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TEXT: I Peter 1:3
SUBJECT: Watson on the Perseverance of the Saints #4
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll move on in our study of Thomas Watson on the Perseverance of the Saints.
The Bible teaches that believers-in-Christ cannot lose their salvation. On this point, most conservative Christians agree, but many of them present the doctrine quite poorly. To their way of thinking, salvation is like a heavenly bank account that we cannot get to or squander in this life. Thus, no matter how we live in this world, we've still got a fortune in heaven. This is sometimes called the security of the believer or once-saved-always saved.
Now, I agree that the believer is secure and that if a man is saved once he will be saved always. But this way of putting it is dangerously misleading. For salvation is not a heavenly bank account, it's a life in union with Christ! We enter that union in this world, and because the union cannot be broken, we stay in it forever. This fellowship with the Lord produces holiness-in this life, the holiness is partial-in the life to come, it is complete. Thus, the man who does not follow after holiness in this world, will not have in the next world.
Maybe we ought to rephrase the old saying: Once really saved, always saved. Professing faith is good, but it is not enough. Believers in Christ must endure to the end if we want to be saved. And those who are saved will endure to the end because.
"We are kept by the power of God through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time".
"He who has begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ".
"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his ways. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand".
This is what our study is about. The Puritans call it the doctrine.
Having stated it with great clarity, Watson goes on to prove it. How do we know that all believers will stay with Christ and be saved in the end? The Puritan gives six reasons to support the doctrine: (1) the truthfulness of God-the Lord has said He will keep us and so He will; (2) the power of God-He not only says He will keep us, but He's got the eternal strength to do it; (3) the electing love of God-if the Lord has chosen us for salvation we must be saved; (4) union with Christ-if being saved means being connected to Christ, then the saved can no more be lost that Christ can be lost; (5) the nature of a purchase-Jesus Christ bought us with His own blood and He won't be cheated; (6) the believer's victory over the world-if faith overcomes the world, then it perseveres.
I find these arguments quite satisfying. If God chose me, if Christ died for me, if the Spirit indwells me, if the Gospel is true then I cannot be lost-there's no chance of it. None whatsoever.
But not all believers see it this way. Many of them study with great care and sincerely want to know the truth. In fact, their doubts come from the Word itself. They read the same Bible we do, and they find verses that teach the believer can fall from grace and be lost. The great John and Charles Wesley believed this, for example; and so did the man I love so much, C.S. Lewis. The disagreement, therefore, is not about intelligence, sincerity or authority. It's about interpretation.
Thomas Watson died a few years before the Wesleys were born and he was more than 200 years older than Lewis, but their kind of thinking was common in his day: it dominated Roman Catholicism and strongly influenced the Church of England. Watson calls it Arminianism. And he's right: in it classic form, it denies the perseverance of the saints; it teaches that sinners once saved may so neglect the ways of God that they will lose their salvation and go to hell when they die.
Unlike some Calvinists, I do not believe that Arminianism is heresy; I believe it is a mistake-it is not a rejection of the Bible, but a misreading of it. And yet, even sincere mistakes have hurtful consequences. This one disturbs the believer's peace of mind and tends to promote legalism, pride, and despair. Notice the word--tends--to promote these things. It doesn't always do it, thankfully, but these things are logical results of this kind of thinking.
Many books have been written to prove that believers can fall from grace. But they can be pretty well summed up under two heads, both of which Watson answers-and I think pretty well.
EXAMPLES IN THE BIBLE
First, we have the examples of men who fall from grace in the Bible. Think of King Saul, Judas Iscariot, and Demas in particular. The king got a new heart from the Lord and-for a time, served his nation well. Judas was a trusted Apostle and friend of Jesus Christ-so trusted that he was given the money bag and no one suspected it was he who would betray the Lord. Demas was Paul's partner in ministry; he's mentioned in a good light near the end of Colossians and Philemon, but, in II Timothy 4:10, he is said to have
"Forsaken [Paul] because he loved this present world".
Paul does not give him the benefit of the doubt: he does not expect his old friend to come to his senses and get back to work for the Lord. No, in his Demas' departure, Paul saw a man in love with the world, which means
"The love of the Father is not in him".
These men are in the Bible. They had a fine profession of faith and did far more for Christ than most others, and yet they went to hell when they died. They were not alone: the Lord speaks of many others who were like them, cf. Matthew 7:21.
How do we explain them? Were they saved men who became lost? Did they sin away the Holy Spirit? Did they so neglect the things of God that the Lord forsook them? What do we do with Judas, Demas, Saul, and the others?
Watson knows what to do with them!
"They were hypocrites. The Scripture shows how far hypocrites may go and yet fall away. Men may have great illuminations and yet fall away. Was not Judas enlightened? Men may have the common gifts of the Spirit and not special grace. They may have a taste of religion, but a taste does not nourish. They may have some apprehensions of the glory of heaven and be affected by it, but fall away, as the parable of the stony ground shows. All this is spoken of the hypocrite, but it does not prove that the true believer, who is effectually wrought upon, can fall away. Though meteors fall, it does not follow that stars fall".
The fact is, the Bible never says these men were saved. Saul's new heart was not the heart of a saint, but of a lion. It enabled the man, so timid by nature, to fight the battles of the Lord and to save His people from the Philistines. We must not read into the Bible what is not there. We mustn't put our theology into the stories of the Bible-especially the Old Testament stories which often use words like the elect, the chosen, the redeemed, God's People, and so on in ways that have nothing to do with eternal life!
Judas was a disciple of Christ-there's no doubt about that-but many verses indicate than not all outward disciples were disciples on the inside. He was also a friend of the Lord's-but the friendship was one-sided. John 6 plainly teaches that Judas was also a devil-long before he made his fatal choice. And the story of the anointing at Bethany makes it clear that Judas was always a thief. Thus, he did not fall from grace; he never had grace!
The story of Demas is too short and sketchy to make a doctrine out of it.
As for those who "prophesied in [Christ's] Name, cast out demons and did many wonderful works", the Lord says He "never knew [them]". It wasn't that they did these great things when they were young, but gave them up later. No, it seems they were doing these things their whole life, but no one has ever been saved by preaching or performing miracles!
At the end of his paragraph, Watson gives a fine illustration:
"Though meteors fall, it does not follow that true stars fall".
The fact that meteors fall to earth does not mean that stars do. Students of logic call this a non sequitor, that is, one does not follow from the other. And neither does the falling away of hypocrites prove true Christians can also fall away!
To say, Judas fell and therefore Christians may fall makes no more sense than this splendid argument:
This is a common argument and was used by good men like John Wesley, but it's poor reasoning and worse theology. The second argument is far stronger.
THE WARNING PASSAGES
It is based on the so-called warning passages of the Bible, especially the scary ones found in Hebrews chapters 6 and 10. Watson says,
"If a believer shall persevere in grace, to what purpose are the warnings in Scripture, such as `Let him take heed lest he fall' (I Corinthians 10:12); and `Let us fear, lest any of you seem to come short' (Hebrews 4:1). Such warnings seem to be unnecessary if the saint shall certainly persevere".
If the believer cannot possibly fall from grace, why does God warn him so often of the danger of falling from grace? If the danger is unreal, why are the warnings so real, so urgent, and so often repeated? Would a man in Kansas warn his son over and over again to stay away from the ocean? Of course not-for the boy cannot possibly fall into the ocean from where he is. And, if the believer cannot possibly fall from grace, why does the Bible warn him not to-and threaten him if he does?
The answer is a lot easier than it seems. Watson says,
"These admonitions are necessary to caution believers against carelessness; they are as spurs to quicken them to greater diligence in working out their salvation. They do not imply the saints can fall away, but are preservatives to keep them from falling away".
Arminianism says that the warning passages prove that believers can fall away and be lost, but Watson replies that they are the very things God uses to keep believers from falling away and being lost. In other words, perseverance does not rest on a miracle, but on the means of grace, blessed by God and used by His people.
Shortly after the Flood, God blessed the earth and promised that it would never fail the human race; it would always produce the food we must have. But the promise-though certain-does not mean the farmer can lie in bed all day watching TV and still have plenty to eat! No, for the same God tells him to work and that by the sweat of his face he will till the ground and grow the food he must have. If he doesn't work, he will starve.
In the same way, God promises eternal life to everyone who believes. But He doesn't say believe one time and then do whatever you please, and you'll still go to heaven. There's nothing like this in the Bible. He tells us that we are safe in Christ and that we must resist the devil, follow after holiness, and so on. Looked at from below, these are the very means God uses to keep us safe in Christ.
In summary: believers-in-Christ will persevere in the faith and be saved: "Not one of all the chosen race, but shall to heaven obtain". But we are not passive in our perseverance-sitting by while God keeps us by His power. We are active in faith, in obedience, in prayer, in repentance. These things-by themselves do not save-but God uses them to save us. All glory goes to Him.
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