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But it seems to me, that the context shows clearly what the Savior intended by this form of expression. He says, "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" (John 17:11, 12), that is: "Do Thou keep them in Thine own name and lose none of them, for while I was with them I kept them in Thy name, and lost none of them; but the son of perdition is lost." He evidently did not mean to say, I lost but one whom Thou gavest Me; or that He kept in His Father's name all except one of those whom the Father had given Him. He says, "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 Thy 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" (John 17:6-12).
Here He plainly represents, that all who had been given Him by the Father, had known and kept the word of God. They had believed and persevered, and Christ was glorified in them. Since He had kept them in His Father's name, and had lost none of them, He proceeds to pray, that now the Father will keep them in His own name. Let any one ponder well this passage from verses 6 to 12, and he will see, I trust, that this is a true view of the subject. At any rate this cannot be a proof text to establish the fact, that any have fallen from grace; for the plain reason, that the text can quite as naturally at least, and I think with much greater propriety, be quoted to sustain the doctrine which it is adduced to disprove. Again:
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee until seven times; but until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him a hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matt. 18:21-35).
This has been adduced to prove that some do fall from grace, especially the 32nd to the 34th verses. But from this whole passage it is evident, that what the Lord meant was to set in a strong light the necessity of a forgiving spirit, and that this is a condition of salvation. It is a parable designed to illustrate this truth, but does not assert as a fact, that any truly pardoned soul was ever lost; nor does it imply this, as any one may see who will duly weigh the whole parable. It does plainly imply, that a pardoned soul would be lost should he apostatize; but it does not imply that such a soul ever did apostasize.
I consider next, "Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith" (1 Tim. 5:12). This passage stands in the following connection:
"Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man: Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse, for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And with they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also, and busy bodies, speaking things which they ought not" (1 Tim. 5:9-13).
The word rendered damnation in this passage is often rendered judgment and condemnation; and the meaning may be, that the younger widows were found to wax wanton and fall into condemnation, and for a time at least to disgrace their profession, by casting off their first faith; or it may mean, that they were apt to be found among those who renounced the profession of the true faith, which they at first professed. They were young widows, uneducated as heathen women were and are, and it could not be surprising that many of this class should make a spurious profession, and afterwards cast off their profession through wantonness, and disgrace their profession. The apostle, therefore, warns Timothy against too hasty a reception of them, or against having too early a confidence in the reality of their piety.
Again: it has been said, that from Christ's letters to the churches in Asia, recorded in Revelation, we learn that those churches, some of them at least, were in a state of apostasy from God; and that from the fact that the judgments of God annihilated those churches, there is reason to believe that the apostasy was complete and final, and their destruction certain. To this I reply, that those letters were written to churches as such, just as the prophets spoke of the Jewish church as such. The things which the prophets declare of the Jewish church were declared of them as a body of professed saints, some generations of whom had more, and some less, real piety. The prophets would rebuke one generation for their backsliding and apostasy, without meaning to represent that the particular individuals they addressed were ever true saints, but meaning only that the body as such was in a degenerate and apostate state, compared with what the body as such had been in former times. So Christ writes to the churches of Asia, and reproves them for their backslidden and apostate condition, asserts that they had fallen, had left their first love, etc., from which, however, we are not to infer, that He intended to say this of those who had been truly converted as individuals, but merely that those churches as bodies had fallen, and were now composed of members as a whole who were in the state of which He complained.
The churches of Asia were doubtless, when first gathered by the apostles and primitive ministers, full of faith, and zeal, and love. But things had changed. Many of the members had changed, and perhaps every member who had originally composed those churches was dead, previous to the time when these letters were written. However this may be, there had doubtless been great changes in the membership of those churches; and since they were evidently addressed as bodies, it cannot be fairly inferred, from what is said, that the same persons addressed had fallen from a state of high spirituality into backsliding or apostasy, but that was true only of the then present membership, when compared with the former membership and state of the churches. These letters cannot be justly relied upon as disproving the doctrine in question; for the utmost that can be made of them is, that those churches as bodies were at the time in a state of declension.
The passages we have examined are, so far as I know, the principal ones upon which reliance has been placed to disprove the doctrine in question. I have read over attentively several times the views of Mr. Fletcher, in his Scripture Scales, and the passages quoted by him to disprove this doctrine. His chief reliance is manifestly upon the numerous passages that imply the possibility and danger of falling, rather than on any passages that unequivocally teach that any have fallen or will utterly fall. I am not aware that any respectable writer has laid much stress upon other passages than those I have examined, as expressly teaching, or unequivocally implying the fact of the fall and ruin of real saints. There may be such writers and such passages as those of which I speak; but if there are, I do not recollect to have seen them.
1. If the doctrine under consideration is not true, I cannot see upon what ground we can affirm, or even confidently hope, that many of our pious friends who have died have gone to heaven. Suppose they held on their way until the last hours of life. If we may not believe that the faithfulness of God prevailed to keep them through the last conflict, what reason have we to affirm that they were preserved from sin and apostasy in their last hours, and saved? If the sovereign grace of God does not protect them against the wiles and malice of Satan, in their feebleness, and in the wreck of their habitation of clay, what has become of them? I must confess that, if I did not expect the covenanted mercy and faithfulness of God to prevail, and to sustain the soul under such circumstances, I should have very little expectation that any would be saved. If I could have any confidence that Christians would stand fast while in health, aside from the truth of this doctrine, still I should expect that Satan would overcome them in the end, when they passed through the last great struggle. Who could then trust to the strength of his own purposes?
2. But I could no more hope, that myself or any one else, would persevere in holiness in our best estate, even for one day or hour, if not kept by the power of God through faith, than I could hope to fly to heaven. As I have before said, there is no hope of any one's persevering, except in so far as free grace anticipates and secures the concurrence of free will. The soul must be called, and effectually called, and perpetually called, or it will not follow Christ for an hour. I say again, that by effectual calling, I do not mean an irresistible calling. I do not mean a calling that cannot, or that might not be resisted; but I do mean by an effectual calling, a calling that is not in fact resisted, a calling that does in fact secure the voluntary obedience of the soul. This is my only hope in respect to myself, or anybody else. This grace I regard as vouchsafed to me in the covenant of grace, or as a reward of Christ's obedience unto death. It is pledged to secure the salvation of those whom the Father has from eternity given to the Son. The Holy Spirit is given to them to secure their salvation, and I have no expectation that any others will ever be saved. But these, every one of them, will surely be saved. There is, there can be no hope for any others. Others are able to repent, but they will not. Others might be saved, if they would believe, and comply with the conditions of salvation, but they will not.
We have seen, that none come to Christ, except they are drawn of the Father, and that the Father draws to Christ those and those only whom He has given to Christ, and also, that it is the Father's design that of those whom He has given to Christ, He should lose none, but that He should raise them up at the last day. This is the only hope that any will be saved. Strike out this foundation, and what shall the righteous do? Strike out from the Bible the doctrine of God's covenanted faithfulness to Christ the truth that the Father has given to Him a certain number whose salvation He foresees that He could and should secure, and I despair of myself and of everybody else. Where is any other ground of hope? I know not where.