PERSEVERANCE OF SAINTS
Further objections answered.
4. A fourth objection to this doctrine is, that if, by the perseverance of the saints is intended, that they live anything like lives of habitual obedience to God, then facts are against it.
To this objection I reply: that by the perseverance of the saints, as I use these terms, is intended that, subsequently to their regeneration, holiness is the rule of their lives, and sin only the exception. But it is said, that facts contradict this.
(1.) The case of king Saul is brought forward as an instance in point to sustain the objection.
To this I reply: that it is far from being clear that Saul was ever a truly regenerate man. He appears, in connection with his appointment to the throne of Israel, to have been the subject of divine illuminations, in so far as to be much changed in his views and deportment, and as to have had another heart, in so much that he prophesied, etc.; but it is nowhere intimated that he became a truly regenerate man, a truly praying child of God. Similar changes are not infrequently witnessed in men, and changes evidently brought about by the illuminations of the Holy Spirit, where there is no good reason to believe that the subjects of them were truly regenerated. From the history of Saul, subsequent to the change of which we are speaking, we gather absolutely nothing that looks like true piety. His case therefore cannot properly be brought as an objection to the doctrine in question, for the plain reason, that evidence is wanting that he ever was a saint. His prophesying, as is evident from the connection in which it is spoken of, was merely speaking fervently upon religions subjects. He was so much enlightened, as to manifest for a time considerable excitement upon the subject of religion, and as to mingle with the schools of the prophets, and take an interest in their exercises. But this was only similar to what we often witness, when the ends and indeed when all the circumstances, duly considered, show clearly that true regeneration has not taken place. Who has not seen men have, for the time being, another, but not a holy, heart?
(2.) It is said, that David did not persevere in obedience, in the sense that obedience was his rule, and sin only the exception. To this I reply:
(a.) It is not pretended that there is any doubt respecting the final salvation of David.
(b.) That David did not persevere, in the sense defined above wants proof. His psalms, together with his whole history, show that he was a highly spiritual man. He was an eminent type of Christ, and, for a man in his circumstances, was a remarkable saint. To be sure, David practiced polygamy, and did many things that in us, under the light of the gospel, would be sin. But it should be considered, that David under a dispensation of comparative obscurity, and therefore many things which would now be unlawful and sinful, were not so in him. That David, with comparatively few exceptions, lived up to the light he had, cannot be reasonably called in question. He is said to have been a man after God's own heart. I know this is said of him as a king, but I know also that, as king this could not have been said of him, unless he had feared and served the Lord, and in the main lived up to the light with which he was surrounded.
(3.) It is also said, that Solomon king of Israel did not persevere, in the sense contended for in this discourse.
Of Solomon I would say, that he at one period of his life, for how long a time it does not appear, fell into grievous backsliding, and appears in some sense to have tolerated idolatry. His final apostasy has been inferred from the fact, that idolatry was practiced in Israel, after his supposed repentance; and until the end of his life, the people were allowed to offer sacrifices, and to burn incense in the high places, and therefore his repentance was not genuine.
To this I reply, that the same was true also during the reign of several of the pious kings who succeeded him, and is probably to be accounted for by the fact, that neither Solomon nor his successors had, for a considerable time, political power or influence enough to abolish idolatry altogether. The people were greatly divided in their religious views and worship. Many were the priests and devotees of the groves and high places, and multitudes of the high and more influential classes cleave to their idols. It was a very difficult matter to put an effectual stop to idolatry, and perhaps was impossible in Solomon's day, and for a long time after. Solomon's idolatrous wives and concubines had doubtless exerted great influence in rendering idolatry popular with the people, and it was not until several generations had passed away, that the pious kings seem to have had sufficient political power to banish idolatry from the nation. Solomon's final apostasy, then, cannot be inferred from the fact, that idolatry continued to be practiced in the nation until long after his death. There is no reason to believe that he continued to practice it himself.
But, from the writings of Solomon, we may gather sufficient evidence that, in the general, he did not live a wicked life, though he fell into many grievous sins. His Ecclesiastes seems to have been written after he was reclaimed from backsliding, as appears from the fact, that the book contains many statements of his views and experiences while in his wanderings from God. It appears to me, that the book is inexplicable upon any other supposition. In his wanderings from God, as is common, he fell into great doubts and embarrassments in regard to the works and ways of God. He became skeptical, and in the book under consideration, he states the skeptical views that he had entertained. But the book, as a whole, contains conclusive evidence of piety at the time it was written. This probably will not be called in question.
(4.) Observation, it is said, conflicts with the doctrine in question. So far as human observation can go, I admit that this is so; that many persons seem to be born again, and to run well for a time, and afterwards fall, and apparently live and die in sin. But it should be remarked, that observation cannot be conclusive upon this subject, because we cannot certainly know, that any of the cases just alluded to are real conversions to God. Hence the objection fails of conclusiveness. Were it certainly known that such persons were truly regenerated, and that afterwards they fall away and live in sin, and die in that state, it would follow, that the doctrine, at least in the form in which I have stated it, cannot be true. But this is not, and cannot be certainly known by observation. If, as I trust, it has been found to be true, in our examination, that the Bible plainly teaches the doctrine in question, in the form in which I have stated it, it must follow of course that observation cannot disprove it, for the reason that it is not a question that lies within the reach of observation, in such a sense as to admit of certainty, or of any such kind or degree of evidence as to shake the sure testimony of the Bible.
5. But an appeal is also made to consciousness to overthrow this doctrine. It is said, that the real saints, at least in some instances, know themselves to have lived a great part of their lives in sin, and even by far the greater part of their days subsequent to regeneration.
This objection or assertion may be answered substantially as was the last. It is true, indeed, that the saints may know themselves to have been regenerated; and it is also true, that many may think they know this when they are deceived. A man may know himself to be awake, but from this it does not follow that no one can think himself awake while he is asleep. But since upon examination, it has been found that the Bible plainly teaches the doctrine of the saints' perseverance, in the sense in which I have defined it, we must of course yield the objection founded on experience, and grant that such experiences can weigh nothing against the testimony of God. The objection of course cannot be conclusive; for it is not one of the nature that admits of no error or doubt. The Bible defines all the essential attributes of Christian character. Now, if upon examination, perseverance in the sense here insisted on is proved to be one of them, it is absurd to array against the doctrine the consciousness of not persevering. It is to assume that we, and not the Bible, can decide who is a Christian, and what are the essential attributes of Christian character.
6. But it is also objected to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, that several passages of scripture plainly teach that some real saints have fallen away and been lost. I will therefore now proceed to the examination of those passages upon which the principal reliance is placed to disprove this doctrine. The first one which I shall notice is found in:
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat of the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink; (for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ); But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them, as it is written; The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:1-12).
It is said of this passage, that the history of the Israelites is here introduced as a warning to real Christians; consequently, the apostle must have assumed, that those of the Israelites who fell were real saints, or there would have been no pertinency or force in his allusion. To this I reply, that the pertinency and force of the allusion appear to me to have been as follows. The Israelites composed the visible church of God. At the time mentioned, they were all professors of religion. All possessed great light and privileges compared with the rest of the world; they therefore felt confident of their acceptance with God, and of their consequent safety and salvation. But with many of them God was not well pleased. Some of them turned out to be idolaters and were destroyed. Now, says the apostle, let this be a warning to you. You are in like manner professors of religion. You are all members of the visible church of God to which the promises are made. You have great light and privileges when compared with the world at large. You may think yourselves to be altogether safe, and sure of final salvation. But remember, that the history of the ancient church is written for your benefit; and the destruction of those just alluded to, is recorded for your admonition. Be not high minded, but fear. Do not be presumptuous, because you are members in good standing in the visible church, and possess great light and privileges; but remember, that many before you, who were like you in these respects, have lost their souls: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
If the apostle had intended to convey the impression that they were real saints that fell in the wilderness, and that real saints do fall away and are lost, he would no doubt have said, let him that standeth, instead of him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. The term rendered thinketh is represented by Robinson as correctly translated in this passage. The meaning of the apostle appears to have been this, that others who were, from their circumstances and fancied characters, very confident of their safety, had been finally cast off and lost; therefore, take heed to yourselves, lest being similarly situated, you in like manner deceive yourselves; and while you think that you stand, you should fall and perish.
But it may be said, that the apostle speaks of those as falling who had eaten of the spiritual meat, and drank of the rock Christ, and therefore must have been real saints. To this I reply, that the apostle does indeed use universal language, and speak of all the Israelites as doing these things; but who will soberly contend that he intended really to be understood as affirming, that all the Israelites that passed through the sea, etc., were true saints? What he says does not necessitate the conclusion that any of them were truly regenerated saints. They were all baptized unto Moses, that is, were all introduced into the covenant of which he was the mediator. They all ate of the same spiritual bread, that is, the manna on which the Lord fed them. They all drank of the spiritual rock; that is, of the water that gushed from the rock when Moses smote it with his rod, and which rock was a type of Christ, as was also the manna. Now, does the apostle mean to say, that all the Israelites understood the typical meaning of these waters, and this manna, and that they were all truly spiritual or regenerate persons? I think not. All that he intended appears to me to be, that all the church of the Jews at the time were so far partakers of the grace of Christ as to receive this baptism, and as to have this spiritual or typical bread and water, and also to enjoy great light and much miraculous instruction, but that, nevertheless, with many of them God was displeased. Their being baptized in their passage through the Red Sea, did not imply that they so understood and consented to it at the time, nor does the assertion that they ate the spiritual food, and drank of the spiritual rock, imply anything more than that they enjoyed these great and high privileges, and counted themselves as very secure in consequence of them. It is certainly straining the sense to make the apostle affirm that all the Israelites were real saints who passed through the sea. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he intended to affirm the real piety of any of them. It was not essential to his purpose to do so.
In examining the class of passages adduced to prove that some real saints have fallen from grace and been lost, I am only concerned to show, that they do not by fair construction necessitate this conclusion. I may admit that, if the doctrine of perseverance were not found to be clearly taught in the Bible, the not unnatural construction of some of the class of texts in question might lead to the conclusion that some, yea many, real saints have been lost.
But, since, from the previous examination it has appeared, that the doctrine is plainly and unequivocally taught in the Bible, all that needs to be shown of the class of texts now under consideration is, that they do not, when fairly interpreted, really and unequivocally teach that some true saints have been lost. This showing will sufficiently vindicate the scriptures against the imputation of self-contradiction, in both affirming and denying the same doctrine. Observe, I am not called upon to show, that the passages in question cannot be so construed, and with considerable plausibility, as to make them contradict this doctrine; but all I am called upon to show in this place is, that they do not necessarily, by fair construction, contradict it; that they do not necessitate the admission either that the Bible contradicts itself, or that a different construction must be given to the passages that seem to teach this doctrine.
With these remarks I proceed to the examination of: "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the Godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government: presumptuous are they, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the daytime. Spots they are, and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: a heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children, which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage. 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. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known t, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 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" (2 Peter 2:9-22).
Now observe, the apostle calls the persons of whom he speaks "wells without water: clouds that are carried with a tempest," that is, without rain. His whole description of them shows, that he is speaking of false professors or hypocrites. But it is inferred, that they are fallen saints, because it is said they have "forsaken the right way, and are gone astray after the error of Balaam," etc. But this does not necessarily imply that they were in heart ever in the right way, but that they have forsaken the right way, so far as the outward life is concerned: in which respect they had doubtless been in the right way, or they would not have been admitted to membership in the church.
But it is said of these false professors, that "they allure through lust and much wantonness those who were clean escaped from those who live in error." But neither does this necessitate the conclusion, that they had escaped in heart from those that lived in error, but merely that they had for the time being outwardly abandoned their idolatrous practices and companions, and had made a profession, and put on the form of Christianity.
But it is also said, "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 than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 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" (2 Peter 2:20-22).
Neither does this necessitate the conclusion, that they had in heart escaped from the pollutions that are in the world, but merely that they had outwardly reformed. What is said in the last verse seems to favor this construction. Verse 22: "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." That is, the dog has returned to his vomit, because he remains a dog, and is not changed; and the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire, because she is still a sow, and her washing has not changed her nature. So, the apostle would say, by returning to their former ways, do the persons in question show, that they have experienced no radical change; but on the contrary, that they are only like a washed sow, sinners still, who have been only outwardly cleansed, while within they are the same as ever. This appears to me to be all that can fairly be made out of this passage.
I will now attend to: "Holding faith and a good conscience, which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:19, 20). Of this text I may say, that the apostle was writing to Timothy as an eminent religious teacher, and was giving him cautions respecting his influence in that relation. Hymeneus and Alexander, as we may infer from this, and which is still more plainly taught in other passages, were religious teachers, who had cast off or perverted the true faith or doctrine of the gospel, and thus made shipwreck. They had put away faith and a good conscience, and by so doing had made shipwreck of the true gospel. This passage does not teach that these men were true Christians, nor does it necessarily imply that any had been true saints who had gone with them. The expression, "some having put away," does not necessarily imply that they once had true faith and a good conscience, but only that they taught that which was inconsistent with either; or it may mean that they had rejected or refused both faith and a good conscience; that they practiced and taught things inconsistent with either true faith, or with the true gospel, or with a good conscience, and had therefore run upon a rock, and wrecked their souls, and the souls of those who followed them. But this proves nothing in respect to their ever having been real saints.
The apostle was speaking in popular language, and represented things as they appeared to the observer. Thus, we should speak of spurious converts. It certainly does not appear to me, that this passage would, without forced construction, warrant the conclusion that some real saints had been lost, even apart from those passages which, we have seen, seem unequivocally to teach the doctrine. Much less, when those passages are considered, are we, as I think we have seen, authorized so to construe this passage as to make it either contradict them, or to necessitate such a modification of their construction as is contended for by those who deny the doctrine in question. If the doctrine in question is not really taught in the Bible, we certainly should not believe it; but if it is, we must not lightly reject it. We need candidly to weigh each passage, and to understand, if we can, just what is the mind of God as therein revealed.
The case of Judas has been relied upon as an instance of utter apostasy, and of consequent destruction. It is said, that in the Psalms Judas is spoken of as the familiar friend of Christ in whom he trusted. "Yea, Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, hath lifted up his heel against Me" (Psalms 41:9).
There is no reason to believe that Psalms 41 primarily respected either Christ or Judas. Christ quotes the 9th verse, as is common in the New Testament, not because it was originally spoken of himself or of Judas, but because his case was like that of the Psalmist. In the passage in which Christ quotes these words, he directly negatives the idea of Judas being one of his true disciples. He says, "I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen; but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me" (John 13:18).
Here Christ plainly teaches, that he to whom He applied these words, was not chosen in the sense of being chosen to salvation, or in the sense of his being a true saint. He says:
"But there are some of you who believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him. And He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given Him of My Father. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray Him, being one of the twelve" (John 6:64, 65, 70, 71).
He had chosen twelve to follow Him as pupils or disciples; but one of them he had known from the beginning to be a wicked man. In: "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" (John 17:12). Christ has been represented as saying to his Father in this passage, that he had lost none that the Father had given him except the son of perdition, that is Judas. But this is not the meaning of the passage in Christ's prayer. He intended that of those that the Father had given Him, He had lost none; but the son of perdition was lost that the scripture might be fulfilled.
The same form of expression is used in: "And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27). Here ei me is used in the original as meaning not except, but as an adversative conjunction but. Naaman was not an Israelite, but a heathen. Christ here used the same form of expression as in John 17:12. In this passage in Luke it is plain, that He intended that the prophet was not sent to any Israelite, but to a heathen. This same form is also used, "How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests" (Matt. 12:4).
Here the same form of expression in the original is used, as in John 17:12. The plain meaning of this form in Matt. 12:4 is but, not except. It was not lawful for David, nor for his companions to eat the shewbread, but it was lawful for the priests to do so. So also, "As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered unto idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication" (Acts 21:25). Here the same form is used, and the plain meaning of the phraseology is just that which I am contending for, in the passage in Christ's prayer. Likewise, "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27). Here again the same form of expression, and the same word in the original, are used in the sense now contended for. Nothing shall enter into the city that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life, shall enter in. So beyond reasonable doubt, Christ intended to say in His prayer to His Father: 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, that is, I have lost none of those whom Thou hast given Me; but the son of perdition is lost, according to the scriptures.
But it seems to me, that the context shows clearly what the Savior intended by this form of expression. He says, "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. 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" (John 17:11, 12), that is: "Do Thou keep them in Thine own name and lose none of them, for while I was with them I kept them in Thy name, and lost none of them; but the son of perdition is lost." He evidently did not mean to say, I lost but one whom Thou gavest Me; or that He kept in His Father's name all except one of those whom the Father had given Him. He says, "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. Now they have known that all things, whatsoever Thou hast given Me, are of Thee. 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. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through Thy own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one as we are. 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" (John 17:6-12).
Here He plainly represents, that all who had been given Him by the Father, had known and kept the word of God. They had believed and persevered, and Christ was glorified in them. Since He had kept them in His Father's name, and had lost none of them, He proceeds to pray, that now the Father will keep them in His own name. Let any one ponder well this passage from verses 6 to 12, and he will see, I trust, that this is a true view of the subject. At any rate this cannot be a proof text to establish the fact, that any have fallen from grace; for the plain reason, that the text can quite as naturally at least, and I think with much greater propriety, be quoted to sustain the doctrine which it is adduced to disprove. Again:
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee until seven times; but until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him a hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matt. 18:21-35).
This has been adduced to prove that some do fall from grace, especially the 32nd to the 34th verses. But from this whole passage it is evident, that what the Lord meant was to set in a strong light the necessity of a forgiving spirit, and that this is a condition of salvation. It is a parable designed to illustrate this truth, but does not assert as a fact, that any truly pardoned soul was ever lost; nor does it imply this, as any one may see who will duly weigh the whole parable. It does plainly imply, that a pardoned soul would be lost should he apostatize; but it does not imply that such a soul ever did apostasize.
I consider next, "Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith" (1 Tim. 5:12). This passage stands in the following connection:
"Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man: Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse, for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also, and busy bodies, speaking things which they ought not" (1 Tim. 5:9-13).
The word rendered damnation in this passage is often rendered judgment and condemnation; and the meaning may be, that the younger widows were found to wax wanton and fall into condemnation, and for a time at least to disgrace their profession, by casting off their first faith; or it may mean, that they were apt to be found among those who renounced the profession of the true faith, which they at first professed. They were young widows, uneducated as heathen women were and are, and it could not be surprising that many of this class should make a spurious profession, and afterwards cast off their profession through wantonness, and disgrace their profession. The apostle, therefore, warns Timothy against too hasty a reception of them, or against having too early a confidence in the reality of their piety.
Again: it has been said, that from Christ's letters to the churches in Asia, recorded in Revelation, we learn that those churches, some of them at least, were in a state of apostasy from God; and that from the fact that the judgments of God annihilated those churches, there is reason to believe that the apostasy was complete and final, and their destruction certain. To this I reply, that those letters were written to churches as such, just as the prophets spoke of the Jewish church as such. The things which the prophets declare of the Jewish church were declared of them as a body of professed saints, some generations of whom had more, and some less, real piety. The prophets would rebuke one generation for their backsliding and apostasy, without meaning to represent that the particular individuals they addressed were ever true saints, but meaning only that the body as such was in a degenerate and apostate state, compared with what the body as such had been in former times. So Christ writes to the churches of Asia, and reproves them for their backslidden and apostate condition, asserts that they had fallen, had left their first love, etc., from which, however, we are not to infer, that He intended to say this of those who had been truly converted as individuals, but merely that those churches as bodies had fallen, and were now composed of members as a whole who were in the state of which He complained.
The churches of Asia were doubtless, when first gathered by the apostles and primitive ministers, full of faith, and zeal, and love. But things had changed. Many of the members had changed, and perhaps every member who had originally composed those churches was dead, previous to the time when these letters were written. However this may be, there had doubtless been great changes in the membership of those churches; and since they were evidently addressed as bodies, it cannot be fairly inferred, from what is said, that the same persons addressed had fallen from a state of high spirituality into backsliding or apostasy, but that was true only of the then present membership, when compared with the former membership and state of the churches. These letters cannot be justly relied upon as disproving the doctrine in question; for the utmost that can be made of them is, that those churches as bodies were at the time in a state of declension.
The passages we have examined are, so far as I know, the principal ones upon which reliance has been placed to disprove the doctrine in question. I have read over attentively several times the views of Mr. Fletcher, in his Scripture Scales, and the passages quoted by him to disprove this doctrine. His chief reliance is manifestly upon the numerous passages that imply the possibility and danger of falling, rather than on any passages that unequivocally teach that any have fallen or will utterly fall. I am not aware that any respectable writer has laid much stress upon other passages than those I have examined, as expressly teaching, or unequivocally implying the fact of the fall and ruin of real saints. There may be such writers and such passages as those of which I speak; but if there are, I do not recollect to have seen them.
1. If the doctrine under consideration is not true, I cannot see upon what ground we can affirm, or even confidently hope, that many of our pious friends who have died have gone to heaven. Suppose they held on their way until the last hours of life. If we may not believe that the faithfulness of God prevailed to keep them through the last conflict, what reason have we to affirm that they were preserved from sin and apostasy in their last hours, and saved? If the sovereign grace of God does not protect them against the wiles and malice of Satan, in their feebleness, and in the wreck of their habitation of clay, what has become of them? I must confess that, if I did not expect the covenanted mercy and faithfulness of God to prevail, and to sustain the soul under such circumstances, I should have very little expectation that any would be saved. If I could have any confidence that Christians would stand fast while in health, aside from the truth of this doctrine, still I should expect that Satan would overcome them in the end, when they passed through the last great struggle. Who could then trust to the strength of his own purposes?
2. But I could no more hope, that myself or any one else, would persevere in holiness in our best estate, even for one day or hour, if not kept by the power of God through faith, than I could hope to fly to heaven. As I have before said, there is no hope of any one's persevering, except in so far as free grace anticipates and secures the concurrence of free will. The soul must be called, and effectually called, and perpetually called, or it will not follow Christ for an hour. I say again, that by effectual calling, I do not mean an irresistible calling. I do not mean a calling that cannot, or that might not be resisted; but I do mean by an effectual calling, a calling that is not in fact resisted, a calling that does in fact secure the voluntary obedience of the soul. This is my only hope in respect to myself, or anybody else. This grace I regard as vouchsafed to me in the covenant of grace, or as a reward of Christ's obedience unto death. It is pledged to secure the salvation of those whom the Father has from eternity given to the Son. The Holy Spirit is given to them to secure their salvation, and I have no expectation that any others will ever be saved. But these, every one of them, will surely be saved. There is, there can be no hope for any others. Others are able to repent, but they will not. Others might be saved, if they would believe, and comply with the conditions of salvation, but they will not.
We have seen, that none come to Christ, except they are drawn of the Father, and that the Father draws to Christ those and those only whom He has given to Christ, and also, that it is the Father's design that of those whom He has given to Christ, He should lose none, but that He should raise them up at the last day. This is the only hope that any will be saved. Strike out this foundation, and what shall the righteous do? Strike out from the Bible the doctrine of God's covenanted faithfulness to Christ the truth that the Father has given to Him a certain number whose salvation He foresees that He could and should secure, and I despair of myself and of everybody else. Where is any other ground of hope? I know not where.