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PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS - A, PREVIOUS LECTURE - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
1. It is said that the natural tendency of this doctrine condemns it; that it tends to beget and foster a carnal presumption in a life of sin, on the part of those who think themselves saints. There is, I reply, a broad and obvious distinction between the abuse of a good thing or doctrine, and its natural tendency. The legitimate tendency of a thing or doctrine may be good, and yet it may be abused and perverted. This is true of the atonement, and the offer of pardon through Christ. These doctrines have been, and are, greatly objected to by Universalists and Unitarians, as having a tendency to encourage the hope of impunity in sin. It is said by them, that to hold out the idea that Christ has made an atonement for sin, and that the oldest and vilest sinners may be forgiven and saved, tends directly to immorality, and to encourage the hope of ultimate impunity in a life of sin the hope that, after a sinful life, the sinner may at last repent and be saved.
Now, there is so much plausibility in this objection to the doctrine of pardon and atonement, that many sensible men have rejected those doctrines because of this objection. They have regarded the objection as unanswerable. But a close examination will show, that the objection against those doctrines is entirely without foundation; and not only so, but that the real natural tendency of those doctrines affords a strong presumptive argument in their favor. The telling of a convinced and self-condemned sinner, that Christ has died for his sins, and offers freely and at once to forgive all the past, has no natural tendency to beget a spirit of perseverance in rebellion; but is on the contrary the readiest, and safest, and I may add, the only effectual method of subduing him, and bringing him to immediate repentance. But suppose, on the other hand, you tell him there is no forgiveness, that he must be punished for his sins at all events, what tendency has this to bring him to immediate and genuine repentance; to beget within him the love required by the law of God? Assuring him of punishment for all his sins, might serve to restrain outward manifestations of a sinful heart, but certainly it tends not to subdue selfishness, and to cleanse the heart; whereas the offer of mercy through the death of Christ, has a most sin subduing tendency. It is such a manifestation to the sinner of God's great love to him, His real pity for him, and readiness to overlook and blot out the past, as tends to break down the stubborn heart into genuine repentance, and to beget the sincerest love to God and Christ, together with the deepest self-loathing and self-abasement on account of sin. Thus the doctrines of the atonement and pardon through a crucified Redeemer, instead of being condemned by their legitimate tendency, are greatly confirmed thereby. These doctrines are no doubt liable to abuse, and so is every good thing; but is this a good reason for rejecting them? Our necessary food and drink may be abused, and often are, and o are all the most essential blessings of life. Should we reject them on this account?
It is admitted that the doctrines of atonement and forgiveness through Christ, are greatly abused by careless sinners and hypocrites; but is this a good reason for denying and withholding them from the convicted sinner, who is earnestly inquiring what he shall do to be saved? Who indeed?
It is also admitted, that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is liable to abuse, and often is abused by the carnal and deceived professor; but is this a good reason for rejecting it, and for withholding its comforts from the tempted, storm-tossed saint? By no means. Such are the circumstances of temptation from within and without, in which the saints are placed in this life, that when they are made really acquainted with themselves, and are brought to a proper appreciation of the circumstances in which they are, they have but little rational ground of hope, except what is found in this doctrine. The natural tendency and inevitable consequence of a thorough revelation of themselves to themselves, would be to beget despair, but for the covenanted grace and faithfulness of God. What saint who has ever been revealed to himself by the Holy Spirit, has not seen what Paul saw when he said, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing?" (Romans 7:18) Who that has been made acquainted with himself, does not know that he never did, and never will take one step towards heaven, except as he is anticipated and drawn by the grace of God in Christ Jesus? Who that knows himself does not understand that he never would have been converted, but for the grace of God anticipating and exciting the first motions of his mind in a right direction? And what true saint does not know, that such are his former habitudes, and such the circumstances of trial under which he is placed, and such the downward tendency of his own soul that although converted, he shall not persevere for an hour, except the indwelling grace and Spirit of God shall hold him up, and quicken him in the path of holiness?
Where, I would ask, is the ground of hope for the saints as they exist in this world? Not in the fact that they have been physically regenerated, so that to fall is naturally impossible. Not in the fact that they have passed through any such change of nature as to secure their perseverance for an hour, if left to themselves. Not in the fact that they can or will sustain themselves for a day or a moment by their resolutions. Where then is their hope? There is not even a ground of probability, that any one of them will ever be saved, unless the doctrine in question be true, that is, unless the promised grace and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus goes before, and from step to step secures their perseverance. But if this grace is promised to any saint, as his only ground of confidence, or even hope that he shall be saved, it is equally, and upon the same conditions, promised to all the saints. No one more than another can place the least reasonable dependence on anything, except the grace equally promised and vouchsafed to all. What does a man know of himself who hopes to be saved, and who yet does not depend wholly on promises of grace in Christ Jesus?
The natural tendency of true and thorough conviction of sin, and of such a knowledge of ourselves, as is essential to salvation, is to beget and foster discouragement and despair; and, as I said, the soul in this condition has absolutely little or no ground of hope of ultimate salvation, except that which this doctrine, when rightly understood, affords. However far he may have progressed in the way of life, he sees, when he thoroughly knows the truth, that he has progressed not a step, except as he has been drawn and inclined by the indwelling grace and Spirit of Christ; and that he shall absolutely go no further in the way to heaven, unless the same gracious influence is continued, in such a sense, and to such an extent, as to overcome all the temptations with which he is beset. His only hope is in the fact, that God has promised to keep and preserve him. Nothing but God's faithfulness to His Son procured the conversion of any saint. Nothing but this same faithfulness has procured his perseverance for a day, and nothing else can render the salvation of any soul at all probable. What can a man be thinking about, or what can he know of himself, who does not know this? Unless the same grace that secures the conversion of the saints, secures their perseverance to the end, there is no hope for them. It is true, that the promises to sinners and to saints are conditionated upon their faith, and upon the right exercise of their own agency; and it is also true, that grace secures the fulfillment of the conditions of the promises, in every instance in which they are fulfilled, or they never would be fulfilled.
We have seen that the promises of the Father to the Son secure the bestowment upon the saints of all grace to ensure their final salvation. It shocks and distresses me to hear professed Christians talk of being saved at all, except upon the ground of the anticipating, and persevering, and sin-overcoming, and hell-subduing grace of God in Christ Jesus. Why, I should as soon expect the devil to be saved, as that any saint on earth will be, if left, with all the promises of God in his hands, to stand and persevere without the drawings, and inward teachings, and over-persuading influences of the Holy Spirit. Shame on a theology that suspends the ultimate salvation of the saints upon the broken reed of their own resolutions in their best estate! Their firmest resolutions are nothing unless they are formed and supported by the influence of the Spirit of grace, going before, and exciting, and persuading to their formation and their continuance. This is everywhere taught in the Bible; and who that has considered the matter does not know, that this is the experience of every saint? Where, then, is the ground of hope, if the doctrine in question be denied? "If the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" Where, then, is the evil tendency of this doctrine? It has naturally no evil tendency. Can the assurance of eternal salvation through the blood, and love, and grace of Christ, have a natural tendency to harden the heart of a child of God against his Father and his Savior? Can the revealed fact, that he shall be more than a conqueror through Christ, beget in him a disposition to sin against Christ? Impossible! This doctrine, though liable to abuse by hypocrites, is nevertheless the sheet anchor of the saints in hours of conflict. And shall the children be deprived of the bread of life, because sinners will pervert the use of it to their own destruction? This doctrine is absolutely needful to prevent despair, when conviction is deep, and conflicts with temptation are sharp. Its natural tendency is to slay and keep down selfishness, to forestall selfish efforts and resolutions, and to sustain the confidence of the soul at all times. It tends to subdue sin, to humble the soul under a sense of the great love and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus; to influence the soul to live upon Christ, and to renounce entirely and for ever all confidence in the flesh. Indeed, its tendency is the direct opposite of that asserted in the objection. It is the abuse, and not the natural tendency of this doctrine, against which this objection is urged. But the abuse of a doctrine is no reason why it should be rejected.
2. But it is said that real saints do sometimes fall into at least temporary backsliding, in which cases the belief of this doctrine tends to lull them into carnal security, and to prolong their backsliding, if not to embolden them to apostatize.
To this I reply that if real Christians do backslide, they lose for the time being their evidence of acceptance with God; and with they know that in their present state they cannot be saved. This objection is leveled rather against that view of perseverance that says "once in grace, always in grace"; that teaches the doctrine of perpetual justification upon condition of one act of faith. The doctrine as stated in these lectures, holds out no ground of hope to a backslider, except upon condition of return and perseverance to the end. Moreover, the doctrine as here taught is, that perseverance in holiness, in the sense, that, subsequent to regeneration holiness is at least the rule, and sin only the exception, is an attribute of Christian character. Every moment, therefore, a backslider remains in sin, he must have less evidence that he is a child of God.
But as I said, he loses confidence in his own Christianity, and in this state of backsliding he does not believe the doctrine of perseverance, as a doctrine of revelation. It is absurd to say, that while backslidden from God he still has faith in His word, and believes this doctrine as a Christian doctrine, and upon the strength of the testimony of God. He does not in this state really believe the doctrine, and therefore it is not the tendency of the doctrine when believed that harms him, but a gross abuse and perversion of it. But the perversion of a doctrine is no objection to it. The real tendency of the doctrine is to break the heart of the backslider, to exhibit to him the great love, and faithfulness, and grace of God which tend naturally to subdue selfishness, and to humble the heart. When backsliders are emboldened by this doctrine and rendered presumptuous, it is never by any other than a gross perversion and abuse of it.
Those who persist in such objections should reflect upon their own inconsistency, in making a manifest perversion and abuse of this doctrine an objection to it, when they hold other doctrines, equally liable to abuse and equally abused, in spite of such abuse. Let such persons see, that they are practically adopting a principle, and insisting upon its application in this case, which, if carried out, would set aside the whole gospel.