PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS - 2 - A, PREVIOUS LECTURE - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FB - TWITTER - GR VIDEOS - GR FORUMS - GR YOUTUBE
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.
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 demeanor, 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).