Arthur W. Pink
Chapter 6 - It's Blessedness
In an earlier section we dwelt upon the deep importance of this doctrine, here we wish to show something of its great preciousness. Let us begin by pointing Out the opposite. Suppose that the Gospel proclaimed only a forgiveness of all sins up to the moment of conversion and announced that believers must henceforth keep themselves from everything unworthy of this signal mercy: that means are provided, motives supplied, and warnings given of the fatal consequences which will surely befall those who fail to make a good use of those means and diligently respond to those motives; that whether or not he shall ultimately reach Heaven is thus left entirely in the believerís own hands. Then what? We may well ask what would be the consequences of such a dismal outlook: what would be the thoughts begotten and the spirit engendered by such a gospel? what effect would it produce upon those who really believed it? Answers to these questions should prepare us to the more deeply appreciate the converse.
It hardly requires a profound theologian to reply to the above queries; they have only to be carefully pondered and the simplest Christian should be able to perceive for himself what would be the inevitable result. If the Christianís entrance into Heaven turns entirely upon his own fidelity and his treading the path of righteousness unto the end of his course, then he is far worse off than was Adam in Eden, for when God placed him under the covenant of works he was not heavily handicapped from the beginning by indwelling sin, but each of his fallen descendants is born into this world with a carnal nature which remains unchanged to the moment of death. Thus the believer would enter into the fight not only without any assurance of victory but face almost certain defeat. If such a gospel were true then those who really believed it would be entire strangers to peace and joy, for they must inevitably spend their days in a perpetual dread of Hell. Or, the first time they were overcome by temptation and worsted by the Enemy, they would at once abandon the fight and give way to hopeless despair. "I will not turn away from them to do them good" (Jer. 32:40). "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5). Nothing whatever can or "shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39). "He will keep the feet of His saints" (1 Sam. 2:9). How immeasurable the difference between the vain imaginations of men and the sure declarations of God: it is the contrast of the darkness of a moonless and starless midnight from the radiance of the midday sun. "Of them which Thou gayest Me have I lost none" (John 18:9) affirmed the Redeemer. Is not that inexpressibly blessed! That every one of the redeemed shall be brought safely to Heaven. The final apostasy of a believer is an utter impossibility, not in the nature of things but by the Divine constitution: not one who has once been received into the Divine favor can ever be cast out thereof. God has bestowed on each of His children a life than cannot die, He has brought him into a relationship which nothing can change or effect, He has wrought a work in him which lasts "for ever" (Eccl. 3:14).
It is sadly true that multitudes of empty professors have "wrested" this truth to their destruction, just as many of our fellows have put to an ill use some of the most valuable of Godís temporal gifts; but because foolish gluttons destroy their health through intemperance that is no reason why sane people should refuse to be nourished by wholesome food; and because the carnal pervert the doctrine of Divine preservation that is no valid argument for Christians being afraid to draw comfort from the same. Most certainly it is the design of God that His people should be strengthened and established by this grand article of the faith. Note how in John 17 Christ mentions again and again the words "keep" and "kept" (vv. 6, 11, 12, 13, 15). And His reason for so doing is clearly stated: "these things I speak in the world that they may have My joy fulfilled in them" (v. 13). He would not have them spend their days in the wretchedness of doubts about their ultimate bliss, uncertain as to the issue of their fight. It is His revealed will that they should go forward with a song in their hearts, praising Him for the certainty of ultimate victory.
But the joy which issues from a knowledge of our security is not obtained by a casual acquaintance with this truth. Christís very repetition "I kept them those that Thou gayest Me I have kept" (John 17:12) intimates to us that we must meditate frequently upon this Divine preservation unto eternal life. It is to be laid hold of in no transient manner but should daily engage the Christianís heart till he is warmed and influenced by it. A few sprinklings of water do not go to the roots of a tree, but frequent and plentiful showers are needed: so it is not an occasional thought about Christís power to keep His people safe for Heaven which will deeply affect them, but only a constant spiritual and believing pondering thereon. As Jacob said to the Angel "I will not let thee go except thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26), so the believer should say to this truth, I will not turn from it until it has blessed me.
When our great High Priest prayed "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me" (John 17:11) it was not (as the Arminians say) that He asked merely that they might be provided with adequate means, by the use of which they must preserve themselves. No, my reader, it was for something more valuable and essential. The Savior made request that faith should be continually wrought in them by the exceeding greatness of Godís power (Eph. 1:19), and where that is there will be works of sincere (though imperfect) obedience and it will operate by responding to the holiness of the Law so that sins are mortified. The Father answers that prayer of the Redeemerís by working in the redeemed "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13), fulfilling in them "all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power" (2 Thess. 1:11) preserving them "through faith unto salvation" (1 Pet. 1:5). He leaves them not to their feeble and fickle wills, but renews them in the inner man "day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
That Christ would have His redeemed draw comfort from their security is clear again from His words "Rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). To what purpose did the Lord Jesus thus address His disciples, but to denote that infallible certainty of their final salvation by a contrast from those who perish: that is, whose names were written only "in the earth" (Jer. 17:13) or on the sands which may be defaced. Surely He had never spoken thus if there was the slightest possibility of their names being blotted Out. Rejoice because your names are written in heaven;" is not the implication both necessary and clear as a sunbeam; such rejoicing would be premature if there was any likelihood of final apostasy. This call to rejoice is not given at the moment of the believerís death, as he sees the angels about to convoy him to the realm of ineffable bliss, but while he is still here on the battlefield. Those names are written by none other than the finger of God, indelibly inscribed in the Book of Life, and not one of them will ever be erased.
Take again His words in the parable of the lost sheep: "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:7). "Such exalted hosannas would not resound on these occasions among the inhabitants of the skies if the doctrine of final perseverance was untrue. Tell me, ye seraphs of light; tell me, ye spirits of elect men made perfect in glory, why this exuberance of holy rapture on the real recovery of a sinner to God? Because ye know assuredly that every true conversion is (1) a certain proof that the person converted is one of the elect number, and (2) that he shall be infallibly preserved and brought to that very region of blessedness into which ye yourselves are come. The contrary belief would silence your harps and chill your praises. If it be uncertain whether the person who is regenerated today may ultimately reign with you in heaven or take up his eternal abode among apostate spirits in hell, your rejoicings are too sanguine and your praises too presumptuous. You should suspend your songs until he actually arrives among you and not give thanks for his conversion until he has persevered unto glorification" (A. Toplady).
1. What encouragement is there here for the babe in Christ! Conscious of his weakness, he is fearful that the flesh and the world and the Devil may prove too powerful for him. Aware of his ignorance, bewildered by the confusion of tongues in the religious realm, he dreads lest he be led astray by false prophets. Beholding many of his companions, who made a similar profession of faith, so quickly losing their fervour and going back again into the world, he trembles lest he make shipwreck of the faith. Stumbled by the inconsistencies of those called "the pillars of the church," chilled by older Christians who tell him he must not be too extreme, he is alarmed and wonders how it can be expected that he shall hold on his way almost alone. But if these fears empty him of self-confidence and make him cling the closer to Christ, then are they blessings in disguise, for he will then prove for himself that "underneath are the everlasting arms," and that those arms are all-mighty and all-sufficient.
The babe in Christ is as much a member of Godís family as is the mature "father" (1 John 2:13) and the former is as truly the object of Divine love and faithfulness as is the latter. Yea, the younger ones in His flock are more the subjects of the Shepherdís care than are the full-grown sheep: "He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom" (Isa. 40:11). The Lord does not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax (Matt. 12:20). He gave proof of this in the days of His flesh. He found some "smoking flax" in the nobleman who came to Him on behalf of his sick son: his faith was so weak that he supposed the Savior must come down to his house and heal him ere he diedóas though the Lord Jesus could not recover him while at a distance or after he had expired (John 4:49): nevertheless He cured him. So too after His ascension, He took note of a "little strength" (Rev. 3:8) and opened a door which none can shut. The highest oak was once an acorn and God was the maintainer of its life. When we affirm the final perseverance of every born-again soul we do not mean that saints are not in themselves prone to fall away, nor that at regeneration such a work is wrought in them once for all that they now have sufficient strength of their own to overcome sin and Satan and that there is no likelihood of their spiritual life decaying. So far from it, we hesitate not to declare that the very principle of grace (or "new nature") in the believer considered abstractedly in itself ó apart from the renewing and sustaining power of God ó would assuredly perish under the corruptions of the flesh and the assaults of the Devil. No, the preservation of the Christianís faith and his continuance in the path of obedience lies in something entirely external to himself or his state. Wherein lay the impossibility of any bone of Christ being broken? Not because they were in themselves incapable of being broken, for they were as liable to be broken as His flesh to be pierced, but solely because of the unbreakable decree of God. So it is with the mystical Body of Christ: no member of His can perish because of the purpose, power and promise of God Himself.
How important it is then that the babe in Christ should be instructed in the ground of Christian perseverance, that the foundation on which his eternal security rests is nothing whatever in himself but wholly outside. The preservation of the believer depends not upon his continuing to love God, believe in Christ, tread the highway of holiness, or make diligent use of the means of grace, but on the Covenant-engagements entered into between the Father and the Son. That is the basic and grand Cause which produces as a necessary and infallible effect our continuing to love God, believe in Christ and perform sincere obedience. O what a sure foundation is that! What a firm ground for the soul to rest upon! What unspeakable peace and joy issues from faithís apprehension of the same! Though fickle in ourselves, the Covenant is immutable. Though weak and unstable as water we are, yet that is "ordered in all things and sure." Though full of sin and unworthiness, yet the sacrifice of Christ is of infinite merit. Though often the spirit of prayer be quenched in us, yet our great High Priest ever liveth to make intercession for us. Here then is the "anchor of the soul," and it is "both sure and steadfast" (Heb. 6:19).
Ere concluding this subdivision it is necessary to point out in such days as these that it must not be inferred from the above that because the grace, the power and the faithfulness of God insures the preservation of the feeblest babe in Christ that henceforth he is relieved of all responsibility in the matter. Not so: such a blessed truth has not been revealed for the purpose of encouraging slothfulness, but rather to provide an impetus to use the means of preservation which God has appointed. Though we must not anticipate too much what we purpose to bring before the reader under a later division of our subject, when we shall consider at more length the safeguards which Divine wisdom has placed around this truth, yet a few words of warning, or rather explanation, should be given here to prevent a wrong conclusion being drawn from the preceding paragraphs.
The babe in Christ is weak in himself, he is left in a hostile world, he is confronted with powerful temptations, both from within and from without, to apostatize. But strength is available unto faith, armor is provided against all enemies, deliverance from temptations is given in answer to prevailing prayer. But he must seek that strength, put on that armor, and resist those temptations. He must fight for his very life, and refuse to acknowledge defeat. Nor shall he fight in vain, for Another shall gird his arm and enable him to overcome. The blessedness of this doctrine is that he shall not be left to himself nor suffered to perish. The Holy spirit shall renew him day by day, quicken his graces, move him to perseverance and make him "more than conqueror through Him that loved him."
2. What comfort is there here for fearing saints! All Christians have a reverential and filial fear of God and an evangelical horror of sin. Some are beset with legal fears, and most of them with anxieties which are the product of a mingling of legal and evangelical principles. These latter are occasioned more immediately by anxious doubts, painful misgivings, evil surmisings of unbelief. More remotely, they are the result of the permissive appointment of God, who has decreed that perfect happiness must be waited till His people get home to Heaven. Were our graces complete, our bliss would be complete too. In the meantime it is needful for the Christian traveler to be exercised with a thorn in the flesh, and that "thorn" assumes a variety of forms with different believers; but whatever its form it is effectual in convincing them that this earth is not their rest or a mount whereon to pitch tabernacles of continuance. In many instances that "thorn" consists of anxious misgivings, as the frequent "fear not" of Scripture intimates: the fear of being completely overcome by temptation, or making shipwreck of the faith, of failing to endure unto the end.
Once again we would quote those words of Christ, "Of them whom Thou hast given Me have I lost none" (John 18:9). Is not that inexpressibly blessed! That every one of the dear children whom the Father has entrusted to the care and custody of the Mediator shall be brought safely to glory; the feeblest as much as the strongest, those with the least degree of grace as those of the highest, the babes as truly as the full grown. Where true grace is imparted, though it be as a grain of mustard seed, yet it shall be quickened and nourished so that it shall not perish. This should be of great consolation to those timid and doubting ones who are apt to think it will be well with Christians of great faith and eminent gifts, but that such frail creatures as they know themselves to be will never hold out, who dread that Satanís next attack will utterly vanquish them. Let them know that the self-same Divine protection is given to all the redeemed. It is not because one is more godly than another, but because both are held fast in the hand of God. The tiny mouse was as safe in the ark as the ponderous elephant.
What encouragement is there here for the godly, who when they view the numerous Anakims in the way and hear of the giants and walled cities before them are prone to dread their meeting with them. How many a one has trembled as he has pondered that word of Christís "Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23, 24) and said with the apostles, "Who then can be saved?" If it be such a difficult matter to get to Heaven, if the gate be so strait and the way so narrow, and so many of those professing to tread it turn out to be hypocrites and apostates, what will become of me? When thus exercised, remember Christís answer to the astonished disciples, "with God all things are possible." He who kept Israel on the march for forty years without their shoes wearing out, can quite easily preserve thee, O thou of little faith.
"Thou has a mighty arm: strong is Thy hand, high is Thy right hand" (Ps. 89:13). Grandly is that fact displayed in creation. Who has stretched out the heavens with a span? Who upholds the pillars of the earth? Who has set limits to the raging ocean, so that it cannot overflow its bounds? Whose finger kindled the sun, the moon, and the stars, and kept those mysterious Lamps of the sky alight all these thousands of years? Whose hand has filled the sea with fishes, the fields with herds, and made the earth fertile and fruitful? So too the mightiness of the Lordís arm is manifest in providence. Who directs the destinies of nations and shapes the affairs of kingdoms? Who sets the monarch upon his throne and casts him from thence when it so pleases Him? Who supplies the daily needs of a countless myriad of creatures so that even the sparrow is provided for when the earth is blanketed with snow? Who makes all things work together for good óeven in a world which lieth in the Wicked one ó to them that love Him, who are the called according to His purpose?
When a soul is truly reconciled to God and brought to delight in Him, it rejoices in all His attributes. At first it is apt to dwell much upon His move and mercy, but as it grows in grace and experience it delights in His holiness and power. It is a mark of spiritual understanding when we have learned to distinguish the manifold perfections of God, to take pleasure in each of them. It is a proof of more intimate communion with the Lord when we perceive how adorable is the Divine character, so that we meditate upon its excellences separately and in detail, and praise and bless Him for each of them. The more we are given to behold all the varied rays of His pure light, the more we are occupied with the many glories of His crown, the more shall we bow in wonderment before Him. Not only shall we perceive how infinitely He is above us, but how there is everything in Him suited to our need; grace to meet our unworthiness, mercy to pardon our sins, wisdom to supply our ignorance, strength to minister to our weakness. "Who is like unto Thee, 0 Lord among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!" (Ex. 15:11).
How this glorious attribute of Godís power ensures the final perseverance of the saints! Some of our readers have passed through sore trials and severe tribulations, yet they prevailed not against them: they shook them to their foundations, but they did not overthrow their faith. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19). Fierce were the foes which many a time gathered against thee, and had not the Lord been on thy side thou hadst quickly been devoured, but in Him thou didst find a sure refuge. The Divine strength has been manifested in your weakness. Is it not so, my brother, my sister: that such a frail worm as yourself has never been crushed by the weight of opposition that has come upon youóAh, "underneath were the everlasting arms." Though you trembled at your feebleness, yet, "out of weakness were made strong" (Heb. 11:34) has been your case too. Kept alive with death all around you, preserved when Satan and his hosts encompassed you. Must you not say "strong is Thy right hand!"
3. What comfort is there here for souls who are tempted to entertain hard thoughts of God! The awful corruptions of the flesh which still remain in the believer and which are ever ready to complain at the difficulties of the way and murmur against the dispensations of Divine providence, and the questionings of unbelief which constantly ask, Has God ceased to be gracious? how can He love me if He deals with me thus? are sufficient in themselves to destroy his peace and quench his joy. But when to these are added the infidelities of Arminianism which declares that God takes no more care of His children than to suffer the Devil to enter in among and devour them, that the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, affords no more security to His flock than to allow wolves and lions to come among and devour them at their pleasure, how shall the poor Christian maintain his confidence in the love and faithfulness of the Lord? Such blasphemies are like buckets of cold water poured upon the flames of his affection for God and are calculated only to destroy that delight which he has taken in the riches of Divine grace.
The uninstructed and unestablished believer is apt to think within himself I may for the present be in a good state and condition, but what assurance is there that I shall continue thus? Were not the apostate angels once in a far better state and more excellent condition than mine: they dwelt in Heaven itself, but now they are cast down into Hell, being "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6)! Adam in had no lusts within to tempt and seduce him, no world without to oppose and entangle, yet "being in honor" he continued not, but apostatized and perished. If it was not in their power to persevere much less so in mine, who am "sold under sin" and encompassed with a world of temptations. What hope is there left to me? Let a man be exercised with such thoughts as these, let him be cast back solely upon himself, and what is there that can give him any relief or bring his soul to any degree of composure? Nothing whatever, for the so-called "power of free will" availed not either the angels which fell or our first parents.
And what is it which will deliver the distressed soul from these breathings of despair? Nothing but a believing laying hold of this grand comfort: that the child of God has an infallible promise from his Father that he shall be preserved unto His heavenly kingdom, that he shall be kept from apostasy, that the intercession of his great High Priest prevents the total failing of his faith. So far from God being indifferent to the welfare of His children and failing in His care for them, He has sworn that "I will not turn away from them to do them good." So far from the good Shepherd proving unfaithful to His trust, He has given express assurance that not one of His sheep shall perish. Rest on those assurances my reader, and thy hard thoughts about God will be effectually silenced. As to the stability and excellency of the Divine love, is it not written, "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing" (Zeph. 3:17). What can more endear God to His people than that! How it should fix their souls in their love to Him. Well might Stephen Charnock say of Arminians, "Can these men fancy Infinite Tenderness so unconcerned as to let the apple of His eye be plucked out, as to be a careless Spectator of the pillage of His jewels by the powers of Hell, to have the delight of His soul (if I may so speak) tossed like a tennis ball between himself and the Devil." He that does the greater thing for His people shall He not also do the less: to regenerate them is more wonderful than to preserve them, as the bestowal of life exceeds the maintaining of it. The reconciliation of enemies is far harder than dealing with the failings of friends: "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then being now justified by His blood we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:8-10). If there was such efficacy in the death of Christ, who can estimate the virtue of His resurrection! "He ever liveth to make intercession for us."
4. What comfort is there here for aged pilgrims! Some perhaps may be surprised at this heading, supposing that those who have been longest in the way and have experienced most of Godís faithfulness have the least need of consolation from the truth. But such a view is sadly superficial to say the least of it. No matter how matured in the faith one may be, nor how well acquainted with the Divine goodness, so long as he is left down here he has no might of his own and is completely dependent upon Divine grace to preserve him. Methuselah stood in as much need of Godís supporting hand during the closing days of his pilgrimage as does the veriest babe in Christ. Look at it from the human side of things: the aged believer, filled with infirmities, the spiritual companions of his youth all gone, perhaps bereft of the partner of his bosom, cut off from the public means of grace, he looks forward to the final conflict with trepidation.
"And even to your old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you" (Isa. 46:4). Why has such a tender and appropriate promise been given by God if His aged saints have no need of the same? They, any more than the young, are not immune from Satanís attacks. He is not slow to tell the tottering believer that as many a ship has foundered when in sight of port so the closing storm of life will prove too much for him: that though God has borne long with his unbelief and waywardness, even His patience is now exhausted. How then is he to meet such assaults of the Fiend? In the same way as he has done all through his course. By taking the shield of faith, wherewith he shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the Wicked one (Eph. 6:16), by having recourse to the sure promise of Him who has said "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end."
Ah, my aged friend, how often have you proved in your experience the truth of those words "thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee" (Deut. 33:29). What a shameless liar the Devil is! Did he not tell thee in some severe trial, The hand of the Lord is gone out against thee: He has forsaken thee and will no more be gracious to thee: He has deserted thee as He did Saul the king and now thou art wholly given up unto the powers of evil: the Lord will no more answer thee from His holy oracle; He has utterly cast thee off. Yet you found that God had not deserted you after all, and this very day you are able to join the writer in thanking Him for His lovingkindness and to testify of His unfailing faithfulness. How often has thine own unbelief whispered to thee, I shall one day perish at the hand of this foe who seeks my life: my strength is gone, the Spirit withholds His assistance, I am left alone and must perish. Yet year after year has passed, and though faint you are still pursuing, though feeble you will hold on your way.
Has not Satan often told you in the past, Your profession is a sham, iniquities prevail over you, the root of the matter is not in thee. Thou was a fool to make a profession and cast in thy lot with Godís people: there is no stability in thee, thou art certain to apostatize and bring reproach upon the cause of Christ. And did not your own doubts second his motion, telling you that your experience was but a flash in the pan, some evanescent emotion, which like a firebrand would die out into black ashes. Unbelief has whispered a thousand falsehoods into your ear, saying this duty is too difficult, this toil will prove too great, this adversity will drown you. What madness it was to lend an ear to such lies. Can God ever cast away one on whom He has fixed His everlasting love? Can He renounce one who was purchased by the blood of Christ? Thus will it prove of thy last fears: "Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee."
5. What comfort is there here for preachers! Many a rural minister views with uneasiness the departure into cities of some of his young converts. And may well he be exercised at the prospect of them leaving their sheltered homes to be brought into close contact with temptations to which they were formerly strangers. It is both his duty and privilege to give them godly counsel and warning, to follow them with his prayers, to write them: but if they he soundly converted he need not fear about their ultimate well-being. Servants of God called to move into other parts are fearful about the babes in Christ which they will leave behind, yet if they really be such they may find consolation in the blessed fact that the great Shepherd of the sheep will never leave nor forsake them.