Taken from, “True Scripture Doctrine”
Written by, Jonathan Dickinson
Whom he justified, them he also glorified.
THIS brief clause is the last link of that golden chain…
…which extends from everlasting to everlasting, and connects a past and future eternity. It takes its rise in God’s foreknowledge and eternal purpose of grace to the elect, and reaches through their vocation and justification on earth, unto their eternal glorification in heaven. It shows us the inviolable connection between the decree of God, and the progressive execution of it, in our present preparation for, and final admittance, to everlasting glory. And as we are here assured, that “the counsel of the Lord shall stand,” firm as his own being, and without any variation or shadow of turning, so we are equally assured, that where God’s eternal counsel is manifested, in our effectual calling and justification, by consequence our eternal salvation is also manifest and certain. The perseverance of the saints through faith unto salvation, is here founded upon the same immutable certainty with the purpose and decree of God. As all “whom he did predestinate” shall be certainly called; not only by the outward invitations of the gospel, but by the inward powerful influences of the blessed Spirit, whereby they shall be brought to a hearty compliance with gospel offers; so they whom he thus calleth, he as certainly justifieth, through Christ’s righteousness imputed to them and received by faith. And being thus justified, they shall with the same certainty be also glorified.
I shall premise some hints on the article of justification.
“Justification is the gracious sentence of God, whereby a sinner is on account of Christ’s satisfaction, at or upon his believing, actually acquitted from guilt and condemnation, accepted as righteous in the sight of God, and thereby entitled to eternal life.”
I consider justification as a gracious sentence of God; and so the apostle considers it in the 33d verse of our context, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” Justification is a forensic term, and signifies the sentence of a judge, whereby an accused or condemned person is discharged from the imputation of guilt, or the infliction of punishment, and whereby he is pronounced just, and accepted as such. Thus in the present case, the person justified has a gracious sentence passed upon him in a judicial way. The great lawgiver and judge of the world pronounces his absolution, and acknowledges him to be in his favor and friendship, accepted as righteous in the court of heaven. Sanctification and justification are carefully to be distinguished. That is a qualifying—this a relative change. That is a change of our moral state, nature and disposition; but this a change of our covenant state, law condition and character in reference to God. That is an incomplete change, defective as to the decree at present; but this is a full and perfect one. That is a change by the operation of the Holy Spirit within us; this by the declaration of the Sovereign Judge without us. Justification is also to be distinguished from the approving sentence of our own conscience. For conscience misguided may acquit, when God condemns. The man may vote himself “rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing,” whom yet this Supreme Judge pronounces “wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” So on the other hand, conscience may condemn when God acquits. The man may “walk in darkness, and see no light,” whom yet this Supreme Judge invites to “trust in the name of the Lord, and to stay himself upon his God.” The justifying sentence then is that of God, and not of conscience, “It is God that justifieth;” herein following his own revealed will, the external rule of justification, and not always accompanying it with the internal testimony of his Spirit in our conscience. The divine sentence may be actually pronounced, and yet not sensibly perceived by the soul on which it is passed.
I give the subject of this gracious benefit the denomination of a sinner; because I would keep it in mind, that justification is an act of God’s free sovereign grace towards lapsed, guilty, unworthy creatures; that “not according to works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us;” that although we are justified in the way of believing, yet even our faith is not so much as in part our justifying righteousness; that although the sentence of justification does, in order of nature, follow our union to Christ by faith, yet it is an instantaneous benefit, and no interval of time passes between the one and the other. When the spirit of grace comes to work in us faith, the means of our receiving Christ’s righteousness to justify us, he finds us in our sins, dead in trespasses, as well as dead in law. Hence though in one place God is described as “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus,” Rom. iii. 26, yet in another he is spoken of in that language, “him that justifieth the ungodly.” Rom. iv. 5. Not that he leaves us ungodly, although he finds us so. For God purifies our hearts by faith, at the same time that he justifies us through faith. And indeed faith is in its nature a sanctifying principle; it is itself a branch of the new creature, and is influential upon progressive sanctification. However, in the first act of faith we consider ourselves as condemned sinners, and “flee for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before us; looking unto Jesus, we receive the atonement,” for our pardon and justification; whence it is called “faith in his blood.” Rom. 3:25. And then faith operates as a principle of sanctification, “works by love,” and excites a care to “purify our souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.” But further, in a larger sense, even the renewed believer may be called a sinner; he is so in the eye of the law, as coming infinitely short of its just demands in his personal qualifications and performances; but although in himself a sinner, yet at the instant of conversion being vitally united to Christ, and absolved from the curse and penalty of the law, there is thenceforward no condemnation unto him. And then I characterize him a sinner, because the very idea of pardon, and of the justification we are upon, speaks the propriety of so describing him. For although a believer may, in some sense, be said to be justified by works, as they are evidences for him, and plead in his vindication, against the charge of hypocrisy, upon his trial as a gospel professor; yet in the case before us, as standing at the bar of the law, he is not justified by works, but by grace. Although a criminal in the view of justice, he has, by an act of sovereign grace, his sins covered, and righteousness without works imputed to him.
By our being justified on account of Christ’s satisfaction, at or upon our believing, is to be understood, that we are pardoned and accepted with God through the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and reckoned ours in the construction of redeeming mercy upon our receiving Christ by faith, and not before.
Hence it is said in our context—”Whom he called, them he also justified.” And hence the “righteousness of God is said to be revealed from faith to faith.” Rom. 1:17. Our first actual participation in the righteousness of Christ, is upon the Spirit’s first working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling: the continued application of it, and renewed benefit by it, is upon the continued existence, and renewed exercise of the same faith. And thus, “the just shall live by faith;” that is, they are in a state of life and peace with God, from their union to Christ by faith. “He that hath the Son, hath life.” The justification of life commences with their being made partakers of Christ; and Christ dwells in their heart by faith. It is through faith that they are interested in the benefits of his redemption; and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. All pretenses therefore to eternal justification are superseded, as unscriptural and unreasonable. The believer’s justification, it is true, was determined in God’s eternal counsel, and in the covenant of redemption; and so likewise was his sanctification and his future glory. But will they pretend, that we were sanctified or glorified from all eternity? Neither can they with any better show of reason, pretend to an eternal justification. These all stand on the same foot, as to the decree of God, and the promise in Christ; and may be said in their causes to be eternal, though neither of them so in themselves, but are events that fall within the compass of time, as to their actual accomplishment. That justification imports a real event in time, coming to pass at or upon believing, and not before, is evident from those Scriptures, which speak of it as a future consequence: “By his knowledge SHALL my righteous servant justify many. By the obedience of one SHALL many be made righteous. That righteousness MIGHT BE imputed unto them also.”—All that hold mankind to be children of wrath by nature, do confess such an imputation of sin in time, as is utterly inconsistent with justification from eternity. If the curse of the law be a real thing, and not imaginary, then the justification that reverses and removes it must be what takes place in time, and must be acknowledged a transaction in time as real as the condemnation it stands in opposition to. In short, the elect as well as others, before their vital union to Christ by faith, are in a state of actual condemnation; and therefore, while so, most certainly cannot be in a state of actual justification. It is without any distinction of persons always true, that “he who believeth not, is condemned already; because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John iii. 18. But in believing, the soul passes from death to life, by virtue of a perfect righteousness revealed and applied to him, which he actually had not before his believing. “Man believeth unto righteousness.” Rom. x. 10; unto the obtaining and possessing of it. Faith is the means of receiving the gift of righteousness. No unbeliever is in the possession and enjoyment of it, A man is personally justified no otherwise than by Christ and his righteousness applied.
Our justification is considered as an acquittance from guilt and condemnation. Not that the justified person is free from remaining sin and imperfection. For, in many things we all offend. And if we say that “we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But though the believer has contracted guilt enough, to separate him from the favor of God forever, yet the atonement that Christ has made for him, is a sufficient satisfaction to the demands of justice. Though in his highest attainments he is chargeable with renewed and repeated offences against God, he will yet be saved to the uttermost, seeing Christ ever lives to make intercession for him. This therefore is his comfortable and happy state, “being justified by faith, he hath peace with God.” Rom. v. 1. Christ’s righteousness being imputed to the believer, hence his sins, how great and aggravated, will no more be imputed to him unto condemnation. Justice is satisfied, and the law fulfilled by the Redeemer. The believer’s guilt is therefore finally taken away, and he freed from all obligation to punishment forever. Nor is it a mere conditional absolution, but an actual discharge; putting him not merely in a state of salvability, but of present and everlasting safety. This is the case of them, “whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; unto whom the Lord WILL NOT impute sin.” Rom. 4:7, 8.
Our justification does likewise imply an acceptance of our persons, as perfectly righteous in the sight of God. Though God knows, that numberless spots and blemishes cleave to the brightest performances, that the best of the children of men are capable of in this life, and that their very tears want washing in the blood of Christ; yet the believer’s faith interests him in all that Christ has done and suffered for him; and clothes him in that white raiment, which covers all his sins, that the shame of his nakedness do not appear. His inherent personal righteousness is full of flaws and imperfections, but his Surety’s righteousness, which he hath received by faith, is absolutely perfect and complete. This being imputed to him, he is accepted of by God on this account; and in this his justifying righteousness, the pure eyes of divine justice can see no defect. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to everyone that believeth.” Rom. 10: 4. Hence such are said to be “made accepted in the beloved.” Eph. 1: 6.
Justification must also be considered as including a title to everlasting life, a full right to the whole of salvation with eternal glory. “Being now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved from wrath through him.” Rom. 5: 9. And verse 21. “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is most undoubted, that these must either be heirs of eternal life, or heirs of eternal destruction. But how can the latter be supposed of those who are interested in Christ, reconciled to God, and favorites of heaven? Can it be supposed, that those whom Christ has purchased with his blood, those to whom he has applied the merits of his cross and benefits of his redemption, shall fall short of the purchased possession? Are they drawn to Christ by the powerful influences of divine grace? Are they united to him by a lively faith? Are they accepted of God as his children and friends? Are they dear to him: and does he regard them as the apple of his eye? Are they “renewed in the spirit of their minds; and made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light?” And shall any such, after all, spend a dreadful eternity in amazing anguish and horror, among devils and damned spirits. How monstrously inconsistent is the supposition, and how contradictory to the whole tenor of the gospel! John 5: 24. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that hears my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” Justification is a final and perfect absolution from sin and the curse, and invests us with an actual and complete right to positive happiness forever. Hence the pardoned man is pronounced the blessed man. Rom. 4: 6. “Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” Whoso is wise, will observe and understand these things.
Now if any should surmise and object, that true believers may fall away from grace, dissolve their union to Christ, lose their near relation to God, and provoke him to cast them off for their apostasy; our text assures us of the contrary. “For whom he justified, them he also glorified.” This brings me to the other thing proposed for consideration.
And here let it be remarked,
- This appears from the immutability of God’s eternal counsel. We read, “the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal—The Lord knows them that are his.” 2 Tim. 2: 19. If God has chosen them to eternal life, “his counsel shall stand and he will do all his pleasure.” If he has not chosen them to eternal life, how came they by the qualifications for it? Are not these the fruits and consequences of electing love? “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified. He hath chosen us in Christ, that we should be holy. He hath chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” Now if he has predetermined these qualifications as the means of salvation, if he has connected the means and the ends together in his eternal purpose, as the Scripture assures us that he has, it then follows, that all those “whom he has justified, them he will also glorify;” there must otherwise be a change of purpose in God, which it were blasphemy to suppose.
If any man apostatize and fall out of a justified state, it must be either because some do in time come to Christ, whom the Father had not given him in his eternal counsel; or because he hath eternally given some to Christ, and determined that they should come to him, who shall nevertheless be left to fall away and finally miscarry.
Not the former: “For all that the Father hath given unto Christ, shall come to him;” and none but they. John 6: 37. The election obtain this grace, and the rest are blinded. Rom. 11:7.—How can any man come unto the Son, unless it be given him of the Father? And how can this be given him in time, if God did not eternally determine to give it him, without a change of purpose and counsel in God?
Not the latter: “For him that cometh unto Christ, he will in nowise cast out,” John 6:37, “He that believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John iii. 16. “This is the Father’s will, that of all which he hath given to Christ, he should lose nothing; but should raise it up again at the last day,” John 6: 39.
Let us consider this argument in one view, and see whether it can admit of an answer, without a flat contradiction both to the Scriptures, and to the nature of things. If no man can come to Christ, unless he were given to him in God’s eternal counsel; if all that were given to Christ in God’s eternal counsel shall come to him; if none that do come shall be cast out or lost, but all be raised up to salvation at the last day, then surely all that are justified, shall be glorified; which was the thing to be proved.
I might add to this, that we are exhorted, 2 Peter 1:10. “to make our election sure;” which must intend, that we make it sure to ourselves, or make ourselves sure of it: for as to the decree of God, or the final event, these are in themselves as sure already as they can be made. We can contribute nothing to the immutability of the divine counsel, or certainty of the future issue. This exhortation does therefore suppose, that an inward consciousness and assurance of our election is attainable in this life; it would otherwise be unreasonable and impertinent to press it upon us. And if there be a certainty of our election attainable, it must necessarily follow, that all true believers shall certainly persevere to the end. For how can I be sure of my election by any possible qualification, if my salvation be not with the same certainty connected to such qualification, as it is to the eternal decree of God? I may be sure, that I am now interested in Christ by a lively faith; but I cannot be sure, that I am chosen to eternal salvation, or shall ever obtain it, but from a certainty of my perseverance in my present state of safety. This argument may be thus summed up: all that are elected, shall certainly be saved; and all that have a true faith in Jesus Christ are certainly elected; for by this only we can make our election sure. From hence the conclusion is necessary, that all who have a true faith in Jesus Christ, shall “be kept by the power of God to salvation.” Or, in other words, that the saints shall persevere in grace, and all whom God hath justified, he will also finally glorify.
This appears also from the sufficiency of Christ’s Redemption, for the recovery and happiness of all to whom it is applied.
Our blessed Redeemer has not only procured for believers the pardon of their sins, and a reconciliation unto God, but he has also purchased for them a title to God’s favor here and to eternal happiness hereafter. Whence heaven is called the believer’s inheritance, and his purchased possession. Eph. 1: 14. Now if Christ has purchased this inheritance for the believer, and made over the title to him in his justification, who shall deprive him of his own estate, procured for him at such an infinite price?
Can it consist with the justice of God, to accept of a vicarious satisfaction for all our sins, and in consequence of that to give us a discharge from sin and guilt in our justification; and yet, to require personal satisfaction from us, in our everlasting punishment? Will he accept of the full price of our eternal inheritance from our Surety, and yet refuse us the possession? Will he give us a right to eternal life upon Christ’s account, and yet finally exclude us from it? Our Lord assures us, it cannot be. “My sheep hear my voice, and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” John 10: 27, 28.
Can it consist with the goodness of God, to bestow an interest in Christ upon the believer, and yet to withhold from him the glorious benefits of his redemption? The apostle assures us, it cannot be. “He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Rom. 8: 32.
It should be here remembered, that our Lord Jesus Christ has purchased the means, as well as the end, for all that believe in him: not only eternal life, but also continued supplies of renewing grace, whereby they shall be made meet for it. This is certainly purchased for some believers. Whence do they else obtain persevering grace, if not from this fountain? And if for some believers, why not for all? –unless the faith of some gives them but a partial interest in Christ’s redemption. It cannot be doubted, but that some believers do in fact persevere, through grace and strength received from the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can it be doubted but that Christ has purchased that grace and strength for them, which he bestows upon them. Now every justified person is either interested in all the redemption purchased by Christ, or only in part of it. If any are interested but in part of it, they are but partly justified, which is too great an absurdity to be supposed. If they are interested in all the redemption of Christ, upon their believing in him, they partake of all the spiritual blessings, that any others are entitled to, and consequently persevere to eternal salvation.
And thus the case is accordingly represented in the Scriptures. Eph. 5: 25 – 27. “Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Tit. 2: 14. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Heb. 10: 14. “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” By which texts and many others that might be cited, it appears, that Christ has purchased sanctifying and persevering grace for believers. From whence they may confidently draw this comfortable conclusion, that they are “begotten again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” 1 Pet. 1:3—5.
This is likewise evident from the tenor of the gospel covenant.
As the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased a persevering grace for believers, so God hath, in a way of covenant, obliged himself to bestow it upon all such. 2 Sam. 23: 5. “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” Isa. 55: 3, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” Is. 61:8. “I will direct their work in truth; and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” Jer. 32: 40. “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” Ezek. 37: 26, 27. “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, it shall be an everlasting covenant—Yea, I will be their God; and they shall be my people.” Heb. 8: 10. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be unto them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” By these cited Scriptures, we see the tenor of the covenant of grace. It is a covenant everlasting and sure; a covenant that he will not turn away from them to do them good, that he will put his fear in their hearts, that he will put his laws in their minds, and write them in their hearts; and what is full to the purpose, a covenant, that they shall not depart from him.
And agreeable to the tenor of this covenant, we have repeated assurances in Scripture, that believers actually shall be preserved through all difficulties, dangers, and temptations, to the heavenly kingdom.
Thus, Ps. 37: 28. “For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsakes not his saints; they are preserved forever.” John 4:14. “Whosoever drinks 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.” Matt. 18: 14. “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” Rom. 8:35, 38, 39. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 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.” Rom, 11: 29. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” 1 Cor, 1: 8, 9. “Who shall confirm you to the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” 2 Thess. 3:3. “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.” 2 John 2. “For the truth’s sake which dwells in us, and shall be with us forever.” From these, and multitudes of such like Scriptures, it is most apparent, that God has by covenant, by his immutable promise, and the gracious encouragements of his word, secured the confirmation, establishment, and final perseverance of true believers.
And is he not “faithful that has promised?” Will he not guide them by his counsel, and afterward bring them to glory? Will he not strengthen them? Will he not help them? Yea, he will uphold them by the right hand of his righteousness. Believers may certainly and safely depend upon the faithfulness of God; for his “promises are all yea, and all amen in Christ.” They may depend upon it, that their whole spirit, and soul, and body shall be preserved blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; for faithful is he that calls them, who also will do it. 1 Thess. 5: 23, 24. Verily if his covenant be not with day and night, if he hath not appointed the ordinances of heaven, then will he alter the word that is gone out of his mouth, and suffer his faithfulness to fail, in regard to the covenant of grace and promise of eternal salvation to believers.
The perseverance of the saints is likewise evident and certain from the intercession of Christ.
We are told, Heb, 7: 25, that “Christ is able to save to the uttermost, all them that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” And, 1 John 3: 1. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” And may we not from this comforting consideration, make the same challenge as the apostle does? Rom. 8: 34. “Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died; yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”
By the intercession of Christ for believers, I think, is unitedly and universally understood, his pleading the merits of his blood, and applying the benefits of his redemption, for the increasing or renewing their graces, for the renewing their pardon and justification, and for their final confirmation and establishment. It is his appearing in the presence of God for them, his pleading the cause of their souls in the court of heaven, representing their persons before the Supreme Judge and Governor of the world, making reconciliation for their sins by a new application of his sacrifice, and perfuming their persons and services by the incense of his merits. It is his praying the Father, and thereby procuring for them, that they receive of his fullness, even grace for grace, and be carried from strength to strength through all the opposition they meet with from their own hearts, from Satan, or from the world, until they are presented without spot, faultless and unrebukable, before the throne of their Judge, with exceeding joy.
Now this intercession of Christ, is either promised to every justified person, as such, or but to some true believers, in distinction from others. If the latter, then some justified persons must have qualifications of their own to recommend them to the intercession of Christ, which others want. There must be something that distinguishes their case; and makes this infinite difference between them and others. An interest in the benefits of Christ’s redemption it cannot be, for these every justified person equally partakes of. It must therefore be something of their own; and consequently they must be partners with Christ in the merit of their salvation; and they must have something to boast of, which others have not. But this is opposite to the whole scheme of our salvation by Christ; and therefore absurd. If on the contrary, the intercession of Christ is promised to every justified person, then everyone that is justified, shall be also glorified; for Christ’s intercession is always effectual. If we are interested in Christ by faith, we are interested in a whole Christ, and all his benefits. If we are interested in all the benefits of Christ’s redemption, we are interested in his intercession, which is one of them; and if so, we may safely conclude, that he will “save to the uttermost, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for us.”
This is also evident from the state of peace and safety, which the Scriptures everywhere declare believers to be in.
Thus we read, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access into this grace, wherein we stand; and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so; but we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom we have received the atonement.” Rom. 5: 1. 2, 10, 11. “Now the God of peace fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” Rom. 15: 13. “Our consolation also aboundeth by Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 1: 5. “And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4: 7.
Now let it be considered: What joy and peace can the believer possibly obtain, or entertain, from the clearest evidences of his justification, if he has no promise to rest upon, that he shall continue in his present happy state; and has consequently before him, a dark and distressing prospect of final apostasy, and eternal perdition, as possible to happen to him, and as certain in case a merciful God do not uphold him by his free Spirit!—If it be answered, that he may find peace and comfort from the supporting hope, that in a way of diligent duty he shall from time to time obtain new supplies of grace; and be finally established in the possession of his inheritance: I would inquire what foundation he has for such a supporting hope, as will afford him joy and peace in believing.
Can he found it upon his own good frames and present purposes or resolutions? This were to set his foot upon a quicksand. “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool.” Alas! he knows by experience, that his “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” He knows that he has an alluring world, a tempting devil, and the contagious examples and enticements of wicked men to deal with; and if that be all his encouragement, the probability is every way against him; there is a much greater prospect of his final apostasy than of his perseverance; this therefore can afford him no peace. He cannot rejoice in this gloomy and dismaying view of his case. Where then can he found his hope?
Can he found it upon the grace of God, as being sufficient for him? This would indeed afford him peace and comfort, if he had any promise to build upon. But, alas! –according to the opinion I am opposing, his present faith gives him no security of future grace, God has not promised, and therefore the believer cannot conclude, that he shall not yet be left to a hard heart and a reprobate mind, to final security and impenitence. All his expectations of future supplies of grace may, for aught he knows, be vain presumption. And what joy or consolation can flow from thence? What peace can he find in believing, when he has no encouragement, but what belongs to the unbeliever, as much as to him?
Perhaps it will be pretended, that this hope, from which he should derive his comfort, may be founded upon his sincere endeavors to live to God, to exercise the graces, and to discharge the duties of the Christian life. But I must yet inquire, what he has to depend upon for maintaining the exercise of this pretended sincerity. He may imagine himself sincere to-day, and yet under the prevalence of temptations or corruptions, prove a hypocrite to-morrow; and in that case, what would become of his hope and peace? Or what would become of them forever, if he should die in such a state?
Should it be even supposed, that the common grace, which is generally communicated to such as live under gospel light and advantages, were sufficient to support this hope, yet this concession would nothing affect the present argument. For how does that hope flow from faith in Christ, which is common to the unbeliever? How is that peace the consequence of our justification, which is common to the Christless sinner, as well as to them that are in Christ?
In fine, how can the believer have “the peace of God which passes all understanding, to keep his mind and heart,” without a well-grounded hope of eternal salvation? How can he have such a hope, without any security of his continuance in a state of safety, either from his own qualifications or from a divine promise? Indeed how can he possibly have any such security, while actually always liable to a final apostasy? It therefore appears to me, that by this opinion, the believer must be left comfortless, and the Scriptures I have cited, with a great many others of the like kind, must be wholly unintelligible. But blessed be God, there are many, who from happy experience can “set to their seal that God is true, from a lively hope, a hope that makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given onto them.”
It may be objected against the doctrine of perseverance, that it is contrary to fact and experience. Noah, David, Solomon, and Peter did fall from grace. And that we find by our own observation, some of the most flourishing professors, who for a time appeared very eminent Christians, have finally apostatized.
In answer to this, it must be remembered, that it is not the present inquiry, what kind or degree of declension from a life of vital piety, is consistent with a justified state; but whether any justified person will finally apostatize. Let it, therefore, be considered, whether any of the instances mentioned in the objection, or any other that can be mentioned, will necessarily produce this conclusion, that a man may fall finally away from a true lively faith in Jesus Christ, and from a state of favor with God, and so perish eternally. This must be proved, or the objection is nothing to the purpose. But I think there is no instance in the Bible which will support that conclusion. The instances commonly brought by our adversaries, are the falls of such believers, who are now glorified saints in heaven; and they are therefore exceedingly impertinent to the present purpose. How does it appear, that true believers may finally apostatize, because some true believers have fallen into sin, who did not finally apostatize? That “the righteous may fall seven times, and rise again,” is what I make no doubt of but that the true believer may finally miscarry, is what I could never see proved from any instance on Scripture record.
And as for the plea from our own observation, it proves nothing but the shortness of our sight, and our incapacity to search men’s hearts. Among the apostles there was a Judas, who, though a devil, was not discerned by his fellow disciples, till his open treason proclaimed his hypocrisy. And there will always be foolish virgins, among the wise, who will never be distinguished by their companions, till that midnight cry is heard—”Behold, the bridegroom cometh.”
It may be likewise objected against this doctrine of perseverance, that it is contrary to Scripture; that there are many texts of Scripture, which speak of the “righteous turning away from their righteousness,” and their finally falling from eminent attainments in religion.
In answer to this, my designed brevity will not allow a distinct consideration of the several texts quoted by our adversaries to this purpose. I shall only in general observe, that I know of no text in the Bible, which supposes a total and final apostasy from a saving faith in Christ, or from a justified state.
That men may fall from great attainments in moral righteousness is frequently supposed, and that such might have apostatized from the profession of Christianity, who had obtained the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, seems to be insinuated, Heb. 6: 4, 6. But as in this text there is no mention made of repentance towards God, or of a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; so, I think, upon trial it will be found there is no text in the Bible that gives the least hint of any man’s totally and finally falling away from such attainments.
I have already shown, that the contrary is asserted in the plainest and strongest terms, not merely in some few and doubtful, but in multitudes of clear, plain and express texts of Scripture. And as for any other passages of a more dubious aspect, they ought to be so interpreted, as that one place of Scripture should not be made to militate against another. And in this case, the appeal may be made even to our adversaries themselves, whether the advantage is not every way on our side of the question.
Could they prove that Christians may finally apostatize from every attainment short of justifying faith, it doth nothing affect the case before us. Could they prove that persons of distinguished eminence in morality, as touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless; that such who boldly profess the truths of the gospel, and conscientiously attend all the external ordinances of the Christian dispensation; that such who have found great comfort and joy in their Christian profession, and have been zealous in the cause of religion; that such who could give all their goods to feed the poor, and could even have given their bodies to be burned, from their firm belief of the favor of God to them; and that such who with Balaam, Judas, and perhaps Demas, had the prophetic and miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost; that persons of this character may totally apostatize to a life of wickedness, heresy, and even atheism, it would make nothing against the perseverance of sound believers; for all these attainments may be supposed without the least degree of true justifying faith. And more than this amounts to, I do not find so much as attempted by our adversaries.
If any should urge in this case the apostle’s care, “lest when he had preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away;” I answer, no more can be fairly argued from it, than that they who actually persevere to eternal life, do obtain the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls, in the way of watchfulness and holy diligence. It does not prove that the apostle was anxiously afraid he should eventually be cast away; but that he knew he, as well as others, must use the appointed means in order to prevent it, among which a fear of caution and circumspection is one, and of the first importance. Nor does it prove, that any true believer is liable to finally miscarry; but that they who do obtain eternal life, must and shall persevere in the way and means by which alone it is to be obtained and hoped for. And this is the character of every true believer, that he doth persevere to eternal life, in the way of holy vigilance, and keep his body in subjection, lest he should be a cast-away.
But further, it is objected against this doctrine, that it opens a door to licentiousness. For, say they, if once persons can imagine themselves in a justified state, they may give the reins to their lusts, and a loose to their sensual appetites, and yet notwithstanding entertain hopes of salvation.
I answer, the objection is founded upon an ignorance of the nature and properties of a true justifying faith. A true faith purifies the heart, works by love, and overcomes the world. No man, therefore, can, upon good grounds, take the comforts of a justified state, but from a consciousness of these fruits of faith, the purity of his heart, and sanctity of his life. So that this doctrine, whatever abusive application may be made of it, has no direct tendency to licentiousness. But it is so far from this, that nothing is, or can be, such a constant source of real vigorous Christianity and vital piety, as the manifestations of the love of God to our souls, and the evidences of his favor. And it may be certainly determined, that such persons cannot be in a justified state, upon whom the imaginary evidences of God’s favor have a contrary effect.
All that now remains, is to make some brief improvement of what has been said.
USE 1. This teaches us, that we have no grounded hope of eternal salvation, but what flows from the evidences of our justification. Multitudes indeed presume upon acceptance with Christ at his coming, that have no such foundation to build upon. But, alas! these are like to meet with a dreadful disappointment, when it comes to the trial.
Do they hope that they may possibly be in God’s favor, though they want the evidences of it? Alas! what can this mean, but that they hope, though they do not know why; and that they hope, when they have no reason to conclude, that they shall not be eternally miserable?
Do they hope, from designs and expectations of future repentance and faith in Christ? At this rate, why may not every impenitent sinner in the world entertain the same hope upon the same grounds? But what reason can any man have to expect an interest in Christ hereafter that neglects him now? Such cannot expect it from a prospect of better dispositions in themselves. For a continuance in a Christless state will make their hearts worse, certainly not better; it will harden rather than soften them. They cannot expect it from the grace of God; for he has nowhere suspended the offer of his grace to them, upon condition of their future acceptance of it. Surely the neglecting, abusing, and affronting his grace is not the way to obtain it.
Do they entertain hope from the infinite mercy and goodness of God? But they ought to remember, that he is just as well as merciful, and that it belongs to his name that he “will by no means clear the guilty.”
Do they hope in the merits of the Redeemer? These are a sufficient foundation of hope, if they have an interest in them, but not else; their hopes therefore cannot justly be more than proportionable to their evidences of this—all further hope is presumption—all further expectations of happiness, are like to end in amazement and confusion at last.
With what compassion should we, therefore, look upon a poor, stupid, presumptuous generation of men, who are crying peace and safety to themselves, while walking in the imaginations of their own hearts, and quieting their consciences with hopes of heaven, without experience of a work of grace in their souls!
Alas! how vast is the number of such self-deceiving hypocrites! How great a part of our people, everywhere, are thus weaving the spider’s web, and are like to perish with a “lie in their right hand!” How very few, that have a rational, well grounded hope of appearing at the right hand of Christ when he comes! And where will all the rest appear, at the great and terrible day of the Lord!
How much does it therefore concern us to see to it, that we are emptied of our self-sufficiency, and brought to the foot of God’s sovereign grace; that we have chosen the Lord Jesus Christ for our portion, received him upon his own terms, and do depend upon him only, as the author of our eternal salvation; that our faith in him is accompanied with the concomitant graces and fruits of the blessed Spirit, in our hatred of every sinful way, in our love to God and Christ, and our love to men, especially the children of God; and that we show forth our faith by our works, by living to God, in an habitual course of spiritual thoughts, tempers and behaviors. How much does it concern us, not to entertain hopes of salvation, but upon these or such like evidences of our justification! A hope thus founded will stand us instead—a hope built upon any other foundation will end in astonishing disappointment and confusion.
USE 2. This administers solid, substantial comfort to the true believer, notwithstanding all the darkness, desertions, troubles and temptations, that he may meet with in this militant state.—Though there be no encouragement to any, to be careless and secure, (this, as I have observed, would be an evidence against their sincerity and hope) there is nevertheless glorious encouragement to the mourners in Zion. “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.”
Such Christians as have had special manifestations of the love of God to their souls, are liable to peculiar darkness and distress, when they have lost those sensible views of God’s gracious presence. The time was when they could clearly discover some lively exercise of the graces of the Holy Spirit; but now their soul are covered with darkness and deadness. They cannot find those vigorous actings of faith and love, which heretofore have warmed and comforted their hearts. The sacred flame now seems almost extinguished. The time was when they were greatly refreshed by their intercourse with heaven, in the duties of religious worship. Then they could say, Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ; but now their Beloved has withdrawn himself, and is gone; their souls cleave to the dust, and they cannot quicken them. The time was when they could have such lively impressions of the things unseen and eternal, as carried them above the world and its vanities, sweetened their expectations of death, and made them rejoice in hope of the glory of God; but now their prospect is dark, their faith weak, and their hope almost cut off. This is ready to plunge them into the Psalmist’s discouragements and complaints. “Will the Lord cast off forever? And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?”
But remember, poor soul, that those whom Christ loves, he loves to the end. Though you cannot and ought not to sit down contented in such a state, yet you may be supported with this comforting conclusion: “There is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus.” Who is he that condemns those for whom Christ has died, or who shall separate them from the love of Christ? Your Father, which gave you to Christ, is GREATER THAN ALL; and none shall pluck you out of your Father’s hands. He has promised that he will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Heb. xiii. 5. And he will be as good as his word. Trust in him, therefore, with humble courage and confidence. Resolve with holy Job, “If he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Be content to follow him in the dark. If you can find comfort nowhere else, do as the Psalmist did in your case: “Call to remembrance the song you have had in the night.” Say of your doubtings and darkness, “this is my infirmity, but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will support my soul with the manifestations of the love of Christ, that I have heretofore experienced; and I will renew my pursuit of these blessed manifestations. I will still follow hard after him, till I find him. In this way you will first or last know by happy experience, that “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.”
But perhaps you are afraid, that you may meet with such shocking trials, as will be too hard for you. You may be afraid that you may meet with persecution for the cause of Christ, and like fainthearted soldiers you shall quit the field. Or you may be afraid, that you shall be terrified and dismayed with the approach of death, and dishonor your profession by your terrors and despondings. If this be your case, check your unbelief, and say with the Psalmist, “Why art thou cast down, my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God.” Though you have no strength and sufficiency of your own to depend upon, is not the power, the goodness and the faithfulness of God a sufficient refuge for your distressed soul? Trust him. “The eternal God is my refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. As thy days, so shall thy strength be. When thou passest through the waters, he will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee; for he is the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” He has been often tried in such distresses, and never yet failed those that uprightly believed and trusted in him. This therefore may be your constant support, that he is faithful who has promised, “that all things shall work together for good to them which love God, to them which are called according to his purpose.”
USE 3. Let this be improved by way of solemn admonition to everyone, to look to it, that you evidence the truth and reality of your justification, by your perseverance in faith and holiness.
Instead of encouraging yourselves in a life of carelessness, sensuality and security, from the doctrine before us, the improvement of it should be quite the contrary way. If perseverance be the certain consequence of a justified state, then apostasy in any, from the profession and practice of godliness is a sad evidence, that such have never indeed attained to that safe and happy state. Every degree of declension should therefore awaken you to the greatest watchfulness over your hearts and lives, to the greatest diligence in duty, and to the most earnest and importunate applications to the throne of grace, for the incomes and influences of the blessed Spirit to excite, quicken, and invigorate you in the ways of God.
What though some of the children of God have been recovered from great and remarkable falls into sin? How much greater is the number of those that have securely flattered themselves with dreams of their good estate, but were not “of them which believe to the saving of the soul,” and finally have “drawn back unto perdition?”—When you think of the falls of Noah, Lot, David, Peter, and other servants of God; think also of Judas, Demas, Hymeneus, and Alexander, Philetus, Phygellus, Hermogenes, with other hypocrites and apostates; and think that it is impossible for you to know, that you are not of the latter sort, while in a backsliding way, under the power of your corruptions.
Instances of the imperfections of the children of God are left on sacred record, to comfort those whose hearts are right with God, and are following hard after him, notwithstanding their darkness and infirmity; but not designed to encourage the careless and secure in their declensions and apostasies. “Thou standest by faith, be not therefore high-minded but fear. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Press on with earnest and constant diligence “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus;” always considering, that those, all those and none but those who endure to the end shall be saved.
Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. AMEN.