THE ETERNAL SECURITY OF THE BELIEVER

 

By W. P. CLARKE

 

Where there is apparent contradiction on any particular doctrine of Scripture it is possible to take the preponderance of passages in favour of the one view or the other.  But the contradiction must be apparent only (certainly in reference to the original scriptures, which we do not now have) - apparent, probably due to faulty interpretation, or possibly to mistakes in transcription or translation; most probably to faulty interpretation.  So it is the case of the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer (the great dividing line, and divergence of opinion between Calvinist and Armenian) in which the preponderance of Scripture seems overwhelmingly in favour.  The gospel of John, without any other Scripture, is alone sufficient to prove it; and there we have our Lord's repeated assurance, devoid of any statement of His to the contrary, that His sheep are eternally safe.

 

We commence with that well-known text, John 3: 16 "the gospel in a nutshell", as it has been termed. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," repeated by John the Baptist in verse 36.  If eternal it cannot possibly have an end.  So chapter 5: 24 - "He that . . . believeth . . . hath" an immediate present possession, emphasised later on by the words "Verily, Verily" - "everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life" - surely not to pass back into death? There is not even a suggestion of that!  Chapter 4: 14 to the Samaritan woman: "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never" - never - "thirst," but it shall become "in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life." Chapter 6: 39: "This is the will of him that sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should loose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" : repeated in verses 44 and 54 - a promise He must and assuredly will fulfil.  Again in chapter 10: 28: "I will give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any" - neither man nor devil -"pluck them out of my hand . . . and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" - the Almighty hand of Him who is "greater than all"- absolute security!  So to Martha (chapter 11: 25) Jesus said: "I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"  A question He asks every believer who doubts His assurances.  And lastly in His High Priestly prayer He prays "that to all whom Thou hast given Him He should give eternal life."

 

Can anything be plainer or more explicit than these passages of Scripture?  Surely we can rest on our precious Saviour's repeated assurance, despite any apparently contrary expressions in Scripture? So far John's gospel, but we would refer to one or two other passages by way of confirmation.  In Ephesians 1: 4 we learn that Believers were chosen "before the foundation of the world" and pre-ordained as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself.  Is it possible for them to be ultimately lost?  In 1 Corinthians 3: 14 we find that if any man's work, which he hath built on the foundation laid by God in Christ Jesus, is burned he shall suffer loss but he himself shall be saved, yet as through fire, escaping, as it were, with life only, from a burning building.  But why multiply texts to further prove what is so abundantly proven already?  "A child of God is eternal as God, for he shares the life of God, and when the world is totally dissolved in flaming fire he will be among the morning stars around the Throne" (D. M. PANTON).

 

We may now look at some Scriptures which seem to contradict this assertion - admittedly difficult of interpretation; but however difficult, we may be sure they do not contradict the explicit statement of our Lord.  The two main stumbling blocks to the Calvinist believer are both in the epistle of the Hebrews, chapter 6: 4-8 and 10: 26-31, which have led some expositors to believe they refer especially to the Jewish economy and do not refer to salvation in Christ; but this does not seem tenable.  Others are sure - and this is the most common explanation - that the persons referred to were never saved, but are merely professors.  Others rely, in chapter 4: 6, on the revised marginal reading, "the while," or whilst continuing, instead of the text "seeing" they crucify afresh the Son of God. Others explain that repentance can never again be repeated, and let it be noted the "judgement" and punishment - not eternal death - are the results of such transgressions.  Some, not many, expositors maintain that both passages refer to Apostates - more than backsliders, those who have adjured and definitely rejected Christ.  If this hypothesis is correct and it means everlasting punishment, then the case of an apostate is the only exception to the rule that every believer is eternally saved; but it is a matter of thanksgiving that there are, so far as is known, so few apostates. The very fact that there are in these passages, so many diverse explanations and so many differences of interpretation, make it impossible that they should be used to contradict the explicit utterances of our Lord Himself.

 

If then the eternal security of Believers is the true interpretation of Scripture, the question naturally arises as to the position of the cold, lukewarm and unfaithful believers, who prove unworthy to enter the Kingdom, and of all backsliders - some of whom have grossly backsliden - dying in their backsliden state, although God in His infinite mercy has made it possible for them to confess and repent. There must be some time and place where they are dealt with, for "our God is consuming fire," and "righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne" (Psalm 97: 2); and the Apostle Peter, through the Holy Spirit, warns us that "Judgement must begin at the House of God."  Our own sense of justice demands in this life that they who break the law must incur the penalty of the law, and "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? " It cannot be that unworthy Christians and backsliders, dying un-repentant and un-forgiven, shall immediately thereafter enter into bliss and reign with Christ!  The incestuous Corinthian of 1 Cor. chapter 5 is a case in point.  No! it is the "little flock" to whom it is the Father's good pleasure to "give the Kingdom." The "overcomers" are the only ones to whom are given the promise of sharing Christ's throne.  "Assuredly it is the Millennial Kingdom that power over the nations is held out to those who overcome as a reward is very plain" (Sten) "Though the gifts are not wages yet they depend on winning a battle.  There is something beyond mere salvation" (Dr. Horatius Bonar).  There is no hint in Scripture of resurrected believers being subjects in the Millennial Kingdom; the subjects of that Kingdom are the nations of the earth living at the time the Kingdom begins.  For believers it is a matter of reigning or exclusionThis reigning is so high an honour that our Lord declares that he that is "least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist, although among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than he."

 

As to time and place, we dismiss the idea of Purgatory (a purely Romanish invention) if for no other reason than that no judgement precedes it.*  "It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the Judgement" - not Purgatory - and none is condemned by God without being judged.  At the great white throne it is written - "they were judged every man according to his works."  The dispensation of Grace ends with the coming of Christ for His saints and their rapture in the air.  During the Presence of Christ in the air - the Parousia - the Bema or Judgement Seat of Christ takes place: although not explicitly stated in Scripture, there is no other time that it can be held;* and it is there the position if every believer will be determined in relation to the kingdom of God.  If accounted unworthy to enter and reign with Christ, then, as stated in the parable of the talents, they will be "cast out as unprofitable servants into the outer darkness" - a place not designated in Scripture - or "cut asunder and appointed their portion with the unbelievers"; but, praise God, ultimately, at the end of the Kingdom reign, admitted into everlasting bliss.  Once an abhorrent thought in the mind of the writer that any child of God should receive any punishment, it is not a comforting thought which leads to the hope that a great number of Christians who live now for the world will be ultimately saved, although suffering loss and deprived of reward, and in some cases receiving punishment, but, praise God, only temporary, not eternal.  To the unbeliever, we "preach hell to people heaven" - to the believer, we preach, not only the love of God, but His righteousness and possible punishment.  We may close with that wonderful outburst of praise, and assurance by the Apostle Paul: "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

 

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NOTES

1. That is, the "second death," - eternal separation from God in the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20: 15). - Ed.

 

2. There is no doubt in my mind that the passage in Hebrews 6: 4-8 deals with apostates; and if one wants to know what actions qualify a believer for that category, he should read Numbers chapter 14. - Ed.

 

3. It is a fact that there are more apostates than the author and most Christians imagine: the apostate knows what he has been rejected, and then sets out to bring about the downfall of other Christians by using Anti-Millennial doctrines.

 

* There is a judgment of God and the overruling of human affairs, which is in progress at all times.  Prominent instances of this are shown in Job chapters 1 & 2, Ahab (1Kings 22), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4).  "The first case shows the judicial proceedings effecting perfecting, the second death, the third reformation.

 

"Job was a godly man under discipline for his good: an upright man was made a holy man.  Thus still does God chasten His sons that they may become partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12: 10, 11)." (G. H. Lang.)  This continuous judicial administration can take place before and after death.  "Sinning Christians were disciplined even unto premature death, and it is explained that this operates to save them from liability to condemnation at the time when God will deal with the world at large."  The Lord has made many fearful and most serious statements regarding His dealings with His redeemed people at His return.  Some of these are as follows: (Luke 12: 22-53; Luke 17: 11-27; Matt. 24: 42- 25: 30).

 

"If it be thought inconceivable that the Lord should describe one of His blood-bought and beloved people as a "wicked servant" (Matt. 25: 26), it should be weighed that He had before applied the term to a servant whose "debt" had been fully remitted: "thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt" (Matt. 18: 32).  Thus one who, as an act of compassion by the Lord, has been fully forgiven all his failure as a servant may prove a "wicked servant," his wickedness consisting in this, that though forgiven he would not forgive.  To deny that a child of God can be unforgiving is to blind the eyes by denying sad and stern fact.  The Lord left no room for doubt that members of the divine family were in His mind by the application of the parable He then and there made: "Even so shall my heavenly Father do unto you [Peter, whose question as to forgiving had drawn forth the parable, and the other disciples (v. 21)], if YE forgive not, each one of you (hekastos), his brother from your hearts" (v. 35).  It is the Father and the brothers who are in question, not here those outside the family circle." (Lang).

 

Judgement may take place at or immediately after death (Heb. 9: 27). It can take place before death, or Paul could not have been assured of winning his "crown of righteousness," (2Tim. 4: 6-8). "The expression 'I have finished my course' is taken from the athletic world which held so large a place in Greek life and interest and is so often used by Paul as a picture of spiritual effort.  In 1 Cor. 9: 24-27, it is used as a plain warning that the coveted prize may be lostPhil. 3: 12-14 employs it to urge to intense and unremitting effort to win that prize.  The Lord is the righteous Judge, sitting to adjudicate upon each contestant [i.e, each regenerate believer] in the race or contest.

 

Now of unavoidable necessity the judge of the games automatically formed his decision as to each racer or wrestler as each finished the course or the contest. The giving of the prizes was indeed deferred to the close of the whole series of events: Paul's crown would be actually given "in that day"; but not till then did the judge defer his decision as to each item or contestant. It could not be, for the most celebrated of the Greek games, the Olympic, lasted five days.

 

The figure, taken with the case of Paul, and in the light of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16), suggests a decision of the Lord as to each believer before or at the time of his death. That decision issues in determining the place and experience of the man in the intermediate state, [in 'Hades'] and may extend to assurance that he has won the crown, 'the prize of the high calling'.

 

Rev. 6: 9, 11, The Fifth Seal. These martyrs "under the altar" are not yet raised from the dead, for others have yet to be killed for Christ's sake, and only then will they be vindicated and avenged.  But to each one of them separately a white robe is given. The white robe is the visible sign, conferred by the Lord, of their worthiness to be His companions in His glory and Kingdom.  This again makes it evident that for these the Lord's judgement had been formed and announced.  No later adjudication upon such is needful or conceivable; only the giving the crown "in that day."

 

Form these facts and considerations it seems fairly clear that the judgement of the Lord upon the dead of His people is not deferred to one session but is reached and declared either (a) immediately before death (as Paul), when there is no further risk of the racer failing, or (b) immediately after death (as Lazarus), or (c) at least in the intermediate state of death - "the souls [in Hades] under the altar."

 

Judgement upon His own people therefore God exercises now; this is the very period for it, but the general judgement of the world is deferred: "The time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God" (1Peter 4: 17). and again : "If we discriminated [sat in strict judgement upon] ourselves, we should not be judged; but when [failing in this holy self-judgement] we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11: 30, 31). And this chastening may extend to bodily weakness, positive sickness, or even death.  So it was in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1-11, and see Jas. 5: 19, 20: 1 John 5, 16, 17; Matt. 5: 21-26; 18: 28-35). - G. H. Lang.

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