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The Doctrine of Salvation 10

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The Doctrine of Salvation 10(cid:9)

Transcript of Class by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

Shall we pray, dear ones? Dear Father, we thank you for the beautiful day, and we thank you for light, and sun, and heat. Thank you Father, that you’ve provided all the conditions for physical growth around us, and so we can be assured that you have provided all the conditions for spiritual growth. Therefore Father, we would thank you for things like the trials in our lives, and the burdens, and the difficulties. And we would thank you for the times you take us by green pastures and still waters, the times that are happy and joyful. And Father, we thank you that you have planted around us everything we need to conform us to the image of Jesus our Savior. So we thank you Lord, that we have everything here for our physical and spiritual growth and all you ask us to do is avail ourselves of all of them — so, we would do that.

We thank you for this opportunity to breathe in your Spirit this afternoon. Thank you Holy Spirit, that we can breathe you in by faith this afternoon. We can receive you as life that we cannot see or cannot touch, or smell, and yet believe that you’re coming into us and fillings us even more as we’re talking. And Holy Spirit, that you are bringing to us the life of Jesus miraculously. And oh, we thank you for that. Thank you that as we walk in faith, and breathe you in, in prayer so we begin to grow stronger ourselves. And then we thank you for that good meat that we can chew on that we find in your word, and we thank you for good food our Father. We thank you that as we breathe in your Spirit, and as we eat the food in your word, we ourselves grow up into the fullness of the stature of Jesus. So we trust you our Father, for a good half hour together this afternoon. Thank you for all the times we’ve had together. Thank you Lord, for the way you’ve made things more vivid in our own understandings. We trust you now by your Holy Spirit, to make you more vivid in our lives to others. We ask this for your sake. Amen.

Dear ones, if you look at the assignment sheet, you’ll see that we’re on the subject of the perseverance of the saints. And because it is, it obviously will provide some interesting discussion. I think that there might be advantages in staying with our own textbook here that we all have — but it’s the perseverance of the saints. I can, if you like, read Berhkof’s statement of it in his larger book – since it does point out that it’s the very thing that I think Don or we brought up one time you know, eternal security. And that’s really what you’re talking about. Now I’ll try to read it slowly in Berkhof’s larger book, but it is on page 145 in the shorter text book. Then we can get down to going back and forward on it in discussion.

He says, “The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is to the effect that they whom God has generated and effectually called to a state of grace, can neither totally nor finally fall away from that state, but shall certainly persevere there into the end, and be eternally saved.” So I think maybe you ought to get clear in your mind that the perseverance of the saints as stated by a Calvinist like Berkhof means that those who have been regenerated truly will continue in that regenerated life until they meet Jesus face-to-face. Even if they appear to fall into sin, they may fall into sin even temporarily, but they will never be lost, they will always come back, you see, to Jesus. And those of course, who have fallen away would be regarded as not truly regenerated people.

I think it’s very important as I begin this, since I am the one that’s teaching the class and therefore has a certain initiative in the thing, I think it’s very important for us to see that obviously, this is a doctrine where there are great truths on either side. It seems to me to

behoove us this afternoon not to say, “Oh, now Don, you’re wrong for believing eternal security,” or, “You’re wrong, Kathy, for believing and I’m right for believing,” or vice versa — but really, to find out what truths underneath those crude doctrines that we have, what truths God is trying to get over to us. But, I just want to give completely the statement so that we understand it from his viewpoint.

I won’t read what he says about Augustine because I don’t think it’s too helpful. It just confuses a little. But let me go on to, “The church of Rome with its semi pelagianism,” and you remember that was the idea that Pelagius taught that you could save yourself by your own boot straps, but in reality what was also emphasized by the people who were called pelagians or semi pelagians was the right of a man to use his free will to reject God. And that would be the big difference, it seems to me, between those who emphasize a Calvinist approach and those who would emphasize and Arminian approach. One would emphasize strongly the sovereignty of God. The other would emphasize strongly the free will of man.

Now note loved ones, I point it out – I say it that way, I’m not saying the Calvinist is wrong for emphasizing the sovereignty of God. I just say that down through theology that has been the distinction. The Calvinist has emphasized the sovereignty of God. The Arminians has emphasized the free will of man. Now then, you have got Calvinists that are extreme and make the sovereignty of God the only thing that matters. Similarly, you get Arminians that emphasize that free will is the only thing that matters. What we have to find is the midway stage. “But the Church of Rome with its semi pelagianism, including the doctrine of free will denied the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and made their perseverance depending on the uncertain obedience of man.”

Now you can see that “uncertain” is an emotive word, but it’s the word that he uses, “Depending on the uncertain obedience of man. The reformers restored this doctrine to its rightful place. The Lutheran Church however, makes it uncertain again by making it contingent on man’s continued activity of faith, and by assuming that true believers can fall completely from grace. It is only in the Calvinistic churches that the doctrine is maintained in a form in which it affords absolute assurance.” So I’ll just point out some of the important things that he is saying there. Berkhof is always afraid of any that will over stress man’s free will, or will over emphasize the fact that God’s activity is conditional upon man’s obedience. He will often emphasize that man has to cooperate in what God has done, but that’s about as far as he will go in this business of allowing that man’s activity can affect what God wishes to do.

That’s of course what he’s guarding against. What he’s guarding is the sovereignty of God. He’s saying, “If one little man can look up to God and say, ‘I am not going to do that, even if you want me to.’” Then Berkhof will always say, “That is beginning to diminish the sovereignty of God”. Whereas I suppose I’m a kind of Wesleyan Arminian, but whatever I am, from my angle I would tend to say yes, a puny little man can prevent God having his will in the world.

Now that’s something of the discussion. I’ll just quote Berkhof, even though you know that he’s a wee bit unfair I think to the people on the opposite side at times, as I’m sure I would be to him. “The Arminians rejected this view and made the perseverance of believers dependent on their will to believe and on their good works.” Now of course, I would fall out with him over good works, but certainly I’d agree they would make the perseverance of believer’s dependent on their will to believe. Arminius himself avoided that extreme but his followers did not hesitate to maintain their synergistic position with all his consequences. Synergistic is two things working together, man’s free will and God’s will.

So that’s the kind of statement, loved ones, and I think that kind of states it. Now if you’d like, go to page 145 you could see it in his actual wording there — it’s about maybe at the bottom of that space where “perseverance of saints” is. It’s about seven lines down from the beginning of the paragraph. “Perseverance may be defined,” and then you see the italics, “As that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit and the believer by which the work of divine grace that has begun in the heart is continued and brought to completion.” So it’s the operation of the Holy Spirit, you see. We often look as perseverance of the saints, “Oh well, don’t you mean the saints are just going to persevere and they have to persevere otherwise they won’t be saved?” No, as defined by a Calvinist, perseverance of the saints means the perseverance of the Holy Spirit in the person in whom he’s brought about regeneration.

“This doctrine is clearly taught in scripture.” Then he gives the references. “And it is only when we believe in this perseverance of God that we can, in this life, attain to the assurance of salvation,” gives the references. “Outside of reformed circles, this doctrine finds no favor. It is said to be contradicted by scripture which warns against apostasy,” — those references. “Exhorts believers to continue in the way of salvation,” — those references. Why warn them if they’re not going to fall away anyway? “And even records cases of apostasy,” and then those references.

Now his explanation, “Such warnings and exhortations would seem to assume the possibility of falling way and such cases would seem to prove it completely. But as a matter of fact,” — and this is I think the position that maybe those of us would hold to eternal security would have to stand on in regard to these verses — “But as a matter of fact, the warnings and exhortations prove only that God works mediately and wants man to cooperate in the work of perseverance.”

Now to help you a little so that you won’t just say, “Oh he’s just using words there, ‘by working mediately’ he means that the Holy Spirit is only able to persevere in the saints as long as the preachers give the warnings that are given in scripture. So you see, he kind of says, much as you remember he would say -– we would say to him, “Well listen, if God has set apart certain people to be saved, and certain people to be lost, why bother preaching? Aren’t they going to come anyway?” Well he would say, “Yes, but God has determined that this will come about anyway, but it will come about through the preachers preaching.” So he would say, strictly speaking, there’s no need for the preachers to preach. The people would come anyway but preaching is part of God’s predestined plan as well.

Now this is what he’d say in regard to the warnings where I would come to Don and say, “Now why these warnings in scripture about falling away, if there’s no chance to fall away?” Well, I don’t know how Don would answer but here’s Berkhof answering one particular way. He would say, “Well they wouldn’t fall away anyway, but God has ordained that people will give these warnings. This is part of God’s plan, and he works mediately. He works through these warnings to ensure that the Christian will never fall away.”

So it’s important for us to see it. I feel especially I need to sell the thing because obviously some of us do accept eternal security here and I find myself not doing it, so I want to be fair and sell the thing as strongly as I can. I think that that’s what he would say. The warnings are there because it’s through those warnings that God ensures that nobody does fall away. Whereas, I will come around from my angle and I’d say, “Oh no, now well, wait a minute. Why warn if there’s no chance of falling away?” Well he will say, “Oh well there is no chance of falling away — but

there’s no chance of falling away because of these warnings.” I think that’s what he’d say. So God works mediately and wants man to cooperate in the work of perseverance. There is no proof that the Apostates mentioned were ill believers.

Now loved ones, I think I should kind of stop talking and open it out a little, and maybe what we need to do is look at some of the verses. I can I think, quote them pretty easily because in his full text he gives the words. Let me quote some to you and then we can look them up individually if we need to. Here are some of the verses that would argue for eternal security or the perseverance of the saints. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never parish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who hath given them unto me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [John 10:27-28] Now that’s one of the verses.

Now I can come back on it. I don’t know whether this is an answer to that verse. I frankly, think we’re faced with something that’s almost as deep as predestination. There’s some truth in it and there’s something that’s difficult. But I think Jesus wants to get something through to us personally in this. I of course, would tend to answer, “That’s right. No one will snatch them out of God’s hand. Satan cannot as long as they’re willing to stay in God’s hand. But, I mean anybody can come back at me and say, “Oh my brother, your reading in there. It doesn’t say, ‘As long as they’re willing to stay in my hand.’”

But, alright. Let me go through some of the other verses because some of them I think are strong. Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the call of God are not repented of.” And so one who believes in the perseverance of the saints would say, “Now there, if God gives the gift of eternal life to someone, God cannot repent of that. He cannot change his mind about that. He cannot withdrawal that.” Now I don’t think it’s fair of me to answer each one because that’s stacking the deck, so I’m not going to. I just want to quote these verses and then throw it open to you.

And here’s Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing that he who began a good work in you will perfect it onto the day of Jesus Christ.” I should put the references down so that you can get them, though I think he has them, loved ones. If you look at 145 and you see under the italics, “This doctrine is clearly taught in scripture.” Now the first reference it gives is John 10:28 there and that’s, “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.” Romans 11:29, “The gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.” Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.” So there is, you see, being confident that if he’s begun it he’ll perfect it.

2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful who shall establish you and guard you from evil one.” You see, God will guard you, will keep you from the evil one. 2 Timothy 1:12, “For I know him, whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed onto him against that day.”

Okay loved ones, now I think I should stop there. Would anyone like to address the issue, or question? If you want to question me a little to tie the thing down, I’ll gladly try to make it precise.

[Question inaudible 18:26]

That’s good. I know that he does. I’ve heard him. I’ve read him before on, “If you’re born, how

can you cease to be born?” Of course, I have no problem with it because I see death all around me, and I say you can die. I say that it’s a tricky semantic issue to take the word “born” and try to prove, from our knowledge of being born, that you must therefore continue, because it seems life is full of birth and death. I’m not clear on the millennial kingdom and I think I just am not competent to speak on that. I’m just always very hesitant about the business of dividing Christians into two groups — which that seems to be approaching a little: that some will be saved now, some will be saved by the skin of their teeth, and some won’t be. But that could be, yes.

[Question inaudible 20:14]

The interesting thing is that Berkhof — and I’m sure old Don there will say, “Well yes,” but I believe that too. I believe it’s a daily walk and I believe that I daily have to persevere.” I think Gus, I would say that there would be the sense in me that I could fall away. I know it isn’t fear of falling away that keeps me with Jesus. I know that I stay with Jesus because I love him. But I do notice that the other – of course, this isn’t a good way to tackle doctrine from the pragmatic point of view — but from a pragmatic point of view, it’s very easy for the other doctrine to lead to compliancy. But, then – Don or Berkhof can answer that and say, “Yeah, but that isn’t the truth of a doctrine.” But Don, I’m sorry I do that with my wife. I try to tell what she would say. You should …

[Question Inaudible 21:56]

Well you know, I was looking forward to this because in several other doctrines, where we were apparently supposed to be very opposite to one another, because we came from different backgrounds, Jesus has shown me very healthy approaches in through the middle. And it is interesting, isn’t it, to see that those of us who are in Jesus will probably almost all testify the same way, that we’re amazed at the patience of God with us, and how with this Holy Spirit, he has continually drawn us back to himself? And so, most of us I think, would testify from my experience, we must be eternally secure because I can’t understand how otherwise I’d be in God’s arms still.

But isn’t it true that maybe there are verses of scripture that we’re supposed to, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to accept comfort from in that way when we’re in that position of humble, trusting, fearer of sinning, and love of God situation? But I wonder, are there other verses that need to be urged upon other people who are maybe in a more careless state? I’m wondering is this – we church people seem expert at taking a truth of scripture and getting a doctrine out of it by which we can kind of prove that we’re right. And I wonder are we missing the whole point of God giving us verses on one side that seem to say we’re eternally secure, on the other – I think you know of John 15, you know those branches that do not bear fruit will be gathered and casted into the fire. And in the old, if you’re a believer in the perseverance of saints you come forth with something of what Nee is coming forth with the millennial argument. Well it means something about rewards — or, you come with Paul, (1 Corinthians 9:27) “… but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

So we each come with our key verses. Isn’t it amazing how Satan so often enables us, in trying to prove our own view point, sometimes to dilute scripture for the other person anyway? So Don comes with his [verse], “No one shall snatch them from out of my hand”, and I — because I’m trying to back my little falling from grace thing — take a verse that may be a great blessing to him and I say, “Oh yeah, yeah. But wait a minute. It doesn’t mean that.” And wouldn’t it be very interesting now if Satan is looking down upon us, and kind of laughing his head off, as we each

produce our proof texts, and we dilute the proof text for each of us. Wouldn’t it be interesting if here, instead of sharing rich food with each other, we all go out with what we thought, “I came in with what I thought was a great sandwich, but by the time Don is finished with it, it’s just two slices of bread.” And he comes in with what looks like just a half chicken, and by the time I’m finished with it, it’s just a bundle of bones — and Satan laughs his head off as we all go out having been stripped of verses that were precious to us. And that’s why I’m searching, especially when God has called us into a nondenominational situation, to try to find out, “Is this scripture that should be absolutely applied in all cases, or are these not verses that have the right truth for the right person at the right time?”

In other words, the fellow that comes up to me at the end of a service and said to me, “Oh now, you’re going very near to teaching that we can be lost.” Well naturally I didn’t come back to him and say, “Well that’s exactly what I believe,” because I don’t get anywhere with the fellow if I do that and I’m no blessing at all to him. So I said, “Well you know, you do have to be careful, don’t you, that you don’t offend God as one of his children?” And he said, “Oh yes, yes, but I believe that I could sin. I believe that I could have murdered somebody this morning and I’d still be a Christian.”

Now maybe through the Holy Spirit, I should be led with a fellow like that to share some of the “falling away” warnings and the apostasy warnings. Maybe someone else comes along and says, “Well I think I’ve made my commitment. But boy, I don’t know whether I can keep it or not.” Maybe there Don, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, should share a verse like, “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.” I’m wondering loved ones, is that not the way we should be approaching this thing, rather than trying to come out with an eternal security or a falling from grace doctrine? Which for instance, I’d push you on this, isn’t it true that we all believe that God will forgive until seventy times seven? And yet, there are other verses in scripture such as, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” and verses that warn that you ought not to press the thing to far lest your heart be hardened. So isn’t it true that if we came across somebody that was carelessly sinning day-after-day, we would certainly not quote, “until seventy times seven.” We tend to quote the other side. So I’m wondering, is this not something of the attitude that we should take to these precious verses?

Of course, I’m game to share my proof text, but I’m wondering, is God not challenging us here to come into something new about these things? Especially before I start coming out with – because I’d just stopped in midstream there as I saw what I was doing. Here I was quoting Don’s proof texts and trying to knock down each one of them as I quoted them. And it seems to me, we’re losing something because all of us would testify to the fact that we are amazed at how patient God is being with us, and how good he is being to us. So okay, okay. Now I will Don, I’ll bash in there if you want, but I don’t know that mine are any better.

[Question inaudible 31:43]

Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

[Question inaudible 31:53]

I hope you will explain verse 5. Don’t ask me to.

[Question inaudible 31:18]

Okay, okay, okay.

[Question inaudible 32:22]

And that’s good. What you’re pointing to in verse 5, that old Paul did not get all taken up with, “This person can fall from grace or he can’t fall from grace,” or even, “This person has fallen from grace or this person hasn’t fallen from grace,” but “what can we do with this person now so that we may be sure his spirit will be saved in the day of Jesus?” That’s really the issue. Yes, certainly we’re in the business of being life savers.

[Question inaudible 33:48]

But Don, that’s what happens. I have been in, I won’t say a thousand bible study groups, but boy dozens of bible study groups, where we have just ended up, it seems to me stealing from each other precious riches that meant something to us. And it seems this other approach ties up much more with what we believe about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides us to apply God’s word rightly. I would say of course, just to bag Don in that, loved ones, because that’s a dreadful verse there. It seems to me that of course what Paul is saying is, “Now this brother of ours is in such open and downright sin that he is in real danger of committing the sin against the Holy Spirit — that is of refusing to accept the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And he is in danger of losing the distinction between right and wrong. Now let us discipline him by casting him formally out of the membership of our body here, to give him pause for thought, so that he may maybe come to his senses and see, ‘Look at my brothers, and my elders in the body have taken this action. Maybe I am going the wrong way in my life.’” And it seems to me that’s something of what Paul means there. I don’t think he means to cast this man into hell because obviously he doesn’t. He’s saying that the Spirit may be saying it.

I think I’m game to go into the old thing, but boy, the more you stand back and look at it, there are verses in scripture that seem almost to imply predestination. There are verses in scripture that seem to imply that we have free will. Is it not true that we have a miniature mind and we have a very inadequate tool in this language to express the thoughts of the infinite mind of God? All he can do is give us almost contradictions, and say the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the linguistic contradiction, and the Holy Spirit will lead you to that truth in the particular moment that you need it. I think the way I shared this with you early on — because I knew it was an issue because most of you were Baptists and therefore eternal security people, and here I was a lonely Methodist with my falling from grace, and you remember — I shared early on that it is amazing that if all of us here are faced with the same situation, we’ll act practically in the same way, whether we differ completely or not.

For instance, someone will come to Don and they will be living a life that is not the life of a Christian at all, and he’ll say, “But you are a Christian.” And they’ll say, “Oh yes, I know I’m a Christian.” And he’ll say, “But you’re not living the life of a Christian.” And they’ll say, “Well I know that. Well, what should I do?” And he’ll say, “Well you’d better repent of your sins, and you’d better give yourself anew to Jesus.” And that same person comes to me and I say not, ”You are a Christian”, but I say, “Oh you were a Christian.” And they say, “Yes I was but I suppose well, I’m not now.” And I say, “You’re certainly not living the life of a Christian.” And they’ll say, “Well what should I do?” Well I’ll say, “Repent of your sins and give your life to Jesus.” And so it’s interesting that practically in the out working of it, those of us who believe in eternal security, and love Jesus with all our hearts, and those of us believe you can fall from grace and

love Jesus with all our hearts, will give the same direction and instruction to a person who comes to us.

I wonder, I honestly do, if you press me and say, “Yeah, yeah, but wouldn’t you deal differently with some Christian who came to you and wasn’t sure?” I’m not sure that we would. I think we would both try to find out through the Holy Spirit, whether this person’s uncertainty was based on the uncertainty of the consecration, or whether the uncertainty was based on some doubts that Satan was putting into their minds, and accordingly we would deal with them appropriately. We would tell them either to get their consecration straight, or we would give them some verses of assurance in scripture. I do.

What seems dangerous to me, loved ones, is applying the wrong verse at the wrong time. That seems to me what’s dangerous. That would tie up with what Gus was saying, “Well I feel it has to be my daily walk,” because as you listen to him presumably you said “amen” to that. So it seems to me the issue is not probably what we believe a Christian has to walk. We all believe he has to walk with the same care. But the issue is applying the right word to the right person at the right time — discerning whether a person is careless or whether he isn’t.

[Question inaudible 39:49]

I think the danger of those of us who’d hold to the perseverance of the saints is that we’ll depend on that, we’ll rely on that rather than relying on Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And the danger with those of us who would believe we can fall from grace is that we’ll have everybody jumping every day and examining themselves less they fall out of the faith. And it seems to me, one way, you can get a jittery group of nervous people who never are confident, and the other way you can get a group of complacent and careless people who are confident when they shouldn’t be.

[Question inaudible 41:20]

Well I think so, Don. I hesitate to say we solved the problem of the ages, but I do think one of the things that – well, I’ll tell you as a Methodist, I was brought up to believe that certain doctrines were right. So I almost was not free to entertain the possibility of the other doctrine. If I’d meet somebody like Don, I’d naturally just rise to it like a fish to bait, going to the old arguments. And presumably those of you were brought up in a Calvinist Church, it is very hard to rise above and into Jesus. But it is very hard for us in our churches to rise above our little doctrines. And I think that’s what we have to do.

Let’s be true, too, in this. I don’t think it’s the fact that it’s a denominational church that makes it impossible. It’s simply that we take a wrong attitude to our doctrines. It seems to me we think our doctrines [inaudible 42:28] are absolute truth, and we have to say the bible [inaudible 42:43] is absolute truth.

[Question inaudible 42:46]

That’s right, yes. It’s a love relationship between us and Jesus. We always want to get something to prove that we’re in that besides our existing in it and experiencing it.

[Question inaudible 43:37]

No, that’s right.

[Question inaudible 43:45]

Well that’s the appeal of Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness. You have a club that you can club them with. But you know, when you think how many of us have fallen into the same thing in our Christian Churches even. Don’t you think it’s good to let the Holy Spirit and all the other churches preach to us, too, at this moment? Don’t you think it’s really important for us to realize that we can come into the same danger, that proud statement of the people who said, “I am of [Inaudible 44:24]. I am of Paul.” But then our proud statement, “But I am of Christ.” “So I am this denomination, that denomination.” “But I am nondenominational.” And it’s very important that we to do not allow ourselves to think that we are the true church.

Probably the middle way is depending on the Holy Spirit, isn’t it — not a confidence that we have the middle way. There’s a modern poem that I don’t know that I can remember it but, “Give us in this faltering war, the firm feet of humility.” Those were the last two verses of the stanza, “Give us in this faltering war, the firm feet of humility.” And it seems that that’s the safe place. You know a place of humility and a place of trust in the Holy Spirit and awareness that if we start standing on our own feet at any moment we


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