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

 

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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

Preservation, Perseverance, Persistence

I was reading Hebrews’ comparison of Moses and Christ (Heb. 3:1-6) when I found the following helpful comments by Raymond Brown in his commentary on Hebrews (note: this is not the same Raymond Brown who has written Roman Catholic works and commentaries).

Right before these comments, Brown noted the great balance in Hebrews between the believer’s promised security and his necessary perseverance.  Here are Brown’s comments on Hebrews 3:6:

First, the believer’s security is assured. Christians will not fail if they look dependently to their merciful and faithful high priest. So many temptations and pressures, insidious as well as blatant, can lure us away from Christ and the faith we profess. This epistle seems to demand so much from us in relentless pilgrimage, strenuous running and persistent continuance, but that is only part of its message. Time and again its firm truths sound out with ringing certainty: ‘He is able to help.’ ‘We are his house.’ ‘We share in Christ.’ ‘We have a great high priest.’ This is the ground of our confidence. We do not place our hope in what we do, but what he has done. Believers do not rely on what they are; that would be a religion of merit. They base their entire spiritual confidence on what he is.”

“Secondly, the believer’s continuance is essential. It is important to recognize the seriousness of this letter when it rightly insists on perseverance. F. F. Bruce describes this persistent endurance as ‘the test of reality’. There is no casual easy-going presentation of Christianity in these chapters. William Manson is perfectly right when he insists that to the author of this epistle, Christianity is ‘not a matter only of repenting and obtaining forgiveness, but of irrevocable commitment of life to a supernatural end.’  We are certainly in God’s house by faith in Christ but, to be real, that belief must be something more than the occasionally faltering faith which initially takes hold of Christ, or that excited faith which, with adoring gratitude, first renounces sin and comes to Christ for liberating pardon. It is hardly that vacillating faith which calls out in moments of bewildered dejection: ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ It is a persistent faith which holds fast to its boldness and rejoices in the certain hope of better things. True Christian confidence is unwavering faith in a trustworthy God. He who has promised to keep us is eternally faithful and will not disappoint his people, but that truth is not meant to encourage careless complacency.”

Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 80–81.

Shane Lems

Vigor, Exertion, Diligence, Faith

Jacket William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity is a fascinating and helpful book first published in England in 1797 (with this title: “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity”).  In this book Wilberforce criticizes the notion of being a Christian in name only, but not in faith and practice.  I’m not yet finished with the book, so I can’t give a full review, but I did want to point out a helpful section where Wilberforce talks about vigor, exertion, and diligence in the Christian faith.  Basically, he rebukes those who say they are Christians but don’t put any effort into growing in knowledge, faith, and obedience.

“How criminal, then, must this voluntary ignorance of Christianity and the Word of God appear in the sight of God.  When God of His goodness has granted us such abundant means of instruction, how great must be the guilt, and how awful must be the punishment of voluntary ignorance.”

“And why are we to expect knowledge without inquiry and success without endeavor?  Bountiful as is the hand of Providence, it does not bestow its gifts to seduce us into laziness.  It bestows gifts to arouse us to exertion.  No one expects to attain to the heights of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or militant glory without vigorous resolution, strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance.”

“Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry!  This is the more preposterous because Christianity, a revelation from God and not an invention of man, shows us new relations with their correspondent duties.  It contains also doctrines, motives, and precepts peculiar to itself.  We cannot reasonably expect to become proficient accidentally, as one might learn insensibly the maxims of worldly policy or a scheme of mere morals.

“…Scripture everywhere represents the Gospel by figures strongly calculated to impress on our minds a sense of its value.  It speaks of the Gospel as light from darkness, as release from prison, as deliverance from captivity, as life from death.  The early converts universally received it with thankfulness and joy.  At one time, the communication of it is promised as a reward.  At another, the loss of it is threatened as a punishment.  And the more general extension of the kingdom of Christ constitutes one of the  leading petitions of the short prayer taught by our blessed Savior.  What exalted conceptions of the importance of Christianity ought to fill us when we read these descriptions(!).”

William Wilberforce, Real Christianity, chapter 1.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi