The Perseverance of the Saints
Eternal security for the believer! The greatest of all assurances--or an invitation to moral laxity? A biblical doctrine plainly rooted in Scripture and part and parcel of the revelation of God along with the promise of forgiveness and cleansing--or simply a logical deduction from the fact of Election? If a promise of God, what of the many passages which seem to warn of the danger of falling away unto perdition and being lost in the end? And if it is up to the believer "to endure," do we not then shift the final responsibility for salvation to the individual himself? Are we then to be kept by our own good works after being saved by faith without them?
But if once saved means always saved, should we not then speak rather of the Preservation of the Saints than of the Perseverance, for must it not be that God preserves rather than that the believer perseveres? Where does our responsibility to maintain good works begin and where does it end? And does this maintenance of good works have a bearing upon our relationship in the family of God as sons of the Father, or only upon our continued fellowship with Him?
Such were the issues that revolved around the central fact of Predestination and Election, issues which divided the Reformers into two factions that found it increasingly difficult to resolve their differences because Scripture seemed to be equivocal, supplying proof texts for the advocates of both positions. In the end not merely two but three streams of theology emerged: the Reformed, the Arminian, and the Roman Catholic. And these three streams have tended only to harden their differences even while all three point to the same Scriptures as their authority. Meanwhile, of all the differences between these three theological systems, the fundamental point at issue might be said to be summed up in the basic question, Does the believer preserve himself or is he kept solely by the power of God?
The issue has been considered of great importance because it seems to be crucial for the maintenance of a godly life. If the believer is kept solely by the power of God--and what other view of the matter could possibly guarantee real security--then it would seem that there is no vital incentive to godly life. What need of learning even the rudiments of the doctrine of the faith, and what need of penitence, and what need of exhortation to obedience? What need of separation from the world and its contamination of spiritual life? What need of good works? Might we not turn around a familiar saying to read, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die?" Indeed what need of anything, for are we not free to do exactly as we please without fear of serious consequence in this world or of judgment in the world to come? Does not liberty become license? Is not this what Paul was inviting when four times he repeated the words, "All things are lawful unto me" (1 Cor. 6:12 twice and 1 Cor. 10:23 twice)? Should we not logically all join hands with the Antinomians who drew just such a conclusion as this and repudiated all controls entirely, claiming the right of each man to do precisely what he chose as he felt inclined, by what he called the inner leading of the Holy Spirit? If such lawlessness was not dangerous, could it possibly be wrong at all?
Thus while the issue might seem to be merely a theological one, its resolution had wide practical consequences for the Lord's people and formed the basis of divisions between believers as well as between branches of the institutional churches, divisions which have confounded all attempts at healing and have so far rendered futile every effort to reunite Christendom into a true organic unity. So unlikely is it that the issue can be resolved that it would almost appear to be a providential device whereby the existence of active controversy keeps the issue vital and the truth constantly under examination, and doctrine in a state of perpetual refinement.
As we have noted already, William Cunningham in his Historical Theology stressed the fact that the early Church Fathers often presented contrary views on the same issues. (1) As a result they have frequently been appealed to for support by opposing parties of later centuries. These contradictory opinions were not matters of grave concern to the Church at that time, but later, when it came time to resolve them, their very existence proved beneficial in some important ways. They had previously received little notice because the issues were not sharply enough defined. But sharper definition was achieved as a direct result of the later controversy to which earlier imprecision had not given rise. These controversies focused attention, clarifying the issues and refining the answers. Conflict of opinion has thus had the beneficial effect of deepening conviction and enlarging understanding. While the Council of Trent directed Roman Catholic theology along a false trail, Reformed theology honed and refined the truth.
Now the Calvinist position is grounded securely in Scripture, but it is also logically defensible. It may not seem important that it should be logical if it is truly biblical. But it is important, because a system of faith that will not bear logical analysis is a faith that becomes indefensible at certain critical points except by emotional reinforcement. When faith is challenged at these points and we find we cannot meet the challenge reasonably we become emotionally defensive, and if the challenge persists long enough we may come to suspect human reason altogether. But if it is then asked why we reject reason, we inevitably find ourselves searching for reasonable explanations for our rejection, and thus we fall back upon the very thing we are seeking to repudiate. The Lutherans tended to accuse Calvinists of basing the doctrine of eternal security upon reason rather than upon Scripture, making it a logical consequence of their faith in the fact of Election. The Lutherans had to do this because while they accepted Election they rejected eternal security in the Calvinistic sense of being a certainty. They could not allow, therefore, that the doctrine of eternal security was to be found in Scripture, and accordingly they insisted that Calvinists discovered it only by a process of logic.
If God has elected man to be saved and if God is truly sovereign, then man will be saved and cannot end up in any other way. The logic seems unchallengeable. But we have to ask, Upon what grounds does God elect? Calvinists say, "Solely upon the grounds of his own good pleasure." But the Lutherans say, "Not so. God elects men on the grounds of foreseen Perseverance." This puts a new complexion on the matter. Because God can foresee who will persevere to the end, He can safely elect those more promising individuals to be conformed to the image of his Son. Thus both parties agree to Election but upon different grounds, and allowing these two different grounds permits a logical extension to two different conclusions regarding the security of the believer. To the Lutherans Election hinges upon foreseen Perseverance; to the Calvinists Perseverance hinges upon Election.
Now the Lutherans were as convinced as the Calvinists that a man is saved by the grace of God, but they differed as to how he is kept. To say that he is also "kept by the power of God" (1 Peter 1:5) was, if taken literally, to invite total indifference on the part of the believer to what he did with his life thereafter. And Lutherans felt that many Scriptures demand that the child of God exercise himself continually towards godliness or he will not be kept. Only he that endures to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22). God's keeping of the believer is contingent upon the believer's endurance. The believer is therefore called upon to mortify the flesh (Col. 3:5), to keep the body under control lest by any means he should himself become a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). We are to strive to walk worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1), and to abide in the Lord lest we be cut off and thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:6). The incentive to godly life is the need to preserve the salvation which has been initiated solely by the grace of God. Though this initiation was not a cooperative effort but wholly a work of God, the preservation of it is man's work. Both Lutherans and Calvinists agree that the grace of God in bringing salvation is effectively sovereign. It might be resisted for a season by the elect but it cannot be resisted forever. Once saved, however, a man might indeed resist the grace of God. Calvinists believed that such resistance would be to the hurt of a man's fellowship with God but not his sonship: Lutherans believed that it might be to the hurt both of a man's fellowship and his sonship. Thus the grace of God is both irresistible and resistible, depending on whether we are talking about the experience of regeneration or our walk thereafter with the Lord. Issues which appear sometimes to be very simple and straightforward prove upon closer examination to have nuances which allow for great diversities of opinion.
The compulsiveness of the logic of Calvinism which argues that if man must preserve himself he becomes his own savior was not lost on the Lutheran Reformers. Consequently, they had to reject the use of logic and insist only upon an appeal to Scripture. And Calvinists replied by underscoring the many passages of Scripture which support the doctrine of eternal security. For example, in John 10:28 the Lord said to his disciples: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But the Lutherans countered by quoting many passages which seemed to state the reverse, and they sought to take the force out of their opponents' words by reinterpreting such proof texts as this. "True," they said, "no man can pluck us out of his hand. But we by our own disobedience can escape from his hand and be lost." They did not argue that Perseverance was impossible; they argued only that it was up to the believer. It was not guaranteed merely by the fact of Election, for Election itself was based on foreseen Perseverance.
But the Calvinists believed that they need not depend upon logic, though logic is certainly in their favor. They believed that Scripture itself places the security of the believer not in himself but in the Father's good pleasure; and then, having committed themselves to this, they sought a better understanding of those passages which their opponents pointed to as standing against their doctrine. In this they were behaving no differently from the Lutherans and Arminians who supported the contrary view, except in so far as they have concerned themselves more intensively with these apparently contradictory passages with the result that, by sharpening their understanding, a great refinement of doctrine has resulted. By and large Lutherans and Arminians have not been able to refine their position to the same extent, partly because every effort to do so has led to reasoning which is circular. A study of the written works of Arminius shows this very clearly. That it should be impossible, apparently, to break out of this circularity and to reach a final conclusion suggests that the system is basically at fault, not so much in its logical structure but in its premises. By contrast, Calvinism does not suffer in the same way; its logic is linear and it allows the extension of understanding almost indefinitely--one might say, to the limits of human reason, provided that the premises accord with revelation. What Arminius, and what evangelicals of Arminian persuasion, have consistently failed to produce is a logically defensible theology that is not circular in its reasoning; for what they seek to prove is introduced into the argument as part of the proof.
This kind of reasoning was particularly true of Arminius, whose position on this matter closely resembles the Lutheran. In his arguments with his contemporaries he never seems able to escape from circularity of reasoning. What he seeks to prove is first assumed to be true and then forms an essential part of his proof. It should be recognized that Arminius was a most worthy man and undoubtedly a very earnest believer. He often remarks upon the fact that the object of all his theological dissertation was only to lead men to Christ, not to defeat his opponents. He was a man of genuine humility and profound learning. His reputation was admitted equally by friends and foes alike. Beza, one of his most persistent opponents, highly respected his scholarship nevertheless. Arminius admired Calvin and recommended to his students the reading of Calvin's Institutes and Commentaries as essential to their proper training. He was a gentle man, constantly seeking to avoid raising controversial issues and anxious to find and explore points of agreement rather than disagreement. His early life was marked by tragedy when, in his absence from Amsterdam as a youth, his whole remaining family--mother, brothers, and sisters--was massacred by Spanish forces bent on stamping out the Protestant Reformation Movement in Holland. And the last decade of his comparatively short life was plagued by increasingly incapacitating illness (probably tuberculosis) and constant attacks by strong Calvinist proponents who doubted not only his orthodoxy but also his integrity.
It must be admitted that his persecutors had some grounds for their concern. Arminius occupied a sensitive position as a prominent member of the Dutch Reformed Church and even more as a Professor of Theology at Leiden University where many Reformed students received their basic training. The situation was acerbated by the fact that Arminius hedged regarding his own position in the crucial matters of the capabilities of the natural man, the extent of free will, and the question of the eternal security of the believer. When he was asked to state his opinion plainly regarding such questions as the part which man plays in his own conversion, whether natural man can cooperate with or resist the overture of God, whether man is capable of exercising saving faith on his own initiative, his answer tended always to be equivocal. Sometimes his equivocation may have been unintentional, resulting from circular reasoning from which he could not escape because his doctrine of the total spiritual ineptitude of man was unclear. He admitted freely that it was sometimes expedient (his word) to remain silent as to his position rather than to utter a falsehood about it. (2) But he seems not to have recognized that while silence may be proper in the absence of a request for a clear statement, it is not proper in the presence of such a request. In the latter situation, silence is tantamount to a declaration of error by default.
Arminius held that man had free will for the initiation of repentance and faith. Yet when asked why some men exercised this freedom by responding and others by refusing the overtures of God, he replied in effect,
"It is the grace of God working in them that makes them respond."
"Then why does not the grace of God act to make all men respond?"
"Because the grace of God is directed only towards those who God sees will respond."
And so we end up with the conclusion that the grace of God which brings a response is exercised to bring a response, and that it brings a response because this is why it is exercised. All men can respond, but only some do. Why only some?
"Because God enables them to by his grace."
'Why does He not then enable all men to respond?"
"Because He extends his grace only to those He knows will do so."
"Then what makes the difference between men?"
"The difference is in their responsiveness."
"How does this difference come about?"
"It comes about because God's grace enables those who do respond to respond."
"On what is God's selective enabling based?"
"On foreseen responsiveness in the objects of his grace."
The discussion becomes never-ending and there is no way to break out of it. Calvin's answer to this same problem obviates this circularity by preventing it in the first place and thus allows forward linear progression with very fruitful consequence. Admittedly his answer is irrational in the sense that it is beyond human reason to understand what predetermines God's good pleasure. The rationale of this good pleasure is secret (Deut. 29:29). Yet the fact of his good pleasure is revealed in the New Testament (Eph. 1:5), and if we in faith start with this as the reason why some men are chosen, instead of seeking to base God's choice on some good quality resident in man himself, we break the circle which plagues Arminians and Lutherans and open the way for progress by extension of logical argument. Thereafter discussion becomes generative of entirely new understanding, and theological refinement is possible.
For one thing we can now begin with the knowledge that all men are equally sinful and hopelessly lost. From this we move forward to a number of related doctrines, not the least important of which is that saving faith is not something that man contributes himself but must be an integral part of the atoning benefit of Christ's sacrifice. Like salvation, repentance and faith are gifts of God. We do not need to argue this logically; we need only to read Scripture with our eyes open. The logic is apparent once we have accepted revelation. Similarly it follows that if a man is not saved by exercising his own faith he cannot be lost by ceasing to exercise it. Again this is not merely a logical extension without Scripture to support it, for Scripture tells us plainly that Election means God's choice of the individual and not the individual's choice of God (John 15:16); and God is not a man that He should change his mind (Num. 23:19).
As we have already noted, Arminians have evaded the question of eternal security by a process of deception in the use of words. They agree that believers never lose their salvation. But when asked, "Why not?" they reply, "Because a man loses his salvation only when his faith fails." He thus becomes de facto an unbeliever and satisfies the condition of the statement that a man who is actually a believer is one who by definition still enjoys his salvation.
Thus it came about that there developed two factions within the Reformed Movement, one of which tended to be rigidly correct and sound in doctrine but accusatory and lacking in charity, while the other became illogical and unorthodox, yielding to the ever-present humanistic tendencies of a non-Christian world, but broader-minded, more conciliatory, more humane--and in many ways more successful in terms of evangelism and missionary effort. To wed the two theologies seems the most desirable thing in order to preserve the truth without destroying charitableness, brotherly love, and missionary zeal. But human nature being what it is, common sense and humanism inevitably overweigh strict faithfulness to Pauline theology. The tension between these two streams of developing doctrine may in the end prove to be essential for the preservation of both truth and charity.
What the history of the Arminian conflict demonstrates is that while the broader-minded, less precise, and more open-ended interpretation of the elective purposes and methods of God may soften the stark realities of man's need and his relationship to God as a sinner under judgment, the Calvinist position retains a certain clarity of formulation which in the long run is far more fruitful as a guide to thought and action not only in spiritual matters but in almost all areas of man's cultural and social life as well. The inner conflicts inherent in Arminianism which invite debilitating uncertainty are replaced by a redeeming measure of integration and assurance of both mind and heart which is liberating and energizing.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholics also struggled with the question of the security of the believer and came to a conclusion which is quite different from either the Arminian or the Calvinistic position. Their starting point was different in one very important respect. They believed that baptism is a divinely ordained yet magical rite, efficacious in its effect whether performed by a believer or an unbeliever. In some mystical way a change is wrought in the spiritual status of the baptized individual, a change which is essential for the operation of divine grace. This change is permanent and proof against all subsequent sin, even against those which are mortal in nature. Baptism does not in itself constitute salvation but it opens the way. Once performed it need not and indeed cannot ever be repeated. Venial sins do not undo this fundamental change, and penitence (for lesser sins) and penance (for grosser offenses) are sufficient to restore the baptized individual to God's favor even after a life of almost total indifference. (3) Venial sins leave the individual in the position of being able of his own free will to recover himself into a state of favor with God; mortal sin destroys this possibility, requiring that God Himself must then act sovereignly on the individual's behalf to effect restoration. Penance is required, measured by the extent of the offense. Then the sufferings of Christ act by way of compensation.
It is difficult to describe precisely what baptism accomplishes, but it comes near to establishing a kind of "security," since its effect is not destroyed by venial sins. The relationship which it guarantees between the soul and God is a kind of sealing such as Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1:13, 14 and 4:30. Or to use another simile, it is a divinely implanted seed which retains an unerasable character (1 John 3:9). As a rite administered at the very beginning, a divine imprint is set upon the soul so that it preserves throughout life the possibility of salvation at the last. Venial sins do not erase this imprint though they can make the individual very sick. Mortal sins render the individual dead, the imprint being no longer of any effect, so that he cannot recover himself by any means. He has lost all "principle of vitality." (4) But God can raise the dead, and therefore there is hope. This principle of vitality seems to be somewhat analogous to the capacity for believing which, Arminius held, has by the grace of God been preserved in every man despite the Fall. It does not represent the actual exercise of faith but only the capacity to exercise faith which the grace of God can act upon.
It is difficult to define in terms of conventional Protestant dogmatic theology what the nature of this permanent change in the soul of the baptized individual really is. It may in fact be dangerous to attempt a definition in such terms. Though we are fully aware of these dangers, it may still be helpful to view this change as somewhat analogous to opening up the windows of the conscience towards God. Without this magical rite, the conscience is dead towards God and the individual is unable to respond to his grace. Once the window is opened, however, the individual thereafter is always aware of, or can of himself respond to, the grace of God in spite of the venial sins which he commits daily. Penitence is quite within his power and is normally all that is required to keep his soul open to the grace of God. Mortal sins, however, have the effect of closing the window so that while the conscience remains as a faculty, the soul has lost the power of exercising it towards God. Nevertheless God may still by his grace reopen the window so that the mortal sinner may yet recover himself by penitence and penance. If he should refuse to respond to God's overtures, the window remains closed permanently and he can look forward only to eternal punishment in the world to come.
The man whose sins are only venial will reach the end of his life secure in the hope of heaven but not yet entirely prepared to enter without embarrassment into the presence of God. For this man, purgatory is designed to perfect in the next world that which was begun in this. Purgatory is not reprobation or punishment, but joyful preparation. It will be joyful because the sinner who has experienced the grace of God will desire earnestly to be freed of all his unwanted failings and made fit to stand unashamed in the presence of God.
Thus baptism, which is in Roman Catholicism equated with regeneration, is not unlike a kind of potential security for the believer. Without this mystical change in the soul brought about by baptism, the destiny of the individual is dark and hopeless indeed; with it, the destiny of the believer holds promise of fulfillment so long as he continues throughout life to cooperate with the grace of God.
Lutherans never held to this kind of continuance, though when Luther spoke of man's passive aptitude for saving faith he seems to have been approaching the same idea. Roman Catholic doctrine taught that while baptized man has no assured security, he does have a stamp of God upon him that can never be eradicated entirely though it can be rendered ineffective. It cannot be re-imprinted. The stamp is in fact indelible.
The Roman Catholic doctrine therefore views baptism as a divinely appointed rite by which a permanent change is effected that can never be undone. Even the baptized individual who dies in mortal sin is still in a relationship to God which is different from that of the unbaptized. He does not simply revert to the position of the unbaptized individual, but he placed himself in far greater jeopardy by having once tasted but cast away the grace of God. How ever one defines the term security in this context, this much at least can be said: the baptismal imprint cannot be undone. It may therefore be a great gain--but it may be an even greater penalty.
By contrast the Lutherans held that a believer could fall away totally to such an extent as to have need of being regenerated all over again, thus experiencing a second justification. (5) But the Lutherans did accept the distinction between venial and mortal sins and quoted 1 John 5:16: "[There is] a sin not unto death...[and] there is a sin unto death." Of the sin unto death John wrote: "I do not say that he shall pray for it." Such a passage is believed quite sufficient to support the distinction between what is venial and what is mortal sin.
Now Lutherans saw saving faith as a gracious gift from God, not something which springs out of the heart of natural man. They therefore distinguished between the capacity to exercise saving faith and actually doing so. A baby has a capacity for language but due to circumstances (deafness caused by disease, for example) the child may never actually employ it: similarly the individual though retaining a capacity for the exercise of faith may, due to the disease of sin, never actually do so.
By contrast, Arminius saw saving faith as something which man must always be able by nature to exercise for otherwise God could not fairly demand it of him. He argued that God would not command man to do what he has not ability to perform. Thus, since it is the individual's own exercise of faith that secures his salvation, it is clear that subsequent loss of this faith must result in the forfeit of salvation. Yet Arminius seems to have felt that this must be a rare occurrence. While by a certain "sleight of hand" he was able to commit himself in writing to the statement that the believer is eternally secure, he really meant only that mortal sin and saving faith cannot coexist.
Calvin dealt with venial and mortal sin in the life of the believer in his usual decisive way. He said of believers that all their sins must be counted as venial because there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Thus the believer cannot commit mortal sin and lose his salvation. Nevertheless, he said, in the sight of God all sins are mortal for "the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). For the believer mortal sins are now venial only, because the Lord Jesus Christ has already suffered the fatal consequences of them in the believer's place.
And thus emerged three distinct theologies out of the debate surrounding the question of eternal security. Today, the final Point of Calvinism might better be restated as the Preservation of the Saints rather than Perseverance, for this is really what is involved.
Now we have noted that Calvin was accused of depending upon logic rather than upon Scripture to establish his position on eternal security. In a sense the accusation was just. He applied his logic directly to Scripture itself. He presented the clear statements of the Word of God on the subject and drew the conclusion that if a particular individual was thus elected to salvation for no reason other than that it was God's good pleasure, the salvation of that individual could not possibly fail to be realized. The essential ingredient of the believer's security lay not in his own power to persevere but in the intention of the Father to present to the Son as gifts all those for whom the Son had paid the full purchase price. Calvin's argument was therefore logical but the premises were not arrived at philosophically. The premises were matters entirely of revelation.
The statement of the Lord Himself, "My Father who gave them to Me," (John 10:29) is the starting point. The fact that we are the gift of the Father to the Son, a circumstance that implies we are in some special way God's possession even before we come to the Son, is constantly reaffirmed by the Lord Himself. It seems to be the starting point of his special concern in what is truly the "Lord's Prayer" in John 17 (especially v. 6). And that we are gifts of the Father to the Son is repeated again and again in John's Gospel: 6:37, 44, 65; 10:28, 29; 17:2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24; and in many other places. No giver can make a gift of that which is not already his to give. And is it conceivable that God can give to the Son such a present unless it is given in perpetuity? Jesus said: "This is the Father's will [the Greek here is the strong word thelema, meaning intention] who has sent Me, that of all whom He hath given Me, I should lose nothing but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:39).
It is important to observe the care which Paul takes to underscore the fact that we are not saved by our faith but by Christ's faithfulness. It is well known to Greek scholars that the word pistis has a dual meaning: faith or faithfulness. * The point is an important one. If we are saved by our faith it is obvious that we might lose that faith and with it our salvation. But Scripture does not say we are saved by our faith even though we constantly presume this to be so. The Word of God is remarkably explicit on the matter, though the fact has tended to be blurred by most of our translations.
* Bultmann has this to say about the word: In accordance with the Greek feeling for language, pistis can denote not only the confidence one has but also the confidence one enjoys. i.e., trustworthiness...Concretely pistis means the guarantee which creates the possibility of trust, that which may be relied on, or the assurance of reliability...This leads on the one side to the sense of certainty, trustworthiness, on the other to that of "means of proof"...In particular pistis denotes the reliability of persons, faithfulness. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, p. 177.]For example, note Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." It is necessary to look at this passage with care in order to establish the point we are making so that it may be recognized in many other parts of Scripture. The words that need close scrutiny are, "I live by the faith of the Son of God." The reason we need to pause in reading these words is that habit of thought prompts us to read them as though Scripture were really saying, "I live by faith in the Son of God." In point of fact Paul is saying that we do not live by faith in the Son of God but by the faith of the Son of God. And if we remember that the word rendered "faith" may just as properly be translated "faithfulness," then we see that our life is not dependent upon our faith in Christ but upon Christ's faithfulness. *
* The Greek at this point is as follows en pistei zo te tou huiou theou.. By way of comment it may be said that en followed by what is called an instrumental dative is to be rendered "by means of." The rest of the phrase is correctly rendered, "the faithfulness of the Son of God." On this matter see Dana and Mantey, A Manual of Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto Macmillan, 1955), section 122. Any Greek grammar will serve to elucidate the matter. An excellent New Testament example is to be found m Rev. 6:8: "And power was given unto them...to kill by means of the sword and hunger and death and the beasts of the earth."This particular truth is underscored by Paul in many places. Thus in Galatians 2:16 he wrote: "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through [Greek alla, followed by the genitive] the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by means of [Greek ek, followed by the genitive] the faithfulness of Christ." And again in Galatians 3:22: "The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise through [Greek ek, followed by the genitive] the faithfulness of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." In each case it is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and not the perseverance of the believer which is the basis of his eternal security.
The New Testament is full of this principle. Note that in Romans 3:22 the righteousness of God which is imputed to us is not described as being the result of our faith in Jesus Christ. Rather, the correct rendering is: "The righteousness of God which is through [dia] the faithfulness of Him..." that is, through his faithfulness. And then again in Philippians 3:8, 9: "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord . . . [that I may] be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through [dia] the faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness which is of God founded upon faith." We have customarily read these familiar passages as though they were speaking about our faith in Jesus Christ. Although many translations have not followed the lead provided by the King James Version and have interpreted the words as "in Jesus Christ," a number of modern versions have been faithful to the original, especially those which set out to be as literal as possible. *
* Among those versions which have remained true to the original Greek may be listed: the Berkeley Version, Wesley's version under the title Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, Ferrar Fenton's The Holy Bible in Modern English, the Concordant Version, which has attempted a faithfulness to the original at the cost of some smoothness in its composition, Young's Literal Translation of the Bible, and an interlinear version published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (an agency of the Jehovah's Witnesses Movement).Any translation which is unfamiliar may seem contrived at first, but it is surely comforting to know that even when our faith does fail us, his faithfulness stands firm, As Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:13): "If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself." Thus we are kept by the power of God through his faithfulness unto salvation (1 Peter 1:5), for He is able to save to the very end (eis to panteles) them that come unto God by Him (Heb. 7:25).
Jesus Christ is in fact both the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). The anointing which we have received abides in us (1 John 2:27), for we are sanctified by the offering of the body of Christ once for all (Heb. 10:10) and in the sight of God perfected forever (Heb. 10:14). When Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38, 39), he exhausts the English language to make this security comprehensive: nothing on earth or in heaven, nothing in life or in death, nothing past, or present, or future. Thus he could say with absolute assurance, "He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it [i.e., carry it through] until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). The same assurance inspired the Lord's people in the Old Testament also: "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him" (Eccles. 3:14).
Not one of these assurances depends in any way upon the constancy of man, or upon his own inner resources of obedience or courage or loyalty or anything that is his. Our security lies outside of ourselves, solely in the faithfulness of the Lord our Savior and in the unchangeableness of God's purposes in numbering us among his elect. We were his choice (John 15:16), not He ours. In this lies our security.
What then do we do with those passages which seem to imply that we may lose our salvation by falling from grace (Gal. 5:4), having our names taken out of the book of Life as a consequence (Rev. 22:19)? Are we indeed called upon to work out our own salvation in this sense (Phil. 2:12) and to endure to the end if we can (Matt. 24:13) by not committing some unpardonable sin (Heb. 6:4-6) and thus becoming a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27)?
What happens when a child of God does disobey--and who doesn't? Is there punishment for the disobedient? If so, in what sense is there now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), or does this apply only to those who "walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit"?
This qualifying statement has for centuries troubled those who believe that the Lord once for all made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for our sins. If He died for my sins, must I also pay the penalty of disobedience whenever my life is displeasing in his sight? Or am I truly forgiven already, wholly freed from the penalty of all that I have done not in accordance with his will, and of all that I do daily, and of all that I shall yet do? Am I indeed covered by a blanket of pardon that is so comprehensive that I am no longer regarded as a sinner before the Lord but as righteous, not because of what I am in practice but because of what He did on my behalf when He offered Himself in my place? I am convinced that there is now no condemnation any more to them that are in Christ Jesus, and that this declaration is unconditional.
As for the rest of this verse as it appears in the King James Version ("to them...that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit"), it is almost universally agreed by scholars that it has been introduced into the text by mistake. The following modern versions bear this out: New English Bible, New Internationa1 Version, New American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, Jerusalem Bible, Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, Williams' translation, Smith and Goodspeed, Barclay, and the translation by Wuest. This is a case where the eye of the copyist long ago was momentarily distracted to the same sentence in Romans 8:4b and copied it by mistake--a process known as dittography. It almost certainly does not belong in the original text. The assurance of no condemnation is unqualified: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."
In that case there cannot possibly be any penalty for disobedience. What often seems to be the consequence of disobedience and therefore is assumed to be penalty, coming as a painful or distressing occasion for rebuke, is not punishment but chastening. The Lord, in his graciousness, sometimes allows the expected consequences of our disobedience to trouble us for our good in order that we may be corrected thereby and more nearly conformed to his will. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Heb. 12:6). But there is no penal aspect in such a sequence of events; it is only an exhibition of his concern for our well-being. Indeed very often there is not even this much of a consequence, our own repentance being quite sufficient for his purposes. In a true sense, the more immediately the correction comes, the more concerned may we judge our heavenly Father to be about us. He is anxious that we should not damage ourselves by our disobedience for we are his beloved children.
But because our awareness of this loving concern is so often dimmed, we need to keep reminding ourselves that judgment really is past. We have already been forgiven all our trespasses (Eph. 4:32). Notice how forgiveness is spoken of here in the past tense: "As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Or in Colossians 2:13: "Having forgiven you al1 trespasses."
Now it is sometimes argued that we are forgiven our offenses only after we have committed them. But the truth of the matter is that the Lord Jesus Christ took these offenses upon Himself long before we were even born. "[He] bore our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). The penalty of these offenses, though they were not yet committed, was paid there and then. That judgment is past. When troubles come our way and we feel we can see their connection with our own disobedience, we should remind ourselves that we are not being punished but being chastened now in order that we not be condemned with the world later on. As Paul says, "When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32). It is in this sense that judgment begins at the House of God (1 Peter 4:17). The word translated "judged" in 1 Corinthians 11:32 is the Greek krino, a word which means simply "to assess" without any necessary connotation of whether such assessment is favourable or unfavorable. The same applies to the word translated "judgment" in 1 Peter 4:17. The word translated "condemned" in 1 Corinthians is formed from the same basic root but it is compounded with the prefix kata-, which means down, thus fixing the sense of condemnation upon the word. It is important to note these different meanings, for many passages in which the word krino occurs are used to support views which go far beyond the original text. Such, for instance, is the common remark, "Oh, we mustn't judge!" as though we ought never to evaluate the work of anyone even when such an evaluation is essential before considering him for some particular appointment. * Scripture does not require us to be deliberately naive. We are called upon to be charitable but not at the expense of surrendering good judgment. Assessment in this sense is proper if we are to act responsibly, but condemnation (kata-krino) is another matter.
* Human nature being what it is, it is all too easy for us to begin with honest assessment only to slip into uncharitable condemnation. I believe that this is what the Lord had in mind in Matthew 7:1 when He advised the Pharisees against making any kind of moral assessment, warning them that they would receive the same kind of unfavorable assessment if they made a practice of doing this to others. Everyone has to make judgments; life requires it. But our judgment must be righteous judgment (John 7:24), that is, fair judgment. The making of fair judgments is commanded here just as plainly as the command not to make unfair judgments is given in Matthew 7:1. The two passages have to be taken together. The Greek for the word judge (krino) is the same in both cases. It was probably impossible for the Pharisees, by their very training, to make any such fair assessment of the moral behaviour of their fellow men.In 1 Corinthians 11:31 we read: "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." Here the first word judge is dia-krino [not merely krino, nor yet kata-krino, but dia-krino], which means to examine critically, to keep a critical eye on our own behaviour. Then if we take action to correct what we find undesirable in ourselves we shall not need to be assessed by God and chastened. We are in a position, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to correct our own faults in a measure by mortifying the deeds of the body, for example; and when we undertake to do this faithfully there is no need for the Lord to impose his chastening upon us. But whether we do anticipate his chastening or not, the end effect is the same: what we experience is correction not condemnation.
In short, for the child of God such correctives are not penalties but remedies. We are no longer in a Court of Law before an outraged Judge, but in a family circle before a disappointed Father. The must of the law has become the should of the family. Righteous anger is replaced by genuine disappointment. What is being endangered is not relationship but fellowship. Chastening is a privilege, not a penalty; a proof of concern, not a demonstration of anger.
It is not always possible to find exact "opposites" which will show precisely the difference in the nature of the consequences of disobedience in the life of the unbeliever and the believer. But the following tabulation may help to make this clear, especially if the words set in capitals are placed one against the other in each instance.
An offended JUDGE becomes a disappointed FATHER.To recognize this shift is of profound importance to the child of God, for what was once a cause of fear on legal grounds has now become a cause of concern on familial grounds. We seek the Father's forgiveness not because we fear his wrath and the consequent severing of relationship as though we had lost our membership in his family, but because we become aware of his disappointment and the consequent loss of fellowship. Confession ensures the restoration of this sense of fellowship. It is forgiveness in this context that we are seeking, forgiveness for having disappointed Him even as we seek forgiveness from our friends when we disappoint them. Forgiveness in the legal sense is not at issue here; that is already a fait accompli. Yet although we are legally forgiven we may still grieve the Lord and lose the sense of his presence and find ourselves out of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. For the child of God, unconfessed sin is not the same as unforgiven sin, but unconfessed sin is still offensive to God because it entails a breach of fellowship. So we seek his forgiveness on this account. And when we nourish an unforgiving spirit towards another brother we endanger our fellowship at that level, too.
A forbidding COURTROOM becomes a warm FAMILY CIRCLE.
Strict PUNISHMENT becomes sympathetic CHASTENING.
Moral ANGER becomes parental CONCERN.
MUST, or else...becomes SHOULD, because...
RELATIONSHIP to God is now made real by FELLOWSHIP with God.
It is for this reason that Paul says in Colossians 3:13, "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." He does not say that we are forgiven because we forgive others but rather that we forgive others because we have been forgiven. Then what are we to do with Matthew 6:12, 14, 15? Clearly we have here a different kind of forgiveness, for we are not in a position to exercise the right of judicial forgiveness; only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). What the Lord was calling the disciples to do, and calls us to do, is to maintain fellowship wherever possible by keeping the channels open. This is not a question of legal satisfaction but of exhibiting a forgiving spirit to maintain fellowship. When we pray, "Our Father who art in heaven" (Matt. 6:9), we are acknowledging for ourselves the unquestionable fact (if we are born again) that God is our Father. This relationship is the starting point. But what happens when we are disobedient and show no repentance towards God is that our fellowship with Him is sacrificed. And the same thing applies with respect to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. An unforgiving spirit towards them endangers the possibility of fellowship with them and is reflected inevitably in a loss of the sense of communion with our Father, for they are members of the same family and the whole family circle is strained.
When we nourish an unforgiving spirit towards another brother or sister in the Lord, we endanger our fellowship vertically and horizontally. We are called upon to forgive those that trespass against us in order to preserve or restore fellowship at both levels, with God and with his children. It is not legal forgiveness we need now but family forgiveness. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin... And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:7 and 1:3). Legal forgiveness is essential for sonship, to establish relationship within the family of God; familial forgiveness is essential to maintain fellowship.
This important truth is easily lost sight of. We see a Christian in a time of suffering and imagine we can trace the effect to a supposed cause, saying to our brother, "Well, it serves you right." I have had this experience when my own brothers in the Lord have spoken with unbelievable harshness, assured in their own hearts that I was suffering the punishment of my own disobedience. Yet these same people in the very next breath would probably preach to the unsaved that the Lord Jesus assumed responsibility for all the sins of believers and that thenceforth there is no penalty. We have to learn to see both in our own experience and in the experience of our brethren that when calamity overtakes, neither we nor they are being punished. Sonship itself is not in question; there is not the least possibility of salvation being lost because of disobedience any more than there is of salvation being won by obedience. The seeming penalty is no penalty at all. It is allowed only as an exhibition of the Lord's loving concern. It is the chastening of a child received into the family of God forever, with whose perfecting He is graciously concerned.
But this does not mean that we are free to disobey. There is a penalty in a manner of speaking, but not in the legalistic sense. The penalty is loss of fellowship both with the Lord's people and with the Lord Himself.
One day we may perhaps be called upon to watch a rerun, as it were, of our lives as God has seen them, and all that we have done in self-will will be tested by a fire that will entirely consume the dross. And how we shall rejoice to see it altogether destroyed forever! We shall shed these old rags of self-righteousness with enormous relief when we see them held up for comparison with the spotless linen garment which the Lord is to provide for us and which is the true righteousness of the saints (Rev. 19:8)--and then committed to the flames.
This process of refining fire is set forth in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15: "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
I have known people who were fearful at the thought of coming before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10 and 2 Cor. 5:10) to have their lives tested in this way. But why should we be afraid? Should we not rather rejoice at the thought that all the garbage of our daily living will be utterly consumed, leaving us only with what the Lord Himself has been able to realize of his own nature and Person in our individual lives? That will indeed be a day of great salvation!
The wonderfully reassuring thing here is that even if a man's total life work as a child of God should turn out to have been built of dead things such as wood, hay, or stubble, so that his building is wholly consumed by the flames, yet he himself is safe (1 Cor. 3:15). He himself is beyond destruction even though all else of his own doing should prove to be perishable.
There are a number of rather similar passages in Corinthians. Apparently the saints in that wanton city of Corinth were particularly subject to the evil influences of their pagan environment. Some indeed evidently became so corrupt that the Lord could no longer allow them to remain in the world as part of the living Body of Christ, and He took them home rather than permit them to completely poison the Church's life. It will be remembered that Ananias and Sapphira were taken suddenly home (Acts 5:5 and 10) though their offense might seem to us scarcely to warrant such a drastic penalty. But it should also be remembered that when the Body of Christ was still an infant organism, very small evils had a potentially much more serious consequence for its well-being, magnified as they were in their potency for evil by the very immaturity of the Christian church and by the small size of its numbers. God therefore took what can best be described as "heroic measures" to preserve the purity and vitality of the Body of young believers by at once removing the corrupted organs. Ananias and Sapphira were thus immediately taken home, for at that stage of its development the Church could not sustain such corruption in its fellowship. This is rather analogous to emergency surgical intervention in the interest of the patient's life.
This swift action did not, however, constitute a revocation of personal salvation, as will be apparent by a reference to a somewhat parallel case recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 where Paul writes: "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ."
So here, then the Church of God had matured at least to this point, that Paul was instructing the saints on how themselves to deal with gross immorality among believers. The offender was to be publicly delivered to Satan for his removal by death. And yet Paul gave the Corinthians every assurance that although the physical life of such a disobedient child of God was thus to be forfeited his spirit was eternally secure, for he was a brother in the Lord and safe in the salvation of his spirit despite the need that his physical life be cut short. The object of this drastic step was twofold: (1) to preserve the health of the local church (1 Cor. 5:6, 7); and (2) to prevent the individual himself from a kind of spiritual reduction to near zero. Paul was not recommending a form of capital punishment by human agency but a special form of termination of life administered by Satan himself who has the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Such a drastic step, which by some has been taken to mean that the individual's behaviour might deteriorate to the point of complete loss of salvation, already demonstrates precisely the opposite. A child of God who progresses so far in his betrayal will be taken home before he endangers his very soul!
Such occasions were apparently not infrequent in the earliest days of the Church. But not every serious failure was a cause for such drastic surgery. Remedial action of a less dramatic nature was often possible. As John wrote: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). Clearly, there were alternatives in some cases, but not in all. In this light, we see at once that the reference here is not to a loss of salvation but to a situation in which disobedience has proceeded beyond the point where the offender will any longer benefit by chastening. All that remains is to take him home, in order that his spirit may be preserved. Thus Paul in Romans 8:13 warns the Roman Christians likewise: "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
He is speaking here of a physical body and of physical life, not of the salvation of the soul. Gross disobedience could bring death: better to amend one's ways and live.
Moreover, while some of the actions of the saints may not have been unduly injurious to themselves, it did happen that younger Christians patterning their lives along similar lines were going much farther in departing from godliness, and endangered themselves fatally as a consequence. So Paul wrote (Rom. 14:14, 15): "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. If thy brother be grieved with thy meat [i.e., with what you feel free to indulge in] then walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." The meaning of this warning is clear enough. Behaviour which to a more mature Christian is inoffensive may appear in a different light to a weaker brother who is thereby led astray. Such a brother may turn into license what for the stronger Christian is only an expression of liberty in the Lord, and he may so fatally corrupt his own spiritual life that the Lord will find it necessary to take him home. Thus, what we allow ourselves as being harmless in our own spiritual life may become the cause of a weaker brother's destruction.
So did Paul write also to the Corinthians in another passage (1 Cor. 8:9-11): "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weaker brother perish, for whom Christ died?" The circumstance behind this warning was a commonplace one in those days. When a sacrifice was taken to any one of the pagan temples throughout the Roman Empire, it had to be the best meat obtainable. The meat was given to the priests who appear to have taken only a portion of it to lay on the altar fire to be consumed. It was their privilege to sell the rest of the meat in a kind of open market which was called the "Shambles." The money from this went into the coffers of the temple to pay its expenses. This meat, thus offered to the public at a very reasonable cost, was naturally the best meat that could be purchased, and many people took advantage of it--including, evidently, some Christians. They were not condoning the offering of sacrifices to pagan deities who were no gods at all, but merely taking advantage of an inexpensive source of good meat. But weaker brethren, only recently saved out of paganism which produced this supply of meat, not unnaturally mistook the motives which prompted Christians to buy it, perceiving only that they were thereby contributing to the maintenance of the worship of idols. Their conscience being defiled when, in spite of their doubts, they continued to follow the example of more mature Christians, the quality of their spiritual life was undermined, sometimes with fatal consequences.
If we the Lord's children see a brother behaving in this dangerous way, we are encouraged to make some effort to correct him if possible. Most of us are reluctant to do this, all too aware of our own spiritual frailty. Nevertheless James wrote (5:19, 20): "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one turn him again; let him know, that he which turneth the sinner back from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins." Once again there is no question of personal salvation being at stake but of turning an erring brother back from a course of action which can have only fatal consequences for his life here on earth if he persists.
Peter reiterates this warning to believers among his brethren, the Jewish Christians, when he writes (2 Peter 2:1): "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bringing upon themselves swift destruction." The use of the word destruction seems harsh but it is common in Scripture in this context. We have seen it in the passage in Romans 14:15 where we are warned to "destroy not him...for whom Christ died." Similarly in 1 Corinthians 3:17 Paul says, "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." All these passages refer not to pagans but to believers, to the saints who denying their Lord were in danger of being removed and taken home prematurely for the sake of the Body of believers whose spiritual life they endangered.
Many passages refer to this circumstance by implication; but we do not recognize them when we are reading the New Testament, for we seldom observe the circumstance itself today, now that the Church is worldwide and perhaps less endangered as to its continuance by personal disobedience of individual members. Yet such verses are everywhere to be observed. Consider Hebrews 12:9: "We have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?"
It appears that in Corinth the Lord's people were in the habit of meeting for a kind of Communion Breakfast. Some were making it not so much a memorial of the Lord's death, which it was intended to be, as an occasion for merrymaking and indulgence in purely carnal appetite. Paul wrote to them to remind them that what they were supposed to be celebrating was the Lord's death (1 Cor. 11:23-26) and that by eating and drinking unworthily they were guilty of sacrilege. "Let a man examine himself," Paul wrote, "and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:28-30). Now, what does this last observation signify? It signifies that by their improper attitudes as the Lord's people, many were spiritually enfeebled, and many others had already been taken home by the Lord and were now asleep in Jesus.
Such sudden judgments are not limited to the New Testament. The Old Testament had witnessed the same kind of thing on a number of occasions, as will be observed by reference to Genesis 38:9, 10 (the case of Onan): Numbers 16:30-32 (the case of Korah); and 1 Chronicles 2:3 (the case of Er). But such illustrations seem to differ slightly in purpose for they were probably judgments imposed with dramatic suddenness upon men who were not the Lord's people. Such seems to have been the case also with Herod in Acts 12:21-23.
But all other New Testament examples cited are clearly identified as having reference to members of the household of faith and as such cannot be viewed therefore as penal in nature. They were corrective in the sense that the offenders were prevented from destroying themselves further; in the final analysis they were carried out in mercy, not in anger, their contemporaries having been encouraged to warn them of their own personal danger and to turn them back before it was too late. Even in the worst situation, where the saints are specifically called upon to commit a wilfully disobedient brother to Satan for the destruction of his body, it is still clearly said to be a measure intended to preserve his spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5:5). Many passages commonly used to demonstrate that a child of God can carry his disobedience to the point of being lost eternally demonstrate precisely the opposite. The Lord's sudden action is not a final judgment but the emergency operation of a spiritual surgeon who quickly removes the gangrenous organ to save the patient's soul.
There is no doubt that we can and do grieve the Holy Spirit, whose presence within us secures for us our awareness of sonship in the family of God (Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 4:30), and assures us of the Lord's presence within (1 John 3:24). These are the assurances that are partially forfeited when we are disobedient, but such grieving of the Holy Spirit does not mean we surrender our actual sonship or the Lord's presence within. As David said (when he had proved himself capable of murder in consequence of his coveting Bathsheba): "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Ps. 51:12). And when he besought the Lord not to take away his Holy Spirit from him (v. 11), we must remember that the Old Testament saints did not enjoy the uninterrupted presence of the Holy Spirit as we do. With them the Holy Spirit came and went. It is not until John 14:16 that the promise of his abiding presence was given. In this respect the Old Testament experience was different, as is evident from such passages as 1 Samuel 10:6-10 and 16:14; though we find a contrast in 1 Samuel 16:13.* Evidently the Lord did not deal with all Old Testament saints in the same manner, nor did He deal with them as He deals with us in this present age. What David recognized was the danger of losing his sense of fellowship with the Lord, not of losing his relationship; the joy of his salvation, not his salvation per se. The good works of the Lord's children are not to preserve a relationship which would otherwise be lost, but to maintain a fellowship--which is a very different thing.
* The reference is to David. "And the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." Does this mean "and never left him?" If it does, David's prayer in Psalm 51:11 was heard ("take not thy Holy Spirit from me") and the Holy Spirit never did depart from him. In this case David cannot be made an example of those who lose their salvation. as has been done by Arminians. The same would be true of Peter, who is similarly used as an example, for did not the Lord pray that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32)? Clearly he had his time of serious doubts, but surely not to the point that the Lord's prayer for him was refused!Yet we are not left without responsibility, for it is our responsibility to maintain that fellowship both with the Lord and with the Lord's children. What a blessing it is that we do not have the responsibility of maintaining our relationship as members in the family of God! If we did, we would be in a constant state of being disowned and being reinstated, a most unsatisfactory kind of life to be termed "more abundant" (John 10:10).
We must see from the implications of these many references that there is a real sense in which by forsaking our walk with the Lord we may become fruitless, cut off from the vine (John 15:4). We do indeed have a responsibility to walk in the light and not to be so habitually disobedient as to fail entirely to exhibit the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:4). We are to demonstrate actively in our lives the expected fruits of our salvation (Phil. 2:12), and in times of grave persecution to remain a faithful witness to the end (Matt. 24:13), thus avoiding any danger of becoming "disapproved" in our discipleship (1 Cor. 9:27, where the Greek has adokimos, the antonym to the Greek dokimos, which means "approved," as in Romans 14:18; 16:10; 2 Tim. 2:15, etc.). It is in this sense that we save our life, though we may be sacrificed to the world. *
* The question of having one's name taken out of the Book of Life (Rev. 22:19) is a difficult one to resolve. For the Lord said that whoever committed sin of any kind would have his name taken out of the Book of Life (Exod. 32:33). This implies that every man born into this world has his name entered in a Book of the Living (a kind of register of all viable births?) to begin with. Presumably all who die before reaching the age of accountability never have their names removed from that Book; and since the Calvinist's position is that such children dying in infancy are to be counted among the elect, Election involves a name's being indelibly inscribed in the Book of Life. Then what of those who are among the elect, and who achieve maturity by passing beyond the infant stage? Are their names indelibly inscribed? When they reach the age of accountability and are disobedient, for all become sinners (Eph. 2:3), then what happens to their names in the Book of Life? Are their names merely left inscribed because they are among the elect, even though they ought really to be removed? Or is this "accounting system" a different kind of accounting system, one that is written in the language of eternity and not in the language of time? There is nowhere in Scripture, to my knowledge, any indication that the names of the elect of God are ever removed from the Book of Life. Perhaps they were written in before the world began (Luke 10:20?), as though they formed part of the stated contract between the Father and the Son as a record of those who would be given to the Son by the Father--and for whom the Son died. Is there perhaps more than one Book of Life: one for the non-elect, from which names are expungeable, and the other for the elect, from which names are never expunged (Rev. 20:12-15)?We cannot leave this subject without giving some thought to two classic passages of Scripture which are considered powerful weapons in the arsenal of those who would argue against the eternal security of the believer. I have in mind Hebrews 6:1-6 and Luke 15:11-32. Let us look at the Epistle to the Hebrews first for here we read the frightening words, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit...if they should fall away, to renew them again unto repentance."
To understand this warning we need some knowledge of the background of those to whom these words were addressed. And it is important first of all to understand what it meant to a Jew at that time to "believe in Jesus Christ." For this passage has particular reference to "the doctrine of Christ" (Heb. 6:1), or, as this would be understood by the Jewish people, "the doctrine of the Messiah" (the definite article being present in the original Greek).
On many occasions during the Lord's earthly ministry we learn that people who called themselves, or who are referred to as, disciples or believers not infrequently became offended at his words and walked no more with Him. It is almost certain that some of these who were once "believers" became his most bitter enemies. What then was meant by the word believer in such a context?
It should be realized that the identity of the Lord Jesus presented a number of real problems to the Jewish people. The Lord Himself acknowledged that the intense hatred which finally built up against Him was based in part on a genuine misunderstanding and confusion as to his identity. When Jesus on the cross said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), it was not merely an expression of supreme charitableness; there was an element of truth in it. They did not know what they were doing. Their action was not only morally wrong, it was also a profound mistake. Peter, under inspiration, acknowledged this as part of the truth when he said, "And now, brethren, I realize that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" (Acts 3:17). And Paul likewise in 1 Corinthians 2:7, 8 said: "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Even the Jewish authorities admitted when it was too late that they had made a mistake. This prompted them to desire Pilate to make doubly sure that the tomb was sealed "lest his disciples come by night and steal Him away and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first" (Matt. 27:64). This does not excuse them, because their real reason for having the Lord crucified was that they hated Him. Even so, it does show that coupled to their hatred of Him for personal reasons was a genuine doubt about Him on messianic grounds.
From their study of Old Testament prophecies the Jews had concluded that when the Messiah came He would free them from all their enemies (Luke 1:71). At that moment their most oppressive enemy was the Roman authority. All other oppressors except the Egyptian Pharaohs had been Semitic like themselves. The Roman oppressors were Gentiles, the lowest of all people in their estimation. The Messiah was to come as a Conquering King, setting the people free from the invaders of their land and liberating their glorious capital city, at the same time bringing healing and prosperity to the whole nation. But in the background, less distinct and less dramatic, one was to come whom they identified as the Suffering Servant, a mediator between themselves and Jehovah; one who would die for their sins (Isa. 53), die for the nation (John 11:50), being "cut off, but not for himself" (Dan. 9:26). If a single Person was to fulfill both roles, it was difficult to reconcile how the King could also be the Suffering Servant, how the one who conquered could also be the one so abused as to be scarcely recognizable (Isa. 53:2-4). It seemed impossible that one who was to lead their armies to victory and set them at the head of the nations, sitting in glory upon the throne of David forever, could be the one who was to be "brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7). Were there, then, really two separate Saviors: a Lamb who would "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21) and a Lion who would deliver the nation from its enemies (Luke 1:71)?
The secret, of course, lay in the resurrection. But the Old Testament had attached remarkably little importance to the fact of resurrection and it was not therefore a solution the Jews were likely to look for. Indeed there are only a few intimations with respect to Messiah that the resurrection would play a vital role in his ministry. For example, Psalm 16:10 ("Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell") seems to be a reference to the Messiah; but an even less specific passage in Isaiah 53:10 ("He shall prolong his days") does not seem to have been recognized at all. Yet the resurrection of the Lord was the missing key and, as though to emphasize this in prospect, the Lord Himself increasingly made reference to the fact that after three days He would rise again. But his words were lost even upon his closest disciples, because they shared the traditional biblical wisdom of their own day. In point of fact of course, Messiah was to be both the Lamb of God and the Conquering King, fulfilling the two roles perfectly by dying as the Lamb and rising again to become the King.
When John came preaching, he was sent to prepare the people for their King and for the coming Kingdom. This was his identifiable mission. In this role the Jewish people as a whole visualized him as fulfilling the position of the forerunner of the Messiah. When he suddenly appeared in the wilderness the people were excited and full of hopeful expectation. The nation's servitude under the Roman heel would surely soon be at an end, and they flocked to hear him and to ask what they must do to qualify for a place in the victory parade. This was really their motive: not repentance and sorrow for their sins, but eagerness to be on the winning side. Evidently John himself did not at first actually know the identity of the Messiah. He heard the call to prepare the way but he had not yet any certainty as to who the Messiah was. It seems unlikely that he could have anticipated that the Messiah was none other than a relative of his, his own mother being Mary's cousin. He may in fact have had little if anything to do with Jesus since very early childhood, thirty years before. Thus as he watched day by day while the people came out of the city to hear him preach and to be ceremonially cleansed by baptism, he one day received a message from God that the Suffering Servant was about to come to him for public identification. Perhaps he was surprised at this since the one he was really expecting and hoping for was not a Suffering Servant but the Messiah. Yet John obediently adjusted his natural expectations and accepted the new reality. When the time came he unhesitatingly identified the One whom he had looked for as the Messiah as, in fact, the Lamb of God instead (John 1:29, 36).
In later months, when John found himself in prison, he had time to reflect upon what was happening as he observed the Lord's mighty acts and saw the majesty of his Person; and he seems to have begun to wonder whether Jesus Christ might not also be the Messiah. Could Messiah and the Suffering Servant be one and the same individual?
So John sent a message to Jesus from prison: "Art thou He that should come [i.e., the Messiah] or do we look for another?" (Matt. 11:3); and the Lord sent word back to him that he should be reassured by the miracles of healing--the sight of the blind was restored, the lame were walking, the deaf were hearing, and even the dead were raised, all of which were clearly hallmarks of the Messiah according to Isaiah 35:3-6. And I think we must assume that John, like many of his contemporaries, believed on the Lord Jesus in this sense, even though he may have wondered why he himself was not at once set free from his imprisonment.
Meanwhile the Jewish authorities and great numbers of the common people had been struggling with the same problem, trying to make up their minds. There were all kinds of divisions among them as is clear from many passages such as John 7:43; 9:16; and 10:19. Moreover, many of the rulers "believed" also, including Nicodemus--in this sense (John 3:2; 12:42). One might say that this kind of faith was more like wishful thinking than firm conviction. Could this man, seemingly so meek and gentle, and often completely "retiring," really be the stuff of a Messiah who would successfully challenge the authority of Rome? Yet they were all impressed both by the regality of his presence and by his miraculous powers. Even the claims which He made for Himself were so stupendous that it seemed doubtful any ordinary man would dare to make them. Everywhere He went He was fulfilling messianic promises of healing, and the people swung back and forth between conviction and doubt, never quite able to make up their minds and dreading the consequences of making a mistake.
Preconceived ideas of what Messiah would be like proved a serious barrier to recognition for they were colored almost entirely by ambition for power, not by any desire for holiness. The Jewish leaders genuinely imagined that they themselves would form Messiah's inner circle, but here his inner circle was composed of unlearned and ignorant men drawn almost entirely from the wrong strata of religious society.
In short, at one moment the Jewish authorities "believed" He was the Messiah and the next moment they doubted whether He could possibly be. They were both divided among themselves and within their own hearts. And, as is often the case, they were remarkably handicapped by ignorance of the Scriptures and of the circumstances surrounding the Lord's background, about which they were in a good position to be knowledgeable. Had they taken the trouble to inquire, the Temple records would have told them that Jesus was not a Galilean but a Judean from Bethlehem, and of the lineage of David through both Mary and Joseph. Yet in John 7:52 they disqualified Him by assuming He was from Galilee, and at the same time demonstrated their ignorance of the facts of history by suggesting that Galilee was the one place from which one should not expect a great prophet to arise. But in point of fact Elijah, the greatest of Israel's prophets, and Jonah, their greatest prophet to the Gentiles, were both from Galilee. Nicodemus beautifully illustrates the genuine confusion which existed in the minds of many of the Jewish religious leaders at that time.
Consequently it is very important to understand that when we are told "many of the Jews believed on Him," they were not necessarily exercising saving faith, * faith in a personal Savior as we commonly think of such faith, but messianic faith, confidence that their dreams of national liberation were about to be realized in the Person of Jesus Christ. They witnessed his miracles, and enjoyed the fruits of them. Hundreds were healed of diseases or were blessed with restored vision or hearing, and some of them recovered loved ones from the grave. Never in human history was any community so largely freed of disease as these people who lived round about Jerusalem in our Lord's time. Here was encouragement indeed to this kind of faith, and yet the One through whom these blessings came seemed constantly to fall short of their ideal by his forthright repudiation of their religious standards and of their own station and importance.
* It was possible for a Jew to express such faith that he would be accepted into the fellowship by the believers and even be baptized as a Christian. and yet that man's faith was not a saving faith. This seems to be true of Simon who is sometimes called Magus (being one of the Eastern Magi) and sometimes Magnus (after the Vulgate rendering of Acts 8:9). According to Acts 8:9-24 this man's profession of faith was accepted by Philip and the Christians of Samaria, And he was baptized as a believer. Whether Simon was a Jew or not, he was certainly living amongst Jews in Samaria and, like the Jews, was greatly impressed with signs and wonders. The word denoting Simon's amazement at the signs which accompanied Philip's ministry is the same word which is used to express the amazement of the Samaritans at Simon's sorcery. It tells us something about the nature of his faith.Above all, his refusal to challenge the Roman authorities while at the same time advising the Jews to pay their taxes completely baffled their sense of propriety. Could this possibly be Messiah? What had looked promising developed into a more serious situation when it appeared that it was really the authority of the Jewish leaders that was about to be overthrown. As his miracles increased in magnitude, climaxing with the raising of Lazarus and the general acclaim of the common people which followed, it was felt the time had come to settle the issue once for all. The simplest course was to turn Him over to the Romans as a captive. If He then vindicated his messiahship by some mighty act leading to Rome's destruction, there would be no question as to his identity, and their own position would be secure. If He allowed Himself to be taken and shamed before his own disciples and before the nation, the claims He had been making would clearly be invalidated, especially if they could get Him crucified. Any other kind of death might turn Him into a martyr and make a hero of Him. Crucifixion would demonstrate publicly that He was not merely repudiated of men but cursed of God (Gal. 3:13) and therefore totally disqualified as Messiah.
Subsequently, when Peter came to confirm the believers by the laying on of hands and when these believers experienced a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit (as was normal at that point in the Church's development), Simon at once tried to buy from Peter rights to the same power. Peter's response was immediate "Thy money perish with thee...Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness....For I perceive thee thou art in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity" (vv. 20-23). Simon's trembling response was not a turning to his God for forgiveness, but an entreating of Peter to act on his behalf. It seems almost certain from those circumstances that though Simon had faith, it was not a saving faith. He had the same kind of faith that many of the Lord's earlier followers had who later turned entirely against Him. The writer of Hebrews 10:39 may well have had this in mind when he wrote, "Not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."
And it worked out as the Jewish authorities planned. He was seized by the Romans, disgraced by public trial, mercilessly abused by a mob of soldiers--and all this entirely without the slightest resistance. His presentation before the people by Pilate, shamed, disfigured, ridiculed, and apparently helpless, must have struck the people like a thunderbolt. The greater our expectations, the more devastating is the shattering of them. Even his own circle of personal friends was demoralized in utter amazement at the sudden turn of events. Their faith in Him as the promised Messiah collapsed.
After the "tragedy" was all over, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus summed up the general feeling of all the disciples when they said, "We trusted that it had been He which should redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). This was their faith, and it had been shattered by events. Pragmatic Peter said simply, "I go a fishing" (John 21:3); and his companions in disillusionment said, "We also go with thee." It was the end of a dream.
It is true that the Jewish authorities had engineered it all, and they had achieved his repudiation, which was precisely what they intended. Yet there are indications that they were as disappointed in the success of their own plans as the common people were disappointed in the failure of theirs. The common people really had believed Jesus was truly the Messiah, and when He had ridden into Jerusalem in a manner precisely fulfilling the predictions of Zechariah 9:9, their excitement had been intense. "All the world" seemed to have gone with Him (John 12:19), and no doubt the Romans were as disturbed by it all as were the religious authorities themselves, though for a different reason.
We know only too well the rest of the seeming tragedy and the unforeseen triumph which followed the resurrection. But though his triumph was public enough in the sense that thousands of Jews became true believers in Him as the Lamb and were wonderfully saved, yet it was not a public triumph in a national sense, for Israel remained officially unconvinced of his identity as Messiah. Pride would not allow them to admit their appalling error publicly, though there were undoubtedly great numbers among the officials who had witnessed his miracles and had joined in the general acclaim only to find their hopes dashed in the events of the crucifixion. These now witnessed the joy and exultation of thousands whose faith had suddenly been reestablished and who were turning their world upside down, flooding the Temple precincts with their manifestations of joy. Yet the hated Romans were still there, still masters of the land, still exacting from them onerous taxes and many demeaning service. What did it all signify? Meanwhile, though the disciples were telling the people that the old sacrificial system was at an end, the religious authorities had repaired or replaced the rent veil of the Temple, and the whole elaborate system had once again been restored and was going on exactly as before.
How was it all to be reconciled? Was this man really the Messiah or not? And their daily disputations and arguments, which apparently continued for years until the Romans finally destroyed the city and the Temple in A.D. 70, left many of the Jews half-believing, half-doubting, never certain of their own position, still having no personal faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior. Their "doctrine" was not about a Savior at all, but about a Messiah; it was "a doctrine of the Messiah" (Heb. 6:1) which absorbed their attention, and it did not pertain to the matter of personal salvation for the individual (Heb. 6:9).
Whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews addressed himself to this problem. "Therefore," he wrote, "leaving the question relating to the doctrine about the Messiah, let us go on to perfection of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God," that is, of saving faith. It was quite possible for these half-believers to stop short, even after many of them had personally experienced the wonders of the Lord's active ministry among them by being themselves healed, a ministry which was a foretaste of what would happen when the Kingdom of God was finally established, a demonstration of "the powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:5). As persecution began to cull their ranks and many were called upon to suffer the consequences of premature defiance of Roman authority, these one-time messianic believers, persisting in their half-faith by returning to the Temple sacrifice and separating themselves from true believers in Jerusalem, had in effect rejoined the screaming crowds who had demanded the Lord's crucifixion in the first place. They were crucifying the Lord a second time (Heb. 6:6). Such Jewish "believers," while saying they believed the Lord Jesus to be the Messiah after all, yet resorted once again to the old sacrificial system and thus demonstrated their lack of any saving faith and of any true comprehension of the role the Lord Jesus had played as the Lamb of God. It was these who were now by this Epistle being warned not to make this fatal mistake but to abandon the old sacrificial system altogether and to cast themselves upon the Lord alone for their personal salvation. This is the burden of verses 9-12: "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation [i.e., not just messianic promises, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end: that ye be not slothful but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
And the alternative? In the nature of the case there is only one alternative--"a certain fearful looking for judgment." If after experiencing all these things and concluding that the Lord is truly Israel's Messiah, they should now refuse this work as a personal Savior also, there simply remains no more sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:26), and they are hopelessly lost. There is no other destiny except certain judgment (Heb. 10:27). Messianic faith is in vain unless they also have a saving faith.
This is the background of this ominous passage which has caused so many saints to tremble, needlessly fearing that their salvation might be in jeopardy. In actual fact a passage such as this one, having specific reference to Hebrew "believers" rather than to Gentiles, and specifically addressing itself to a rather unique and soon to be ended situation, cannot be safely applied with the same force outside of the circumstances which occasioned its writing. It belongs to us now as an essential part of the Word of God to complete our understanding of a particular situation, but it must be read and understood in the context of its intention. It has to be remembered that the Jewish people of that day expressed two rather different kinds of faith, faith in a national Messiah and faith in a personal Savior. Mary rejoiced in God her personal Savior (Luke 1:47) while Zacharias rejoiced in a national Savior (Luke 1:71). John in prison undoubtedly recognized the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. What he needed to be assured about was the fulfillment of Isaiah 35. The disciples, and Peter in particular, saw the Lord as the Messiah: "Thou art the Messiah" (Matt. 16:13-16, 21, 22). Of this they were sure at that time. The Jewish authorities were not so sure: "Art thou then the Messiah?" (Mark 14:61). We must therefore distinguish between the faith which had messiahship as its object and the more personal faith which had as its object the work of the Suffering Servant. The messianic issue was constantly to the fore in everyone's mind as witnessed, for example, by the events of John 4:25-42, where the nub of the controversy was not, "Is this man a Savior?" but, "Is this indeed the Messiah?" (v. 42). And this was the object of the faith expressed in verses 39-41.
On the way to Emmaus this truth comes out very clearly when the two travelers so specifically express their shattered hope that Jesus might have been the national Messiah, "He who should have redeemed Israel" (Luke 24:21). The Lord had responded by saying, "Ought not the Messiah to have suffered these things before entering into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). Perhaps because they did not recognize their need of a personal Savior, a need which required that one should suffer death in their place, what happened to Messiah was totally beyond them. They were still missing the key, his bodily resurrection. Reconciling what seemed to be two mutually exclusive roles, that of the Lamb and that of the Conquering King, was the basic problem facing every Israelite. Even the prophets themselves had the same problem (1 Peter 1:9-11): "Receiving the objective of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Messiah, and the glory which should follow." Paul's concern when preaching to the Jewish people was to provide a key to this reconciliation (Acts 17:3): "Opening and alleging that Messiah must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Messiah." It is all of a piece; a believer in Israel was not necessarily a believer in the sense in which we use the term today, yet in many cases there were true believers in the terms of reference under which the Lord presented Himself to them as the hope of Israel. Yet this was only half of the belief that was essential to personal salvation, and the Epistle to the Hebrews was concerned with providing the grounds for encouraging that faith to progress to perfection. Such half-believers were unsaved, and those who went part way and turned back were not fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). This seems clearly to be the explanation of the seeds which fell by the wayside and at first responded with enthusiasm, as many of the Jews did, but afterwards were offended or frightened away. John puts the matter thus: "If they had been of us, they would have continued with us" (1 John 2:19). They did not persevere to the end, and they were not saved.
I believe we witness even today something analogous. There are many whose lives are chaotic, powerless, and meaningless. We present to them a Lord who will straighten everything out, and in their desperation they are at once encouraged to look to Him for help. The question of a personal Savior from the penalty of sin never enters this kind of Gospel message. It is not "look to the Savior for forgiveness and restoration to the family of God whom you have outraged by your disobedience" but "take Him on board as the perfect Captain and make your life a success." This message offers a kind of "Gentile Messiah" rather than a personal Savior: accordingly, the initial response results in a marvelous sense of relief. But later, things don't work out precisely as anticipated and "the sow that was washed turns back to its wallowing" (2 Peter 2:22). It happens again and again. It is a tragedy. The true child of God has quite another experience. We, too, get dirty and need cleansing daily, a fact which implies in some measure a return to our former wallowings. But there is this vital difference, as the Lord said to Peter, "'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.' Simon Peter saith unto Him, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.' Jesus saith unto him, 'He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is every whit clean: and ye are clean'" (John 13:8-10). The all-over washing we receive in Him is "once for all"; it is only that our daily walk soils our feet. Only our feet need cleansing every day if we walk in his fellowship unbroken. For the rest, we are clean in his sight--forever, in this sense eternally sanctified (Heb. 10:14). It is important today, as it was when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, not to make the mistake of presenting the Savior to be accepted as Lord before we have presented the Lord to be accepted as Savior.
The second famous passage is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). And this requires but little comment if careful attention is paid to the precise wording. The key here becomes apparent as soon as we ask, What was the son's estimate of his own position relative to his father when he was in "the far country"? He was still a son, his father was still his father. In the depths of his anguish he said to himself, "How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son..."
Note that he did not say, "I am no more worthy to be thy son," but, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son." Not for one moment did he question his own sonship, not for one moment did he imagine that his relationship had been severed. What had suffered was fellowship, not relationship. Even his self-righteous brother who had remained at home recognized this continuing relationship: "As soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf." When the father rejoiced at the return of his prodigal son and said, "This my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found," he cannot surely have meant what we often bend this to mean, for the son himself had assurance of the continued relationship before he began his return journey. Once redeemed, always redeemed--this is the position reflected in both the Old Testament and the New. As Isaiah 44:22 puts it: "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee." The last phrase here assures us that although we may have wandered away our redemption is a completed fact. We are not invited to return in order that we may be redeemed but because we have already been redeemed once for all.
What a wonderful assurance such security of sonship brings to us his often wayward children! Once saved, always saved. Praise God!
So there they are: the five Points, the five great asseverations of the Pauline-Augustinian-Calvinistic system of Reformed Faith which together constitute a satisfying, defensible, coherent, and thoroughly biblical confession that is realistic with respect to man's powers, position, and need, and honoring to God in its unqualified adherence to the principle of sovereign grace.
We have now to see how this sovereign grace of God was, and will be worked out in the life of the nation Israel, and in the personal life of every individual who is called to be a member of God's blameless family.
1. Vol. l, p.179.
2. Carl Bangs, Arminius, p. 269.
3. See G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Faith and Perseverance, pp. 48 f.
4. Sin: in A Catholic Dictionary, p. 777.
5. Berkouwer, Faith and Perseverance, p. 64.