The question as to what is commonly called "the
perseverance of the saints," includes in it another and a most serious one.
That question is as to the footing upon which the believer, justified by faith,
stands before God. Thus it is a point of the greatest moment to ascertain what
the Scripture truth is. It is not too much to say, that the nature and
character of the peace which as Christians we enjoy, and of our life and walk
as such, are all materially affected by the view we entertain with regard to
the truth before us.
I would at once then put the question, What is the
nature of the salvation we have received, and what the footing upon which we
now stand as believers before God?
1. Clearly, we stand as such,
before God "in Christ," "accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. i. 6.) Christ in
glory, risen from the dead, having finished in our behalf the work of
atonement, stands as our representative in the presence of God. So fully, that
what He has passed through for us we are accredited with. Thus we are said to
be "dead," "buried," "quickened," and "raised up" with Him, and even "seated
together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Rom. vi. 8; Eph. ii. 5, 6.) His
being in heaven for us is thus as if we had actually gone in there and taken
possession already of our final home and there we are, presented to the eye and
heart of God as identified with Him who, "when He had by Himself purged our
sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
Our former state
and condition as sinners has thus found its judgment in the cross. "Our old man
was crucified with Christ: " - not should, or shall be, but "was;" not was
crucified in me, but "with Him." (Rom. vi.) Thus, for God and for faith, the
old standing has passed away. "We are not in the flesh" (Rom. viii. 9); "not of
the world, even as Christ is not of the world." (John xvii. 14.) To sum up all
in a word, the apostle’s words as to the Christian’s place are, "If
any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away;,
behold, all things are become new." (2 Cor. V. 17.)
I know that all
these things are read, or sought to be read, in the light of experience, and
referred to an inward work in the soul instead of to our place in Christ, and
what belongs to it. Yet Scripture says distinctly in this last case, as in
others, "if any man be in Christ," and then uses expressions which would
certainly not be true of "any man in Christ," (mark) if applied to the inward
work. "All things new," who indeed can pretend to, that knows anything of
himself? Thus these blessed texts taken from their true application are made
instruments of self-torture for souls seeking honestly but blindly to find in
themselves evidences that they are accepted of God. While, with the eye on
Christ, and the knowledge that we are in Him, and therefore, "as He is, so are
we" (1 John iv. 17), they become the sweetest, fullest assurances of where
divine love has placed us, and what we are to God as in His Son. Is there any
"old thing" in Him? If I am thus accepted of God, are not the "old things
passed away"? Are not "all things become new"? Yes, indeed, wholly. I can take
it in the simplest way, and believe it to the fullest extent, and find it
unutterable joy, and only that.
Well, this is how we are accepted. We
have travelled through death in Christ, and come up out of it. We have taken
possession, in Him, already of our place above. We are accepted of Him where no
whit of the "old things" is found. Look at this, beloved reader, and then
answer me, oh answer me - is this security? Will Christ fail to satisfy God?
Will God, who has accepted Him for me, repent, and again turn to what I am?
Alas for me if He does! Alas for me and for you; and that, not at our worst,
but at our best!
But no; that is impossible; for with Christ - in
Christ’s Death - we have died. "He that is dead is justified from sin."
(Rom. vi. 7, margin.) Our life, our history, ended with the cross in complete
and utter judgment. We live before God in Christ alone. His own words are now,
"Because I live, ye shall live also." (John xiv. 19.)
thus have we "peace" and upon such ground as this is "peace" in the proper
sense alone possible. I need scarcely waste words in proving that it is peace
that God is preaching by Jesus Christ (Acts x. 36); and that, "being justified
by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. x. 1.)
Not only "the full assurance of faith" (Heb. X. 22), but "the full assurance of
hope" also is what God designs for us. (Heb. vi. 11). This is peace as to the
past, the present, and the future; and this is alone true peace. However
blessed my portion in the present, if there is danger that I lose it, who shall
say I ought not to be afraid? It is no comfort to say to me, "It all depends
upon yourself," when "myself" is just what I have learned most of all to be
afraid of. Ought I to have "perfect peace" in looking onward to the future, if
it is to consist in assurance that I shall never backslide and depart, though
many have If I read, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed
on Thee," I can understand that, if I may trust Him for the future too. If I
may say, in confidence that I have committed my soul into His hands, "I know
whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have
committed unto Him against that day" (2 Tim. i. 12), then indeed all is well.
If He will not keep it, except I do my part (little or much), then how can it
To trust Him fully, if He be all in it, is surely well, and what
I ought to do; but, on the other hand, I ought to distrust myself. "Let him
that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." But if I am not to think I
stand, and yet my salvation depends upon my standing, ought I to be at rest?
3. But, blessed be God, it is not so. Perfected as a Saviour
through the suffering of the cross, Christ is become "the author of eternal
salvation unto all them that obey Him." (Heb. v. 9.) What is "eternal"
salvation and when do I receive it? Well, Paul says to us, that God "HATH saved
us." (2 Tim. i. 9.) Is not that, then, "eternal salvation"? If I have obeyed
Him - for the gospel calls for obedience, most surely (Rom. x. 16) - if I have
obeyed His call of grace, and come to Him, is He not the author of eternal
salvation to me just then? or must I wait till there is no more danger before I
can speak of being saved for ever?
4. But redemption, too, is
eternal. "He hath entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal
redemption for us. (Heb. ix. 12.) Well, are we redeemed? Yes, assuredly, "we
HAVE redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the
riches of His grace. (Eph. i. 7.) Is that, then, "for ever"? Alas! Through how
many of the plainest testimonies of Scripture the legality and unbelief of the
human heart will work their way. Yet there it lies, the only true and perfect
rest for the conscience, as we are witness to ourselves; there it lies before
us, preaching peace without presumption, because "peace through Jesus Christ."
Will He rebuke me, think you, because I cast this burden with all other burdens
on Himself? May I not cast this care for the future too upon Him? Will He not
justify my trust? Will He not care also for this?
5. But my
"life," too, is "eternal." I already have "everlasting life." How He has
compassed me about with these eternities, as if to build me up an infinite
rampart against doubt! For thus saith the Lord Himself, "Verily, verily, I say
unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me, HATH
everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from
death unto life." (John V. 24.)
Beloved reader, these are the
Lord’s own words. Solemnly uttered and affirmed as truth, they link the
present and the future of the believer indissolubly together. He says, the one
who has eternal life (in the present) shall not (in the future) come into
condemnation. Do you believe that? There is no "guarding" of that statement,
such as men suggest; no "if" nor "but" to mar the blessed peace that that
assurance gives. Are you going to put it in? Are you going to bring some other
Scripture to qualify or modify the simple meaning of this? It is in vain; for
"Scripture cannot be broken," and He who gave it cannot so deny Himself. The
whole idea of balancing one passage with another, as if, taken simply as they
stand, they were opposed to one another, is false, and a fatal denial of the
truth of God. What simple soul could lay hold of the truth in a statement which
had to be balanced withan unknown number of other statements, before the
precise meaning could be settled? The divine Lover of men’s souls could
not speak so to them. He could not use words which, taken simply and literally
as they stand, would deceive. No, He could not do this. And thus, if I get what
really He has said, I may be sure He has said nothing else to contradict or
empty it of meaning. I may rest my soul upon it safely. I may build on it as on
I know few sadder signs of the little authority the word of God
has in the present day, than this deplorable habit of ranging Scripture against
Scripture. On one side a text is produced; instead of reverent inquiry as to
what it means, a text in opposition to it, as men deem, is produced.
James’ "justification by works" is put in the one scale; Paul’s
"justification by faith" in the other. Arminian texts are balanced with
Calvinistic. Alas! God’s word is gone as an authority, and common sense
and human reason become supreme judges as to the side on which the scale of
How unlike our Lord’s "Verily, verily!" What a
relief to return to that out of the fog of human uncertainty! "He spake as One
that had authority and not as the scribes." Do you fear to trust Him, beloved
reader, apart from all His commentators? Certainly, then, what He says of the
believer is, that he has everlasting life, and shall not come into
condemnation, but here is the confirmation of it - is passed from death unto
life. His future condition is settled by his present one; for already be has
"EVERLASTING life." He is alive to God for ever.
6. The Lord
repeats this in another well-known passage: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know
them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall
never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand." (John x. 27,
Now, if anything could add strength to the former statement, it would
be precisely what we find here. For it is not only now, "I give them eternal
life, and they shall never perish;" but if people suggest, "It is only if they
hear Christ’s word," "it is only while they follow Him," this is met by
the assertion, "My sheep do hear my voice" "they do follow me." You may say, if
you will, "not always," "not continually;" but our Lord says nothing one way or
other about that. He takes for granted, so to speak, that they do hear and
follow. You have no right to suppose anything else. It is not said that they
hear always, or follow without any straying; still on the whole they hear and
follow, and He gives them eternal life, and they never perish, nor shall any
pluck them out of His hand. If you say (with some) they may pluck themselves
out, then they would perish; but, He says, they never shall.
One more text on this side of the question, and as to this point more decisive
perhaps for many. The apostle John, with the case of certain apostates before
him, tells us in words that apply to very many since "They went out from us,
but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have
continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that
they were not all of us." (1 John ii. 19.)
The decisiveness of this
passage in connection with those just quoted, is in its taking up so simply and
decidedly just the point which many think to be uncovered by the others. It
asserts without any qualification the exact doctrine of the "perseverance of
the saints" "if they had been of us, they would have continued with us" their
going out made it manifest that they were not of us.*
*The force of the
original is, "that none were of us," which the whole passage proves to be the
only possible sense. "All are not" is a Greek idiom for "none are," as in Matt.
xxiv. 22: "so flesh should be saved," which is literally, "all flesh should not
be saved ;" or in Luke i. 37: "with God everything shall not be impossible,"
i.e. "nothing shall he impossible."
Surely than this nothing can be
plainer or more complete. With this, then, we may end the direct proofs of the
doctrine. We have found the foundation of it to be a standing in Christ before
God, which cannot change because He cannot. We have found that as sinners we
had our death and judgment in the cross of Christ, and are now in Him, the old
things passed away entirely. We have found that God has saved us, and that
salvation is eternal; that we have also "eternal redemption" and "everlasting
life;" that the Lord’s own assertion as to His own is, that they shall not
come into condemnation, nor ever perish; that His sheep do hear His voice, and
follow Him; and that the apostle tells us that real Christians will "continue"
I beseech, again, my reader’s earnest attention to the point,
that thus, too, alone is perfect peace with God possible - peace as to the
past, the present, and the future - "full assurance of hope" without
The way is now open to look at the passages, which are
supposed to teach the possibility of salvation being lost.
A large number -
I might say, the largest number by far - of the texts which seem to imply the
possibility of the soul being lost that has once believed unto salvation,
belong to a class of which 1 Cor. ix. 27 furnishes the most striking example.
It is thus the passage most frequently of all upon the lips of objectors. They
ask commonly, the moment you speak of being safe for ever. "Was not Paul
himself afraid of being a castaway?" But the text says nothing about any fear
he had. It does say this, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a
It would be poor work to seek in anywise to blunt or evade the
force of such Scriptures. They have their use most surely in the divine wisdom
which inspired them. But just precisely because they have, we must enquire the
more carefully what exactly they do mean. The word of God will bear the
strictest and most thorough examination. Precise accuracy will only be shunned
by those who either on the one hand have little faith in the perfect
inspiration of every word of it, or else fear to face honestly the full light
Now it is remarkable, upon looking at such passages as that
before us, that they none of them put things in the way which would be simplest
and easiest to put them, supposing eternal life or salvation were things that
might be lost. They do not say, "lest, after I have been saved, I myself should
be a castaway," or "lest, after being born again," or "lest, after having had
eternal life, I myself should be a castaway." Such passages are not to be found
anywhere in Scripture, and surely that is to be marked. How easy for divine
wisdom to have settled the whole question for any honest believer by a single
sentence of that sort! But there is nothing of the kind. The supposition in the
text is, that one who had "preached to others" might himself "be a castaway."
But who doubts that? And who doubts, or ought to doubt, that, as there is a way
of holiness, which leads to everlasting life, on the one hand, so there is on
the other a way of sin, of unholiness, of license to the lusts of the flesh,
which if a man takes, will lead him to eternal death?
If we were to
question this, we should have to deny some of the plainest passages of
Scripture. Take Cor. vi. 9, 10, for example: what can be plainer? "Know ye not
that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived,"
and this, mark, is addressed to professing Christians, "neither fornicators,
nor idolaters, nor adulterers," and so on, "shall inherit the kingdom of God."
This is most plain and most weighty. It makes it quite plain that the
gospel is not intended to be an allowance of sin, but salvation from it. Where
really received, it brings a man out of the things it finds him in, and sets
him in the way of holiness. As the apostle goes on here: "And such were some of
you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified," etc. And again, as in Titus ii.
11, 12, "the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared, . . . teaching
us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly,
righteously, and godly, in this present world." The grace which saves makes
This is not limiting the freeness of the gospel, nor diminishing its
fullness. It is only the maintaining its real character and power. It is not
that we are brought under legal conditions. It is not that we are told, that we
shall be saved if we walk aright; but that God has saved us, that we may walk
right. In the words of Eph. ii. 10., "we," believers, "are His workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained (or, as
in the margin, prepared) that we should walk in them."
Thus God has linked
together in the simplest and most decisive way, without in the least weakening
or modifying the previous assurance of His grace in the gospel, "good works"
with salvation. Put in this way, that those created anew in Christ are at the
same time created unto them. If then the loudest profession of faith in Christ
be associated with an ungodly walk, Scripture teaches me how to form my
judgment of that profession. it tells me, that "as many as are led by the
Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Rom. viii. 14.) It teaches me that I
am not to dishonour the precious gospel of grace by allowing that it has taken
effect in the salvation of a soul, where it has not at the same time changed
the heart and life.
Now this is precisely one important use of such
passages as that we are considering. He who saw, even while these epistles were
being written, the evil at work - and who foresaw the immense mass of false
profession which has since come in - has left these words, and such as these,
on record, to test the reality of it all, and that He might not be dishonoured
by the ungodly lives of mere professors being taken as what His gospel might,
if not produce, at least permit. "Faith, if it have not works, is dead, being
alone" (James ii. 17); so does the word of God fully teach. We must not put
down others, nor must we expect to be put down by others, as true believers,
truly saved ones, except as the power of that grace which saves is seen in its
purifying influence upon the walk and life.
Thus there is a way which
leads to life, and a way of death. No matter what your creed, "to whom ye yield
yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of
sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness." (Rom. vi. i6.)
is the key to the language of the apostle in 1 Cor. ix. 27. Addressing, as he
does, "all that call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord," whether at Corinth
or elsewhere (ch. i), he tells them for himself that he was one who was upon
this way of life. He kept under his body, and brought it into subjection, not
tolerating its lusts, nor walking in fleshly indulgence, in order not to be a
"castaway;" i. e. one rejected or reprobate. He had no fear of being such. He
took the way which led him heavenward joyfully and confidently, "not
uncertainly." He knew the grace which had called him with a holy calling would
not fail to carry him through. He knew that God had saved him already, and
given him, not the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound
mind. (2 Tim. i 7-9.) And he yielded himself up intelligently and joyfully, to
be led along the way of holiness unto "the end, everlasting life." If any,
professing faith in Christ, were doing otherwise, he meant to warn them by his
example what faith did for the soul who had it; because only "as many as are
led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God."
This in nowise
implies that those who are Sons of God may cease to be so by refusing to be led
of the Spirit. That is mere human argument, and of the poorest kind; for not
only do plain Scriptures, as we have seen, forbid the supposition, but it is in
real opposition to the passage itself; for (it tells us) the Sons of God are
those who are led. And there is nothing said in the whole context to show that
continuance is at all in question. Those who are sons are simply marked out
from those that are not. It is quite true, too, that true children of God may,
alas, be dull and careless, and poor followers of such a leader. They may fall
and get bemired with the slough of sin. I dare not say what a believer might
not do, if not cleaving closely to his Guide and Strength. What David did, what
Peter did, are solemn warnings for all time. Still one easily discerns that
these were things the result of sloth and self-confidence, fallen into, not
sought out, and from which He who had them in His care recovered them.
Characteristically, even of a David or a Peter, surely we could say, they were
led of the Spirit of God, and manifested to be His sons. At a particular
moment, they might not manifest what they were. But it is only of what is
characteristic this text in Romans speaks. It is the determining for us where
the line is to be drawn between those born of God in reality and those only
assuming to be so; a rule we may not in many instances be able to apply, but
which has none the less immense value, because it frees the gospel (as I have
already said) from that charge of giving license to sin, which men are always
ready and eager to bring against it.
How many would object to us in
that way, their own supposition (which they have no title to make) of believers
falling into open sin, and going on, and dying in it; and then turn round on us
with the question, Would such an one be saved? To all that the one sufficient
answer is, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God."
You have no right therefore to make the supposition; the latter part of what
you suppose would (for me) make entirely untrustworthy the claim to be a
These passages, then, are guards against the "turning the grace
of God into lasciviousness," a thing which Jude notices as done in his day (v.
4), and which certainly there is no less danger of in the present. On the other
hand, legality is never a real guard of holiness, but the destruction of it.
"The strength of sin is the law;" and to put the fear of falling away before a
soul, in order to keep him right, is only to pervert the whole character of his
life and service. Just so far as he takes up the motive we present to him, he
becomes really one living to himself, in a religious way no doubt; but none the
less really, and none the less offensively to God. The love of Christ, it is
assumed, will not keep me straight, except a large measure of self-love works
along with it! What a dishonour to Him, and what a lowering of the whole
character of God’s work in the soul of a saint! Except I am in danger of
eternal damnation, I shall be sure to go wrong. But the Lord says, "If ye love
Me, keep my commandments;" and the apostle, "Though I give my body to be
burned, and have not love" ("charity" in the common version), "it profiteth me
nothing" (1 Cor. xiii. 3); the apostle John again, "There is no fear in love."
(1 John iv. 18.) How does all this agree with the advocacy of a principle
essentially and necessarily a principle of fear? for if there is danger of
being lost, I ought certainly to be afraid of it.
There are some other
texts, nearly akin to the standard passage in Corinthians, which we may now
take up. I believe we shall find, if we have got hold of what has now been
before us, that we have already the key to the understanding of these also. In
Col. i. 22, 23, for example: "To present you holy and unblameable and
unreproveable in His sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled,
and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel;" or again, in Heb. iii. 6:
"Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the
hope firm unto the end;" and verse 14: "For we are made partakers of Christ, if
we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." Addressing a
number of professed Christians, these "ifs" had their right and necessary
place. Men were giving up faith in Christ, as this epistle to the Hebrews
conclusively shows. The warning was perfectly in place. Nor could men be saved
while giving up this faith; drawing back from Christ would he drawing back unto
perdition. Yet this same apostle could in the selfsame epistle put those who
had believed unto salvation in a different class altogether from those who
could so apostatize: "We are not of them who draw back unto perdition " - not
simply, "who have drawn back," which there could be no need to say, but "who
draw back;" we are not the sort of people who do that - "but of them that
believe to the saving of the soul;" that is the class to which we belong, and
it is a different one to the other.
Most clearly, then, the apostle did
not mean that such believers, positively saved ones, could draw back unto
perdition. It was needful, on the other hand, to warn professors about it for
two reasons at least. First, because the giving up of Christ put outside the
possibility of salvation altogether, for none else could save. Secondly,
because it was and is important, that men should not rest in a faith they had,
or thought they had, in times past, which was not true for the present moment.
Faith that I had faith once is not faith in Christ, and may be a dream of my
own. Just so, the vain argument that "I was converted once, and therefore" -
which is vain because it is a mere belief in what my heart may have deceived
me. If I am trusting my conversion or my faith, the result may prove I had
neither. If I trust Christ, He cannot deceive, and so I am safe. "Blessed are
all they that put their trust in Him." (Ps. ii 12.)
There was need to
guard a point like that, to prevent men putting "I trusted" for "I trust." " I
trusted," is my own thought of what I did. "I trust," makes Christ indeed the
object of that trust. Therefore it was needful to say your confidence must be a
thing held fast, if you are to be presented blameless in His sight at last.
Belief there might have been, of a certain sort, in Christ, without its
being to salvation. Such faith, never having been of divine workmanship, had a
natural tendency to wear out and come to nothing. We see many instances in
every one of the (so-called) "revival" movements. Nor are they a proof
necessarily of anything wrong in the preaching which produces them. The Lord
gives us in Matthew xiii. plain assurance that where the true seed of the
gospel is sown, and He the Sower of it, such things will occur. There will be
cases such as his who "heareth the word, and anon (immediately) with joy
receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when
tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by-and-by he is
offended." Such a man believes: he is not insincere, not a hypocrite;
simply, the Word, like seed in stony ground, has no root in him; his heart,
never ploughed up by conviction of sin, remains in unchanged hardness. The joy
in him was too "immediate"; there was no finding out of self, no taking the
place of lost, that Christ might save. He believed a doctrine; never came to
Jesus. He had joy, not peace. There was no change in the man himself, and no
root. Mark, it was not what had root that withered, but because it had no root
it withered away. It would not have withered had it had root.
then, which teaches that there is such a thing as "believing for a while,"
teaches too its character. And while we see the need of the admonition as to
the necessity of continuance in the faith, we see also abundantly that those
who believe to the saving of the soul belong at all times to a different class
from those who draw back unto perdition.
There are yet some passages,
however, which require special notice. Thus undoubtedly Heb. vi. 4 - 8
furnishes us with the example of hopeless apostasy; and the previous condition
of these apostates is described in terms which appear to many altogether too
strong to apply to unconverted professors merely. They "were once enlightened,"
had "tasted of the heavenly gift," and been "made partakers of the Holy Ghost,"
had "tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come." It is
just this which makes their case so hopeless, that all the goodness of God, as
displayed in Christianity, has been, so to speak, spent in vain upon them. Or
rather, it has been as rain from heaven nurturing only thorns and briers in the
unfruitful soil. Yet, the apostle adds, as to those in whom he had seen fruit
(v. 10), "beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things which
accompany salvation, though we thus speak." (v. 9.) Thus, again he carefully
guards himself from being misunderstood to mean that those whose faith had
works, and had thus proved itself a living faith, could so fall away.
This alone, for really simple souls, might suffice as to the whole
passage. It surely ought to be enough to hear the apostle say that, although he
is speaking thus, he is persuaded better things of those who have shown "work
and labour of love toward His name." Yet it is well to enquire, in its place,
from what the men before us here apostatize. But observe again, then, there is
no mention of their having been born again, or converted, or justified, or
saved, or having had forgiveness of sins, or eternal life. Of none who are
declared to be in that condition is there ever any doubt of their security, or
any hint that after all they might be lost. On the contrary, the thought is
carefully guarded against, as we have seen.
But as to these - They were
"enlightened." And "the true light lighteth every man which cometh into the
world " (John i. 9); but that this is not necessarily saving knowledge is
plain. There may be conviction where there is no conversion, as every day
shows. Yet how perilous to turn from the light which has thus borne witness to
our souls! They had "tasted of the heavenly gift," and "of the good word of
God." But so had he who received seed upon the stony ground; he "immediately
with joy received it." We see that too, often. The word is welcomed; it is not
understood. Only "he who received seed into the good ground is he that heareth
the Word, and understandeth it." (Matt. xiii. 23.) It is possible thus to have
a false peace patched up, and to find joy in a gospel, which after all has
never been apprehended by the soul, and has never brought forth fruit in it at
Besides this, they "were made partakers of the Holy Ghost," and
had tasted of "the powers of the world to come." This last expression refers to
miraculous powers,* and the "world to come" is literally the "coming age."
Here, as elsewhere, it refers to the millennium, when the signs and wonders
which signalized the early days of Christianity will be repeated. The prophet
Joel (ii. 28, 29) witnesses of this; and his prophecy the apostle Peter could
take up at Pentecost, and apply to what God did by His Spirit at that time. Yet
the prophesy itself, however much it might take in Pentecost, goes on to the
restoration of Israel in the last days. Miracles could therefore fitly be
called "powers of the coming age." But we have the Lord’s assurance that
men might thus be "partakers of the Holy Ghost " - prophesy and do miracles
(which could be done only through the Holy Ghost) - and yet after all He might
say to them, "I never knew you." (Matt. vii. 22, 23.) It is clear therefore
that in this sense they might be "partakers of the Holy Ghost" and yet be lost.
The Spirit crying "Abba, Father," in us is another thing. Those who are thus
"sealed by that Holy Spirit of promise" are "sealed unto the day of
redemption." (Eph. i. t3; 1V. 30.) In this case therefore there is no
possibility of being lost.
* The word (dunameis) in the plural is only
used either for "miracles" (as chap. ii. 4, for instance), or for angelic
orders, "principalities and powers," or once in the expression (Matt. xxiv. 29;
Mark xiii. 25; Luke xxi. 26): the powers of the heavens shall be shaken."
We see, then, that what we are assured by the constant tenor of the
word of God, and by the very context of the passage itself, must have been the
condition of those who are spoken of as drawing back unto perdition, is
confirmed by the very terms by which they are described. For none of these
imply that they were either born again or justified. They had now openly given
up Christ, and by going back to the ranks of those who had crucified Him,
"crucified to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame."
It is open apostasy that is in question, going back to the Judaism out of which
they had come, and what hope could there be for such?
sin" of chap. x. 26 is plainly of the same nature. People were forsaking the
Christian assembly (v. 25), taking the place of "adversaries" to Christ (v.
27), treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant by
which they had been "sanctified" (or set apart as Christians) an unholy thing.
They might say perhaps, "Well, after all, we have God’s own appointed
sacrifices still." But the apostle answers, that upon that ground "there
remaineth no more sacrifice for sins," nothing that has virtue to cleanse a
sinner; but, on the contrary, "a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and of
fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries."
There may be
those who read this who may be other wise troubled at these verses, and I
cannot refrain from adding a word for such. Many do not see that the
hopelessness of the state of those described consists in this, that they have
given up the only ground upon which salvation is possible. It is not mere
failure, getting into the world or into sin, that these verses speak of. It is
the willful rejection of Christ as Saviour. They crucify Him afresh, trample
Him under foot, count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing. In a word, it
is not any mere ordinary backsliding, as I have said, but apostasy from
Christianity itself, and that is hopeless.
Beside this, there is
another thing. The "impossibility" spoken of in Heb. vi. is impossibility to
renew them again unto repentance. There was no impossibility in their being
saved, if they did repent. The word remains ever true for all, while this day
of gospel grace lasts - "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life
freely." If any one will, therefore, he may. No sin is unpardonable to such, or
can shut him out from the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
But I pass
on to the consideration of another example of apostasy which is given in 2
Peter ii. 20, 22: "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world
through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again
entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the
beginning . . . . But it is happened unto them according to the true
proverb,"The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was
washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
Now here again there is
said to have been "the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" in those
who, without doubt, "draw back unto perdition." And not only so, but this
knowledge had had effect upon them, for it had drawn them out of "the
pollutions of the world." Yet it does not require any very close attention to
the apostle’s words, to discern here also how little he conceived these
apostates to have ever been true Christians. Why had it passed into a proverb
that the dog would return to his vomit again, and the washed sow to her
wallowing in the mire? What did such a proverb mean, but that a washed sow
remained all the while a sow, and that, inasmuch as the washing had not changed
her nature, she would go back as a matter of course to her old habits? It was
simple enough to know she would. And so one who had in the same way been merely
washed from the pollutions of the world - from defilements from without - but
whose nature was never changed, might be expected to fulfill that proverb.
But now mark the difference, as pointed out in this same epistle, where
there was true faith. Speaking of those to whom that knowledge of God and of
Jesus our Lord was indeed eternal life, he describes them as "having escaped,"
not the pollutions merely, but "the corruption that is in the world through
lust." (Chap. i. 4.) Here the need of the soul had indeed been divinely met. It
is not in this case external pollution merely, but the "lust," the internal
corruption of the heart, that is dealt with. Christ is known as the rest and
satisfaction of the soul. The heart is changed; with a new nature, new desires,
new affections have come in; and there is no proverb, that if a sow be turned
into a sheep it will go back into the mire.
Thus, then, we have looked
at the most prominent of the texts, which might seem to imply the possibility
of the soul being finally lost that has once believed unto salvation. It is not
likely that other passages will present much difficulty, if the truth as to
these is once distinctly seen. There is but one other text which I would
briefly, in closing, remark upon; first, because it furnishes the very
expression, "falling from grace," which is the technical one with many for
their whole doctrine; and secondly, because there is not a passage which more
distinctly marks the deeply important principle which is in question. The words
in full are these:
"Christ is become of none effect unto you, whosoever
of you are justified by the LAW; YE are fallen from grace." (Gal. v. 4.)
The mere quotation of the passage ought to be enough, one would think, to
expose the common misapplication of it. It is he who goes back from the grace
of the Gospel to justify himself by the deeds of the law - it is this man, the
legalist, and not the one fallen into immorality, or gone back into the world,
who is "fallen from grace." And the meaning is not that even to such God ceases
to be gracious, but that the man has left that ground himself.
is just the principle contained in this that is so important. What is it to be
"justified by the law"? Does he who maintains that "man must do his part and
God will do His" approach or not that ground of being justified by the law? Law
works are not bad works. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" is its first and
great commandment; and the second is like unto it - "Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself." Thus the law is holy; and the commandment holy, and
just, and good. Yet "as many as are of the works of the law" - standing upon
that ground before God - "are under the curse." Where then are they who suppose
that their love to God or man, their maintenance of good works, will have
something at least to do with their final salvation? Doubtless with many the
language of their heart is beyond that of their creed. And there we must leave
Let us close with the confident assurance of the apostle’s Words
- the words of the Holy Ghost by him:
"God commendeth His love
toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. MUCH MORE
THEN, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through
Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of
His Son, MUCH MORE, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
(Rom. v. 8 - 10.)
Christian reader, is that your assurance?
The question as to what is commonly called "the