sodom. Jacob deceived his father Isaac. Moses spoke unadvisedly with his lips. David committed horrible adultery. Solomon lost his first love, and was led away by his many wives. Jehoshaphat made affinity with Ahab. Hezekiah forgot God, and boasted of his riches. Peter denied his Lord three times with an oath. The apostles all forsook Christ in the garden. Paul and Barnabas had such a "sharp contention" that they were obliged to part company. All these are cases in point. They are all melancholy proofs that Christians may fall.
But believers shall never fall totally, finally, and completely. They shall always rise again from their falls by repentance, and renew their walk with God. Though sorely humbled and cast down, they never entirely lose their grace. The comfort of it they may lose—but not the existence of grace. Like the moon under an eclipse, their light is for a season turned into darkness; but they are not rejected and cast away. Like the trees in winter, they may show neither leaves nor fruit for a time; but the life is still in their roots. They may be overtaken by a fault, and carried away by temptation. But they never perish.
(b) Remember, for another thing, that when I say believers shall persevere to the end, I do not mean that they shall have no doubts and fears about their own safety. So far from this being the case, the holiest people of God are sometimes sorely troubled by anxieties about their own spiritual condition. They see so much weakness in their own hearts, and find their practice come so short of their desires, that they are strongly tempted to doubt the truth of their own grace, and to fancy they are but hypocrites, and shall never reach heaven at all. To be safe is one thing—to feel sure that we are safe is quite another. There are many true believers who never enjoy the full assurance of hope all their days. Their faith is so weak, and their sense of sin so strong, that they never feel confident of their own interest in Christ. Many a time they could say with David, "I shall one day perish" (1 Sam. 27:1); and with Job, "Where is my hope?" (Job 17:15.) The "joy and peace in believing," which some feel, and the"witness of the Spirit," which some experience—are things which some believers, whose faith it is impossible to deny, never appear to attain. Called as they evidently are by the grace of God, they never seem to taste the full comfort of their calling. But still they are perfectly safe, though they themselves refuse to know it.
The full assurance of hope is not necessary to salvation. The absence of it is no argument against a man's perseverance to the end. That mighty master of theology, John Bunyan, knew well what he wrote, when he told us that Despondency and Much-afraid got safe to the celestial city at last, as well as Christiana and Valiant-for-the-truth It is as true of the most doubting child of God, as it is of the strongest, that he shall "never perish." He may never feel it. But it is true.
"Every believer does not know that he is a believer, and therefore, he cannot know all the privileges that belong to believers."—Traill, 1690.
(c) Remember, in the last place, that the certain perseverance of believers does not free them from the necessity of watching, praying, and using means, or make it needless to ply them with practical exhortations. So far from this being the case, it is just by the use of means that God enables them to continue in the faith. He draws them with the "cords of a man." He uses warnings and conditional promises as part of the machinery by which He insures their final safety. The very fact that they despised the helps and ordinances which God has appointed, would be a plain proof that they had no grace at all and were on the road to destruction. Paul had a special revelation from God before his shipwreck, that he and all the ship's company should get safe to land. But it is a striking fact that he said to the soldiers, "Except the shipmen abide in the ship you cannot be saved." (Acts 27:31.) He knew that the end was insured—but he believed also that it was an end to be reached by the use of certain means. The cautions, and conditional promises, and admonitions to believers, with which Scripture abounds, are all a part of the Divine agency by which their perseverance is effected. An old writer says, "they do not imply that the saints can fall away—but they are preservatives to keep them from falling away." The man who thinks he can do without such cautions, and despises them as legal, may well be suspected as an impostor, whose heart has never yet been renewed. The man who has been really taught by the Spirit will generally have a humble sense of his own weakness, and be thankful for anything which can quicken his conscience, and keep him on his guard. Those who persevere to the end are not dependent on any means—but still they are not independent of them. Their final salvation does not hang on their obedience to practical exhortations—but it is just in taking heed to such exhortations that they will always continue to the end. It is the diligent, the watchful, the prayerful, and the humble, to whom belongs the promise, "They shall never perish."
I have now given an account of what I mean when I speak of the doctrine of perseverance. This, and this only, is the doctrine that I am prepared to defend in this paper. I ask people to weigh well what I have said, and to examine the statement I have made on every side. I believe it will stand inspection.
(a) It will not do to tell us that this doctrine of perseverance has any tendency to encourage careless and ungodly living. Such a charge is utterly destitute of truth. It cannot justly be brought forward. I have not a word to say in behalf of anyone who lives in willful sin, however high his profession may be. He is deceiving himself. He has a lie in his hand. He has none of the marks of God's elect. The perseverance I plead for is not that of sinners—but of saints. It is not a perseverance in carnal and ungodly ways—but a perseverance in the way of faith and grace. Show me a man who deliberately lives an unholy life, and yet boasts that he is converted and shall never perish, and I say plainly that I see nothing hopeful about him. He may know all mysteries, and speak with the tongues of angels—but, so long as his life is unaltered, he appears to me in the high road to hell.
"Let none encourage themselves to a freedom in sin, and presume upon God's preservation of them without the use of means. No! The electing counsel upon which this victory is founded, chose us to the means as well as to the end. He who makes such a consequence, I doubt whether he ever was a Christian. I may safely say that any person that has settled, resolved, and willful remissness, never yet was in the covenant of Grace."—Charnock on Weak Grace. 1684.
(b) It will not do to tell us that this doctrine of perseverance, is merely a piece of Calvinism. Nothing is easier than to get up a prejudice against a truth, by calling it a bad name. People deal with doctrines they do not like, much as Nero did when he persecuted the early Christians. They dress them up in a hideous garment, and then hold them up to scorn and run them down. The perseverance of the saints is often treated in this manner. People stave it off by some sneering remark about Calvinism. Surely it would be more fitting to inquire whether perseverance was not taught in the Bible from the beginning, and long before Calvin was born. The question to be decided is not whether the doctrine is Calvinistic—but whether it is scriptural. The words of the famous Horsley deserve to be widely known. "Take especial care," he says, "before you aim your shafts at Calvinism, that you know what is Calvinism and what is not—that in the mass of doctrine which it is of late become the fashion to abuse under the name of Calvinism, you can distinguish with certainty between that part of it which is nothing better than Calvinism, and that which belongs to our common Christianity and the general faith of the reformed Churches—lest, when you mean only to fall foul of Calvinism you should unwarily attack something more sacred and of a higher origin."
(c) Last—but not least, it will not do to tell us that perseverance is not the doctrine of the Church of England. Whatever people may please to say against it, this is an assertion, at any rate, which they will find it hard to prove. Perseverance is taught in the seventeenth Article of the Church of England, clearly, plainly, unmistakably. It was the doctrine of the first five Archbishops of Canterbury, Parker, Grindal, Whitgift, Bancroft, and Abbott. It was the doctrine preached by the judicious Hooker, as anyone may see by reading his sermons.
It was the doctrine which all the leading divines of the Church of England maintained until the reign of Charles the First. The denial of the doctrine up to this time was hardly tolerated. More than one minister who called it in question was compelled to read a public recantation before the University of Cambridge. In short, until the time when Archbishop Laud came into power, perseverance was regarded in the Church of England as an acknowledged truth of the Gospel. Together with the Popish leaven which Laud brought with him, there came the unhappy doctrine that true believers may fall away and perish. This is simple matter of history. The perseverance of the saints is the old doctrine of the Church of England. The denial of it is the new.
It is time to leave this branch of the subject and pass on. I need no clearer and more distinct statement of perseverance than that contained in the Seventeenth Article of my own Church, to which I have already referred. The Article says of God's elect, "those who are endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season—they through grace obey His calling—they are justified freely—they are made sons of God by adoption—they are made like the image of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ—they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity." These are precisely the views which I maintain. This is the doctrine which I long ago subscribed. This is the truth which I believe it is my duty, as a clergyman, to defend. This is the truth which I now want my readers to receive and believe.
"I would entreat any man that has his eyes
set right in his head, to read and consider the words of the
Seventeenth Article, the order and soundness of them; and then let him
judge whether perseverance unto the end be not soundly and roundly set
down and averred in this Article."—George Carleton
II. I now proceed to show the Scriptural foundations on which the doctrine of perseverance is built. I need hardly say that the Bible is the only test by which the truth of every religious doctrine can be tried. The words of the Sixth Article of the Church of England deserve to be written in letters of gold, "Whatever is not read in the Holy Scripture, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith." By that rule I am content to abide. I ask no one to believe the final perseverance of the saints, unless the doctrine can be proved to be that of the Word of God. One plain verse of Scripture outweighs the most logical conclusions to which human reason can attain.
In bringing forward those texts of Scripture on which this paper is founded, I purposely abstain from quoting from the Old Testament. I do so, lest any should say that the Old Testament promises belong exclusively to the Jewish people as a nation, and are not available in a disputed question affecting individual believers. I do not admit the soundness of this argument—but I will not give anyone the chance of using it. I find proofs in abundance in the New Testament, and to them I shall confine myself.
I shall write down the texts which appear to me to prove final perseverance, without note or comment. I will only ask my readers to observe how deep and broad is the foundation on which the doctrine rests. Observe that it is not for any strength or goodness of their own, that the saints shall continue to the end, and never fall away. They are in themselves weak, and frail, and liable to fall like others. Their safety is based on the promise of God, which was never yet broken—on the election of God, which cannot be in vain—on the power of the great Mediator Christ Jesus, which is Almighty—on the inward work of the Holy Spirit, which cannot be overthrown. I ask you to read the following texts carefully, and see whether it is not so.
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30)
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
"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.)
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He who hears my word, and believes on Him who sent Me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:24.)
"I am the living bread who came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever." (John 6:51.)
"Because I live, you shall live also." (John 14:19.)
"Whoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die" (John 11:26.)
"By one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14.)
"He who does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:17.)
"Sin shall not have dominion over you." (Rom. 6:14.)
"Who shall also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 1:8.)
"Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:5.)
"Preserved in Jesus Christ, and called." (Jude 1.)
"The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom." (2 Tim. 4:18.)
"I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it." (1 Thess. 5:23, 24.)
"The Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil." (2 Thess. 3:3.)
"God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13.)
"God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath; That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." (Heb. 6:17, 18.)
"This is the Father's will which has sent Me, that of all which He has given Me I should lose nothing—but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:39.)
"The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, the Lord knows those who are His." (2 Tim. 2:19.)
"Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them he also glorified." (Rom. 8:30.)
"God has not appointed us unto wrath—but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 These. 5:9.)
"God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth." (2 Thess. 2:13.)
"The vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory." (Rom. 9:23.)
"The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Rom. 11:29.)
"If it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." (Matt 24:24.)
"He is able to save to the uttermost all those who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25.)
"Able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." (Jude 24.)
"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.)
"I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not." (Luke 22:32.)
"Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom You have given Me." (John 17:11.)
"I pray not that You should take them out of the world—but that You should keep them from the evil." (John 17:15.)
"I will that they also whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am." (John 17:24.)
"If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom. 5:10.)
"The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you, and shall be in you." (John 14:17.)
"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6.)
"The anointing which you have received of Him abides in you; and you need not that any man teach you—but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in Him." (1 John 2:27.)
"Born again, not of corruptible seed—but of incorruptible." (1 Peter 1:23.)
"He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Heb. 13:5.)
I lay these thirty-nine texts of Scripture before my readers, and ask serious attention to them. I repeat that I will make no comment on them. I had rather leave them to the honest common sense of all who read the Bible. Some of these texts, no doubt, bring out the doctrine of final perseverance more clearly than others. About the interpretation of some of them, men's judgments may differ widely. But there are not a few of the thirty-nine which appear to my mind so plain, that were I to invent words to confirm my views, I would despair of inventing any that would convey my meaning so unmistakably.
I am far from saying that these texts are all the Scriptural evidence that might be brought forward. I am satisfied that the doctrine maintained in this paper might be confirmed by other arguments of great weight and power.
(a) I might point to the attributes of God's character revealed in the Bible, and show how His wisdom, unchangeableness, and power, and love, and glory are all involved in the perseverance of the saints. If the elect may finally perish, what becomes of God's counsel about them in eternity, and His doings for them in time? "Now if You shall kill all this people as one man, then the nations, which have heard the fame of You, will speak, saying, Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which He aware unto them, therefore He has slain them in the wilderness." Numbers 14:15, 16. "What will You do to Your great name "—Joshua 7:9. "If any of the elect perish, God is overcome by man's perverseness; but none of them perish, because God, who is omnipotent, can by no means be overcome."—Augustine.
(b) I might point to all the offices which the Lord Jesus fills, and show what discredit is thrown on His discharge of them, if any of His believing people can finally be lost. What kind of Head would He be, if any of the members of His mystical body could be torn from Him? What kind of Shepherd would He be, if a single sheep of His flock was left behind in the wilderness? What kind of Physician would He be, if any patient under His hand were at length found incurable? What kind of High Priest would He be, if any name once written on His heart were found missing when He makes up His jewels? What kind of Husband would He be, if He and any soul once united to Him by faith were ever put asunder?
"How well do they consult for Christ's honor, who say His sheep may die in a ditch of final apostasy!" "Christ and His members make one Christ. Now is it possible a piece of Christ can be found at last burning in hell? Can Christ be a crippled Christ? Can this member drop off and that? How can Christ part with His mystical members and not with His glory?"—Gurnall. 1655.
(c) Finally, I might point to the great fact that there is not a single example in all Scripture of anyone of God's elect ever finally making shipwreck and going to hell. We read of false prophets and hypocrites. We read of fruitless branches, stony-ground and thorny-ground hearers, virgins without oil in their lamps, servants who bury their talents. We read of Balaam, and Lot's wife, and Saul, and Judas Iscariot, and Ananias and Sapphira, and Demas. We see their hollow characters. We are told of their end. They had no root. They were rotten at the heart. They endured for a while. They went at last to their own place. But there is not a single instance in the whole Bible of anyone falling away who ever showed unquestionable evidences of grace. People like Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Peter, and Paul always hold on their way. They may slip. They may fall for a season. But they never entirely depart from God. They never perish. Surely if the saints of God can be cast away, it is a curious and striking fact that the Bible should not have given us one single plain example of it.
But time and space would fail me if I were to enter into the field which I have just pointed out. I think it better to rest my case on the texts which I have already given. The mind to which these texts carry no conviction, is not likely to be influenced by other arguments. To myself they appear, when taken altogether, to contain such an immense mass of evidence, that I dare not, as a Christian man, deny perseverance to be true. I dare not, because I feel at this rate I might dispute the truth of any doctrine in the Gospel. I feel that if I could explain away such plain texts as some of those I have quoted, I could explain away almost all the leading truths of Christianity.
I am quite aware that there are some texts and passages of Scripture which appear at first sight to teach a contrary doctrine to that which I maintain in this paper. I know that many attach great weight to these texts, and consider them to prove that the saints of God may perish and fall away. I can only say that I have examined these texts with attention—but have found in them no reason to alter my opinion on the subject of perseverance. Their number is small. Their meaning is unquestionably more open to dispute than that of many of the thirty-nine I have quoted. All of them admit of being interpreted so as not to contradict the doctrine of perseverance. I hold it to be an infallible rule in the exposition of Scripture, that when two texts seem to contradict one another, the less plain must give way to the more plain, and the weak must give way to the strong. That doctrine which reconciles most texts of Scripture is most likely to be right. That doctrine which makes most texts quarrel with one another is most likely to be wrong.
The following texts, on which the opponents of perseverance principally rely, appear to call for a brief notice.
Ezek. 3:20 and Ezek 18:24. I can see no proof in either of these cases that "the righteous" here spoken of, is anything more than one whose outward conduct is righteous. There is nothing to show that he is one justified by faith and accounted righteous before God.
1 Cor. 9:27. I see nothing in this but the godly fear of falling into sin, which is one of the marks of a believer, and distinguishes him from the unconverted, and a simple declaration of the means which Paul used to preserve himself from being a cast-away. It is like 1 John 5:18, "He who is begotten of God keeps himself."
John 15:2. This does not prove that true believers shall be taken away from Christ. A branch that "does not bear fruit" is not a believer. "A lively faith," says the 12th Article, "may be as evidently known by good works, as a tree is known by the fruit."
1 Thess. 5:19. If "the Spirit" here means the Spirit in ourselves, it means no more than "grieving the Spirit," in Ep. 4:30. But most good commentators think it is the Spirit's gifts in others, and ought to be taken in connection with verse 20.
Gal. 5:4. The tenor of the whole Epistle seems to show that this "falling" is not from the inward grace of the Spirit—but from the doctrine of grace. The same remarks applies to 2 Cor. 6:1.
Heb. 6:4-6. The person here described as "falling away" has no characteristics which may not be discovered in unconverted people, while it is not said that he possesses saving faith, and charity, and is elect.
John 8:31; Col. 1:23. The conditional "if "in both these verses, and several others like them that might be quoted, does not imply an uncertainty as to the salvation of those described. It simply means that the evidence of real grace is "continuance." False grace perishes. True grace lasts. "It is frequent in Scripture," says Charnock, "to put into promises these conditions which in other places are promised to be wrought in us."—Charnock on Real Grace.
I readily grant that these are not all the texts that the adversaries of final perseverance generally bring forward; but I believe they are the principal ones. The weak point in their case is this—they have no text to prove that saints may fall away, which will at all compare with such an expression as, "My sheep shall never perish;" and they have no account to give of such a mighty saying as this promise of our Lord, which is at all satisfactory or even rational. John Goodwin, the famous Arminian, offers the following explanation of this text, "The promise of eternal safety made by Christ to His sheep, does not relate to their estate in the present world—but to that of the world to come!" A man must be sorely put to straits when he can argue in such a way.
I ask my readers, if not convinced by all
I have said hitherto, to put down the texts I have quoted on behalf of
perseverance, and the texts commonly quoted against it, in two separate
lists. Weigh them one against another. Judge them with fair and honest
judgment. Which list contains the greatest number of positive,
unmistakable assertions? Which list contains the greatest number of
sentences which cannot be explained away? Which list is the strongest?
Which list is the weakest? Which list is the most flexible? Which list
is the most unbending? If it were possible in a world like this to have
this question fairly tried by an unprejudiced, intelligent jury, I have
not the least doubt which way the verdict would go. It is my own firm
belief and conviction that the final perseverance of the saints is so
deeply founded on Scriptural foundations, that so long as the Bible is
the judge, it cannot be overthrown.
III. The third thing I propose to do, is to point out the reasons why many reject the doctrine of perseverance. It is impossible to deny that multitudes of professing Christians entirely disagree with the views expressed in this paper. I am quite aware that many regard them with abhorrence, as dangerous, enthusiastic, and fanatical, and lose no opportunity of warning people against them. I am also aware that among those who hold that the saints of God may fall away and perish, are to be found many holy, self-denying, spiritually-minded people—people at whose feet I would gladly sit in heaven, though I cannot approve of all their teaching upon earth.
This being the case, it becomes a matter of deep interest to find out, if we can, the reasons why the doctrine of perseverance is so often refused. How is it that a doctrine for which so much Scripture can be alleged, should be stoutly opposed? How is it that a doctrine which for the first hundred years of the Reformed Church of England it was hardly allowable to call in question, should now be so frequently rejected? What new views can have risen up in the last two centuries which make it necessary to discharge this good old servant of Christ? I am confident that such inquiries are of deep importance in the present day. There is far more in this question than appears at first sight. I am satisfied that I am not wasting time in endeavoring to throw a little light on the whole subject.
I desire to clear the way by conceding that many good people refuse the doctrine of perseverance for no reason whatever, except that it is too strong for them. There are vast numbers of true-hearted Christians just now who never seem able to bear anything strong. Their religious constitution appears so feeble, and their spiritual digestion so weak, that they must always be "fed with milk and not with meat." Talk to them strongly about grace, and they put you down as an Antinomian! Talk strongly about holiness, and you are thought legal! Speak strongly of election, and you are considered a narrow-minded Calvinist! Speak strongly about responsibility and free agency, and you are regarded as a low Arminian! In short, they can bear nothing strong of any kind or in any direction! Of course they cannot receive the doctrine of perseverance.
I leave these people alone. I am sorry for them. There are sadly too many of them in the Churches of Christ just now. I can only wish them better spiritual health, and less narrowness of views, and a quicker growth in spiritual knowledge. The people I have in my mind's eye in this part of my paper are of a different class, and to them I now address myself.
(1) I believe one reason why many do not hold perseverance, is their general ignorance of the whole system of Christianity. They have no clear idea of the nature, place, and proportion of the various doctrines which compose the Gospel. Its several truths have no definite position in their minds. Its general outline is not mapped out in their understandings. They have a vague notion that it is a right thing to belong to the Church of Christ, and to believe all the articles of the Christian faith. They have a floating misty idea that Christ has done certain things for them, and that they ought to do certain things for Him, and that if they do them it will be all right at last—but beyond this they really know nothing! Of the great systematic statements in the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, they are profoundly ignorant. As to a clear account of Justification, you might as well ask them to square the circle, or to write a letter in Sanscrit. It is a subject they have not even touched with the tips of their fingers. This is a sore disease, and only too common in England. Unhappily it is the disease of thousands who pass muster as excellent Churchmen. It is absurd to expect such people to hold perseverance. When a man does not know what it is to be justified, he cannot of course understand what it is to persevere to the end.
(2) I believe another reason why many do not hold perseverance, is their dislike to any system of religion which draws distinctions between man and man. There are not a few who entirely disapprove of any Christian teaching which divides congregations into different classes, and speaks of one class of people as being in a better and more favorable state before God than another. Such people cry out, that "all teaching of this kind is uncharitable;" that "we ought to hope well of everybody, and suppose everybody will go to heaven." They think it downright wrong to say that one man has faith and another has not, one is converted and another not, one a child of God and another a child of the devil, one a saint and another a sinner. "What right have we to think anything about it?" they say. "We cannot possibly know. Those whom we call good, are very likely no better than others—hypocrites, impostors and the like. Those of whom we think badly are very probably quite as much in the way to heaven as the rest of mankind, and have good hearts at the bottom."
As to anyone feeling sure of heaven, or confident of his own salvation, they consider it quite abominable. "No man can be sure. We ought to hope well of all." There are only too many people of this sort in the present day. Of course the doctrine of perseverance is perfectly intolerable to them. When a man refuses to allow that anyone is elect, or has grace, or enjoys any special mark of God's favor more than his neighbors, it stands to reason that he will deny that anyone can have the grace of perseverance.
(3) I believe another common reason why many do not hold perseverance, is an incorrect view of the nature of saving faith. They regard faith as nothing better than a feeling or impression. As soon as they see a man somewhat impressed with the preaching of the Gospel, and manifesting some pleasure in hearing about Christ, they set him down at once as a believer. By and by the man's impressions wear away, and his interest about Christ and salvation ceases altogether. Where is the faith he seemed to have? It is gone. How can his friends, who had pronounced him a believer, account for it? They can only account for it by saying, that "a man may fall away from faith," and that "there is no such thing as perseverance." And, in short, this becomes an established principle in their religion.
Now this is a mischievous error, and I am afraid it is sadly common in many quarters. It may be traced to ignorance of the true nature of religious affections. People forget that there may be many religious emotions in the human mind with which the grace of God has nothing to do. The "stony-ground" hearers received the word with joy—but it had no root in them. (Matt. 13:20.) The history of all revivals proves that there may often be a great quantity of seemingly religious impression without any true work of the Spirit. Saving faith is something far deeper and mightier than a little sudden feeling. It is not an act of the feelings only—but of the whole conscience, will, understanding, and inward man. It is the result of clear knowledge. It springs from a conscience not grazed merely—but thoroughly stirred. It shows itself in a deliberate, willing, humble dependence on Christ. Such faith is the gift of God, and is never overthrown. Make faith a mere matter of feeling, and it is of course impossible to maintain perseverance.
(4) I believe another reason why many do not hold perseverance, is near akin to the one last mentioned. It is an incorrect view of the nature of conversion. Not a few are ready to pronounce any change for the better in a man's character, a conversion. They forget that there may be many blossoms on a tree in spring, and yet no fruit in autumn, and that a new coat of paint does not make an old door new. Some, if they see anyone weeping under the influence of a sermon, will put it down at once as a case of conversion! Others, if a neighbor suddenly gives up drinking, or swearing, or card-playing, and becomes a communicant and a great professor, at once rush to the conclusion that he is converted! The natural consequence in numerous instances is disappointment. Their supposed case of conversion often turns out nothing more than a case of outward reform, in which the heart was never changed. Their converted neighbor sometimes returns to his old bad habits, as the pig which was washed—to her wallowing in the mire. But then, unhappily, the pride of the natural heart, which never likes to allow itself mistaken, induces people to form a wrong conclusion about the case. Instead of telling us that the man never was converted at all, they say that "he was converted—but afterwards lost his grace and fell away." The true remedy for this is a right understanding of conversion. It is no such cheap, and easy, and common thing as many seem to fancy. It is a mighty work on the heart, which none but He who made the world can effect, and a work which will always abide and stand the fire. But once take a low and superficial view of conversion, and you will find it impossible to maintain final perseverance.
(5) I believe another most common reason why many do not hold perseverance, is an incorrect view of the effect of baptism. They lay it down, as a cardinal point in their theology, that all who are baptized are born again in baptism, and all receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. Without a single plain text in the Bible to support their opinions, and in the face of the 17th Article, which many of them as Churchmen have subscribed, they still tell us that all baptized people are necessarily "regenerate." Of course such a view of baptism is utterly destructive of the doctrine that true grace can never be overthrown. It is plain as daylight, that multitudes of baptized people never show a spark of grace all their lives, and never give the slightest evidence of having been born of God. They live careless and worldly, and careless and worldly they die, and to all appearance miserably perish. According to the view to which I am now referring, "they have all fallen away from grace! They all had it! They were all made God's children! But they all lost their grace! They have all become children of the devil!" I will not trust myself to make a single remark on such doctrine. I leave those who can to reconcile it with the Bible. All I say is, that "if baptismal regeneration" be true, there is an end of final perseverance.
(6) I believe another reason why many do not hold perseverance, is an incorrect view of the nature of the Church. They make no distinction between the visible Church which contains "evil as well as good," and the invisible Church which is composed of none but God's elect and true believers. They apply to the one the privileges, and blessings, and promises which belong to the other. They call the visible Church, with its crowds of ungodly members, and baptized infidels, "the mystical body of Christ, the Bride, the Lamb's wife, the Holy Church," and the like! They will not see what Hooker long ago pointed out, and his admirers would do well to remember—that all these glorious titles do not properly belong to any visible Church—but to the mystical company of God's elect. The consequence of all this confusion is certain and plain. Upon this man-made system they are obliged to allow that thousands of members of Christ's body have no life, no grace, and no sympathy with their Head, and end at last by being ruined forever, and becoming lost members of Christ in hell! Of course at this rate they cannot maintain the doctrine of perseverance. Once embrace the unscriptural notion that all members of the visible Church are, by virtue of their churchmanship members of Christ, and the doctrine of this paper must be thrown aside. Oh, what a wise remark it is of Hooker's, "For lack of diligently observing the difference between the Church of God mystical and visible, the errors are neither few nor light that have been committed."
I commend the things I have just been saying to the sincere and prayerful attention of every reader of these pages. I have gone through them at the risk of seeming wearisome, from a deep conviction of their great importance. I am sure if any part of this paper deserves consideration, it is this.
I entreat you to observe how important it is for Christians to be sound in the faith, and to be armed with clear Scriptural knowledge of the whole system of the Gospel. I fear the increasing tendency to regard all doctrinal questions as matters of opinion, and to look on all "earnest-minded" people as right, whatever doctrines they maintain. I warn you that the sure result of giving way to this tendency will be a vague, low, misty theology—a theology containing no positive hope, no positive motive, and no positive consolation—a theology which will fail most, just when it is most needed—in the day of affliction, the hour of sickness, and on the bed of death.
I know well that it is a thankless office to offer such warnings as these. I know well that those who give them must expect to be called bigoted, narrow-minded, and exclusive. But I cannot review the many errors which prevail on the subject of perseverance, without seeing more than ever the immense need there is for urging on all to be careful about doctrine. Oh, learn to know what you mean when you talk of believing the doctrines of Christianity! Be able to give a reason of your hope. Be able to say what you think true, and what you think false in religion. And never, never forget that the only foundation of soundness in the faith, is a thorough textual knowledge of the Bible.
I entreat you, in the last place, to observe how one error in religion leads on to another. There is a close connection between false doctrines. It is almost impossible to take up one alone. Once let a man get wrong about the Church and the sacraments, and there is no saying how far he may go, and where he may land at last. It is a mistake at the fountain-head, and it influences the whole course of his religion. The mistake about baptism is a striking illustration of what I mean. It throws a color over the whole of a man's theology. It insensibly affects his views of justification, sanctification, election, and perseverance. It fills his mind with a tangled maze of confusion as to all the leading articles of the faith. He starts with a theory for which no single plain text of Scripture can be alleged, and before this theory he tramples down plain passages of the Bible by the score! They interfere forsooth, with his favorite theory, and therefore cannot mean what common sense tells us they do! We ought to be as jealous about a little false doctrine, as we would be about a little sin! Remember the words of Paul about false doctrine, "a little leaven leavens the whole lump." (Gal. 5:9.)
IV. I now proceed, in the last place, to mention some reasons why the doctrine of final perseverance is of great importance.
When I speak of the importance of perseverance, I do not for a moment mean that it is necessary to salvation to receive it. I freely grant that thousands and tens of thousands have gone to heaven, who believed all their lives that saints might fall away. But all this does not prove the doctrine maintained in this paper to be a matter of indifference. He who does not believe it, and yet is saved, no doubt does well; but I am persuaded that he who believes it and is saved, does far better. I hold it to be one of the chief privileges of the children of God, and I consider that no privilege contained in the Gospel can be lost sight of without injury to the soul.
(1) Perseverance is a doctrine of great importance because of the strong color which it throws on the whole statement of the Gospel. The grand characteristic of the Gospel is, that it is glad tidings. It is a message of peace to a rebellious world. It is good news from a far country, alike unexpected and undeserved. It is the glad tidings that there is a hope for us, lost, ruined, and bankrupt as we are by nature—a hope of pardon, a hope of reconciliation with God, a hope of glory. It is the glad tidings that the foundation of this hope is mighty, deep, and broad—that it is built on the atoning death and gracious mediation of a Savior. It is the glad tidings that this Savior is an actual living person, Jesus the Son of God; able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him, and no less merciful, compassionate, and ready to save than able. It is the glad tidings that the way to pardon and peace by this Savior is the simplest possible. It is not a thing high in heaven, that we cannot reach, or deep in the depths, that we cannot fathom. It is simply to believe, to trust, and to cast ourselves wholly on Jesus for salvation; and then salvation is all our own. It is the glad tidings that all who believe are at once justified and forgiven all things; their sins, however many, are washed away; their souls, however unworthy, are counted righteous before God. They believe on Jesus, and therefore they are saved. This is the good news. This is the glad tidings. This is the truth which is the grand peculiarity of the Gospel. Happy indeed is he who knows and believes it!
But think, for a moment, what a mighty difference it would make in the sound of the Gospel, if I went on to say, that after receiving all these mercies, that you might by-and-by lose them entirely. What would your feelings be if I told you that you were in daily peril of forfeiting all these privileges, and of having your pardon sealed in Christ's blood, taken back again? What would you think if I told you that your safety was yet an uncertain thing, and that you might yet perish, and never reach heaven at all? Oh, how discouraging this would seem! Oh, how much of the grace and beauty of the glorious Gospel would disappear and fade away! Yet this is literally and exactly the conclusion to which a denial of perseverance must bring us.
Once admit that the saints of God may perish, and you seem to me to tear from the Gospel crown it brightest jewel. We are hanging on the edge of a precipice. We are kept in awful suspense until we are dead. To tell us that there are plenty of gracious promises to encourage us—if we will only persevere—is but mockery. It is like telling the sick man that if he will only get well, he will be strong. The poor patient feels no confidence that he will get well, and the poor weak believer feels nothing in him like power to persevere. Today he may be in Canaan, and tomorrow he may be in Egypt again, and in bondage. This week he may be in the narrow way; but, for anything he knows, next week he may be back in the broad road. This month he may be a justified, pardoned, and forgiven man; but next month his pardon may be all revoked, and he himself in a state of condemnation. This year he may have faith, and be a child of God; next year he may be a child of the devil, and have no part or lot in Christ. Where is the good news in all this? What becomes of the glad tidings? Verily such doctrine seems to me to cut up the joy of the Gospel by the roots. Yet this is the doctrine we must hold, if we reject the final perseverance of the saints. "They weaken Christians' comfort that make believers walk with Christ, like dancers upon a rope, every moment in fear of breaking their necks!"—Manton. 1658.
I bless God that I am able to see another kind of Gospel than this in the Word of God. To my eyes the Bible seems to teach that he who once begins the life of faith in Christ, shall without doubt be preserved from apostasy, and come to a glorious end. Once made alive by the grace of God, he shall live forever. Once raised from the grave of sin and made a new man, he shall never go back to the grave, and become once more the old man "dead in trespasses and sins." He shall be kept by the power of God. He shall be more than conqueror through Him who loved him. The eternal God is his refuge; underneath him are the Everlasting Arms. The love in which he is interested is eternal. The righteousness in which he is clothed is eternal. The redemption which he enjoys is eternal. The sense and comfort of it he may lose by his own carelessness. But the thing itself, after once believing, is his for evermore.
Let any thinking man look at the two ways in which the weary and heavy-laden sinner may be addressed, and judge for himself which is most like the Gospel of the grace of God. On the one side stands the doctrine, which says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Once believing you shall never perish. Your faith shall never be allowed entirely to fail. You shall be sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption." On the other side stands the doctrine, which says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. But after you have believed—take care! Your faith may fail. You may fall away. You may drive the Spirit from you. You may at length perish everlastingly." Which doctrine of these two contains most good news? Which is most like glad tidings? Is it all the same which way the sinner is addressed? Is it a matter of indifference whether we tell him that believing he is saved, unless he falls away; or whether we tell him that believing he is saved forever? I cannot think it. I regard the difference between the two doctrines as very great indeed. It is the difference between January and June. It is the difference between twilight and noonday.
I speak for myself. I cannot answer for the experience of others. To give me solid peace, I must know something about my future prospects as well as about my present position. It is pleasant to see my pardon today—but I cannot help thinking of tomorrow. Tell me that the Holy Spirit, who leads me to Christ, and gives me repentance and faith in Him, will never leave me nor forsake me—and I feel solid comfort. My feet are on a rock. My soul is in safe hands. I shall get safely home. Tell me, on the other hand, that after being led to Christ I am left to my own vigilance, and that it depends on my watching, and praying, and care, whether the Spirit leaves me or not—and my heart melts within me. I stand on a quicksand. I lean on a broken reed. I shall never get to heaven. It is vain to tell me of the promises; that they are only mine if I walk worthy of them. It is vain to talk to me of Christ's mercy; I may lose all my interest in it by indolence and self-will. The absence of the doctrine of perseverance appears to me to give a different color to the whole Gospel of Christ. You cannot wonder if I regard it as of great importance.
(2) But the doctrine of perseverance is also of importance, because of the special influence it is calculated to have on all who halt between two opinions in religion.
There are many people of this description in the Church of Christ. There are hundreds to be found in every congregation to which the Gospel of Christ is preached, who know well what is right, and yet have not courage to act up to their knowledge. Their consciences are awakened. Their minds are comparatively enlightened. Their feelings are partially aroused to a sense of the value of their souls. They see the path they ought to take. They hope one day to be able to take it. But at present they sit still and wait. They will not take up the cross and confess Christ.
And what is it that keeps them back? In a vast proportion of cases they are afraid to begin, lest they should by-and-by fail and fall away. They see innumerable difficulties before them if they serve Christ. They are quite right. It is vain to deny that there are difficulties, both many and great. They stand shivering on the brink of the vast sea on which we would have them embark; and as they mark the rolling, tumbling waves, their hearts faint. They mark many a little boat on the waters of that sea, tossed to and fro, and struggling hard to make its way across, and looking as if it would be engulfed in the angry billows, and never get safe to harbor. "It is of no use," they feel, "it is of no use. We shall certainly fall away. We cannot serve Christ yet. The thing cannot be done."
Now, what is most likely to give courage to these halting souls? What is most likely to hearten them for the voyage? What is most likely to cheer their spirits, nerve their minds, and bring them to the point of boldly launching away? I answer, without hesitation, The doctrine of final perseverance.
I would gladly tell them that however great the difficulties of Christ's service, there is grace and strength in store to carry them triumphantly through all. I would tell them that these poor, praying, broken-spirited voyagers whom they watch, and expect to see cast away, are all as safe as if they were already in harbor. They have each a pilot on board, who will carry them safely through every storm. They are each joined to the everlasting God by a tie that can never be broken, and shall all appear at length, safe at the right hand of their Lord. Yes—and I would gladly tell them that they too shall all make a glorious end if they will only begin. I would have them know that, if they will only commit themselves to Christ, they shall never be cast away. They shall not be plucked away by Satan. They shall never be left to sink and come to shame. Trials they may have—but none that the Spirit will not give them power to endure. Temptations they may have—but none that the Spirit shall not enable them to resist. Only let them begin, and they shall be conquerors. But the great matter is to begin. I believe firmly that one reason why so many wavering Christians hang back from making a decided profession, is the lack of encouragement which the doctrine of perseverance is intended to afford.
(3) The doctrine of perseverance is of importance because of the special influence it is calculated to have on the minds of true believers.
The number of true believers is at all times very small. They are a little flock. But even out of that flock there are few who can be called strong in faith, few who know much of uninterrupted joy and peace in believing, few who are not often cast down by doubts, anxieties, and fears.
It is useless to deny that the way to heaven is narrow. There are many things to try the faith of believers. They have trials the world cannot understand. They have within a heart weak, deceitful, and not to be trusted—cold when they would gladly be warm—backward when they would gladly be forward—more ready to sleep than to watch. They have without a world that does not love Christ's truth and Christ's people—a world full of slander, ridicule, and persecution—a world with which their own dearest relations often join. They have ever near them a busy devil, an enemy who has been reading men's hearts for 6,000 years, and knows exactly how to suit and time his temptations—an enemy who never ceases to lay snares in their way—who never slumbers and never sleeps. They have the cares of life to attend to, like other people—the cares of children—the cares of business—the cares of money—the cares of earthly plans and arrangements—the cares of a poor weak body, each daily thrusting itself upon their souls. Who can wonder that believers are sometimes cast down? Who ought not rather to marvel that any believers are saved? Truly I often think that the salvation of each saved person is a greater miracle than the passage of Israel through the Red Sea.
"There are as many miracles wrought as a saint is preserved, as there are minutes."—Jenkyn. 1680.
But what is the best antidote against the believer's fears and anxieties? What is most likely to cheer him as he looks forward to the untried future and remembers the weary past? I answer without hesitation, the doctrine of the final perseverance of God's elect. Let him know that God having begun a good work in him will never allow it to be overthrown. Let him know that the footsteps of Christ's little flock are all in one direction. They have erred. They have been vexed. They have been tempted. But not one of them has been lost. Let him know that those whom Jesus loves, He loves unto the end. Let him know that He will not allow the weakest lamb in His flock to perish in the wilderness, or the tenderest flower in His garden to wither and die! Let him know that Daniel in the den of lions, the three children in the fiery furnace, Paul in the shipwreck, Noah in the Ark—were not more cared for and more secure than each believer in Christ is at the present day. Let him know that he is fenced, walled in, protected, guarded by the Almighty power of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and cannot perish. Let him know that it is not in the power of things present or things to come—of people or of devils—of cares within or troubles without—to separate one single child of God from the love that is in Christ Jesus.
This is strong consolation! These are the things which God has laid up in the Gospel, for the establishment and confirmation of His people. Well would it be for His people if these things were more brought forward than they are in the Church of Christ. Verily I believe that one reason of the saints' weakness is their ignorance of the truths which God has revealed in order to make them strong.
I leave the subject of the importance of perseverance here. I trust I have said enough to show my readers that I have not called their attention to it in this paper without good cause. I feel strongly that the hardness of man's heart is such that nothing should be omitted in religious teaching which is likely to do it good. I dare not omit a single grain of truth, however strong, and liable to abuse, it may seem to be. Nothing appears to me of small importance which adds to the beauty of the Gospel, or gives encouragement to the halting, or confirms and builds up God's people. I desire to teach that the Gospel not only offers present pardon and peace—but eternal safety and certain continuance to the end. This I believe to be the mind of the Spirit. And what the Spirit reveals I desire to proclaim.
And now I have brought before my readers, to the best of my ability, the whole subject of perseverance. If I have failed to convince you, I am sorry—but I am satisfied the defect is not in the doctrine I defend—but in my manner of stating it. It only remains to conclude this paper by a few words of PRACTICAL APPLICATION.
(1) For one thing, let me entreat you to thoroughly consider, whether you have any part at all in the salvation of Christ Jesus.
It matters nothing what you believe about perseverance, if after all you have no true faith in Christ. It matters little whether you hold the doctrine or not, so long as you have no saving faith, and your sins are not forgiven, and your heart not renewed by the Holy Spirit. The clearest head-knowledge will save no man. The most correct and orthodox views will not prevent a man perishing by the side of the most ignorant heathen—if he is not born again. Oh, search and see what is the state of your own soul!
You cannot live forever. You must one day die. You cannot avoid the judgment after death. You must stand before the tribunal of Christ. The summons of the Archangel cannot be disobeyed. The last great assembly must be attended. The state of your own soul must one day undergo a thorough investigation. It will be found out one day what you are in God's sight. Your spiritual condition will at length be brought to light before the whole world. Oh, find out what it is now! While you have time, while you have health, find out the state of your soul.
Your danger, if you are not converted, is far greater than I can describe. Just in proportion to the thorough safety of the believer is the deadly peril of the unbeliever. There is but a step between the unbeliever and the worm that never dies, and the fire that is not quenched. He is literally hanging over the brink of the bottomless pit. Sudden death to the saint is sudden glory; but sudden death to the unconverted sinner, is sudden hell. Oh, search and see what is the state of your soul!
Remember that you may find out whether you have an interest in the invitations of the Gospel. It is a thing which may be known. It is nonsense to pretend that no man can tell. I never will believe that an honest man, with a Bible in his hand, will fail to discover his own spiritual condition by diligent self-examination. Oh, be an honest man! Search the Scriptures. Look within. Rest not until you find out the state of your soul. To live on and leave the soul's state uncertain, is not to play the part of a wise man—but of a fool.
(2) In the next place, if you know nothing of the privileges of the Gospel, I entreat you this day to repent and be converted, to hear Christ's voice, and follow Him.
I know no reason, human or divine, why you should not accept this invitation today and be saved, if you are really willing. It is not the quantity of your sins that need prevent you. All manner of sin may be forgiven. The blood of Jesus cleanses away all sin. It is not the hardness of your heart, that need prevent you. A new heart God will give you, and a new spirit will He put in you. It is not the decrees of God that need prevent you. He wills not the death of sinners. He is not willing that any should perish—but that all should come to repentance. It is not any lack of willingness in Christ—He has long cried to the sons of men, "Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely." "Him who comes unto Me I will never cast out." Oh, why should not you be saved? (Rev. 22:17; John 6:37.)
A day must come, if you are ever to be God's child, when you will cease to trifle with your soul's interests. An hour must come when at last you will bend your knee in real earnestness, and pour out your heart before God in real prayer. A time must come when the burden of your sins will at last feel intolerable, and when you will feel you must have rest in Christ or perish. All this must come to pass, if you are ever to become a child of God and be saved. And why not today? Why not this very night? Why not without delay seek Christ and live? Answer me, if you can!
(3) In the next place, let me entreat every reader who holds final perseverance, so to use this precious doctrine as not to abuse it.
There is an awful readiness in all people to abuse God's mercies. Even the children of God are not free from the sad infection. There is a busy devil near the best of saints, who would gladly persuade them to make their privileges a plea for careless living, and to turn their soul's food into poison. I cannot look round the Church of Christ, and see the end to which many high professors come, without feeling that there is need for a caution. "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 10:12.)
Would we know what it is to abuse the doctrine of perseverance? It is abused when believers make their safety an excuse for inconsistencies in practice. It is abused when they make their security from final ruin an apology for a low standard of sanctification, and a distant walk with God. Against both these abuses I entreat believers to be on their guard.
Would we know what it is to use the doctrine of perseverance aright? Let us watch jealously over the daily workings of our own hearts. Let us mortify and nip in the bud the least inclination to spiritual indolence. Let us settle it down in our minds, as a ruling principle of our lives, that the mercies of God are only turned to a good account when they have a sanctifying effect on our hearts. Let us root it firmly in our inward man, that the love of Christ is never so really valued as when it constrains us to increased spiritual-mindedness. Let us set before our minds, that the more safe we feel—the more holy we ought to be. The more we realize that God has done much for us, the more we ought to do for God. The greater our debt, the greater should be our gratitude. The more we see the riches of grace, the more rich should we be in good works.
Oh, for a heart like that of the Apostle Paul! To realize as he did, our perfect safety in Christ—to labor as he did for God's glory, as if we could never do too much—this is the mark—this is the standard at which we ought to aim. Let us so use the doctrine of perseverance that our good may never be evil spoken of.
Let us so adorn the doctrine by our lives that we may make it beautiful to others, and constrain people to say, "It is a good and holy thing to be persuaded that saints shall never perish."
(4) In the last place, I entreat all believers who have hitherto been afraid of falling away—to lay firm hold on the doctrine of perseverance, and to realize their own safety in Christ.
I want you to know the length and breadth of your portion in Christ. I want you to understand the full amount of the treasure to which faith in Jesus entitles you. You have found out that you are a great sinner. Thank God for that. You have fled to Christ for pardon and peace with God. Thank God for that. You have committed yourself to Jesus for time and eternity—you have no hope but in Christ's blood, Christ's righteousness Christ's mediation, Christ's daily all-persevering intercession. Thank God for that. Your heart's desire and prayer is to be holy in all manner of conversation. Thank God for that. But oh, lay hold upon the glorious truth—that believing on Jesus you shall never perish, you shall never be cast away, you shall never fall away! It is written for you as well as for the apostles, "My sheep shall never perish."
Yes! Jesus has spoken it—and Jesus meant it to be believed. Jesus has spoken it—and He never brakes His promises. Jesus has spoken it—and He cannot lie. Jesus has spoken it—and He has all power in heaven and earth to keep His word. Jesus has spoken it for the least and lowest believers, "My sheep shall never perish."
Would you have perfect peace in life? Then lay hold on this doctrine of perseverance. Your TRIALS may be many and great. Your cross may be very heavy. But the business of your soul is all conducted according to an "everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." (2 Sam. 23:5.) All things are working together for your good. Your sorrows are only purifying your soul for glory. Your bereavements are only fashioning you as a polished stone for the temple above, made without hands. From whatever quarter the storms blow, they only drive you nearer to heaven. Whatever weather you may go through it is only ripening you for the garner of God. Your best things are quite safe. Come what will, you shall "never perish."
Would you have strong consolation in SICKNESS? Then lay hold on this doctrine of perseverance. Think, as you feel the pins of this earthly tabernacle loosening one by one, "nothing can break my union with Christ." Your body may become useless; your limbs may refuse to perform their office; you may feel like an old useless log—a weariness to others, and a burden to yourself. But your soul is safe! Jesus is never tired of caring for your soul. You shall "never perish."
Would you have full assurance of hope in DEATH? Then lay hold on this doctrine of perseverance. Doctors may have given over their labors; friends may be unable to minister to your needs; sight may depart; hearing may depart; memory may be almost gone—but the loving-kindness of God shall not depart. Once in Christ you shall never be forsaken. Jesus shall stand by you. Satan shall not harm you. Death shall not separate you from the everlasting love of God in Christ. You shall "never perish!"
The deathbed of Bruce, the
divine, is a striking illustration of this part of my subject. Fleming
describes it in the following words. "He called for his Bible; but
finding his sight gone, he said, 'Turn to the eighth chapter of Romans
and set my finger on these words—I am persuaded that neither death, nor
life, etc., shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is
in Christ Jesus our Lord.' 'Now,' said he, 'is my finger upon them?'
When they told him it was, he said, 'Now God be with you, my children—I
have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this
night!' And then he died."