Points of Calvinism
By Fred G. Zaspel
Fred Zaspel's Page 'Biblical
Area of Study
Charles Haddon Spurgeon,
the famous Baptist preacher of nineteenth century London, said
"I have my own opinion that
there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we
preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it
Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe
we can preach the gospel . . . unless we preach the sovereignty of God
in His dispensation of grace; not unless we exalt the electing,
unchangeable, eternal, immutable conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I
think we can preach the gospel unless we base it on the special,
particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ
wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets
saints fall away after they are called, and allows the children of God
to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in
Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor."
What Spurgeon is saying,
very simply, is that the Christian gospel offers salvation freely in
Jesus Christ. It is a work of God from beginning to end. God is the
active giver: He chooses, He draws, He saves, and He keeps. It is all
His doing. Anything less, he says, is not the gospel.
This idea lies just on the
face of Scripture. The apostle Paul said that God saves in such a way
that it leaves no room at all for men to congratulate themselves
(1Cor.1:29-31; Eph.2:9). In fact, this is God's very purpose in human
salvation -- to display His own glorious grace (1Cor.1:31; Eph.2:7).
Salvation is a work of God, designed to bring glory to Himself.
And this is precisely why
the gospel is "good news." It would not be very good news to hear that
God would save us if . . . anything. We shudder to think of any
condition laid upon us as a prerequisite for salvation. If God does not
save freely, we know that we will not be saved at all. But hearing that
He has promised to save us without condition, that He will take us just
as we are, is precisely what gives us hope and confidence. God the Son,
the Lord Jesus Christ, has done for us everything that God has required
of us; and trusting in Him Who has accomplished in our place a perfect
righteousness and Who has paid the penalty of our sin by His
substitutional sacrifice on the cross, we have peace with God
(Rom.5:1). This is the wonderful offer of the gospel. Salvation is
free, in Jesus Christ.
Sadly, however, this
simplicity of the gospel has often been complicated even by
well-intentioned men. And this confusing of the terms of salvation has
caused considerable debate within the Christian community. Many have
taught that it is man, not God, who is the determining party in
salvation. His condition is one of sin; but his sinfulness, they teach,
is not such that renders him incapable of choosing God. This, they
affirm, is what determines a man's salvation: man must make the move.
If he will but turn to God, then God will choose to save him, but not
unless. Moreover, whatever previous "drawing" that God may do, He does
equally for all men, leaving the final choice to the individual man
himself. Further, the atonement of Christ, this theory teaches, was
intended to do the very same thing for all men everywhere and without
exception. Christ on the cross did "His part" to save everyone; again,
it is man who makes the final decision. Finally, once that a man has
chosen God and becomes a Christian, he may again choose not to be a
Christian and may eventually fall away into condemnation.
In all of this there is one
central tenet: man is the controlling party in salvation. His will is
free to make the choice, and this is what determines the outcome. God
leaves the matter with us.
What Spurgeon was
emphasizing in the quote above, however, is that this is not at all the
case. God has not left the matter with us. It is God and not man who
makes the difference. God makes the choice, not man; indeed, man is so
ruined by sin that he is unable to choose God. Further, God does the
drawing; He goes before and Himself brings the sinner to Christ. In
fact, this is the very purpose of Christ's death -- to save these whom
the Father has chosen. And having saved them, God keeps them and will
never allow them to stray so far as to fall into condemnation.
Salvation, from beginning to end, is of God (Jonah 2:9; 1Cor.1:30).
Debate over these issues
traces back even to the early centuries. Augustine's attack of Pelagius
for his denial of human depravity is well known; and, gladly, Augustine
won the day. Martin Luther's response to Erasmus' The Freedom
of the Will is well known also, resulting as it did in
Luther's famous The Bondage of the Will. The
Reformers were all united on these truths: God and not man is the
determining cause of salvation.
By the early seventeenth
century, however, one Jacobus Arminus, a Dutch scholar, began to
question it all; and his followers, called "Remonstrants"
("protesters") or "Arminians," challenged the church with their new
beliefs: 1) The freedom of the human will; 2) Conditional election by
God, based upon His foreseen faith in men; 3) Christ's death was
designed to save every man, and whatever it accomplished it
accomplished for all men equally; 4) Saving grace is resistible; it is
generally given to all men equally and so may be refused; 5) Those who
do exercise their will to be saved may later lose that faith and be
In response, the Synod of
Dort reaffirmed that: 1) Man is totally depraved; everything about him,
including his will, is negatively affected by the fall of Adam. 2) God
elects whom He will save unconditionally; He places no conditions upon
those whom He chooses but acts sovereignly. 3) The death of Christ,
while completely sufficient to save all men, was designed specifically
to save the elect. 4) When God moves in a sinner's heart to bring him
savingly to Christ, He succeeds infallibly; His saving grace proves
irresistible. 5) All those who are saved will persevere in faith
This response of Dort has
been fashioned into an acronym after the state flower of Holland, the
Perseverance of the Saints
Oddly enough, although this
matter of salvation as a work of God alone is a rather minority opinion
today, it is a point of repeated emphasis in the Scriptures. We will
work it out here in the form that it has been given to us for years:
When the apostle John notes
for us that when the Lord Jesus "came to His own, His own did not
receive Him" (Jn.1:12), his observation is more than an historical one.
The history of man's refusal of Christ is a matter of theological
significance: man rejects God.
Man's natural aversion to
God is a fact of history, theology, and everyday experience. "There is
none that seek after God" (Rom.3:11). Owing to God his very existence
and receiving from Him daily his life and health and joys, man still
has not found it in his heart to seek God; he rebels. Religion he has
and even wants, but God he would rather do without (Rom.1:21; cf.
The apostle Paul describes
man in his natural condition as "a child of wrath" who lives only for
himself and Satan (Eph.2:2-3; cf. 4:17-18). That is to say, he has no
time for God; he is a rebel. His desires run contrary to God's, but
still it his own desires he follows. God's will is but an obstacle to
So the problem is not with
God's willingness. Indeed, God stands, as it were, with outstretched
arms in willingness to receive the sinner (Rom.10:21). He stoops even
to begging sinners to come, as a street vender hawking his goods
(Isa.55:1-2). The invitation is both free and universal: He will take
all who come (Mat.11:28).
No, the problem is not that
God is unwilling; the problem is that man is unwilling. "I would, but
you would not," Jesus said (Mat.23:37). "You are not willing to come to
me that you may have life" (Jn.5:40). Loving their sin more than God,
men refuse Him (Jn.3:19-20). Foolish as it is, man will not have God.
What's worse: this problem
is universal. "The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men
to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all
turned aside, they have together become corrupt" (Psa.14:2-3). And even
a quick glance over our society will provide the evidence for this.
Mankind has rejected God.
Now this might seem
unnatural. If God created man in His own image, we might expect man to
have more favorable opinions of God! But something has happened, and
that something is sin. Through our father Adam sin has entered into all
of humanity, and this in such a way that all men are inherently sinful
(Rom.5:12). "By nature children of wrath," the apostle Paul describes
them (Eph.2:3). Worse yet, Jesus describes them as children of the
devil who both will and act like their father (Jn.8:44). Put another
way, natural man lives in a state of spiritual death (Eph.2:1); when it
comes to truly spiritual things, he is lifeless.
All this universal
disobedience, then, is not an odd coincidence. All men have not somehow
become sinners simply because they have all sinned. They all
sin because they are sinners. It is a matter of natural
tendency and disposition. Senses, intellect, affections, and will all
share in man's spiritual deadness.
As a result, the things of
God are "foolishness" to him and altogether beyond his grasp (1Cor.2:9,
14). He "gropes in the noonday sun" (Job 5:14), recognizing neither his
blindness nor his tragic fate. Satan has "blinded their minds,"
effectively preventing the light of the "glorious gospel from shining
in" (2Cor.4:4). Spiritual death brings an insensitivity to the things
of God. It is a spiritual slavery, the prisoners of which are helpless.
Helpless slavery? "No man
can come to me," Jesus said, "except the Father draw him (Jn.6:44;
emphasis added). "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not
subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be"
(Rom.8:7). "No man can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy
Spirit" (1Cor.12:3). Once more, man "cannot cease
from sin" (2Pet.2:14).
This is the doctrine of
total depravity. It does not mean, as many have misunderstood, that man
is as bad as he can possibly be. It means that man is as bad
off as he can possibly be. He is a sinner. He has sinned. He
is guilty and deserving of divine wrath. And for this he can provide no
remedy himself -- he is the sinner! And the one remedy which is offered
in Christ he will not take. Indeed, he cannot understand it. Simply
put, man is without ability to remedy his condition, and he is
unwilling to be otherwise. He is as bad off as he could possibly be.
The bottom line is this:
our hope does not lie in our own will. It is our will that has got us
lost! We are all sure for condemnation unless God would
somehow incline our wills in the opposite direction. We must
have a savior who is mighty enough to rescue us from ourselves.
Clearly, God must do something.
We've made our choice; our
will has spoken. We are hopelessly lost -- unless God will choose
So by the very nature of
the case, our salvation depends upon God's choice of us. Our choice is
naturally against Him; we are "sons of disobedience"
(Eph.2:2) who refuse to seek God (Rom.3:11). It naturally follows,
then, that if we are to be saved God must choose to do it.
This is precisely what the
Scriptures tell us. Salvation comes to us because God has graciously
chosen us. Believers in Christ are people who were "chosen in Him
[Christ] before the foundation of the world" (Eph.1:4). Jesus said this
to His disciples: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you"
(Jn.15:16). Now Jesus is not denying here that His disciples had, in
fact, decided themselves to follow the Lord; very obviously, they had
heartily agreed to do so. But what was it that made them so agreeable?
Were they not "sons of disobedience" also? Of course, and this is what
Jesus addresses. It was not their choice of Him that determined His
choice of them; that could never be. Rather it was His choice of them
which preceded and determined their choice of Him. "You have not chosen
me, but I have chosen you." Their election involved a call to service
and holiness ("to bear fruit"), yes, but it did not rise from it. It
was His choice that made the difference.
And well it should. Men
fallen and enslaved in sin "cannot" make their way to Christ (Jn.6:44,
65). But God's mercy is such that he did not leave us in that
condition. He sovereignly and graciously and freely chose men and women
from all over the globe -- men and women from every tribe under heaven,
"a great multitude which no man could number" (Rev.7:9) -- and for
these people He sent His Son on a mission of rescue. Our refusal of Him
was no deterrent to His grace.
Jesus refers to this again
in John 6:37 -- "All that the Father gives me shall come to me." Who
are these whom the Father "gave" to the Son? In the following verses
Jesus identifies them as the objects of His saving mission. The Father
gave them to Him, and He came to save them.
This is how Jesus explains
it all in His prayer to the Father: "I have manifested Your name to
those whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You
gave them to Me" (Jn.17:6). God's gracious choice of those whom He
would save defined Jesus' mission. God in grace chose a people to be
saved and sent His Son to accomplish that salvation for them. Indeed,
the universal authority given to the Son is for this purpose exactly:
"that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him"
In John 10 Jesus refers to
these people as His "sheep" whom He will bring into the sheepfold
(v.16). Note that they are not " sheep" because they are brought into
the fold; they are brought into the fold because they are sheep. Jesus
further clarifies this later on in the same chapter. It is only His
sheep who come to believe in Him; the others refuse Him (vv.26-27). It
is to His sheep that He gives eternal life (v.28). These are special
objects of the Father's electing love and the Son's saving mission.
In other words, God did not
leave us to our own will. He saved us despite our contrary will. Nor
did He save us by accident; He did it on purpose. If we are saved, we
owe it to His electing grace.
The apostle Paul argues
this at length in Romans chapter 9. His whole purpose here is to show
that salvation comes by grace and by grace alone, and this he sets out
to prove by an exposition of the doctrine of election. But after citing
as example the statement from the prophet Malachi, "Jacob I have loved,
but Esau I have hated" (Rom.9:13), he realizes that he has just said
something that will not sit well with many; and so he anticipates the
objection: "What shall we say then? Is God unfair?" (v.14).1 His
answer, curiously, was not to back up. He does not play down the idea
of divine sovereignty. Instead, he pushes the matter further: "Who are
you to question the prerogatives of Deity? Who are you to define for
God what is fair? Is He not free to do as He wills with His creation?
And after all, was there anyone who deserved salvation?
And if not, then how can you object to His gracious choice of anyone?"
(cf. vv.15- 24). To the Biblical way of thinking, it is not "Esau I
have hated" that presents the problem. That God should hate Esau is
very understandable. The problem is, rather, How could God "love
Jacob"? Jacob was not deserving of God's love. Nor was the nation which
came after him. But Paul's point is just that: God's choice of whom He
will save is not at all determined by anything in the individual
himself. It is an "election of grace" (Rom.11:5).
Does this election sound
like a stuffed ballot box? Indeed it does! And this is precisely our
hope. Satan had cast his ballot for us. And our vote had been gladly
cast with him. But God in grace overruled both.
Many have misunderstood
this wonderful truth. They see election as a negative thing. They
reason as though there were many people who all want to be saved but
can't because God hasn't chosen them. But of course this is all wrong.
It is not that some want in but God bars the door. The reality is that
the door is wide open for any to enter -- but none will! But, happily,
God did not leave the matter there. He could have, and if He had He
would have been entirely just in doing so. But He didn't. He instead
made His own choice, one which overruled our own madness. And in His
gracious choice we find the grace that brings salvation.
This is grace at its best.
God did not wait for us to come to Him. He chose us in keeping with His
own purpose (Eph.1:5, 11; cf. 2Tim.1:9; Rom.8:28). Thankfully, He came
to us even while we were running away from Him. All this is to affirm
that salvation is of God and to His glory alone.
Now of course election is
not enough to save us by itself. There is this matter of divine justice
-- which must be satisfied. That is, God cannot merely take sinners
into His fellowship. Their sin must be dealt with first. In fact, they
must be punished.
But this is the very heart
of the gospel, that Christ came and in the place of sinners offered a
sacrifice to God for their sin. In Jesus' words, "I lay down my life
for my sheep" (Jn.10:11). Because His death was in their place and for
their sin, they will go free. They are punished in Him, their
Substitute. This, again, is the whole essence of the gospel, the very
hallmark of Christianity. Golgotha was no mere place; it was an event.
There Christ died for us. There He saved us.
It is for this reason that
we say, further, that Christ died with the intention of saving His
elect. He gave His life "for his sheep" (Jn.10:11). To be sure, the
value of Christ's person and work is infinite. His death therefore was
entirely sufficient to atone for all the sins of all the men who ever
lived. But of course, it was not designed to do
that. We know this, very simply, because not all are saved. His
mission, as He defined it, was to save "those whom the Father had given
Him" (Jn.6:37-39). On His way to the cross, it was for the elect that
Jesus prayed and not the world at large (Jn.17:9). He came on a
gracious mission -- to save those whom the Father had chosen -- and it
is with this intention that He offered Himself for sin. Put another
way, by His death Jesus "gathered together in one the children of God
who were scattered abroad" (Jn.11:52).
The apostle Paul speaks of
this in similar language. Christ "bought the church with His own blood"
(Acts 20:28). He "loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph.5:25).
Perhaps more significantly he speaks of the final number of the
redeemed as a "purchased possession" (Eph.1:14); they have
been bought, and so their salvation will come to full number and to
fruition. And in Rom.8:32 he explains that those for whom Christ died necessarily
receive all of the attending blessings; there are
none for whom Christ died who do not receive salvation in its fullness.
In short, every last person for whom Christ died will enjoy its
benefits (2Cor.5:14-15). Or, to view it from the standpoint of justice,
none for whom Jesus died can ever be condemned (Rom.8:34); because
Christ has died in their place, justice demands their acquittal.
The writer to the Hebrews
is just as explicit. Some have mistakenly thought that in dying Christ
attempted to save everyone. But that is plainly not the case. Christ
did not attempt anything; by His death He "obtained
eternal redemption" (9:12), not in theory but in fact. He died "so that
those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance"
(v.15). Who are these "who are called"? They are the "many" for whose
sin Christ was offered (v.28).
At issue here is not the
value but the efficacy of Christ's death. Did He in dying try to save
everyone? Did He in dying merely make salvation possible for everyone
equally? Was this His intent? If so, then in the end it was not His
death that secured our salvation. And if that is so, then His death was
not enough. This is why the Biblical writers emphasize so that in
dying, Jesus secured and accomplished
the salvation of His people. He did not die in hopes that someone
somewhere might make his way to somehow make His atonement efficacious.
Not at all. He died to save. He came to "save His people from
their sins" (Mt.1:21), and so He did. In His death the work that saves
was "finished" (Jn.19:30).
This is precisely why we
speak so confidently of our good standing before God in Christ. What
God demanded of us in terms of justice, the Lord Jesus did for us.
"Jesus Paid It All!" we sing, and for good reason. Even in heaven this
will be our song. "You were slain, and by Your blood You have redeemed
us to God" (Rev.5:9). Our assurance does not lie in anything less. We
do not suppose that He did so much and left something else to us. No,
we believe that He did enough all by Himself, and in this we take
refuge. Accordingly, our only glory is "in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Spurgeon again puts the
matter into right perspective.
"We are often told that we
limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made
a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply
to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it; we do not.
The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by
it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say,
'No, certainly not.' We ask them the next question -- Did Christ die so
as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer 'No.'
They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say 'No.
Christ has died that any man may be saved if . . .' -- and then follow
certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death
of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly
to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we
limit Christ's death; we say, 'no, my dear sir, it is you that do it.'
We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a
multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only
may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any
possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome
to your atonement, you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the
sake of it."
In short, our note of
praise -- now and forever -- is for God's particular, saving love. We
find no security, no joy at all, in a vague, general, impersonal love
spread out over all men equally. We find our highest joy in this:
although we were choosing hell, He chose us and rescued us by His
blood. He loved "the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph.5:25).
So our salvation was
accomplished for us at the cross. But how is it applied? And when?
Answer: when we are "called."
The Bible reveals to us
that it is just this which distinguishes Christians from the rest of
the world: we are people whom God has called (e.g., 1Cor.1:26). He has
not left us alone. He has "called us into the fellowship of His Son"
(1Cor.1:9). Having chosen us and having sent His Son to secure our
redemption, God did not then leave it to us to find our own way to Him.
He in grace called us to Christ.
This distinguishing grace,
of course, is evident, for example, in gospel meetings. Many refuse the
free offer of salvation in Christ, but some do not. And what is it that
explains the interest and willingness of these who believe? Is the
answer to be found in them? Are we to say that,
well, they are obviously better people! Or can we say that they are
more intelligent? Obviously, we would not say that. We instinctively
realize that the difference is one of grace (cf. 1Cor.4:7; 15:10).
In fact, this little
scenario is precisely the illustration the Apostle Paul uses in
1Cor.1:18-31. The message of the cross is "foolishness" to the world;
both Jews and Gentiles consider the idea of a "crucified savior" to be
self contradictory (v.23). But when this same message is preached to
"those who are the called," it is invariably received in faith, and
this by the power and wisdom of God (v.24). In His wisdom, God calls
those of His own choosing (vv.26-27), and this to keep from man any
room for self- congratulation (v.29).
It is for this reason that
we say God's saving grace is "irresistible." This does not mean that no
one rejects the gospel, obviously. Nor does it mean that God's elect
may not for a time resist. It plainly admits all of this. What is meant
by the term is that God's call is efficacious. That
is to say, when God calls a man into the fellowship of His Son
(1Cor.1:9), the call is not refused. And necessarily so: it is the
outworking of the eternal plan. We are "called according to
His purpose" (Rom.8:28; 2Tim.1:9). It is Jesus' chosen
"sheep" whom He calls, and when they hear, they come (Jn.10:3, 27).
This matter of the efficacy
of God's call is both assumed and argued over and again in the Bible.
For example, in Acts 2:39 Peter says that the promise of salvation is
to "as many as the Lord our God shall call." In Rom.8:28-30 divine
calling is one vital link in the outworking of God's eternal purpose.
Those who are "predestined" are the same ones who are "called"; and it
is these, in turn, who are "justified." In Paul's illustration of the
Potter and the clay, the ones whom God "calls" are identified as the
"vessels of mercy, which He before prepared unto glory" (Rom.9:23-24).
Calling is viewed as the means by which we are brought to Christ
(1Thes.2:12; 1Pet.2:9; 5:10; 2Pet.1:3). God's "call" is not his general
"invitation" to "whoever will." It is His specific and compelling
activity whereby His elect are brought into saving relationship to
This, by the way, explains
why the word becomes a sort of title for all of the redeemed. We are
"the called" (Rom.1:6; 8:28; Jude 1; Rev.17:14).
The Bible relates this same
idea in other language also. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of
Thy power" (Ps.110:3). "All" those whom the Father has "given" to the
Son "shall come" to Him (Jn.6:37). Not "some" and not "might" -- "all"
of them "shall come." And as a result, "none of them is lost" (v.39).
The call is effectual. Indeed, "No man can come to me except the Father
which sent me draw him (v.44), but "everyone" whom the Father draws and
teaches "comes to me" (v.45). There is no room for mistake here. God
works sovereignly and powerfully and without error. Not one of those
whom He calls will be lost.
Perhaps the best known
illustration of this is from the ministry of the apostle Paul in
Philippi. There he preached the gospel to a group of ladies at a prayer
meeting. But it was one Lydia who responded in faith. Why? Because "the
Lord opened her heart" (Acts 16:14). God's saving grace proved
irresistible simply because He worked in her heart so as to remove her
natural disposition to resist! She was "willing in the day of His
power" (Ps.110:3). God, as with the apostle Paul himself, had "shined
in her heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in
the face of Jesus Christ" (2Cor.4:6). He "worked in her both to will
and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil.2:13).
All this is not to say that
faith is unnecessary, to be sure! We must believe in order to be saved.
We are "justified by faith" (Rom.5:1). What this emphasizes, however,
is that this saving faith rises not from something from within us but
from the work of God (cf. Mat.16:17). We believe, yes, but only as a
direct result of God's mighty power at work within us (Eph.1:19) and
regenerating grace (1Jn.5:1).
Nor is this to say that we
should not offer the gospel to "whoever will." God's special, effectual
call is simply His response to a world who had already said "No!" to
this general offer. Our natural disposition is to resist and reject the
gospel offer. "None seek after God" (Rom.3:11). There would be no
salvation at all if God were to leave us alone. So in mighty,
conquering grace He works within us so as to bring us to faith in His
Son. And this call we ourselves found irresistible. We suddenly found
ourselves desperately in love with Christ and running to Him. The call,
we have found, was effective. And for that we are glad..
This is precisely the
testimony of the apostle Paul (2Cor.4:6; cf. Acts 9:1-6), and this is
the testimony of every true believer. We do not suppose that we are
saved because we . . . anything. We all recognize that we are saved
because God has been graciously at work. "Twas grace that taught my
heart to fear," we sing, because we understand that until God so moved
in us there was no fear at all. "Thou hast made us willing, Thou hast
made us free!" "By thy love constraining, By thy grace divine!" These
are songs we sing in worship to express our grateful praise to God for
His distinguishing and compelling grace made effective in our own
lives. We have learned that our glorying is only in the Lord
The Perseverance of the
Now then, if God has done
all this for us, could we ever again become lost? Is it possible that
God would include us in His eternal, redeeming plan and then allow us
to be condemned?
The question answers
itself. "He Who calls us is faithful" and He will surely bring us to
final glorification (1Thes.5:23-24). Having begun this work in us, He
will certainly finish it (Phil.1:6). This is His work of redemption,
and He will not fail (Jn.6:37-39). To accomplish the final salvation of
all of God's elect is precisely the mission on which the Lord Jesus
came (Jn.6:38-39). His death on the cross "perfected them forever"
(Heb.10:14). All of Christ's sheep are safe forever in His hand, and,
further, in the Father's hand (Jn.10:27-29). "They shall never perish"
"But," someone might
object, "isn't the enemy more powerful than the sheep?" Yes, he is. But
he is not more powerful than the Shepherd, and they are safe in His
hand. "They shall never perish." "But might they not sin?" Yes, they
very obviously will. But they will not sin so as to bring themselves
into condemnation. The Shepherd will bring them back. "They will never
perish." Not ever.
Moreover, God has justified
them; and if He has justified them, who can say otherwise (Rom.8:33)?
Is there anyone who can overrule Him? Still more, there is precisely
nothing which could ever remove God's elect from the saving love of
Christ. Nothing. No one. Not now, not ever (Rom.8:35- 39).
Indeed, it would be wrong
for them to perish! Christ has satisfied the demands of justice for
them. He was condemned in their place so that they would never have to
face it themselves (Rom.8:34). "There is no condemnation now in Christ
Further, to bring them to
hell would be to frustrate the divine purpose (Rom.8:29). All of those
who have been justified must experience glorification (Rom.8:29-30).2 The
eternal safe keeping of the elect of God rests on nothing less than
God's decree. This is something "promised" to them "before the world
began"; and this promise God must keep, for He "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2).
This safety is not due to
the power or even the faithfulness of the sheep. No. This is God's work
of salvation. They remain in the faith, to be sure! But it is here they
are "kept by the power of God" (1Pet.1:3-5).
In fact, it is absurd to
think otherwise. If God did all that He did for us "while we were
enemies," can we imagine that he would do less for us now that we have
been made his friends (Rom.5:10)? The very idea is ludicrous.
The whole focus in all
these doctrines is that God has set Himself for us, and "If God is for
us, who can be against us" (Rom.8:31)? He has set out to bring us, His
chosen ones, to glory. Christ came to secure our "eternal redemption"
(Heb.9:12). Our Lord's prayer for us, that we would all be brought to
glory (Jn.17:11, 15, 24), will surely be answered. We are safe, not for
what we have done, but for what God has done for us.
The question, then, is not
whether we might sin. The question is whether God's grace is sufficient
to keep us even though we sin. Happily, "Where sin abounded, grace much
more abounded" (Rom.5:20). If it were otherwise, we would all perish.
It is further a question of
God's power. Can He keep us in faith? Indeed He can (1Pet.1:3-5). Can
He keep us from sin such that would cause us to fall away entirely? Of
course. He is well "able to keep you from falling, and to present you
faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude
Yes, all of God's elect
will persevere to the end, and we will then stand not as testimonies to
our own strength or goodness, but as monuments of God's great grace
made effective in us. And realizing this, the rewards He then gives us
we will throw back at His feet in glad and insistent affirmation that
"He alone is worthy" (Rev.4:10-11).
1) It has been rightly
observed from this passage that any doctrine of election which is not
liable to the popular criticism of "injustice" is manifestly not
Pauline. Paul's doctrine was open to that criticism, and so he
anticipates it. Modern doctrines of election which do not have Paul's
problem are, then, not Paul's doctrine.
2) Notice the past tense:
"glorified." So certain is our final salvation, that it may be said to
be already done.
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