The GOSPEL TRUTH
PERSEVERANCE OF SAINTS.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS PROVED.
V. I COME NOW TO A CONSIDERATION OF THE PRINCIPAL ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THIS DOCTRINE.
But before I proceed to the direct proof of the doctrine it is proper to remark:
1. That its truth can not be inferred from the nature of regeneration. It is true as has been said, and as will be farther shown that perseverance is an attribute or characteristic of christian character, but this does not necessarily result from the nature of regeneration, but from the indwelling Spirit of Christ. It has been common for that class of writers and theologians who hold what is called the Taste Scheme of regeneration to infer the truth of this doctrine from the nature of the change that constitutes the new birth. In this they have been entirely consistent. If, as they suppose, regeneration consists in a change in the constitution of the mind, in the implanting or infusion of a new constitutional taste, relish, or appetite, if it consists in or implies a change back of all voluntary action, and such a change as to secure and necessitate a change of voluntary action; why, then it is consistent to infer from such a change the perseverance of the saints, unless it can be made to appear that either God, or Satan, or voluntary sin can change the nature back again. If in regeneration the nature is really changed, if there be some new appetite, or taste implanted, some holy principle implanted or infused into the constitution, why, then it must follow that they will persevere by a physical law of the new nature or constitution. I see not how in this case they could even be the subjects of temporary backsliding, unless the new appetite should temporarily fail, as does sometimes our appetite for food. But if this may be, yet if regeneration consists in or implies a new creation of something that is not voluntary, but involuntary, a creation of new nature instead of a new character, I admit that perseverance might be reasonably inferred from the fact of such a change. But since I reject wholly this theory of regeneration and maintain that it is wholly a voluntary change, I can not consistently infer the final salvation of the saints from the nature of the change that occurs in regeneration. I have been struck with the inconsistency of those who hold the Taste Scheme of regeneration, and yet contend, not only for falling from a regenerate state, but also that the regenerate may and do fall into a state of entire depravity every time they sin; that they fall from this state of physical or constitutional regeneration every sin they commit, and must be regenerated or converted anew or be lost. Now, this is not reconcilable with the idea of a physical regeneration.
2. Nor can we infer the perseverance of the saints with any justice from their being at their conversion brought into a state of justification.
By perseverance some seem to mean, not that the saints do persevere or continue in obedience, but that they will be saved at any rate, whether they persevere in obedience or not. It was against this idea that such men as the Wesleys and Fletcher and their coadjutors fought so valiantly. They resisted justly and successfully the doctrine of perpetual justification upon condition of one act of faith and maintained that the saints as well as sinners are condemned whenever they sin. They also contended that there is no kind of certainty that all true saints will be saved. Since I have endeavored to refute the doctrine of a perpetual justification conditioned upon the first act of faith, I can not of course infer the final salvation of the saints from the nature of justification. Those who hold that the first act of faith introduces the soul into a new relation of such a nature that from thenceforth it is not condemned by the law, do what it will, may justly infer from the nature of such a justification that all who ever exercise faith will escape the penalty of the Divine law. But we have seen that this is not the nature of gospel justification, and therefore we must not infer that all saints will be saved from the mere fact that they have once believed and been justified.
But the following considerations taken together seem to me to establish the truth of the doctrine in question beyond reasonable doubt.
(1.) God has from eternity resolved upon the salvation of all the elect. This we have seen. No one of this number will ever be lost. These are given to Christ from eternity as a seed to serve him. The conversion, perseverance, and final salvation of the elect, we have seen to be secured. Their conversion, perseverance, and salvation are secured by means of the grace of God in Christ Jesus prevailing through the gospel to so influence their free will as to bring about this result. The instructions, promises, threatenings, warnings, expostulations of the bible with all the influences with which they are surrounded are the instrumentalities by means of which the Holy Spirit converts, sanctifies, and saves them. At every step, as Fletcher acknowledges "grace is beforehand with free will." God first comes to and moves upon the sinner, and not the sinner comes to and moves or attempts to move God. God first draws, and the sinner yields. God calls and the sinner answers. The sinner would never approach God did not God draw him.
Again: God calls effectually, but not irresistibly before the sinner yields. He does not yield and answer to a slight call. Some indeed wait to be drawn harder and to be called louder and longer than others, but no one in fact comes to God until overpersuaded to do so; that is, until he is effectually hunted from his refuges of lies and drawn with so great and powerful a drawing as not to force, of course, but to overcome his reluctance or voluntary selfishness and as to induce him to turn to God and to believe in Christ. That the sinner is wholly disinclined to obey up to the very moment in which he is overpersuaded and induced to yield there can be no doubt. His turning, as we have seen, is an act of his own, but he is induced to turn by the drawings of the Holy Spirit.
Every person who was ever truly converted knows that his conversion is not to be ascribed to himself in any other sense than that he finally consented, being drawn and overpersuaded by the Holy Spirit. The glory belongs to God, for the sinner only yielded after perhaps protracted resistance and never until after he was so convinced as to have no further excuse or apology for sin, nor until the Spirit by means of truth and argument and persuasion fairly overcame him, and constrained, not forced, him to submit. This is a brief statement of the facts connected with the conversion of every soul that was ever converted to God. This is true of the conversion of all the elect of God, and if others besides the elect are ever converted, this is a true account of their conversion.
Again, the same is true of their perseverance in holiness in every instance and in every act. The saints persevere not by virtue of a constitutional change but alone by virtue, or as a result of the abiding and indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit. "Free grace is always beforehand with free will;" that is, the will never obeys in any instance nor for one moment except as it is persuaded to do so as really as at the first. The work begun by the Holy Spirit is not carried on except as the same spirit continues to work in the saints to will and to do of his good pleasure. Saints do not begin in the spirit and then become perfect through or by the flesh. There is no holy exercise that is not as really to he ascribed to the grace and to the influence of the Holy Spirit as is conversion itself.
The saints convert themselves in the sense that they turn or yield when drawn, until overpersuaded by the Holy Spirit. God converts them in the sense that he effectually draws or persuades them. They turn themselves in the sense that their turning is their own act. God turns them in the sense that he induces or products their turning. The same is true of their whole course of obedience in this life. The saints keep themselves in the sense that all obedience is their own, all their piety consists in their own voluntary obedience; but God keeps them in the sense that in every instance and at every moment of obedience, he persuades and enlightens and draws them in so much that he secures their voluntary obedience; that is, he draws and they follow. He persuades and they yield to his persuasions. He works in them to will and to do, and they will and do. God always anticipates all their holy exercises, and persuades the saints to put them forth. This is so abundantly taught in the bible that to quote Scripture to prove it were but to waste your time. The saints are not only said to be converted, but also sanctified and kept by the power of God.
No saint then keeps himself except in so far fourth as he is kept by the grace and spirit and power of God. There is, therefore, no hope for any saint, and no reason to calculate upon the salvation of any one unless God prevails to keep him from falling away and perishing. All who ever are saved or ever will be, are saved by and through free grace prevailing over free will, that is, by free grace securing the voluntary concurrence of free will. This God does and is sure to do with all the elect. It was upon condition of the foreseen fact that God could by the wisest administration of his government secure this result that they were elected to eternal salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Now observe how the elect are saved. All the threatenings, warnings, and teachings of the bible are addressed to them as to all others. If there are any saints at any time who are not of the elect, the bible no where notices any such persons or speaks of them as any less or more secure than the elect.
Again, the bible no where represents or implies that any but the elect are converted. It does not represent any but the elect as at any time coming in heart to Christ--as at any time regenerated or born of God. The bible no where acknowledges two classes of saints, elect and non-elect. But if there were two such classes, and the salvation of the elect was certain, as it really is, and that of the non-elect not certain, it is incredible that the bible should not reveal this fact. Again, so far is the bible from recognizing or implying any such distinction that it every where implies the contrary. It divides mankind into two, and but two classes, and these it sets one over against the other. These are contrasted by the names saint and sinner; people of God and people of this world; children of God and children of this world, or children of the devil; the elect and the reprobate, that is, the chosen and the rejected; the sanctified and the unsanctified; the regenerated and the unregenerated; the penitent and the impenitent. By whatever names they are called, it is manifest that the same classes and none others are meant. The elect of God is a common name for the saints or people of God. I can not find in the bible any evidence that any were converted at any time, but the elect or those whose salvation is sure. The elect are or will be everyone of them certainly converted and saved. If any one chooses to conten[d] that any other are ever converted, the burden of proof is upon him; let him prove it if he can. But this he must prove in order to establish the fact that any truly regenerated persons are ever lost, for sure it is, that no one of the elect will ever be lost. But since I am to take the affirmative I must take the burden of showing that none but the elect are recognized in the scriptures as saints, and as I am speaking only of the salvation of the saints I shall take it for granted that all those who were from eternity chosen to eternal salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, will certainly be saved.
Now if it can be shown that some saints have been really lost, it will follow that some have been converted who were not of the elect.
And on the other hand, if it can be shown that no saint has been, or will be finally lost, but on the contrary, that all the true saints are, and will be saved, it will follow that none but the elect are converted. For all who are, or will be saved, are saved by God, and saved by design and in accordance with an eternal design, and of course they were elected to salvation from eternity.
I have already said that it is incredible that the bible should read as it does and that it should no where distinguish between elect and non-elect saints, if there is any such distinction. It can not he said with justice that the bible purposely conceals from all saints the fact of their election, lest it should be a stumbling-block to them. This we have seen is not the fact but on the contrary that the elect, at least some instances have known that they were elect.
But it is said that Peter exhorts the saints to "give all diligence to make their calling and election sure." from which it is inferred that they did not know that they were elect, and furthermore, that it might be that although they were real saints, nevertheless they were not, at least all of them, of the elect.
The words here referred to stand in the following connection:
2 Pet. 1:1. Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us though the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: 2. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord; 3. According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6. and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7. And to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity. 8. For if these be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and can not see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.
Upon this passage I remark:
[1.] That Peter addressed this epistle to all who had faith, that is, to all true christians, as appears from the first verse. He addressed no one by name, but left it for every one to be sure that he had faith. He then proceeds to exhort them to grow in grace, assuring them that if any one did not do so, he had forgotten that he was purged from his former sins; that is, if any one lacked that which he enjoined, it would prove that he had not true faith, or that he had backslidden. Then he adds as in the 10th verse: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." Here I remark:
[2.] That the apostle plainly assumes,
a. That the called and elected will be saved; to make their calling and election sure, was to make their salvation sure: and,
b. That none others are saved but the called and elected, for if others are saved it were of no consequence whether they were of the called and elected or not provided they were saved;
c. That he regarded none as christians, or as at any time having true faith but the called and elected; for he was not exhorting supposed impenitent sinners to become christians, but supposed christians to be sure of their calling and election. This shows that he regarded all christians as of the called and elected. To be sure of their calling and election was to be sure of their salvation. The apostle did not certainly mean to exhort them to become of the number of the elect, for this number we have seen was settled from eternity; but by diligence and growth in grace to secure their salvation, or thus to prove or demonstrate their calling and election. He meant also to admonish them that although called and elected, still their ultimate salvation was conditionated upon their diligent growth in grace and perseverance in holiness to the end of life. He, therefore, exhorts them to make their calling and election sure, which is the same, as to secure their salvation. He speaks of calling and election as indissolubly connected. Effectual calling either results from election, or election from calling. We have seen that election is eternal; therefore election can not result from calling, but calling must result from election.
Again: Christians and saints and the children and people of God, the disciples of Christ, and the elect are to all appearance regarded throughout the bible as the same class.
Again, Christ says:
John 6:37. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
Here Jesus says that all who are given to him by the Father shall come to him, and that of those that come to him it is his Father's will that he should lose none, but that he should raise them up, (that is, to eternal life,) at the last day. He does not say here that none do come to him who are not given to him by the Father, but this is plainly implied, for he says, 37th: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." What he means by not casting them out is plain from verse 39. That is, "It is the Father's will that of all that shall come to me I should lose nothing." By not casting them out, then, he intended that he should surely save them, that is, all that came to him. But if he saves them, they must have been given to Christ and have been elected, or they were not. If they were not elected or given to Christ by the Father, they will never be saved unless some are saved without God's designing or choosing to save them. If any are saved God saves them through, or by Christ. If he saves them, he does it designedly, and not without design. But if he ever does, or will design it, he has from eternity designed it. So then, it appears that all who come to Christ were given to him of the Father, and that he will lose none of them, but will raise them up at the last day. My object at present however, is not to insist that no one that comes to Christ will be lost, but only that all who come to Christ are of the number that were given to him of the Father, or are of the elect.
Again compare verses 37,39,44,45. He says:
John 6:37. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 44. No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me, draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me.
Here it appears that no one can come to Christ except he be drawn of the Father. Every one who is drawn by the Father with an effectual drawing, or every one who hears and learns of the Father comes to Christ, and no other. The Father draws none to Christ, but those whom he has given to Christ, for these, and these only are the children of God. Isa. 53:13: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." From these passages it appears that none come to Christ but those who are drawn by the Father, and that none are drawn by the father but those whom he has given to his Son, or the elect, and that of those who are thus drawn to Christ it is the Father's will that he should lose none, but that he should raise them up at the last day, that is, that he should save them. But observe, it is my particular object just now to establish the fact that none come to Christ but those who are of the number that are given to Christ, and also that every one who is given to him shall come to him. These, and these only are effectually called or drawn of the Father. All are called in the sense of being earnestly and honestly invited, and all the divine persuasion given them that can wisely be given them. But others than those given to the Son are not as a matter of fact over-persuaded and effectually drawn, in a sense that secures the "concurrence of free will with free grace."
The same truth is strongly implied in many other passages in the teachings of Christ. For example, He says,
John 10:1. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheep-fold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
He then proceeds to expound the parable. He is the good shepherd having the care of his Father's sheep. He says: 7. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep; and fleeth, and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13. The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
He had other sheep which were not yet called--they were not of this fold--that is, they were not Jews but Gentiles; these he must bring. To the unbelieving and caviling Jews he said:
Jno. 10:26. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. 29. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
Here it is plainly implied that all those were sheep who were given to him by the Father, and that all such would surely hear and know his voice and follow him, but those that were not of his sheep or were not given him by the Father, would not believe. He says: verse 26. But ye believe not. because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. What he here says amounts to this: all those are sheep who are given to me of my Father. All my sheep thus given, shall and will hear my voice, and follow me, and none others will. I do not notice in this place what he says of the certainty of their salvation, because my present object is only to show that those and those only come to Christ who are given to him of the Father, or are of the elect.
This same truth is either expressly taught or strongly implied in a great many passages and indeed it seems to me to be the doctrine of the whole bible. Again: Ro. 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Here they that love God are represented as identical with those who are the called according to his purpose. In other words they who love God are the called according to, or in consequence of their election. All that love God do so, because they have been effectually called according to the purpose or election of God. This passage seems to settle the question, especially when viewed in its connection, that all who ever love God are of the elect, and that they are prevailed upon to love God in conformity with their election.
We shall have occasion by and by to examine the connection in which this passage is found for the purpose of showing that all who at any time truly come to love God, will be saved. I have only quoted this 28th verse here for the purpose of showing, not directly that all that love God at any time will be saved, but that they are of the number of the elect, from which fact their ultimate salvation must be inferred.
It is plain that the apostles regarded regeneration as conclusive evidence of election. The manner in which they address christians seems to me to put this beyond a doubt. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians, 2nd Thes. 2:13, says, But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. Here the Apostle speaks of all the brethren at Thessalonica as beloved of the Lord, and as being from eternity chosen to salvation. He felt called upon to give thanks to God for this reason, that God had chosen them to salvation from eternity. This he represents as true of the whole church: that is, doubtless of all true christians in the church. Indeed the apostles every where speak as if they regarded all true saints as of the elect and their saintship as evidence of their election. Peter in writing to the christians in his first letter, says:
1st Pet. 1:1. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia: and Bithynia, 2. Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5. Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time: 6. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season (if need be) ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; 7. That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than that of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor. and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8. Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory: 9. Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
Here it is plain that Peter regarded all who had been born again to a lively hope, or who were regenerated, as elected, or as chosen to salvation. I might pursue this argument to an indefinite length, but I must attend to other considerations in support of the doctrine in question.
I will for the present close what I have to say under this particular branch of the argument, by reminding you that Christ has expressly asserted that no man can or does come to him except the Father draw him, and that the Father draws to him those, and by fair inference, those only whom he has given to Christ; and further that it is the Father's will that of those whom the Father had given to Christ and drawn to him, Christ should lose none, but should raise them up at the last day. It is I think evident that when Christ asserts it to be his Father's will that of those whom the Father had given him he should lose none but should raise them up at the last day, he intended to say that his Father not merely desired and willed this, but that such was his design. That the Father designed to secure their salvation.
This we shall more fully see in its proper place.
(2.) I remark that God is able to preserve and keep the true saints from apostacy, in consistency with their liberty:--2nd Tim. 1:12. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Here the apostle expresses the fullest confidence in the ability of Christ to keep him, and indeed, as has been said, it is most manifest that the apostles expected to persevere and be saved only because they believed in the ability and willingness of God to keep them from falling. Again: Ro. 14:4. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant; to his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand. Again: Phil. 3:21. Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. Again: Eph. 3:20. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. Again: Jude 24. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. Again: 2nd Cor. 9:8. And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. Eph. 1:18. The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19. And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20. Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places. Again: Heb. 7:25. Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. These and many other passages prove beyond a doubt that God is able to preserve his saints.
(3.) God is not only able to keep all that come to Christ, or all true christians, but he is also willing. But Christ has settled this question, as we have seen.
John. 6:37. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 38. For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me; 39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
Here, then, we have just seen these two points settled, namely,
[1.] That God is able to save all saints or all who at any time truly believe and come to Christ, and,
[2.] That he is willing or will to do it. Now if he is both able and willing to keep and save all the saints, he certainly will do it.
But here I know it will be objected, that by this course of argument the doctrine of universal salvation may be established. The bible, it is said, represents God as both able and willing to save all men, and if his being both able and willing to save the saints proves that they will all be saved, it follows that his being able and willing to save all men proves that all men will be saved. But the cases are not parallel; for God no where professes ability to save all men, but on the contrary, disclaims such ability and professes to be unable to save all men; that is, he can not under the circumstances wisely save them, nor can he wisely do any more for saints or sinners than he does. No passage can be found in the bible in which God asserts his ability to save all men. The passages that affirm that "God can do all things," and that "nothing is too hard for the Lord," and the like can not be understood as affirming God's ability to save all men. They do imply that he has power to do whatever is an object of physical omnipotence; but to save sinners is not an object of physical power. Their salvation, if accomplished at all, must be brought about by a moral and persuasive influence, and not by the exercise of physical omnipotence. In the sense in which we can justly apply the terms ability and inability to this subject, God is really unable to do what it is unwise for him to do. He has an end in view. This end is the highest good and blessedness of universal being. This end can be accomplished only by the appropriate means, or upon certain conditions. These conditions include the perfect holiness of moral agents. If God can not wisely use such means as will secure the conversion and sanctification of sinners, he can not save them. That is, he is unable to save them. This he repeatedly professes to be unable to do.
Ezek. 18:23. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways, and live? 32. For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.
33:11. Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
Is. 5:4. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
Hos. 11:8. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.
These are only specimens of the manner in which God speaks of his ability to save sinners, and to do more for the church or the world than he does. From such professions on the part of God, we are to understand him as disclaiming ability to do more or otherwise than he does, in consistency with the highest good of being in general. Since the highest good of being in general is the end which he is aiming to secure, he "may justly be said to be unable to do whatever he can not do in consistency with the use of those means that will secure this end." God therefore does not affirm his ability to save all men, but fully disclaims any such ability and professes to do and to be doing all that he can to save them. He professes to be perfectly benevolent and infinitely wise, and to be doing all that infinite wisdom and benevolence can do for sinners and for all men, and complains that all he can do does not save and will not save many of them.
But with respect to the saints, he does expressly affirm his ability to keep them in a sense that will secure their salvation. This we have seen. He does for them all that he wisely can, and does enough, as he expressly affirms, to secure their salvation. No one can attentively read and consider the passages relating to God's ability to save all men and his ability to save his people without perceiving that the two cases are not parallel, but that in fact they are contrasts. He expressly affirms his ability to keep, to sanctify, and to save his elect children, whilst he repeatedly either expressly or by implication disclaims ability to save all men.
Again: the bible no where represents God as willing the salvation of all men in the same sense in which it represents him as willing the salvation of christians or of his elect.
Such passages as the following are specimens of God's professions of willingness to save all men.
I Tim. 2:4. Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
2 Peter 3:9. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
These and similar passages teach that God wills the salvation of all men only in the sense of desiring it. This we know from the fact that he no where intimates a willingness in the sense of a design or intention to save all men; but on the contrary, plainly reveals an opposite purpose or design; that is, he reveals the fact that he can not, shall not, and of course, does not expect or design to save all men. By the profession of a willingness to save all men we can therefore justly understand him to mean only that he desires the salvation of all men, and that he would secure their salvation if he wisely could. This is all that we can understand him as affirming, unless we would accuse him of self-contradiction.
But he professes a willingness to save his elect, or in other words all regenerate persons or all believers in Christ and all who ever will truly believe in him, in the sense of purposing of designing to save them. This is most manifest from the scriptures we have already examined and this will still further appear from the passages to be examined.
We have seen that the Father has given a certain number to Christ with express design to secure their salvation; that he has committed to him all the requisite power and influences to save them, and that they will actually be saved. Nothing like this can be found in the bible respecting any other class of men whatever. This objection, then, is without foundation, and the argument from the ability and willingness of God to save his saints remains in full force and conclusiveness.
4. Again, Christ expressly prayed for all believers, and in a manner that secures their being kept and saved:
John 17:2. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 6. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7. Now they have known that all things, whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee; 8. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9. I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine. 10. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 11. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 20. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. 21. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22. And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. 23. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me. 24. 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; for thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world.
Now observe, that in this most affecting prayer Christ says
[1.] Verse 2: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
We have seen that in the 6th chapter of this book Christ expressly teaches that all are given to him that come to him, and that all shall come to him who were given to him by the Father.
[2.] He proceeds to affirm that he had in the exercise of this power kept in his Father's name all who had been given and had come to him and had lost none.
[3.] He asks the Father henceforth to keep them in his own name as he was about to leave them as to his bodily presence. He says, verse 15, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." Again he says, 20--24: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where l am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world."
Now as surely as Christ's prayer is answered all believers will be saved; that is, at least all who ever have believed or ever will believe subsequent to the offering of this prayer. But Christ's prayers are always answered.
To this it is objected that a part of this same prayer is not answered and of course never will be. It is said for example, that in the 21st verse he prays for the union of all believers, which has been far enough from having been answered. The verse reads, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may he one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." Here he explains the sense in which he prays that all believers may be one, not that they should be all of one denomination or creed, but that they should possess one and the same spirit; that the same spirit that united the Father and the Son, that is the Holy Spirit who is in the Father and the Son might also be in all christians. This is plainly his meaning; and that this is true of all real christians that they possess the Holy Spirit or the spirit that dwells in the Father and the Son, no one can doubt who understands and believes his bible.
But it is objected again that Christ prayed to be delivered from crucifixion and his prayer was not answered.
I reply that he did not pray for this, if at all, unqualifiedly. He says, "If it be possible, nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." If it were the pains of the cross from which his soul shrunk in the garden, and from which he desired if possible to be excused, it is plain that he did not pray unqualifiedly to be delivered, but on the contrary submitted the question to the will of his Father. But in the prayer in John 17, he made no such condition. He knew that in this case it was his Father's will to grant his request. Of this he had expressly informed his disciples, as we have seen; that is, that it was his Father's will to keep and save all who were given to Christ, and had been drawn by the Father to Christ. The Spirit of this petition accords precisely with his teaching upon the subject. He had taught before that all believers would be kept and saved, and that this was his Father's will; now, could he, either expressly or impliedly, in this prayer, put in the condition that was in the prayer, just referred to, namely, "If it be thy will?" But although what has been said is a full answer to the assertion that Christ's prayers are not always answered, it may be, for some minds, important to say that it is far from being certain that Christ prayed to be delivered from crucifixion.
John 12:23. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. 24. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, It bringeth forth much fruit. 25. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. 26. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be; if any man serve me, him will my father honor. 27. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. 28. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven. saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
Here Christ plainly intimates that he did not pray to escape the death to which he was appointed and for which he had come to that hour. But it may be asked, against what did Jesus pray in the garden? I reply, against being overcome by the agony of his soul and crushed to death before he came to the cross. The following passages may throw some light upon this question: John 14:30: "Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me."
Here he informs his disciples that he must soon break off the conversation with them, for he was just entering into a severe conflict with Satan.
Matthew records the conflict through which the Savior passed, and of which he advised his disciples.
Matt. 26:37. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. 39. And he went a little further, and fell on his face., and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. 40. And he cometh unto the disciples. and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What! could ye not watch with me one hour? 41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 42. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. 43. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. 44. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46. Rise, let us be going: behold he is at hand that doth betray me.
Here it appears that Christ had his last and great conflict with Satan. Satan set on him, as it appears, to kill him outright with anguish.
Luke in recording this transaction, says, Luke 22:39. "And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. 40. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. 41. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42. Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine he done. 43. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. 44. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow. 46. And said to them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray lest ye enter into temptation."
It is, I think, plain that this struggle in the garden was a sore and overwhelming temptation, and that an angel was sent to assist him by resisting and putting away Satan; that is, it was by sending an angel that his Father answered his prayer. This prayer appears to have been heard and answered; for from this time his mind remained calm. There is a passage in Hebrews that I think evidently refers to this scene.
Heb. 5:7. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.
To what does this refer if not to the death he feared in the garden? He said on that occasion, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death." He then offered up prayer with strong crying, and tears and was heard, &c. To my mind all these circumstances taken together make it very evident that Christ did not pray against the cross in the petition under consideration, but that on the contrary he prayed to be delivered from temptation and was heard and answered.
But be this as it may we are to remember that Christ expressly affirms that his Father always hears, that is, answers his prayers.
Jno. 11:42. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
Again, Paul says of Christ, Heb. 7:25: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them."
Here he asserts that Christ is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he always lives to make intercession for them. This as plainly as possible implies that his intercessions are all-prevailing. Indeed, as he is the mediator, they must be.
Now let us consider how far we have advanced in establishing the perseverance and final salvation of all believers.
[1.] We have seen that all the elect to salvation will be saved.
[2.] That all true believers are of this number.
[3.] That God and Christ are able to keep them from apostacy and save them.
[4.] That he is willing or wills to do it.
[5.] That Christ expressly prayed for the perseverance and final salvation of all believers.
[6.] That he prayed in express accordance with the revealed will of his Father; and,
[7.] That his prayers always prevail and are answered.
In Christ's prayer in Jno. 17, he expressly affirms that he did not pray for the world, that is, for all men. He prayed only for those whom the Father had given him. For these he prayed, not merely that God would save them upon condition of their perseverance, but that God would keep them from the evil that is in the world, and save them, and make them one in the sense that one Spirit should be in them all. He asked manifestly the same things for all that in future believe, that he asked for those who had already believed.
Should I proceed no farther the argument is complete and the proof conclusive. But since this doctrine is so abundantly taught, either expressly or impliedly, in the bible, I proceed to the consideration of a number of other passages which will throw still further light on the subject.
(5.) Christ expressly and designedly teaches this doctrine.
John 6: 39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. 47. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath everlasting life. 51. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Here he expressly teaches as we have before seen that it is his Father's will that all believers or all who at any time believe, (for this is plainly his meaning,) shall be saved; that he should lose none of them, but as we have seen, John 17:2, should give them eternal life. Then he claims ability to keep and save them agreeably to his Father's will. This, remember, respects all believers or all who are given to Christ who we have learned are the same persons.
Again, John 10:27. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. 29. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all: and none is able to pluck them out of my father's hand.
The whole connection shows that Christ intended to teach the certainty of the salvation of all his sheep or of all the elect, or, which is the same, of all true believers. But to this it is objected, that none are sheep any longer than they remain obedient, and therefore the assertion that he will save the sheep, does not secure those who at any time sin. But I reply that Christ recognizes all the elect as his sheep whether converted or whether in a state of temporary backsliding or not. He represents his sheep as hearing his voice, and as following him, and those who are not of his sheep as not hearing his voice and as not following him: John 10:16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 26. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
Again, Matt. 18:12. How think ye? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13. And if so be that he find it. verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
The design of this parable is to teach the doctrine I am defending. If not what is its design? This is a full answer to the objection that no one is recognized as a sheep who has gone astray.
But again it is said that although no one else can pluck the sheep out of the Father's hand, yet we can do it ourselves. I grant that we can by natural possibility; but this objection is good for nothing, for Christ expressly says. John 10:27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. 29. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
Not only is no one able to pluck them out of his Fathers hand; but Christ gives unto them eternal life and they shall never perish. This implies that while they might or are able to apostatize and be lost, yet as a matter of fact they never will. What could be made out of all he says of himself as a shepherd in this passage, if after all he loses some of his sheep? Let any one ponder the whole chapter and see.
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