CHAPTER IV OF FINAL PERSEVERANCE
The fifth and last point of Arminianism implies that saving grace is not an abiding principle, but that those who are loved of God, ransomed by Christ, and born again of the Spirit, may (let God wish and strive ever so much to the contrary) throw all away, and perish eternally at last.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints will therefore be considered in this last chapter; and the position to be defended is: That true and saving grace cannot be totally and finally lost.
For the better understanding of this I shall enquire: First, What is saving grace? Second, What is it to fall totally and finally? Third, What arguments can be assigned, or reasons given, to evidence that this special saving grace cannot be totally and finally lost?
First Inquiry. What is saving Grace?
Answer First, Negatively. It is not the grace of nature or natural grace, which is two-fold. (a.) In the pure estate. The gift of original knowledge and righteousness which was infused into the soul so soon as it had its being in pure nature. (b.) In the fallen estate. The Gentiles do by nature the things contained in the law; their conscience bearing them witness, and their thoughts accusing or excusing them, according as they do well or ill (see Ro 2:14,15).
2. Neither is it supernatural common grace, which is called supernatural, as not attainable by the power of nature or free-will; and common, because given both to the elect and non-elect. As dexterity in callings, given by the Spirit to Bezaleel and Aholiab: "I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship" etc. (Ex 31:2-6). Ministerial gifts, of which Judas was a partaker. Delight in hearing the Word, as the stony ground hearer (Mt 13:20); and Herod also, who did many things, and who heard John preach gladly (Mr 6:20). These tastes of Heavenly things are given to servants as well as to sons, and differ from saving grace in its subject, original, efficacy, property, duration, event, and final issue.
(a.) In its subject. Saving grace being peculiar to the elect only, and is no wider than election itself.
(b.) In its original. Common grace flows from Christ as a Redeemer, but not as their Redeemer; and from the Spirit of Christ assisting but not as indwelling.
(c.) In its efficacy. Common grace may qualify for a common profession only, where there is a "form of knowledge" (Ro 2:20), and a "form of godliness" (2Ti 3:5), which doth neither renew the heart, nor raise it above a common frame, yet may do much for God (with the stony ground) and suffer much for God (with the thorny ground) and yet not be special grace "which the world cannot receive" (Joh 14:17), and which lives, revives and reigns, so that sin cannot have dominion (Ro 6:14). Gifts are but as dead graces, but graces are living gifts.
(d.) In its property or nature. Common grace is but the ornament, not the substance of a Christian; gifts, indeed, may beautify grace, but grace only sanctifies gifts, as the gold beautified the temple, but it was the temple that sanctified the gold (Mt 23:17). For the eminency of gifts, and the prevalency of sin, a form of godliness and the power of sin may dwell and consist together.
(e.) In its duration. We acknowledge common grace may wither away; it is not a gift that God repents not of, as that gift of effectual calling is (Ro 11:29). The greatest flood of spiritual gifts may decay to less than a drop, whereas the least drop of saving grace shall increase to a river. Thus the Spirit (in gifts of prowess and government) departed from Saul (1Sa 16:14), and ministerial gifts (as the right arm and right eye, Zec 11:17) may fail and be withered up.
(f.) In its event and final issue. Common grace aggravates condemnation. As a sinking ship, the more it is laden with gold the deeper it sinks; so men, the more they are laden with gifts without grace the deeper they sink into hell. As a harlot may have children but no credit or comfort from them, because they are bastards; so bastard graces, such as false hope, faith, love, etc. (if we are not one with Christ, and married to Him) never end in joy. We may bless ourselves with thoughts of embracing beautiful Rachal (as Jacob did) when in the morning of the resurrection it proves but bleary-eyed Leah.
3. And now positively, supernatural saving grace is the sanctification of the Spirit, renewing in us the image of God, and guiding and strengthening us to obedience, and in obedience even to the end. It is His almighty effectual working on the hearts of the elect, giving to them a certain continued connection of all spiritual blessings, which manages them onward even to a state of glory. "Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Ro 8:30). He "hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12). The effects of it doth accompany salvation, being permanent effects; both on the soul in justification and adoption, and in the soul in calling, sanctification, and perseverance to glorification. This grace differs not from glory in kind, but only in degree; grace is glory militant, as glory is grace triumphant. Therefore it is called "the riches of His grace" (Eph 1:7), and "the riches of His glory" (Ro 9:23). This is that grace which cannot be totally and finally lost. "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life" (Joh 4:14).
Second Inquiry. What is it to fall totally and finally?
Answer 1. To fall totally is to have grace altogether dead in us, both in the act and in the habit; no life either in branches, bole, or root; no seed remaining in us, neither any root of the matter.
2. Finally to fall is never to rise again, never to recover by repentance; but to die in sin unrepented of and unpardoned.
Third Inquiry. What scriptural arguments can be assigned, or reasons given, to evidence that this special saving grace cannot be totally and finally lost?
Answer The following are the arguments and reasons assigned why the chosen of God cannot totally and finally fall away from grace.
1. Argument is taken from God the Father in His electing love. If the love of the Father to His chosen ones is an unchangeable love (Jer 31:3); if with Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, (Jas 1:17); if none can pluck out of the Father's hand (Joh 10:29), then His chosen ones cannot totally and finally fall away. Neither the force nor fraud of hell can prevail against the Father's electing love, which runs parallel with eternity. "God is love" (1Jo 4:8), the everlasting love must needs flow from an everlasting God. He looketh on His, and saith unto them, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love" and, therefore, as the effect of it, "I have drawn thee with the cords of loving kindness" (Jer 31:3). It is to be declared of and from the Lord unto the Church, that "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing" (Zep 3:17). Hence Paul, having spoken of some apostates falling away, comforts the minds of believers, saying, that their standing is firm, because of election, or rather because of electing love (2Ti 2:19). This he compares to a foundation and a seal, two things of the greatest validity and security. Believers stand as upon a stable rock, and they are placed as upon a mountain of brass, so cannot totally and finally fall; for the Father is not inconstant in his love; He doth not love to-day and hate to-morrow.
2. The second argument is taken from God the Son in His redeeming love, which is unalterable.
Thereby are all the members of Christ united unto their Head. Neither principalities nor powers shall be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ (Ro 8:38-39). And the gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church (Mt 16:18). If one member may be broken off from Christ, then all may; one having no more privilege than another in respect of their state and standing; so Christ may be supposed, upon this hypothesis, to be a head without a body or members and to have died in vain; both which are grossly absurd. Christ prayed for perseverance for His; that Peter's faith should not fail (Lu 22:32), and that His disciples should be kept from evil (Joh 17:15), yea, and all believers (Joh 17:20), and what Christ prays for, He is always heard therein (Joh 11:41,42). Christ also promises perseverance to His. "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me" (Joh 6:37). He will not utterly withdraw His mercy from them under their severest correction (Ps 89:31-33). "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loveth them unto the end" (Joh 13:1), and loses not one of them (Joh 6:39). He is a Saviour to all parts of the body (Eph 5:23). Saints are in Christ's hands (De 33:3), and it is as easy to pluck a star out of Heaven as a saint out of Christ's hands (Joh 10:28); they are all, and they shall all be kept by the power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation. "Sanctified (set apart) by God the Father, preserved in Jesus Christ, and called" (Jude 1:1 1Pe 1:5).
3. The third argument is taken from God the Holy Ghost, in His sanctification love. If the operation of the Spirit on the hearts of believers be a sure and certain operation, then true believers cannot totally and finally fall away.
The truth of this will appear in that the Spirit's operation is compared in Scripture; (1.) To an earnest. (2.) To a seal. (3.) To a witness.
(a.) To an earnest. "God hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit" (2Co 5:5). It is the earnest penny of our salvation, not the pawn or pledge, which is to be returned again. The earnest is a part of the bargain, and the first fruits of Heaven. Now the earnest would be lost if the bargain of salvation stand not, and he that hath the earnest be not saved; and if such an one be damned, he carries the earnest of the Spirit along with him into hell, which must needs be absurd.
"But Christ's to the end shall endure, As sure as the earnest is given; More happy, but not more secure, The glorified spirits in Heaven."
(b.) To a seal. Faith is our seal; assurance of faith is God's seal. He that believeth hath set to his seal that God is true (Joh 3:33). "After that ye believed ye were sealed" (Eph 1:13). They first believed and then were sealed, i.e., fully assured. God honours our sealing to His truth by His sealing with His Spirit; as the earnest makes the bargain, so the seal ratifies and confirms it. And the broad seal of Heaven must needs be more unalterable than that of the Medes and Persians.
(c.) To a witness. "He that believeth hath the witness in himself" (1Jo 5:10). And there can be no exceptions taken to this witness who abides for ever in the elect, and is called the Spirit of truth (Joh 14:17), which "teacheth you all things, and is truth, and is no lie" (1Jo 2:27); even the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14), a witness that can neither die nor lie. So that believers, whose bodies are called "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (1Co 6:19), may not become a habitation of devils. This would make Satan rejoice and insult over God (as if stronger than He) could he so dispossess Him, as he is dispossessed by Him (Lu 11:21,22).
4. The fourth argument in defense of final perseverance respects spiritual enemies. If no spiritual enemy can prevail against a true believer totally and finally, then a true believer cannot totally and finally fall away.
(a.) Satan cannot; for that wicked one cannot touch them with any of his deadly touches (1Jo 5:18), but God treads him under their feet (Ro 16:20). The seed of the serpent may nibble at the heels of the seed of the woman, but cannot mortally wound the heart; for his armour is taken away (Lu 11:21), and his works are destroyed (Heb 2:14). Christ in them, the hope of glory, is stronger than he that is in the world (1Jo 4:4).
(b.) The world cannot; for Christ gives them faith to conquer the world (1Jo 5:4), yea, He Himself has overcome the world for them (Joh 16:33). He makes them to be higher-region men, above all storms (Pr 15:24); they are made kings unto God; they have a royal spirit to live above the frown and flatteries of the world; and the world, even all sublunary things, are beneath them under their feet.
(c.) Their fleshly lusts cannot; which have not dominion over those that are under grace (Ro 6:14). Though all real Shulamites find the presence of the two armies (So 6:13), the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh (Ga 5:17), so that they cannot be as they would; yet the issue of the contest is not doubtful. A troop may for a time overcome Gad; coming upon him like bees (as David's phrase is, Ps 118:12), yet Gad shall overcome at the last (Ge 49:19). Believers are more than conquerors, even triumphers, over all their spiritual enemies, through Christ who loves them; and no created power can prevail against them (Ro 8:35-39). Then "thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (2Co 2:14).
5. Then nature of saintship proves final perseverance; if saintship be a service, subjection, sonship and marriage, then saints cannot fall away totally and finally.
(a.) It is a service. The service of God transcends all other services; men take a servant for a year, and an apprentice for seven years, but our Heavenly master for life. We are to serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives (Lu 1:74,75). A servant of God is like the Jewish servant that was bored through the ear, in token of perpetual servitude (De 15:17). Religion is a perpetual obligation.
(b.) It is subjection. It sets up God to be our King, and our allegiance is for life; it cannot be disclaimed (Mt 19:27). Born of God by the grace of God; and, if we be born subjects into the kingdom of this gracious Lord and King, we must die His subjects; there is no alienation.
(c.) It is a sonship. And this goes beyond the two former similitudes; a servant may be at liberty when his time is expired; a subject may change his earthly sovereign by removing out of his native country; yet a son cannot change his father, and he abides in the house for ever (Joh 8:35). Now as God hath begotten us of His own will by the Spirit of regeneration; causing us to come to him with weeping, and leading us with supplications, because he is our Father (Jer 31:9), and because of the relationship subsisting between Him and us He makes known His Abba love to our souls (Ga 3:26). Therefore shall we persevere; God is our Father, and we are called the children of God.
(d.) It is a marriage state, and that is for life too (Ho 2:19; Isa 54:5; Re 19:7; Ro 7:1-4), and in this state God hates putting away (Mal 2:16).
6. In respect to the saints themselves, If the names of the saints are written in Heaven; if they are kept for Heaven, as Heaven is kept for them; and if they are compared to things that neither fade nor fail, then they cannot totally and finally fall.
(a.) Their names are written in Heaven (Php 4:3; Da 12:1). "Rejoice because your names are written in Heaven" (Lu 10:20). To be enrolled in the book of life must needs hold our perseverance, for there is no blotting or blurring of that book; Satan cannot, for it is above his reach; and God will not, for then his work would not be perfect and glorious if it admitted of blottings.
(b.) Saints are kept as in a double garrison, or as with a guard; Heaven for them, and they for Heaven; they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (1Pe 1:4,5). Christ is their Lord, keeper, and if God had intended the loss of one saint, He would not have invested Christ with all power in Heaven and earth to undertake for His children, and to save them to the very uttermost (Mt 11:27; Heb 7:25).
(c.) Saints are compared to a tree that fades not (Ps 1:3); to a cedar in Lebanon (Ps 92:12; Ho 14:5); to Mount Zion that cannot be moved but abideth for ever (Ps 125:1); and to a house built on a rock (Mt 7:24). Though they fall, God raises them up (Ps 37:24; Pr 24:16). The Lord is with them in their old age (Isa 46:4), and is their guide even unto death (Ps 48:14), so that they cannot totally and finally be lost.
7. The final perseverance of the saints may be argued, seventhly, from the unchangeableness of the covenant of grace.
That which stands upon two unchangeable persons, and ratified before an unchangeable witness, must be itself unchangeable, and the covenant of grace is so.
(a.) It stands upon two unchangeable bottoms, even the Word and oath of God. When God made promise to Abraham, He swore by Himself, He being "willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath" that "we might have a strong consolation" (Heb 6:17,18). God's Word is as gold purified, which loses nothing of its weight, though cast a thousand times into the fire. We commonly say that the bare word of an honest man is as good as a bond. How much more the Word of the God of truth that cannot lie? And this Word is confirmed with an oath, when God swears by His holiness that He will not alter the thing that is gone out of His lips.
(b.) It is made between two unchangeable persons (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8). In this covenant there is a mutual stipulation. The Father, in covenant, gave to Christ a people (Joh 17:6; 9:12,24). The Son confederates to take man's nature upon Him in the fulness of time; and in that nature to obey, magnify, and make honourable the law, and to answer the demands of Justice in our room and stead, by shedding of His own most precious blood (Ps 40:6,7; Heb 10:5-7; Eph 5:26,27). Hence it is called the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb 13:20).
(c.) It is ratified before an unchangeable witness, even the Holy Ghost. Indeed the Father and the Son, are their own Witnesses (Joh 5:32,36,37), yet the Holy Ghost is the Witness of that covenant, agreement and stipulation which was between them; as Christ hath a greater witness than that of man, so hath the covenant also, even the witness of the eternal Spirit. Thus the covenant is called "everlasting" (Heb 13:20; Isa 54:8,10; Jer 32:40), and "the sure mercies of David" (Isa 55:3). Sure on God's part, who cannot fail in His good will to the elect, and sure also on their part, who shall have no will to depart from God. The latter is equally covenanted for with the former; therefore though the covenant permits a fall, yet it always ensures repentance after the fall, as in David and Peter, etc. The covenant doth absolutely promise the grace of perseverance, and all things that accompany salvation to the elect, even to the end of their lives.
8. If saving grace be of a permanent nature, and not subject to corruption, then the elect cannot fall from it totally and finally.
Saving grace is called a "seed" remaining in those that are born of God (1Jo 3:9), and "incorruptible seed" (1Pe 1:23). Grace never differs from itself, though a gracious man doth from himself. Saving grace cannot be lost, though as respects its acts and operations it may not always be in exercise; but degrees and measures of grace (formerly attained to) may be lost. "Thou hast left thy first love" (Re 2:4), not the habit, neither wholly the exercise of love, but only that vigour and heat that once appeared.
9. The Israelites, who were a type of God's spiritual Israel, could not alienate their inheritance in the land of promise (Le 25:23,24; 1Ki 21:3); if this was so in the type, then must it hold true also in the anti-type.
A true Christian cannot alienate his inheritance in Heaven, for the deeds concerning this inheritance are written and sealed, and part possession is given the believer even in this life (Jer 32:40). "I will put My fear in their hearts [present gracious possession] that they shall not depart from Me" [perseverance to glorification]. Christ is able to keep the deposit committed unto Him against that day (2Ti 1:12). He is not only our goal, our near Kinsman, who has redeemed our mortgaged inheritance for us; but He is our officer in trust also, keeping Heaven for us and us for Heaven; and He abideth faithful (2Ti 2:13), both in drawing, that we should come to Him, and in holding, that we should not depart from Him. Even now He is sealed at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf, and saying, "Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me" (Joh 17:24).
"His powerful blood did once atone, And now it pleads before the throne."
10. If those that fall totally and finally be not (nor ever were) true believers, then it follows that such as are true believers cannot do so.
The truth of this appears from Joh 8:31; those only are Christ's disciples which continue in His word; and such as wholly fall away have but the flashing of a temporary faith, which, like a land flood, fills the country with inundations, yet at last comes to nothing. "They went out from us because they were not of us" (1Jo 2:19). All true believers continue to the end (Heb 3:6,14); those are God's house and partakers of Christ indeed, and those only.
11. The eleventh argument is taken from the subject of prayer.
Whatsoever true believers ask of the father in the name of Christ, according to His will, shall assuredly be obtained (Joh 14:13,14; 1Jo 5:14,15); and they pray for grace of perseverance. The church is represented as coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved (So 8:5); convinced of her own weakness, she leaneth on the Strength of Israel (Ps 84:5) "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Ps 119:117). "My soul cleaveth to the dust: quicken Thou me" (Ps 119:25). "I am Thine, save me" (Ps 119:94) -- cause me to persevere. These are the petitions of the believing soul, who is convinced that his strength is perfect in weakness, his wisdom is folly in the abstract, and that he is not safe from falling one moment but as supported by the arm of Omnipotence. Believers pray for perseverance, and it is said that they never seek the Lord in vain (Isa 45:19).
12. The last argument for the final perseverance of the saints is taken from the whole concurrent voice of Scripture testimony. "The word of the Lord shall stand for ever" (Isa 40:8).
Dr. Moulin and others have computed the texts of Scripture, which declare the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance, at six hundred; the twelve following may, however, suffice (merely as a sample) to establish it as a gospel truth: Ro 11:29; Joh 10:28,29; Lu 22:32; Ro 8:30,38,39; 1Jo 2:19,27; 2Co 1:21,22; Php 1:6; 2Ti 2:19; Mal 3:6; Joh 14:19; Jer 32:40; 1Pe 1:3-5.
"The Mount Zion of the Lord (Psalm 125) is immoveable. They cannot be removed from the love of God, in which they are rooted and grounded; nor from out of the covenant of grace; nor out of the hands of Christ, out of whose hands none can pluck them; nor can they be moved off Christ, the foundation on which they are laid, which is a sure and an everlasting foundation; nor out of a state of grace in which they stand; neither out of sanctification, which is connected with life everlasting; nor yet of justification, for those who have passed from death unto life shall never enter into condemnation. These, like Mount Zion, abide forever. They abide on the heart of God, and in the hands of Christ; they abide in the house of God, and among the family of His people. The Lord surrounds them with His love, encompasses them with His favours, guards them by His special providence, watches over them night and day, and keeps them by His power (as in a garrison) through faith unto salvation." (Dr. John Gill).
Now if all these things are true, as they most certainly are, then shall the whole Church finally persevere in grace, and be eternally saved.
"How oft have sin and Satan strove To rend my soul from Thee, my God, But everlasting is Thy love, And Jesus seals it with His blood, Hallelujah.
The gospel bears my spirit up; A faithful and unchanging God Lays the foundation of my hope, In oaths, and promises, and blood. Hallelujah."
Objection 2. It is said of some that they made shipwreck of faith (1Ti 1:19), and a falling from grace may be proved from Heb 6:5, etc.
Answer 1. It will be granted that to make shipwreck of faith, so as to blaspheme the doctrines of the Gospel which persons once professed, is to fall from the profession of the faith; but then, to fall from doctrine of the Gospel and a profession of it, and to fall from the grace and favour of God, or from the grace of faith, are very different things indeed. The reasons assigned for making shipwreck of faith are shown in 1Jo 2:19. The stony ground hearers endure "but a while," having no root (Mt 13:21); by and by they are offended, fall away, and are said to give up, or make shipwreck of that which they never possessed but in appearance (Lu 8:18). While some are savingly enlightened by the Spirit of God to see their lost state and condition, their need of salvation by Christ and their interest therein, who shall never perish; there are others who are enlightened only into the scheme of the doctrines of the Gospel; and some of these persons to such a degree as to be able to preach them to others, and yet are themselves entirely destitute of the grace of God. When such fall away, they are no proofs nor instances of the final apostasy of real saints.
2. It is spoken also in Heb 6:5 of such as only taste, but digest not; that have their minds informed, not their hearts reformed; sanctified in profession, not in power. And the apostle was persuaded otherwise of these Hebrews to whom he wrote; he was convinced that their faith was not an historical one, but of the operation of God (Col 2:12), evidenced by their fruits, (Heb 6:9,10; 1Th 1:5).
3. Objections may be multiplied by the impugners of the doctrines of grace, and very conclusive and scriptural replies made thereto; yet, as concerns the final perseverance of true saints, of the Father's beloved sons, the Son's redeemed ones, and the Spirit's sanctified ones, as Christ once dead dies no more, so in His members the life of grace cannot die totally (Ro 6:8,9). Faith is given once to the saints; as we are born but once, so but once again. "This is the Father's will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing ... that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day" (Joh 6:39,40).
"Not as the world, the Saviour gives: He is no fickle friend; Whom once He loves, He never leaves, But loves him to the end.
Though thousand snares enclose his feet, Not one shall hold him fast; Whatever dangers he may meet, He shall get safe at last.
The spirit that would this truth withstand Would pull God's temple down, Wrest Jesus' sceptre from His hand, And spoil Him of his crown.
Satan might then full victory boast, The Church might wholly fall; If one believer may be lost, It follows, so may all.
But Christ, in every age, has
prov'd, His purchase firm and true; If this foundation be removed, What
shall the righteous do?"