“But ye believe not, because ye are not my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:26-28)
Satan’s program throughout human history has been to attack God’s glory. One of his chief methods in this effort is to slander or mask various doctrines so as to cause them to seem contradictory or at least paradoxical. In this way he causes man to preach or teach a part of a doctrine to the neglect and/or misunderstanding of the other part of that same doctrine. The sad result of this is at least twofold. Positively, it has fostered all kinds of heresies. Negatively, it leaves the hearers of the one-sided truths open to all kinds of heresies. Thus the preacher or teacher of basic truth may unknowingly unite in common cause with the heretic, and thus with Satan.
THE DEFINITIONS OF THESE WORDS
By preservation, I mean the decrees and subsequent acts of God whereby He most certainly brings all His own to heavenly glorification. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30) Many would fain skip even the public reading of this passage because of the “anti-humanistic” implications, but I kindly remind them that Romans 8:29-30 is the immediate Bible explanation of the sublime promise that all things work together for good to the lovers of God, the called according to divine purpose, found in Romans 8:28. To omit or neglect verses 29 and 30 is to rob verse 28 of its corroborating illustration and to rob our hearers of the inward assurance of this most glorious promise.
By perseverance, I mean the action of the Christian in engaging himself in walking in the paths of righteousness, in spite of all adversity. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 2:1) “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (II Timothy 2:3) “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: If we deny him, he also will deny us.” (II Timothy 2:12). “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” (John 8:31) “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:23)
The same Lord who said that He gave unto His sheep eternal life and that they would never perish (John 10:27), also said they heard His voice and followed Him. He did not make one of the statements conditional or dependent upon the other, but stated each of them as certain truths about His sheep. To the same group of people that He told in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” He also said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” (John 8:31) Both of these passages must be total truth for our Lord spoke them, therefore, one can not negate or even neutralize the other. “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish” and “I will in no wise cast out but will raise up at the last day” are the promises to His sheep. “Him that cometh to me” and “My sheep hear my voice and follow me” are the identifying characteristics of His sheep. Neither side of this truth may be neglected for the other. They must both be taught with equal clarity.
PERFECTLY HARMONIOUS DOCTRINE
Many people see contradiction, at least to some extent, in these two areas of doctrine. Thus they choose the one that best suits their religious philosophy and preach or teach that to the neglect, exclusion, or perhaps even the denial of the other. They thus prove an ever applicable equation, “Truth divided by two, equals error.” Sometimes it even equals out and out falsehood.
No two Bible truths ever contradict each other. They may and often do counter balance, but they never, never oppose in the sense of even the smallest contradiction. God, who is the author of the whole Bible, has never changed His mind or disagreed with Himself, nor is He ever the author of confusion. When we see such disagreement we must check our vision, our view, or the understanding of what we see.
I will try to illustrate this by a very common description of the so called “opposing doctrines” of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. They have been described as two separate doctrines like the two opposing rails on a railroad track or two supporting columns that go out of our sight into the clouds and forbid our view of their unity. In my opinion, this cannot possibly be true if both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are Bible truths which we are to understand (and they are). “Those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) In my opinion, the proper view of human responsibility is to see it not as counteracting, opposing, neutralizing or altering the sovereignty of God, but as being a part of it. An accurate and complete view of divine sovereignty will reveal that they are not two different doctrines at all, but that human responsibility is a part of the doctrine of divine sovereignty.
We must see man as God’s creature and property, and his responsibility to his creator as being relevant only to the revealed will of his sovereign creator, owner and sustainer. If we make that responsibility relevant to man’s ability, disposition or knowledge, we have made him an opposing origin or moral responsibility and thus a god, and unending confusion follows.
The same is true of the doctrine of divine preservation and Christian perseverance. They are not two different and opposing doctrines, they are two parts of the same doctrine. One is cause, the other is effect. We are sure of the cause (preservation) because we see the effect (perseverance). We have no occasion to believe that there is the presence of the cause, if we never see the effect. If we erroneously see perseverance as a meritorious condition, or as the cause of God’s preservation, we are trapped in all kinds of insolvable difficulties. If, on the other hand, we see perseverance as an effect of the marvelous grace of God who “worketh in us both to will and to do, of His good pleasure,” the apparent difficulties immediately begin to fall into place, and become stabilizing foundation stones for the doctrine, rather than overbalancing weights hung upon it.
ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF DIVINE PRESERVATION
If you believe the Bible and believe that God intends to enlighten thereby rather than to confuse us, you must believe that He will, without question, keep us unto eternal glorification. Read John 10:27-28, Romans 4:7-8, 8:28-30,33-39, 11:29; I Corinthians 1:8-9; II Corinthians 1:21-22; Philippians 1:6 and I Peter 1:4-5. (Dozens of other similar passages might be added to this list.) Let me draw your attention briefly to a statement of our Lord that assures this doctrine. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing; but should raise it up again at the last day.” (John 6:37-39) You cannot possibly interpret these verses as saying less than this: The ones the Father gave Jesus equal the ones that come unto Him and this number equals those whom He raises up at the last day. Both divine preservation and perseverance by grace are involved everywhere in between. The Lord Jesus emphatically states that He came to do the Father’s will and that His will was that He should raise up all that were given Him. If we claim that any who were given to Christ and subsequently came to Him are ever lost, and consequently will not be raised up at the last day, we have denied that Jesus Christ did, does, or shall do the Father’s will. In John 17:2, we see similar assurance of this truth. The statement is that to all the Father has given the Son, the Son will give eternal life. He does not do this by co-operating with the flesh of men, but by overcoming it. “Thou hast given him power over all flesh; that he should give eternal life to as many as thou has given him.” We can readily see that the believer’s security does not rest in his perseverance at all, but totally in God’s preservation of him. The preserving activity of God is the cause; perseverance is the effect in the Christian.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PERSEVERANCE
It is always error to claim effect without cause; this is the error of the evolutionist. It is equally wrong to claim cause without effect, this credits ignorance, impotence, and frustration to the author of the cause. If we admit the cause (divine preservation) without admitting the effect (Christian perseverance), we credit failure and folly to God. Let me illustrate this by Ephesians 2:8-10. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are saved by grace through faith. It is most plainly stated here that it is all the work of God. In verse 10 Paul states that we are God’s workmanship created unto (to do) good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. To deny perseverance is to say that God could not, through His new creation, perform the function which He purposed in that creation. Scriptural statements about the responsibility of perseverance and the certainty of it are almost as plentiful as those about preservation. You should read, indeed, study such Scriptures as Job 17, 19; Hosea 12:6; John 8:31, 15:4-9; Acts 11:23, 13:43, 14:21-22; Galatians 6:9; Ephesians 6:13,18; Philippians 3:16 and Colossians 1:22-23. Again, there are dozens of verses that could be added to these.
A GREAT DANGER
Because every man naturally (without Bible revelation) feels that his relationship to God is chiefly dependent upon himself, through Satan’s deception he may see this perseverance as a meritorious condition of his salvation or preservation. It is certainly not that, but if not, what is it? It is responsibility to our sovereign creator and redeemer. It is essential evidence to us of our own conversion or spiritual creation. It is essential evidence to the world of the genuineness of our conversion. It is a chief means by which our lights shine before men to the glory of God. Do not fall into the snare of misunderstanding either the cause or the purpose of Christian perseverance. To misunderstand it will frustrate you and steal glory from God.
To understand it rightly will establish you in the assurance of your eternal salvation as well as your responsibility to walk in good works, making your calling and election sure both to others and to yourself.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
Be assured that any good (perseverance) that is in you is worked in you by God. Not only is this true of your action, but of the will behind the action. Be sure that He works in you to do His good pleasure, not human indulgences. These are not opposing doctrines, but they are corresponding parts of one doctrine and that of God’s grace.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)
Let us persevere in faith and good works for He is faithful who called us and preserves us unto His everlasting kingdom.