|Salvation by Grace Alone|
By Elder Jerry McMinn, Linden, TN
AVOIDING EXTREMES ...
The apostle Paul in Philippians 4:5 advises, "Let your moderation be known unto all men." Extreme views tend to be disproved by the scriptures. Three of those views have received much discussion through the years among sovereign grace believers. These are (1) Absolute Predestination -- God made us do everything we do, good or bad; (2) Universal Evangelism -- All the elect will hear and believe the gospel; and (3) Absolute or Universal Perseverance -- All the elect will persist in righteous living unto the end. This latter item is being currently discussed on PB General, and I wish to add my views.
It is safe to say that any requirement that we set forth to be accomplished by every one of the elect in any absolute way is going to result in overstating the case. Although the elect should believe, obey, and be faithful, there are some who do not and in the final end of things will be as "brands plucked from the fire" (Zech. 3:2) by the longsuffering grace of a merciful God.
The views which I am going to propose are not intended to offer any hope or encouragement for the elect who live in sin because the scriptures offer them none. Those who live like the devil could very well be the devil's children. It is never the work of the ministry to comfort those in rebellion. It is very likely that some of God's children will end their earthly journey in misery and will die without the comfort and hope of the gospel. I will attempt to prove that below.
Let us consider the following:
A. Three categories of the elect who do not persevere in personal righteous living,
B. Three warnings against these who are rebellious and backslidden, and
C. Three elect individuals who did not persevere.
First, let us define the term "persevere." According to my understanding of Strong's Concordance and Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, to persevere one must be steadfast, give unremitting care, be constantly diligent, and adhere closely to the matters at hand. The only scriptural use of the term to my knowledge is in Ephesians 6:18 and has reference specifically to prayer, not the broad use some would like to make of the term. Perseverance has been extensively used in religious writings to define the life of a Christian who is persistent in righteousness living, usually emphasizing that the person is found faithful at the end of his earthly journey.
CATEGORIES OF ELECT PERSONS
WHO DO NOT PERSEVERE
The Lord Jesus taught in Luke 8:14 that there are those who "bring no fruit to perfection." The very language implies that these were capable of bearing acceptable fruit, but they did not. If these persons are the wicked, the Lord would not want their evil fruit brought to perfection. Since good fruit is what is expected here, then good trees are under consideration. Good trees have been made that way by the grace of God.
Paul wrote in I Tim. 1:19-20 of those who make shipwreck of their faith. The lesson here is not that they have no faith or that they are false professors. Paul's dealing with them in verse 20 is in hope that they will "learn not to blaspheme." Such learning is not expected from the wicked.
Further instruction from Paul in II Tim. 2:18-19 teaches of those whose faith is overthrown by false teaching. It does not state that they never had faith, but that it was overthrown. This is the sad state of many who have been taught error. Do you not personally know persons who have given up on religion and church by the errors of others; yet, there seemed to be good evidence of their state of grace? Paul gives assurance in verse 19 that the work of God is not undermined by such events. "Nevertheless [in spite of the loss of active faith] the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his."
WARNINGS AGAINST BACKSLIDING
The scriptures are replete with warnings to God's children of the dire consequences of playing around with sin. The English Baptists and those of the Reformed persuasion who hold a variety of Calvinistic views attempt to label these backslidden children of God as "false professors." They believe these were never the elect. If they were, they would never have gone wrong. Such a view is contrary to the teachings of both Old and New Testaments in which many examples are given of God's people who have strayed from the mark. The doctrine of "false professors" as used by the Calvinists had to be fabricated to fit their extreme views. To hold to the view that the elect cannot go wrong and stay that way is to do a disservice to the elect. This teaching leaves the impression that the elect cannot long stray off the mark and will eventually come to some act of repentance, possibly at death. I truly believe that I know some of the elect who persisted in sin and died in misery. I wonder if some got that way because someone led them to believe that it couldn't happen to them. Let us consider three scriptural warnings regarding some who did not persevere.
Warning to the Gentiles -- I Corinthians 10:1-14 is a passage of scripture written to elect Gentiles warning them about some elect Hebrews who came to a bad end. The Gentiles are told of a great multitude of Hebrews who died in the wilderness and were forbidden to enter the promised land. The Gentiles are sternly cautioned to refrain from "lusting after evil things," practicing idolatry, committing fornication, tempting Christ, and murmuring. Do you believe that all the Hebrews who died in the wilderness except Joshua and Caleb were the nonelect? Among those who perished in the wilderness were Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and others of whom we have evidence that they were elect.
Warning to the Hebrew Christians -- The writer of Hebrews 10:26-31 provides a very stern warning to the Hebrews and any others who "sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth." This passage is speaking of those who have been sanctified by the blood of the covenant (v. 29) and are called "his [the Lord's] people” (v. 30). These who sin wilfully come to the place where they are no longer aware of their salvation, i.e., "There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." In place of that view they are given "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (v. 27). The conclusion of this passage is that "The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." This scripture cannot be explained away as not pertaining to the elect. The internal evidence plainly identifies that the elect are under consideration. What was written of them is given as a warning to us that we may not "sin wilfully."
Warning of Peter to Those Who Have Obtained Like Precious Faith -- In II Peter 1:1-10 Peter charts out a course for God's children to follow that they may "be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." To do this, seven things are to be added to the faith which they already possess. They should add virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. Failure to add these things results in barrenness, lack of fruit, blindness, and being unaware of their election of God. The ultimate punishment for such neglect would lead to loss of understanding of one's salvation. "But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." What a sad state to be in as God's children! Again, this scripture is not talking about the nonelect, but rather is a stern warning to disobedient children of God lest they make shipwreck of their spiritual lives.
ELECT PERSONS WHO DID NOT PERSEVERE
God's word is always honest and straightforward with us. We are not provided flowery fables on which to base our faith. Rather we are given a true picture of God's dealings with us. Many of those whom the Lord has chosen to serve as examples to us in his word are described in great detail, both their good accomplishments and their sins. I believe this was done to let us know that the scriptures were written about real people who often made real mistakes. Now, let us look at three men who miserably failed to persevere. These are King Saul, King Solomon, and Lot.
King Saul was often described by David as the "Lord's Anointed." If that were not so, why do you suppose that it is mentioned so many times in the scripture, and the statement is never refuted? The truth is that Saul was truly God's anointed. Saul was so favored that it was said, "God gave him another heart" (I Samuel 10:9). Isn't that what God does to each of the elect? The result was that Saul prophesied and that the spirit of God came upon him. For a while he was a great blessing to Israel and began to deliver them from the hand of their enemies. Nevertheless, he came to a sad end because of his jealousy of David and his disobedience to specific commandments that God had given him through the prophet Samuel. The saddest thing said of him was that "the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul." The final result was that he fell upon his own sword to end his life after being grievously wounded in battle. The Philistines then beheaded him and hanged his body on the wall of Bashan. King Saul did not persevere.
King Solomon had the most profound wisdom recorded in the scripture. This was a gift to him from God. By inspiration he penned the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Furthermore, he led Israel in a time of great prosperity. Yet, Solomon greatly sinned when he disobeyed the commandment to the kings of Israel that they not seek a multitude of wives. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and "his wives turned away his heart after other gods" (I Kings 11:3-4). In his last years, Solomon was worshipping the false gods of Astoreth, Milchom, Chemos, and Molech. ing Solomon did not persevere.
Lot is described in the New Testament as righteous and just in I Pet. 2:7-8. If it were not for these verses, we would not have a clue that Lot was a child of God. He went astray early and stayed astray. He first coveted the well-watered plain of Jordan and then pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:10-13). There Lot remained until he was literally taken by the hand of angels and removed from the city before God destroyed it with fire and brimstone. The last report of his life finds him living in a cave with his daughters who get him drunk, and he commits incest with each of them, resulting in children by both daughters. I challenge anyone to provide me scriptural evidence that Lot persevered in righteous living.
Dear Child of grace, because you have present sweet evidence of your election of God, have experienced providential deliverances along the way, and have had glorious views of eternal bliss, do not be tempted to sin willfully. Do not be tempted to believe that because you are a child of God that you will always have victory in your life. Be warned by the above scriptural examples that you can fall and could face abject misery in your final days. Therefore, put on the whole armour of God and use the shield of faith that you may withstand the wiles of the devil. (See Ephesians 6:11-16.) Keep close to God, and keep close fellowship with faithful brethren that it may be well with you all the days of your life. "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" (Hebrews 4:1).
By Elder Jerry McMinn, Linden, TN
|Salvation by Grace Alone|