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"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).
"All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. 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. 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. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life" (John 6:37, 40, 45, 47).
"And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16).
Now it seems to me, that this numerous class of passages strongly imply that there is a certain connection of some sort between coming to Christ, receiving Christ, etc., and eternal life. Observe, I do not contend that perseverance in faith and obedience is not also a condition of salvation, but on the contrary, that it actually is. Nor do I contend that such like representations as the above, settle the question that all who at any time repent, believe, or come to Christ, will be saved. The thing which I here intend is, that this class of texts is just what we might expect, if the fact of regeneration were certainly connected with salvation, and just what it seems they ought not to be, in case this were not true.
To this it is objected, that many who attended on Christ's ministry are represented from time to time as believing, of whom it is almost immediately said, that they turned back and walked no more with Him.
I answer, that the Bible manifestly recognizes different kinds of faith, such as an intellectual faith, a faith of miracles, and the faith of the heart. The following are specimens of the Bible treatment of this subject:
"Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8:13, 21).
"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble" (James 2:19).
These and many other passages manifestly speak of an intellectual faith, or of a simple conviction of the truth.
Matt. 7:22, 23; 1 Cor. 13:1, 2, are specimens of the manner in which the faith of miracles is represented.
See Romans 10:9-11; Acts 8:37; Gal. 5:6 These and such like passages speak of evangelical faith, or the faith of the heart. When the multitude are spoken of as believing under Christ's instruction, or in view of His miracles, and then as going back and walking no more with Him, we are doubtless to understand those passages as teaching simply, that they were at the time convinced of His Messiahship, and that they intellectually believed that He was what He professed to be. But their history seems to forbid the conclusion that they were truly regenerated, or that they had the true faith of the gospel.
Again: John speaks of those who openly apostatized as if they had not been true Christians: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:19). Observe the force of the expressions, "They went out from us, but they were not of us"; that is, were not truly Christians. Why does he say so? He assigns the reason for this assertion: "for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us, but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." That is, a part of the professed disciples went out from the rest and returned to the world, that it might be made manifest who were and who were not Christians. I do not say, however, that this is indubitably taught in this passage; but it cannot be denied, that this is its most natural construction.
8. The inhabitants of heaven seem to believe that there is a certain connection between repentance and salvation. "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Now surely this joy is premature, unless they expect the repentant to be saved. If, after all, there is an uncertainty about the result, in their estimation, and if it may be, or there is a probability, that the repentant will fall, and suffer a vastly more aggravated damnation than if he had never been enlightened, one would think that they would at least suspend their triumph until the result was known. To be sure they might rejoice, if the sinner broke off temporarily from his sin, and rejoice at the bare prospect of his salvation; but to me this passage reads just as it might be expected to read, if they regarded repentance as certainly connected with ultimate salvation.
Again: there are several parables that seem to take the perseverance of the saints for granted, or to assume its truth. The one immediately preceding the verse upon which I have just remarked is one of them.
"And He spake this parable unto them saying: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance" (Luke 15:3-7).
Now, why this joy at the return of a strayed or lost sheep, if there is no certainty, or scarcely any probability, that he will not stray again, and be finally lost with an aggravated destruction? Immediately following this is another parable of the same import.
"Either what woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found that which was lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:8-10).
Here again it may be asked, why this great joy at finding the sinner, unless his conversion is to result in his salvation? I do not quote these passages as proving the doctrine in question, but only as specimens of the class of passages that seem to assume the truth of the doctrine, and as being just what might be expected, if the doctrine is true, and just what might not be expected if the doctrine is not true.
To this it may be, and has been replied, that there are many passages that are just what we could not expect, if the perseverance of the saints were true. The following are relied upon as examples of this class:
"Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God; Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost; And have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:1-6).
"But when the righteous turneth away from righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die" (Ezek. 18:24).
"When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it" (Ezek. 33:13).
"Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
"But Christ as a Son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end" (Heb. 3:6, 12-14).
"Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb. 4:1, 11).
"Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Peter 1:10).
In reply to this objection I remark, that instead of these passages being otherwise than might be expected if the doctrine in question were true, and therefore implying that the doctrine is not true, they are precisely what might be expected, if the doctrine as I have stated it, were true. If the certainty be but a moral certainty, even when the fact of conversion is settled beyond all doubt, or possibility of mistake, if the final salvation of the truly regenerate be as really conditionated upon perseverance as if there was no certainty about it; and if, moreover, the fact of conversion is seldom settled in this life beyond the possibility of mistake, then these passages, instead of implying any real uncertainty in regard to the final salvation of the saints, are just as and what might be expected, because they are just what is needed, upon the supposition, that the doctrine in question is true. They do not affirm that any true saints are, or will be, lost. They do imply the natural possibility, and, humanly speaking, the danger of such an event. They further imply, that without watchfulness and perseverance salvation is impossible. They also imply, that caution, warning, and threatening, are needed. They also imply, that some men, to say the least, are not certain of their own salvation, and that they do not certainly know that they are saints, beyond all possibility of mistake.
Now, these things that are fairly implied in this class of passages are really true: hence these passages just meet the necessities of the church, and are therefore just what might be expected when all the facts in the case are considered. I do not intend that this class of passages imply the truth of the doctrine under consideration, but that they are consistent with it, and might be expected, if the doctrine, as I have stated it, be true.
9. Regeneration is represented as securing perseverance in obedience:
First, In those passages that make it the condition of salvation.
Secondly, In those passages that expressly affirm, that the truly regenerated do not, and cannot, live in sin.
"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him. For whatever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 5:1, 4, 18).
These and similar passages expressly teach the persevering nature of true religion, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: in other words, they teach that the truly regenerate cannot sin, in the sense at least of living in anything like habitual sin. They teach, that with all truly regenerate souls, holiness is at least the rule, and sin only the exception; that instead of its being true, that the regenerate souls live a great majority of their days subsequent to regeneration in sin, it is true that they so seldom sin, that in strong language it may be said in truth, they do not sin. This language so strongly and expressly teaches that perseverance is an unfailing attribute of Christian character, that but for the fact that other passages constrain us to understand these passages as strong language used in a qualified sense, we should naturally understand them as affirming that no truly regenerate soul does at any time sin. But since it is a sound rule of interpreting the language of an author, that he is, if possible, to be made consistent with himself; and since John, in other passages in this same epistle and elsewhere, represents that Christians, or truly regenerate persons, do sometimes sin; and since this is frequently taught in the Bible, we must understand these passages just quoted as only affirming a general and not a universal truth; that is, that truly regenerate persons do not sin anything like habitually, but that holiness is the rule with them, and sin only the exception. Certainly these passages cannot be reasonably understood as affirming and meaning less than this. I know that it has been said, that being born of God is used by John in these cases in a higher sense, and as meaning more than simple conversion or regeneration, as representing a higher state than can be predicated of all true Christians. But observe, he especially affirms that all who truly believe are born of God.