By nature we are all distrustful of God, and in having to do with His word, terribly heretical. We do not seem to be content with the way in which the blessed God in His infinite wisdom and love, has been pleased to make known His mind to us, but act as though we were quite certain we could put it in better form than it is placed before us in the Holy Scriptures. This is very apparent in the way everything has been turned upside down in Christendom, and in the fact that, in spite of the simplicity of the revealed mind of God, there exist almost as many different beliefs as there are men to hold them; and about nothing has there been much more contention than about the little conjunction standing at the head of this paper.
Nothing comes before us in the New Testament with more clearness than the truth of the eternal security of all who are in Christ. We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, and in time called by the gospel and drawn by the Father to Christ, who gave to us His Holy Spirit, thus attaching us to Himself and making us conscious of the love of God, so that we can cry, “Abba! Father!” and by and bye He will change our bodies and glorify us with Himself according to eternal counsel. The rebellion of the creature, be that creature man or devil, could no more alter or interfere with the perfect fulfilment of all this than could a new-born infant with uplifted finger stop the clockwork of the solar system. Our glory with Christ was just as certain when it was planned in the past, before the world was, as it will be when it shall be perfected in the new heaven and new earth, where all things will be of God and where God shall be all in all. We are His workmanship. Our fall or recovery, our faith or unbelief, our weakness or strength, our willing or running, our life or death, has nothing to do with it. God has His counsels concerning His Son, and He is perfectly able, without our assistance, and in spite of our resistance, to carry out these counsels, and He will, “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” (Rom. 8:29-30).
The reader may not be able to recall to his mind a moment in his history when he did not know and love the Lord. How good, if it has been so! And the writer’s mind may travel backward over his own past career until he comes to darkness, confusion, rebellion, and corruption. Alas, that it should thus have been! But it was the same sovereign mercy which met the reader almost as soon as he entered this world, and laid hold of his heart in its tender years for Christ, which plucked the writer as a brand out of the fire, broke down the wild and wayward will and brought the rebel to the feet of Jesus. Blessed forever and ever be His holy name! No mortal tongue is able to utter forth all that the soul would say, who has been snatched in such marvellous mercy from the very midst of hell itself, and not only rescued from woe unutterable, but brought near to the very heart of God, to bask in all the light and warmth and blessedness of His unspeakable love, from which there can be no separation.
But while all this is perfectly true, and very blessed and encouraging for our poor, weak, faithless hearts, it is not the whole truth. There is another line which has also its place in the revelation which God has been pleased to give to us. What I have been speaking of is the line of sovereignty, what I might call the upper line. The other line of which I wish to speak is the line of responsibility, or if I may call it the lower line. It is on this line the little word “if” comes in, the little word about which there has been no end of contention. There would be no contention and no trouble or misunderstanding about it if we were willing to admit the perfection of God’s sacred writings, but this is just where the trouble comes in, for we are so prone to run away with one line of things, which may be right enough in itself, but is only right when it is held by us in the place and order in which God has set it, that we are liable to become heretical, and refuse everything else, because in our judgment it seems to militate against what we think we have received from God. This is not wise; and taking up such an attitude as this, we place ourselves in a position antagonistic to God. But let me come to the lower line.
In God’s approach to man in Christ the whole world comes into view. “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4), “Who will have all men to be saved.” “Who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:4-6). “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). You can see at once that we are on entirely different ground from that which we were treading on the “upper line.” There the elect only are in view, here it is the grace of God to all men. “Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” The gospel is for every creature. The believer shall be saved. The despiser shall perish. The death of Christ has made salvation possible for every man. No one need perish, for in Christ God addresses all men alike in grace, and He makes no demand. Righteousness is not required, it has been found in Christ, and He is held out to men everywhere as a covering for their nakedness, and all are called, in the presence of this boundless grace, to repent and to believe in Christ, and to submit to Him in whom righteousness and salvation are. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved, for with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). In all this it is the free grace of God to all men, and the truth as to election does not appear.
Next we come to those who have embraced the glad tidings and are in the Christian profession, and to whom the epistles are written; and here we are often confronted with that little word “if,” because the important point for all of us to see to is, that profession is not mere profession, a thing without vitality, the mere submission of the intellect to a creed, which may have no practical effect upon our ways among men or upon our hearts in the sight of God. Hence, we need to fear lest the salvation might be neglected, that is to say, be of no practical value to us. The grace of God might be received in vain, like the earth which, in spite of being well watered by the rain from heaven, brings forth only thorns and briars, and which only awaits cursing. We are to be like that fertile and good soil which responds to the rain from heaven with fruit meet for Him who dresses it. This has received blessing from God (Heb. 6:7-8).
Then again we have many enemies to contend against, who seek to trip us up and destroy our souls. The salvation of the soul is what is in view in the gospel, and Peter warns those to whom he writes to beware of fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and instances some who had escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but who had been once more entangled and overcome. He says of such, “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Peter 2:20-22). The world, alas, is a great foe, and has swallowed up many. The devil also by violence and subtlety has destroyed numbers, who seemed for a time to stand in the front rank fighting the fight of faith.
We have come to Christ, who is the only Saviour. Our wisdom is to cleave to Him. Warnings abound in all the writings of the apostles. Romans are told that if they live after the flesh they shall die. Corinthians are cautioned against idolatry and fornication, and are reminded of the terrible judgments which fell upon Israel in the wilderness. Galatians are told that if they become circumcised Christ shall be of no profit to them. They must neither depart from Him nor attempt to add anything to Him or they will be lost. Colossians were reconciled, and would be presented “holy, unblamable and unreprovable in His sight, if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” Paul was afraid that in his absence the tempter by some means might have tempted the Thessalonians and his labour be in vain. To Timothy Paul writes, “If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:11-15). The writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 12, “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shalt not we escape, if we turn away from Him who speaketh from heaven.” And John says to those to whom he writes his first epistle, “Abide in Him; that when He shall appear we (the apostles) may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”
I need not multiply quotations from scripture. It is very clear that there are those two lines running parallel throughout the whole New Testament. One, the Upper line, in which we see God at work for the accomplishment of His purpose, making everything that comes in His path serve Him, so that what He has counselled must be fulfilled. The other, the lower line, relating to the responsibility of man, especially in connection with the glad tidings and faith in Christ and cleaving to Him. To cleave to Him is salvation, sure and eternal. To abandon Him is certain destruction. I can say to any man, no matter who that man may be, elect or otherwise, “You may be saved if you will. The salvation of God is sent to you in Christ. Submit to Him and it is yours.” But I must also say to those who have professed to receive the grace of God, If that grace is operative in you, so that sobriety, righteousness, and godliness characterize you, all is well: but if not, there is a moment coming when you will learn how good it had been for you had you never been born.
But I can very distinctly hear some one say, “There is no need to occupy people with these things, once in grace always in grace, and there is no danger.” Do not let the devil deceive you. Scripture is wiser than we are. And it is dangerous ground for anyone to take, that because he has been affected by the grace of God he is safe forever. Safety lies nowhere but in Christ, and trust in Him. I would urge my reader not to build upon any work done in himself for salvation, nor to be saying, “because I am a believer,” or “because I was once converted,” or “because I once professed to be saved at a meeting all must be well, for was I not told that a sheep of Christ can never perish.” Your safety does not lie in any work done in you, but in placing your confidence in the living God who presents Himself to you in grace in Christ. It is true that not one sheep of Christ’s can ever perish; but they hear His voice and follow Him; and you may be sure that if they follow Him He will not lead them to destruction, but to life and salvation.
But some one may say, “Am I always to be doubting whether I shall reach heaven in the end?” I answer, you ought never to have a single doubt in your mind. But the way to have the assurance that you shall eventually get to heaven lies in having the light of heaven clearly in your soul now. Read carefully the first chapter of second Peter. You will find there the way to make your calling and election sure, and you will find he does not give you a dogmatic statement of doctrine to rest on, but all is accomplished by getting heaven into your heart. I do not think much of a man’s profession to be going to heaven while his heart is full of the world. Neither is there a single text of scripture which will give a man the assurance that all will turn out well in a path of departure from Christ. The uniform testimony of the scriptures is that the soul who abandons Christ will perish. Again, I beseech my reader not to place his confidence of salvation in a past experience, but in the Lord’s ability to keep him, and the effect of this will be that he will cleave close to Christ, and not depart from Him. If anyone might have trusted in what he was, surely that one was the blessed Lord Himself, and indeed it was the very way by which the devil sought to overthrow Him, “If Thou be the Son of God,” and “cast Thyself down from thence,” quoting the scripture to prove that no harm could come to Him. But that ever perfect Man lets the enemy know that there were other scriptures which had their place as prominently in His mind as those used by Satan. He put His trust in God, and not in anything that was in Himself. He says, “Preserve Me, O God, for in Thee do I put My trust” (Ps. 16:1).
But I can imagine someone telling me that if I believe the first part of my paper I cannot think of a true believer being allowed to go so far as to give up Christ. I answer, that I have not hinted at the possibility of such a thing taking place. But I do not know who are true believers and who are not, except as I see people hear Christ’s voice and follow Him. I have got to do with professors who may be true believers or who may not. One has seen many who seemed to be everything that could be desired, give up Christ completely. I am not the judge of such people. I leave them to the Lord. But I may be told I make no allowance for a backslider. I am not sure that I like the word in connection with Christianity. It seems to me to carry an odour of law and the probation of man about it, and I do not find it used by the apostles in the New Testament, though it is of frequent occurrence in the Old. Again, I am not speaking of weakness and failure in walk, where the heart is in the main right. If my reader fell seven times a day, and seven times turned again to Christ, he would not be rejected. The Lord tells us, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him: and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4), and this is His own grace to us, which He desires to see reproduced in us to one another.
But I may be asked if a man who is born again and has come to Christ and received the Holy Spirit as the seal of God, can be lost? I do not believe it possible, for scripture teaches otherwise. But I do not much relish the question, because it supposes a work done in a man, which makes him self-sufficient, whereas we all have to be kept by God, no matter what work may be done in us, and the soul that is not kept by the power of God will perish, I do not mind who he may be. But I know that God will keep all His own, and so I trust in Him, and do not reason as to safety from a work done in me, but from His grace and ability to keep me.
Perhaps I may be asked what help I expect unestablished souls to receive from this paper. I answer, I expect that through the grace of God they may be turned from building their hopes of heaven upon a feeling, or a past experience, or even upon a text of scripture which once may have been brought home to their hearts in an unusually powerful manner. I desire that they may be turned to place all their confidence in a living Person, God revealed in Christ, and that they may understand that there is no safety but in keeping near to Himself. It is a real thing to have to do with God, and as we pass along upon our heavenward way there are many enemies against which we need to be on our guard; and upon our right hand and upon our left we may look upon the carcasses of those who have fallen, who once sang with wonderful fervour the song of salvation and who bid fair to outstrip the fastest runner in the race. The Lord says to the servant in evil days like these, “Of these things put them in remembrance” (2 Tim. 2:14).
In keeping near to Christ there is both unspeakable joy and perfect security. And my desire for both reader and writer is that with purpose of heart we may cleave to the Lord and possess the blessed consciousness that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.