“I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand. “-John 10.28.
Would you not be inclined to think that poor man, wretched
and impotent as he is, would seize with delight upon the
doctrine of final perseverance – a doctrine that secures to him the possession of eternal bliss, despite of all opposition, all break-downs, all assaults from sin and Satan?
But it is not so. Man cavils at it, argues against it – in fact, hates it! How is this? Why first, man thinks better of himself man he has any right to do; secondly, the thing is so contrary to all natural experience, that he persuades himself that it cannot be true; and, thirdly, he has sense enough to see that if he admits this doctrine, he cannot avoid the others of free grace.
The fact is that free grace is so utterly at variance with man’s everyday experience, which sees every thing and person treated according to working, and merit, and employment of talents, that he cannot receive God’s plan of salvation.
Man must be doing, and working, earning his wages, meriting his reward, conquering his opponents, and he has no notion of God’s bounty, or mercy, or pity; and (though God knoweth, he expects very high wages for very sorry work) he flings from him with contempt the doctrines of grace, and sets out on his perilous journey to another world with a lie in his right hand!
We will now discuss the subject of Final Perseverance. May our Triune God be with us!
I would first prove the doctrine by Scripture and argument;
secondly, notice objections.
I. It is totally impossible for an elect vessel of mercy, having once had the grace of God, wholly to lose it, or finally to perish.
What do the Scriptures say? Look into our text, John 10.28-29. Can language be more to the point than this? Here is the solemn assurance of the Lord Jesus Christ that a certain portion of mankind, which He termed ‘sheep’, ‘My sheep,’ should never perish.
It is an absolute assertion. It is tantamount to the oath and promise of God. Yet our opponents will have it, notwithstanding this assurance, that the sheep may cease to be sheep, and of their own accord fly out of God’s hand, though not be plucked out.
Such nonsense would disgrace a mere moral philosopher, not to speak of the glorious Lord. It would be tantamount to this: they shall never perish, if they do not perish!
Surely, He who spoke as never man spoke. He who in a moment disentangled the sophistries of scribes and lawyers, and put the astute Sadducees to silence, could not have delivered Himself so inconclusively as this! Perish the thought! The whole context goes to prove that the Shepherd’s business is to make the sheep willing to abide under His saving protection, and that not one of them shall ever perish from external or internal assault. How sweet was the assurance of the Psalmist! “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”! David knew from his own personal experience, with what untiring, unsleeping vigilance the shepherd watched and tended his sheep. He also, no doubt, had read of his forefather Jacob’s devotedness to his flock. How touching is the language of poor Jacob to Laban, see Genesis 31.38-40. Ah! blessed be God, the great Shepherd of “the sheep” has watched and will watch over His own with greater vigilance than even Jacob or David watched for others.
Come now to Matt. 16.18. Here is a promise that the gates of hell, or the gates of death, shall never prevail against the Church.
Now it is manifest that the Church is composed of individuals, and that “not prevailing against the Church,” means not injuring it or destroying it. Assaults may be, and no doubt will be made; but they shall not succeed, they shall not prevail. But suppose an individual of that Church to be finally lost, the gates of hell have prevailed: and if one may be lost, all may be lost, and thus Christ’s assurance be no more than idle wind!
Look also into Col. 3.3; Rom. 8.30-39; Phil. 1.6; 2 Tim. 2.19;
2 Thess. 3.3; Rom. 11.29.
I am aware that this last passage is objected to as a proof of the doctrine in hand, because it has special allusion to the sailing in of the Jews; but I wish to know, are Gentiles prohibited from receiving instruction, consolation, forwarning, through any scripture that has reference to the Jews? If so, then it is in vain that the great mass of the Scripture is read or commented upon; it is in vain that men preach about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and Daniel, and a host of other Jews, saved by grace; it is in vain that we are told of types in sacrifices, and acts, and institutions, – for Jews were specially connected with all these!
Pray look into Isa. 54.9, 10; Ezek. 36.26; and Jer. 32.38-40. Now, think with me. These promises just read to you were made either to the Jews of the old dispensation, or to the Jews of a future time, or to the Church of God composed of Jews and Gentiles in all dispensations. Which is most likely?
If they were made to the Jews of the old dispensation, it is plain they were never fulfilled; if to the Jews of a future time, it is obvious that such Jews will need an Almighty Regenerator and Preserver, and if such Jews need such a Regenerator and Preserver, why should not the Gentiles or we? For how should it come to pass that we should have hearts less obstinate and stony than the Jews? Or why should it be necessary for God to undertake all this for the Jews and not for us? Can Gentiles do with less help from above than Jews? Nay, “There is no difference, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Rom. 3.22-3.
But the fact is, those promises are not for the Jews of any dispensation, but for the Church at large, for the whole election of grace in all ages (see Jno. 6.45; Heb. 8.10).
In those promises the elect are secured on both sides: God will never cast them off. and they shall never desert Him!
But the fact is, those promises are not for the Jews of any say that it may be shown there are 600 passages of Scripture that might be brought forward to prove the point in hand.
I would now proceed to adduce a few arguments in proof of final perseverance.
1. If the Church were not preserved, the foundation of God’s calling or election would be altogether shaken, calling being according to God’s purpose, Rom. 8.28. If every individual of the Church were not preserved, Christ might possibly have no Church: for where one may perish, all might perish.
2. If the Church were not preserved, Christ’s fidelity would be impeachable: for He undertook the care of each and every member of it, John 6.39.
3. If the Church were not preserved, the covenant of grace would not be ordered in all things and sure (2 Sam. 5), but would be liable to be made null and void like any other covenant.
4. If the Church were not preserved, the union of the saints with Christ would be a mockery and a nonentity, and Christ’s saying would be meaningless, “Because I live, ye shall live also; and in that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you,” John 14.19,2C.
5. If the Church were not preserved, the efficacy of Christ’s intercession would be frustrated. John 11.42; 17.9; Luke 22.31,32.
I hold it to be awful blasphemy to suppose that it is possible for Christ to plead in vain at the Father’s hands. I can have no hesitation in declaring before assembled worlds of any individual sinner – “Be assured, if Christ has ever interceded for you, you must be saved with an everlasting salvation!”
6. If the Church were not preserved, the promise of the Spirit to be with her for ever would not be true, John 14.16.
7. If the Church were not preserved, the saints would have no reason to rejoice on earth, Phil. 3.1 and 4.4. How could any man rejoice if he were not sure but at the last gasp he might fail and fall away?
I dare say some of our sceptical friends will even here object, and say, “But the saints are exhorted to fear.”
To whom I reply. Go and learn what is the distinction between slavish and reverential fear. The one the saints need not have, for they are delivered into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; the other they shall have, for God has promised, Jer. 32.40.
8. If the Church were not preserved, the sacred Trinity would all be baffled! For the Father predestinated the Church to eternal salvation, Rom. 8.28. The Son purchased the Church with the most dreadful horrors of soul, and an accursed death, Gal. 3.13. The Holy Spirit takes possession of the hearts of the elect, making each willing in the day of Christ’s power, Psa. 110.3.
But if the Church be not preserved God is cheated out of that which He set His eyes and desires upon, and nature is proclaimed victor-the creature overpowering the Creator!
I might confirm all that has been already said by reminding you of the various similitudes by which the elect, the Church, the saints are represented in the Scriptures. They are the Lord’s own portion, and the lot of His inheritance, Deut. 32.9;
His jewels, Mal. 3.17; set as a seal upon His heart and on His arm. Song 8.6; graven on the palms of His hands, and their walls are continually before Him, Isa. 49.16; they are members of Christ’s body, of His flesh, and of His bones, Eph. 5.30, Col. 1.18; living branches of the true vine, John 15.1, 2; the espoused to Christ, the Bridegroom, John 3.29; 2 Cor. 11.2;
they are the Lord’s building, founded on the Rock of ages, 1 Cor. 3.9; Isa. 24.4, and Matt. 7.24; they are surrounded by God Himself as a wall of fire, Zech. 2.5; and their place of defence is the munition of rocks, Isa. 33.16; their faith is more precious than gold that perisheth, 1 Pet. 1.7; their hope as an anchor, sure and stedfast, cast within the veil, whither Christ as their Forerunner is for them entered, Heb. 6.19; and where they
ultimately must behold the glory which the Father hath given unto Christ, John 17.24.
I need not go farther. They who are unmoved by these scriptures and arguments would not believe though one rose from the dead.
II. I would now consider some of the chief objections that are urged against this doctrine.
OBJECTION. – What, then, is the use of the exhortations, warnings, and threatenings of the Scriptures? What avails exhorting me to take heed lest I fall, if I am sure this will never be the case?
ANSWER.- First. An exhortation to duty is perfectly consistent with an absolute promise of grace to aid in the discharge of it. This is manifest from Scripture, e.g. in one place we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart; in another. God says, “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes.”
Now, either these must be consistent with each other, or the Spirit of God must contradict Himself! Which is the more likely? Is it not far more likely that man misunderstands, and cannot fathom the Scriptures, than that the Scriptures should be inconsistent with themselves?
Secondly. Warning is needful even for believers, for it is an incitement to faith and prayer. When the saint perceives such or such an admonition or warning in the Scriptures, he involuntarily breaks out in prayer to God to impress it upon his mind, and to keep him from the evil.
Thirdly. The Apostles preached or wrote to visible churches, in which were sound and unsound professors. The warnings kept the one in proper fear, and left the others without excuse.
Fourthly. The exhortations, warnings, and commands of the Bible – “God’s ifs and imperative moods,” says Luther, “are intended to declare what ought to be done rather than what men have it in their power to do.”
“The exhortations of the Scriptures,” observes another old divine, “are rather to be understood as intimations of our duty, than of our ability Â– of what we ought to be . rather than of what we have the power to be. At most they can signify no more on our part than the actual exercise of Divine grace when received, and that under the direction of the Divine will; for, Job 9.30-3; Prov. 20.9.
Fifthly. They are all means in God’s hands for the carrying out of His purposes, and perpetually to keep the lesson before men, “No flesh shall glory in His presence.”
OBJECTION. – The absolute promises, so called, should be interpreted by the conditional, e.g., when God says, “I will never depart from you to do you good,” we should understand Him to say, “If you will not depart from Me.”
ANSWER.-What use, then, would there be in such promises at all? Would not this be the revival of the covenant of works, and a placing man under far more disadvantageous circumstances than Adam in Eden? Where then, grace? If man is to be saved by observance of conditions, he is to be saved by works, and then the Scriptures are contradicted, Rom. 11.6;
Free grace has no place, and the whole economy of God’s salvation, and God’s righteousness is upset! But here is the solution – we must place the conditional promises first, the absolute second, e.g.,
If ye continue, ye shall be saved;
But ye shall continue,
Therefore, ye shall be saved.
Reverse this, and it will be nonsense, e.g.,
Ye shall continue;
But if ye continue not,
Ye shall not be saved.
What is this but incoherent, inconclusive absurdity? never perish!
In truth all the commands of God are inlaid with gospel promises, e.g.,-where the command is, “know the Lord,” the promise is, “they shall all know Me, saith the Lord,” Jer. 31.34;
where the command is “come unto Me,” Matt. 11.28, the promise is, “they shall come,” Ps. 22.31; where the command is, “love the Lord,” Ps. 31.23, the promise is, “the Lord will circumcise thine heart to love the Lord,” Deut. 30.6; where the command is, “fear God,” 1 Pet. 2.17, the promise is, “I will put My fear in their hearts,” Jer. 32.40; where the command is, be “meek, humble, lowly,” Matt. 11.29.the promise is, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them.” lsa.11.6.
And thus it is in all other cases, as appears from Heb. 8.10.
OBJECTION. – But why pray to be kept from evil and from everlasting damnation, if it is decreed by God that we shall never perish?
ANSWER. – The fact of the decree does not release any from continual dependence upon God. The renewed soul always recognizes the Sovereignty and Providence of Almighty God. It is true the Father has assured the children that they shall never want or fail, yet the children are not thereby released from
seeking bread and strength from the Father’s hand. No child will seek to be released though the parent had assured it a thousand times of its preservation, for there is always a sense of the relationship and position kept alive in the child’s breast.
Then again, we have the examples of Christ, and of David, and Daniel, to warrant us in such prayers.
Christ knew everything that had been decreed, and yet He prayed for the preservation of His people, John 17.
David set himself to prayer after it had been revealed to him that God would establish his house, 2 Sam. 7.27-9.
Daniel set his face unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication the fulfilment of the Lord’s promises concerning Jerusalem, after he positively knew that the time of the captivity had expired, Dan. 9.2,3.
OBJECTION.- But David prayed that the Holy Spirit might not be taken from him, and hence we may conclude that it is possible to fall finally away.
ANSWER. – Rash conclusion! David had foully sinned, and hence he might well begin to question whether he had ever been truly converted. And again, it is not only a revealed but an experienced fact that when a saint sins the Spirit is “grieved,” and hides His face for a time. David might well pray, then, that the Lord would not altogether take His Spirit from him.
OBJECTION.-This doctrine leads to licentiousness.
ANSWER.-“Dogs and swine” may so abuse it: but this is no proof that the “sheep” abuse it. For the same Spirit that calls effectually, promotes holiness. Acts 15.9; 1 Pet. 1.22. It is a fact that the clearer a saint beholds his interest in Christ, the more inflamed is his heart with love to God. As in nature, so in grace, where true love exists there is a horror of adultery.
OBJECTION.- In Acts 20.30 the apostle foretells, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, . . .” Hence we may conclude against the doctrine of final perseverance.
ANSWER. – The objection is very weak. If any man would understand the apostle, he must put himself in the apostle’s position; addressing an assembly of professing believers, and with an eye to the future increase of their numbers. I can well realize this myself, addressing you all as a congregation of professors, whilst perhaps there are many amongst you who are nothing more. Now, when I speak to you as believers, I assure you of the infallibility of the doctrine of final perseverance. I assure you on the authority of God that you shall never perish; but when I begin to discriminate, and point but the difference between professors and possessors, I often
say to you, “Some high-sounding professors, with a head knowledge of doctrine, but uninfluenced by the Spirit in their hearts, it is to be feared, are amongst our own selves, &c.” Do I thereby shake the foundations of God? Do I thereby insinuate the possibility of one of Christ’s sheep being lost? Surely not! It was precisely so with the apostle, but with this advantage, that he was permitted to prophesy as to the future of the Ephesian visible Church; I am not.
I humbly submit this suggestion to those who in reading the epistles are often puzzled in finding that whilst the writers in some places speak confidently and assuringly to those to whom they wrote, in other places threaten and denounce.
The apostles spoke or wrote to visible Churches in which were sound and unsound professors. We ministers of the present day do likewise. Hence our occasional apparent contradictions. See 1 John 2.19.
I have now done. That I have proved my case, I fancy you will readily grant, though you all, perhaps, may not be able to submit to the doctrines of sovereign grace. Be assured, if I were left to follow my own nature, I should preach very differently. I need hardly remind you that I have a heart to feel for the distress of poor humanity, and a hand always ready to relieve necessity, but “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God to do less or more of mine own mind, but what the Lord saith, that will I speak;” Numb. 24.13. O! may that Lord, of His sovereign will, reveal these truths to the unawakened amongst you, and bless them with infinite blessing to those who already know them! Amen