The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
(8.) The inhabitants of heaven seem to believe that there is a certain connexion between repentance and salvation.
Luk_15:7 : “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.”
Now surely this joy is premature, unless they expect the penitent to be saved. If, after all, there is an uncertainty about the result, in their estimation, and if it may be, or there is a probability, that the penitent will fall, and suffer a vastly more aggravated damnation than if he had never been enlightened, one would think that they would at least suspend their triumph until the result was known. To be sure they might rejoice, if the sinner broke off temporarily from his sin, and rejoice at the bare prospect of his salvation; but to me this passage reads just as it might be expected to read, if they regarded repentance as certainly connected with ultimate salvation.
Again: there are several parables that seem to take the perseverance of the saints for granted, or to assume its truth. The one immediately preceding the verse upon which I have just remarked is one of them.
Luk_15:3-7 : “And he spake this parable unto them, saying: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.”
Now, why this joy at the return of a strayed or lost sheep, if there is no certainty, or scarcely any probability, that he will not stray again, and be finally lost with an aggravated destruction? Immediately following this is another parable of the same import.
Luk_15:8-10 : “Either what woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found that which was lost. Likewise, I say unto you, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
Here again it may be asked, why this great joy at finding the sinner, unless his conversion is to result in his salvation?
I do not quote these passages as proving the doctrine in question, but only as specimens of the class of passages that seem to assume the truth of the doctrine, and as being just what might be expected, if the doctrine is true, and just what might not be expected if the doctrine is not true.
To this it may be, and has been replied, that there are many passages that are just what we could not expect, if the perseverance of the saints were true. The following are relied upon as examples of this class:–
Heb_6:1-6 : “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God; Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost; And have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
Eze_18:24 : “But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.”
Eze_33:13 : “When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.”
Mat_10:22 : “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”
Joh_15:6 : “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
1Co_10:12 : “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
Heb_3:6, Heb_3:12-14 : “But Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house we are, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. 12. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.”
Heb_4:1, Heb_4:11 : “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 11. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
2Pe_1:10 : “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if we do these things, ye shall never fall.”
In reply to this objection I remark, that instead of these passages being otherwise than might be expected if the doctrine in question were true, and therefore implying that the doctrine is not true, they are precisely what might be expected, if the doctrine as I have stated it, were true. If the certainty be but a moral certainty, even when the fact of conversion is settled beyond all doubt, or possibility of mistake, if the final salvation of the truly regenerate be as really conditioned upon perseverance as if there was no certainty about it; and if, moreover, the fact of conversion is seldom settled in this life beyond the possibility of mistake, then these passages, instead of implying any real uncertainty in regard to the final salvation of the saints, are just as and what might be expected, because they are just what is needed, upon the supposition, that the doctrine in question is true. They do not affirm that any true saints are, or will be, lost. They do imply the natural possibility, and, humanly speaking, the danger of such an event. They further imply, that without watchfulness and perseverance salvation is impossible. They also imply, that caution, warning, and threatening, are needed. They also imply, that some men, to say the least, are not certain of their own salvation, and that they do not certainly know that they are saints, beyond all possibility of mistake.
Now, these things that are fairly implied in this class of passages are really true: hence these passages just meet the necessities of the church, and are therefore just what might be expected when all the facts in the case are considered. I do not intend that this class of passages imply the truth of the doctrine under consideration, but that they are consistent with it, and might be expected, if the doctrine, as I have stated it, be true.
(9.) Regeneration is represented as securing perseverance in obedience:–
First, In those passages that make it the condition of salvation.
Secondly, In those passages that expressly affirm, that the truly regenerated do not, and cannot, live in sin.
1Jo_3:9 : “Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
1Jo_4:7 : “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”
1Jo_5:1, 1Jo_5:4, 1Jo_5:18 : “Whoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten of him. 4. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 18. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
These and similar passages expressly teach the persevering nature of true religion, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: in other words, they teach that the truly regenerate do not sin, in the sense at least of living in anything like habitual sin. They teach, that with all truly regenerate souls, holiness is at least the rule, and sin only the exception; that instead of its being true, that regenerate souls live a great majority of their days subsequent to regeneration in sin, it is true that they so seldom sin, that in strong language it may be said in truth, they do not sin. This language so strongly and expressly teaches that perseverance is an unfailing attribute of Christian character, that but for the fact that other passages constrain us to understand these passages as strong language used in a qualified sense, we should naturally understand them as affirming that no truly regenerate soul does at any time sin. But since it is a sound rule of interpreting the language of an author, that he is, if possible, to be made consistent with himself; and since John, in other passages in this same epistle and elsewhere, represents that Christians, or truly regenerate persons, do sometimes sin; and since this is frequently taught in the Bible, we must understand these passages just quoted as only affirming a general and not a universal truth; that is, that truly regenerate persons do not sin anything like habitually, but that holiness is the rule with them, and sin only the exception. Certainly these passages cannot be reasonably understood as affirming and meaning less than this. I know that it has been said, that being born of God is used by John in these cases in a higher sense, and as meaning more than simple conversion or regeneration, as representing a higher state than can be predicated of all true Christians. But observe, he especially affirms that all who truly believe are born of God.
1Jo_5:1 : “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.”
Again: Christ speaks as if he regarded those only as having truly believed who persevere in obedience. Joh_8:31 : “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” The parable of the sower appears to have been designed expressly to teach the persevering nature of true religion.
Luk_8:5-8, Luk_8:11-15 : “A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. 6. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. 7. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. 8. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bear fruit a hundred fold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. 11. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. 14. And that which fell among thorns are they, which when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. 15. But that on the good ground are they, which, in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
If this parable was not designed to distinguish true religion from its counterfeits, and to illustrate the persevering nature of true religion, I do not know, and cannot conceive, what was its design. I need not enlarge upon it. Let any one read and consider the parable for himself.
Again: the parable of the leaven seems designed also to teach the progressive and persevering nature of true religion.
Mat_13:33 : “Another parable spake he unto them: the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”
This parable I understand to represent or teach the aggressive nature of true faith and piety, as it exhibits itself both in the hearts and lives of individual Christians, and also as it progresses and extends itself in the world. It is in its nature persevering and aggressive, and when it once truly exists, it will through grace triumph. When I speak of the persevering nature of true religion, I do not mean, that religion as it exists in the hearts of the saints in this life would of itself, if unsupported by the grace and indwelling Spirit of God, prevail and triumph over its enemies; but the thing intended is, that through the faithfulness of God, he that has begun or shall begin a good work in any heart, will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ. The persevering character of true religion is owing to the indwelling Spirit of God. This leads me to remark,
Again, that repentance is made the condition of receiving the Holy Spirit; and when this Spirit is received, it is with the express promise and pledge that he shall abide in the heart for ever.
Joh_7:37-39 : “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”)
Here we learn that water represents the Holy Spirit. This is abundantly taught in the Bible. Now let us hear what Christ said to the woman of Samaria.
Joh_4:13-14 : “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
The prominent truth taught in this text is, that whosoever shall drink of this water shall never thirst. In this particular respect the Saviour contrasts it with the water of Jacob’s well, and says, Joh_4:13-14 : “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” This Christ plainly states as a fact.
That is, he shall never perish for lack of this Spirit or water, but it shall abide in him, and spring up into eternal life. The Spirit shall remain in him, and secure him against falling and perishing. The fact that the Spirit shall abide with and in all who ever receive him, and shall prevail to secure their salvation, seems to be plainly taught in this passage.
Again, Rom_8:9-11 : “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
Here it is expressly declared, that none are Christians who have not the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ, and that they who are Christ’s do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit; that they who are Christ’s have crucified, that is killed, the lusts of the flesh. This is the real character of all true saints. Such like passages, observe, are designed to distinguish true religion from its counterfeits, and to teach that perseverance in true obedience is a characteristic of all real saints.
The Bible everywhere represents professors who do not persevere and abide steadfast, as hypocrites, or as self-deceived. Job says:
Job_27:8-10 : “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?”
Here he represents the failing to “always call upon God” as a demonstration of hypocrisy. Christ expressly represents perseverance as the characteristic of true believers. “My sheep hear my voice and follow me.” This must relate at least to habitual character.
(10.) Christ represents it as impossible to deceive the elect. Mat_24:24 : We have seen that the elect unto salvation includes all true Christians; that is, that all Christians are the elect children of God. They have come to Christ. Observe, the Saviour himself teaches, as we have seen:
(i.) That no one can come to, or believe in him, unless the Father draw him.
(ii.) That the Father draws those, and only those to Christ, whom he has given to him.
(iii.) That all whom the Father has given to him shall come to him, and of those that come to him he will lose none, but will raise them up at the last day.
Joh_6:44-45, Joh_6:37-40 : “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. 37. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 38. For I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 39. And this is the father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
False theories are represented as permitted to test the piety of true and false professors. 1Co_11:19 : “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” Those that are of the elect, or are true children of God, will not follow heresies. Christ says, Joh_10:4-5, Joh_10:27-28 : “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep will follow him; for they know his voice. 5. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”
But those who are not true believers will not, and do not hear and know his voice, and follow him. Joh_10:26 : “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.”
(11.) The eighth chapter of Romans seems to settle the question, or rather is, of itself a clear proof of the doctrine we are examining. We need to read and ponder prayerfully the whole chapter, to apprehend distinctly the scope of the apostle’s teaching upon this subject. He had in the seventh chapter been dwelling upon and portraying a legal experience. He begins this eighth chapter by asserting, Rom. 8:1-18 : “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; 4. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. 5. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life, because of righteousness. 11. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. 12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18. For I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Here he describes the character of true believers as distinguished from mere legalists, of whom he had been speaking. True believers, he here asserts, are justified; they are in Christ Jesus; they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them, that is, the law is written in their hearts; they have the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of adoption; the Spirit witnesses with their spirit that they are the adopted children of God; “If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ;” the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in them. Rom_8:24, he says: “For we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen, is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?”
He then proceeds to notice the ground of this hope. The first particular he notices is, that the Spirit which he had just said, dwells in all true believers; and of which, as we have seen Christ says, that when he is once given, the soul that has received him shall never thirst, but that he shall be in him like a well of water springing up into everlasting life. Paul says of this Spirit, Rom_8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” This, observe, he affirms to be true of all who are Christ’s, or who are true believers. Of this Spirit he affirms the following things: (1.) That all Christians possess this Spirit. (2.) That this Spirit bears witness with the spirits of Christians that they are the children of God. Rom_8:16, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (3.) That he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God; that is, that he prays in them or excites them to pray, and to pray aright, for those things which it is the will of God to grant to them. He then in Rom_8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Here he represents those who love God, and those who are the called according to his purpose, as the same persons; and affirms, that we know that all things shall work together for their good. This he notices as a second ground of hope. He next proceeds to state, how we know that all things work together for the good of those that love God; or, which he regards as the same thing, to those who are the elect, called according to the election or purpose of God. He says, Rom_8:29, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren:” that is, we know it, because they are predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. Not if they will be, but to be, and therefore, all things must directly or indirectly contribute to this result. He then says, “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.” That is, furthermore, we know this, and have good ground of hope from the fact, that whom he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, them, that is the same persons, he also called; and whom, that is, the same persons whom he had predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, and had called, them he also justified; and whom he predestinated, and called, and justified, them, that is, the same persons, he also glorified.
Here then, he concludes, is a firm foundation for the hope of which he had spoken, the grounds of which he had been pointing out. He accordingly proceeds to say in a spirit of triumph:–
Rom_8:31-34 : “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”
Here he says, “if God be for us, who can be, against us?” and then proceeds to point out several other considerations that enter into this ground of confidence. All who love God are his elect. God justifies them, and who is he that condemns them? God is for them, and who shall be against them? God freely gave his Son for all of them, how much more shall he freely give them all things? If he did not withhold his Son, surely he would withhold nothing else from them that was necessary to secure their salvation. Furthermore, it was Christ that died, and still more and rather, that had risen again, and maketh intercession for them. If these things are so, we may well inquire:–
Rom_8:35-36 : “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.)”
He then triumphantly affirms, Rom_8:37-39 : “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If Paul in the eighth of Romans does not settle the question, that all true saints will be saved, how could it be settled? Let us in few words sum up the argument, as he here presents it:–
(i.) We are saved already in anticipation, or in hope; and only by hope, for as yet we have not received our crown.
(ii.) The grounds of this hope are, that we are in Christ Jesus, have the spirit of Christ, spirit of adoption. We walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. This spirit witnesses that we are children and heirs of God. He makes intercession for us according to the will of God. We also know, that all things work together for good to them who love God, for they are the called according to his purpose. They who are called, that is, effectually called, are called in conformity with their predestination to be conformed to the image of the Son of God. Hence those who are thus predestinated are called, and justified, and glorified. Therefore, no one can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect. God justifies, and who shall condemn them? Christ died for them, yea, rather, has risen and makes intercession for them. God withheld not his Son, and of course will withhold from Christians nothing that is essential to secure their salvation. Wherefore he concludes, that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God.
I know that to this it has been replied, that although nothing else can separate us from the love of God, yet we may separate ourselves from his love.
To this I answer, true; we may, or can do so; but the question is, shall we, or will any of the elected and called do so? No, indeed; for this is the thing which the apostle intended to affirm, namely, the certainty of the salvation of all true saints. The apostle manifestly in this passage assumes, or affirms, that all who ever truly loved God are elect, or are chosen to be conformed to the image of his Son; and are called, and sanctified, and justified, in conformity with such predestination.
If this is not his meaning, what is? If this is not his meaning, what ground of hope do we, after all, find in what he says?
The apostle seems to have had the same thought in his mind in writing to the Hebrews.
Heb_6:17-20 : “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us; Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high-priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec.”
There are a great many other passages of scripture, of the same import as those I have quoted in support of this doctrine, as every one knows who has taken the trouble to examine for himself.
But I have pursued this investigation far enough. If what has been said fails to satisfy any mind, it is presumed that nothing which might be added would produce conviction. I will therefore, after replying to some further objections, conclude the discussion of this subject.