The Faltering Christian Making it Home (Goodwin)

The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 5 God’s promise to perfect his children even extends to Christians who are backsliding or languishing in the faith.  Even in them God will restore and revive the principles of spiritual life.  This is proved by comparing Hebrews 13:20-21 with 1 Peter 5:10.  Thomas Goodwin (d. 1680) argued this truth of perseverance/preservation well in chapter 13 of his book called A Discourse of Election.  Here’s part of it that I found especially comforting:

And as for my text (Heb. 13:20-21), if you observe the ground of the promise of preservation there, it is not founded upon men’s having continued in an exact walking, in every good work all along from their calling, without any falterings or interruption…to be sure there is no mention of that, but it is founded upon this, that the God of all grace having effectually called them, he will see to it to perfect that work in them in the end, and to the end, and so to bring them back from their wanderings, and strayings aside if they fall out, and to take care not to allow them so far to stray as not to be rescued.

Goodwin was of course talking about the perseverance of the saints here.  He then gave the illustration of a sailor making his final destination even though he had been blown off course from time to time:

So as prove the case, what it may fall out to be in some of these called — and there is not a greater variation and deviation from the north point in the compass, in the several latitudes those that sail run through, than there falls out in variety of cases to these, that yet are a-carrying on to heaven, and will certainly be brought thither — over and besides their driving up and down through several winds of temptations, that like gusts come upon them; whilst vet, take the general steerage of their course, and it is to their desired haven.

Next Goodwin mentioned how the sovereign grace of God is behind the perseverance of the saints:

And the ground of that foundation (perseverance/preservation), namely, that they have been called, lies yet deeper, even in the heart of God that calleth (as Rom. 9, the apostle states it), even in this, ‘The God of all grace, who hath called;’ and the strength of it lies in this: that the same grace that God put forth in calling them – when they were utterly void of all good works at first, and destitute of the principles thereof, ‘dead in sins and trespasses,’ – hath engaged itself to perfect it (and will do it, as the promise is, 1 Thes. 5:24, ‘Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it’) he retaining the same grace in his heart towards them….

Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 389–390.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justified Today, Damned Tomorrow? Never! (Sibbes)

 We are weak.  Our faith is often feeble and barely flickering.  We have doubts; despair sometimes is a dark cloud in the Christian life.  “Prone to wander” is an understatement at times!  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes discussed this hard reality in the Christian life.  He met it with the gospel, with the comforting truths of the doctrines of grace:

Objection: “Oh… says the poor soul, I am a poor weak creature, and ready to fall away every day.”

Answer: “Yes, but Christ’s love is constant.  ‘Whom he loves, he loves to the end.’  What does the apostle say (Rom. 8:38-39)? ‘Neither things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.’  Therefore be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might; do not trust yourselves, nor trouble yourselves for things to come.  If you be free from guilt of former sins, never question time to come.  God is unchangeable in his nature, unchangeable in his love.  He is ‘Yahweh I AM’, always – not ‘I was or will be’, but ‘I am always.’  If ever he loved you, he will love you forever.”

“You see the constancy of Christ’s love when he told Mary, ‘Go tell my brothers’ (John 20:17).  Now when they had most deeply offended him, they were renegades, having all left him even then when he had most need of their comfort, being in greatest extremity – yet he called them brothers when he said, ‘Go tell my brothers.'”

“Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooses us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calles us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifies; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifies he will glorify. The whole chain so holds, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calls he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.”

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53.

(Note: the above quotes have been slightly edited for readability.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Apostasy in Hebrews 6:4-6 (Owen)

Scripture teaches that those whom God loves, he never leaves.  Whom he predestines, he preserves.  Those he effectually calls, he effectually keeps.  Whom he regenerates, he never rejects.  The ones he forgives, he never forsakes (Ps. 37:28, John 10:28-29, Rom. 8:35-39, Phil. 1:6, 1 Cor. 1:7b-8a, etc.).  The perseverance of the saints is a clear – and comforting! – teaching of Scripture.

There are, however, some verses that might make one pause when it comes to perseverance.  One such text is Hebrews 6:4-6: For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame (NASB).

We can’t just throw those verses out if we don’t like them!  At the same time, we must realize they won’t contradict other teachings in Scripture.  I appreciate how John Owen handled these verses in his commentary on them.  Here’s a helpful excerpt which I’ve edited very slightly:

That the people here  intended (in Heb. 6:4-6) are not true and sincere believers, in the strict and proper sense of that name, at least they are not described here as such; so that from this nothing can be concluded concerning them that are so, as to the possibility of their total and final apostasy.

For, (1.) There is  no mention of faith in their full and large description, or believing, either expressly or in equivalent terms; and in no other place in the Scripture are such intended, but they are mentioned by what belongs essentially to their state.

And, (2.) There is not any thing ascribed to these persons that is peculiar to them as such, or discriminative of them, as taken either from their special relation unto God in Christ, or any such property of their own as is not communicable unto others. For instance, they are not said to be called according to God’s purpose; to be born again, not of man, nor of the will of flesh, but of God; nor to be justified, or sanctified, or united unto Christ, or to be the sons of God by adoption; nor do they have any other characteristical note of true believers ascribed to them.

(3.) They are in the following verses compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briers. But this is not so with true believers.  For faith itself is an herb peculiar to the enclosed garden of Christ, and fit for him by whom we are dressed.

(4.) The apostle afterwards discoursing of true believers, does in many particulars distinguish them from such as may be apostates; which is supposed of the persons here intended, as was before declared. For, [A.] He ascribes to true believers in general “better things, and such as accompany salvation,” verse 9. [B.] He ascribes to true believers a “work and labor of love,” as it is true faith alone which worketh by love, verse 10; whereof he speaks not one word concerning these. [C.] He asserts their preservation; 1st, On the account of the righteousness and faithfulness of God in verse 10; 2nd, of the immutability of his counsel concerning them, in verses 17 and 18. In all these and many other instances he puts a difference between these apostates and true believers. And whereas the apostle intends to declare the aggravation of the apostates’ sin in falling away by the principal privileges whereof they were made partakers, here is not one word, in name or thing, of those which he expressly assigns to be the chief privileges of true believers, Rom. 8:27–30.

John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 84.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

God Has Willed My Salvation (Motyer)

The Message of Philippians (The Bible Speaks Today Series) by [Motyer, J. Alec] I came across these comforting words yesterday when reading Motyer’s comments on Philippians 1:6 (…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. NIV)

Salvation would be a wretchedly unsure thing if it had no other foundation than my having chosen Christ. The human will blows hot and cold, is firm and unstable by fits and starts; it offers no security of tenure. But it is the will of God that is the ground of salvation. No one would be saved had not the Lord been moved by his own spontaneous and unexplained love to choose his people before the world was, and, at the decisive moment, to open our hearts to hear, understand and accept ‘the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation’.  This, then, is assurance: God has willed my salvation.

J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 43–44.

Shane Lems

“A Strange Anomaly in Contemporary Evangelicalism” (Boice)

James Montgomery Boice made some good points on the perseverance of the saints in these following paragraphs:

This doctrine has a logical connection to the other Calvinistic distinctives, of course.  Because we are radically depraved and because salvation depends on God’s sovereign acts in our salvation, we have a security that is based on his ability and will rather than our own.  If salvation depended in any measure on what we were able to do or contribute to it, we would not be secure at all.

But there is a strange anomaly in contemporary evangelicalism at this point. The great majority of evangelicals are theologically Arminian.  That is, they do not believe in radical depravity or election.  They believe that the deciding factor in whether a person becomes a Christian and is saved is not God’s regenerating power but the individual’s free will, by which he can choose either to believe or disbelieve.  In other words, he is able to put himself into the kingdom or keep himself out.  But in spite of this synergistic and ultimately man-determined theology, most evangelicals nevertheless believe in perseverance, insisting that when a person is once saved, he is saved forever.  It is a correct point, but Arminian theology provides no basis for it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly and wisely grounds our security in God’s acts when it says of perseverance, “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (chap. 17, sec 1).

James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, p.138

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

No Condemnation (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge Here’s a nice excerpt from a sermon Charles Hodge gave on Romans 8:1 (Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. NASB):

Behold, O Christian the deed of thy inheritance.  …Jesus Christ came down from heaven to seek and save his people, to accomplish the condition on which their salvation was suspended and [say] “It is finished.” For these he has suffered and obeyed. The demands of the holiness and justice of God are completely satisfied. And since Christ has died and God has justified, who is that condemneth? Can Satan their accuser before God effect it? We answer no, because he that died, has risen and standeth at the right hand of God where he maketh intercession for us and he it is whom the Father heareth always. Can our own corruptions condemn us? We answer no because the salvation of Jesus Christ is a salvation from sin, every believer has the promise of the Holy Spirit to abide with him forever, to be in him as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. The believers’ hold of heaven is not the grasp of his own palsied hand, it is the upholding of the Lord, it is being kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.

Charles Hodge, “No Condemnation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Romans 8 and Certain Salvation (Hodge)

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes Charles Hodge has an excellent summary of Romans 8 in his Systematic Theology (III.XVI.8).  In this section he gives six arguments of Paul’s proving that those whom Christ has saved will never come into condemnation.  In other words, they will be preserved.  Here’s Hodge:

The whole of the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is designed to prove the certain salvation of all who believe. The proposition to be established is, that there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” That is, they can never perish; they can never be so separated from Christ as to come into condemnation

The Apostle’s first argument to establish that proposition, is, that believers are delivered from the law by the sacrifice of Christ. The believer, therefore, is not under the law which condemns, as Paul had before said in Romans 6:4.

His second argument is that they have already within them the principle of eternal life. That principle is the Spirit of God; “the life-giving” as He was designated by the ancient Church. To be carnally minded is death. To be spiritually minded is life and peace.

The third argument for the security of believers, is, that they are the sons of God. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. That

The fourth argument is from the purpose of God. Those whom He has predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, them He calls to the exercise of faith and repentance; and whom He thus calls He justifies, He provides for them and imputes to them a righteousness which satisfies the demands of the law, and which entitles them in Christ and for his sake to eternal life; and those whom He justifies He glorifies.  There is no flaw in this chain.

Paul’s fifth argument is from the love of God. As stated above, the Apostle argues from the greatness, the freeness, and the immutability of that love that its objects never can be lost.

The sixth argument of the Apostle is that, as the love of God is infinitely great and altogether gratuitous, it is also immutable, and, therefore, believers shall certainly be saved.

The above list has been edited for length.  You can find the entire excellent discussion in volume 3 of Hodge’s Systematic Theology.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI