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PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS - 2 - B, PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
It is said of this passage, that the history of the Israelites is here introduced as a warning to real Christians; consequently, the apostle must have assumed, that those of the Israelites who fell were real saints, or there would have been no pertinency or force in his allusion. To this I reply, that the pertinency and force of the allusion appear to me to have been as follows. The Israelites composed the visible church of God. At the time mentioned, they were all professors of religion. All possessed great light and privileges compared with the rest of the world; they therefore felt confident of their acceptance with God, and of their consequent safety and salvation. But with many of them God was not well pleased. Some of them turned out to be idolaters and were destroyed. Now, says the apostle, let this be a warning to you. You are in like manner professors of religion. You are all members of the visible church of God to which the promises are made. You have great light and privileges when compared with the world at large. You may think yourselves to be altogether safe, and sure of final salvation. But remember, that the history of the ancient church is written for your benefit; and the destruction of those just alluded to, is recorded for your admonition. Be not high minded, but fear. Do not be presumptuous, because you are members in good standing in the visible church, and possess great light and privileges; but remember, that many before you, who were like you in these respects, have lost their souls: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
If the apostle had intended to convey the impression that they were real saints that fell in the wilderness, and that real saints do fall away and are lost, he would no doubt have said, let him that standeth, instead of him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. The term rendered thinketh is represented by Robinson as correctly translated in this passage. The meaning of the apostle appears to have been this, that others who were, from their circumstances and fancied characters, very confident of their safety, had been finally cast off and lost; therefore, take heed to yourselves, lest being similarly situated, you in like manner deceive yourselves; and while you think that you stand, you should fall and perish.
But it may be said, that the apostle speaks of those as falling who had eaten of the spiritual meat, and drank of the rock Christ, and therefore must have been real saints. To this I reply, that the apostle does indeed use universal language, and speak of all the Israelites as doing these things; but who will soberly contend that he intended really to be understood as affirming, that all the Israelites that passed through the sea, etc., were true saints? What he says does not necessitate the conclusion that any of them were truly regenerated saints. They were all baptized unto Moses, that is, were all introduced into the covenant of which he was the mediator. They all ate of the same spiritual bread, that is, the manna on which the Lord fed them. They all drank of the spiritual rock; that is, of the water that gushed from the rock when Moses smote it with his rod, and which rock was a type of Christ, as was also the manna. Now, does the apostle mean to say, that all the Israelites understood the typical meaning of these waters, and this manna, and that they were all truly spiritual or regenerate persons? I think not. All that he intended appears to me to be, that all the church of the Jews at the time were so far partakers of the grace of Christ as to receive this baptism, and as to have this spiritual or typical bread and water, and also to enjoy great light and much miraculous instruction, but that, nevertheless, with many of them God was displeased. Their being baptized in their passage through the Red Sea, did not imply that they so understood and consented to it at the time, nor does the assertion that they ate the spiritual food, and drank of the spiritual rock, imply anything more than that they enjoyed these great and high privileges, and counted themselves as very secure in consequence of them. It is certainly straining the sense to make the apostle affirm that all the Israelites were real saints who passed through the sea. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he intended to affirm the real piety of any of them. It was not essential to his purpose to do so.
In examining the class of passages adduced to prove that some real saints have fallen from grace and been lost, I am only concerned to show, that they do not by fair construction necessitate this conclusion. I may admit that, if the doctrine of perseverance were not found to be clearly taught in the Bible, the not unnatural construction of some of the class of texts in question might lead to the conclusion that some, yea many, real saints have been lost.
But, since, from the previous examination it has appeared, that the doctrine is plainly and unequivocally taught in the Bible, all that needs to be shown of the class of texts now under consideration is, that they do not, when fairly interpreted, really and unequivocally teach that some true saints have been lost. This showing will sufficiently vindicate the scriptures against the imputation of self-contradiction, in both affirming and denying the same doctrine. Observe, I am not called upon to show, that the passages in question cannot be so construed, and with considerable plausibility, as to make them contradict this doctrine; but all I am called upon to show in this place is, that they do not necessarily, by fair construction, contradict it; that they do not necessitate the admission either that the Bible contradicts itself, or that a different construction must be given to the passages that seem to teach this doctrine.
With these remarks I proceed to the examination of: "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the Godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government: presumptuous are they, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the daytime. Spots they are, and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: a heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children, which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a storm; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known t, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:9-22).
Now observe, the apostle calls the persons of whom he speaks "wells without water: clouds that are carried with a storm," that is, without rain. His whole description of them shows, that he is speaking of false professors or hypocrites. But it is inferred, that they are fallen saints, because it is said they have "forsaken the right way, and are gone astray after the error of Balaam," etc. But this does not necessarily imply that they were in heart ever in the right way, but that they have forsaken the right way, so far as the outward life is concerned: in which respect they had doubtless been in the right way, or they would not have been admitted to membership in the church.
But it is said of these false professors, that "they allure through lust and much wantonness those who were clean escaped from those who live in error." But neither does this necessitate the conclusion, that they had escaped in heart from those that lived in error, but merely that they had for the time being outwardly abandoned their idolatrous practices and companions, and had made a profession, and put on the form of Christianity.