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2. I remark, that God is able to preserve and keep the true saints from apostasy, in consistency with their liberty: "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" (2 Tim. 1:12). 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, "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" (Romans 14:4). Again, "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" (Phil. 3:21). Again, "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" (Eph. 3:20). Again, "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" (Jude 24). Again, "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" (2 Cor. 9:8). "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that we may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:18-20). Again, "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" (Heb. 7:5). These and many other passages prove beyond a doubt that God is able to preserve His saints.
"All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me; 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. 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" (John 6:37-40).
Here, then, we have just seen these two points settled, namely, that God is able to save all saints, or all who at any time truly believe and come to Christ; and, that He is willing, or wills 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 nowhere 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 cannot, 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" (Deut. 3:24), and that "nothing is too hard for the Lord" (Jerem. 32:17), and the like, cannot 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 cannot wisely use such means as will secure the conversion and sanctification of sinners, He cannot save them. That is, He is unable to save them. This He repeatedly professes to be unable to do.
"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? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye" (Ezek. 18:23, 32).
"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?" (Ezek. 33:11).
"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?" (Isaiah 5:4). "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" (Hosea 11:8).
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 cannot 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 nowhere 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.
"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4).
"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. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16-17).
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
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 nowhere 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 cannot, 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 whoever will truly believe in Him, in the sense of purposing or 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:
"As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him. 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 whatever 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 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. And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 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. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe 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 I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me, for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:2, 6-14, 0-24).
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 by the Father.
(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 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 I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world."