It has been announced that I will speak to you on a subject which has occasioned a good deal of controversy among the people of God. I want to take as a starting point—not exactly as a text, because we shall be looking at a good many Scriptures—Romans 8:38-39: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, 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." This is the inspired answer to the question of verse 35: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" That is, once we have been justified by faith, who is there, what power is there, that can separate from the love of Christ? And the answer, how full, how clear, not a shadow, not a doubt, not a question left, when the apostle says that neither death nor life shall separate! Can you think of anything which is neither included in death nor in life? Neither death nor life shall separate!
Then, no unseen powers can separate the believer from Christ, "neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers." These terms are used again and again in the New Testament, particularly in the Epistles, for angelic hosts, good and evil. When our Savior rose from the dead He spoiled principalities and powers, that is, He defeated all the hosts of evil led by Satan; and so we may take it that the angels referred to here are good angels, and the principalities and powers are possible evil angels. But there is nothing that good angels would do and nothing that evil angels can do which will result in the separation of the believer from Christ. And then further he says, "neither things present nor things to come." Again let me put the question, Can you think of any experience through which a believer might ever go which is neither a thing present nor a thing to come? And the Holy Ghost says that neither things present nor things to come shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ. As though that were not enough, He speaks in a more general way when He says that neither "Height nor depth (nothing in heaven, nothing in hell), nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." It looks to me as though we are safe if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we speak of the eternal security of the believer, what do we mean? We mean that once a poor sinner has been regenerated by the Word and the Spirit of God, once he has received a new life and a new nature and has been made partaker of the divine nature, once he has been justified from every charge before the throne of God, it is absolutely impossible that that man should ever again be a lost soul. Having said that, let me say what we do not mean when we speak of the eternal security of the believer. We do not mean that it necessarily follows that if one professes to be saved, if he comes out to the front in a meeting, shakes the preacher's hand, and says he accepts the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, that that person is eternally safe. It does not mean that if one joins a church or makes a profession of faith, is baptized, becomes a communicant, and takes an interest in Christian work, that that person is forever secure. It does not mean that because one manifests certain gifts and exercises these gifts in Christian testimony, that that person is necessarily eternally secure.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said to the people of His day, as recorded in Matthew 7:21-23: "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? And in Thy name have cast out devils? And in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." Such people then may have been very active in what is called Christian work—they have preached, they have cast out demons, that is, their influence has been such that men and women have found deliverance from satanic power through their ministrations in the name of Jesus, they have professed with their lips, they have accomplished many wonderful works, but they are found in that day among the lost, and when they plead their great activity and their earnestness in Christian testimony, the Lord says to them, "I never knew you." Notice, He does not say to them, "I used to know you, but you have forfeited My favor and I do not know you any longer." He says, "I never knew you."
You remember how He speaks of His own in John 10:27-30: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." Of His own He says, "I know them." Of these others, in spite of all their activity, in spite of all their accomplishments, He says in the day of judgment, "I never knew you." That is a very solemn thing. That answers a question that is frequently put to us. I do not know how many times I have had individuals come to me with a hypothetical case like this: "Suppose a man who joined the church, who professed to be saved, who for a number of years was a very active Christian worker, perhaps a Sunday school teacher, perhaps an elder or a deacon in the church, maybe a minister, but after some years of apparent consistent Christian living and helpfulness in testimony he turns his back on it all, returns to the world, utterly repudiates Christianity, and now denies in to the gospel he once professed. How does that square with your doctrine of the eternal security of the believer?" That does not touch the matter at all. The apostle John tells us how we are to understand a case like that. He says in 1 John 2:19, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us," or literally, "That they were not altogether of us." That is, it is possible to do all the things that I have spoken of and yet never be regenerated. It is quite possible to join a church, to make a Christian profession; it is quite possible to observe the Christian ordinances, to teach and to preach, and yet never be born again. If one teaches and preaches the truth, it will produce good results and will do men good whether the teacher or the preacher be real or not, for it is the truth that God uses. Of course He can use the truth to better advantage when it is proclaimed by a holy man living to the glory of God than when it is proclaimed by a hypocrite. Nevertheless, God uses His truth regardless of who may proclaim it, and that explains how people may do mighty works in the name of Christ and yet never be born again.
When we say that the believer in the Lord Jesus is eternally secure, we base it upon a number of lines of scriptural testimony. In the first place, we rest it upon the perfection of Christ's one offering upon the cross. Personally, I never can understand how thoughtful people, taught by the Holy Spirit of God, can carefully read the Epistle to the Hebrews and not see that throughout that Epistle the writer is contrasting the many sacrifices offered under law with the one sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. That to which he particularly calls attention is this: under law every time an Israelite sinned, he needed a new sin offering, and every year the nation had to celebrate the great day of atonement when a new offering was presented to God for the people. Why? Because those sacrifices could never take away sin, they simply covered sin for the time being. But we are told in Hebrews 10 that when the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and offered Himself without spot to God, the effect of His sacrifice was eternal. Verse 14 makes this clear: "For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Perfected for how long? "Oh," says somebody, "as long as they are faithful." No, that is not what it says. "He hath perfected for ever." Why? Because the sacrifice is all-efficacious.
I am sure my brethren who deny the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer do not realize that in so doing they are putting a slight upon the finished work of Christ, they are reducing the sacrifice of Christ practically to the level of the offerings of bulls and goats in the Old Testament dispensation. I am sure they do not mean to do that, for they love their Lord just as truly as I trust I love Him, and they do not want to dishonor Him. But they are afraid that this doctrine will lead people to be careless about their lives, and therefore they stress the possibility of a man losing his salvation after he has once been justified by faith. But they do not pursue that to its logical conclusion; they do not see that it is a practical denial of the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved eternally because the sacrifice of Christ abides.
When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ and put my trust in Him, not only were all my sins up to the day of my conversion forgiven, but all my sins were put away for eternity. When a young Christian, I was taught something like this: I thought when I was converted that all my sins, from the time of dawning accountability up to that night when I put my trust in the Lord Jesus, were put away, and now God had given me a new start, and if I could only keep the record clean to the end of my life, I would get to heaven; but if I did not keep it clean, I ceased to be a Christian and I had to get converted all over again. Every time this happened the past was under the blood, but I had to keep the record clean for the future. What a God-dishonoring view of the atonement of Christ that is! If only those of my sins that were committed up to the moment of my conversion were put away by the atoning blood of Jesus, what possible way would there be by which sins I have confessed after that could be dealt with? The only ground on which God could forgive sin is that Jesus settled all upon the cross, and when I trust Him, all that He has done goes down to my account.
A lady came to me one day and said, "I do not understand you there. I can understand that Christ died for the sins I committed up to the night of my conversion, but do you mean to tell me that Christ died for my future sins?"
I said, "How many of your sins were in the past when Christ died on the cross?"
She looked puzzled for a moment, and then the light broke in, and she said, "How foolish I have been! Of course they were all future when Jesus died for me. I had not committed any of them."
God saw all your sins, and He laid upon Jesus all your iniquity. Therefore, when you trusted Him, you were justified freely from all things. Do you say, "Does it make no difference then if a believer sins?" That is another question, and it would take a whole evening to go into that, but here is the point: the moment you trust the Lord Jesus as your Savior, your responsibility as a sinner having to do with the God of judgment is ended for eternity, but that same moment your responsibility as a child having to do with a Father in heaven begins. Now if as a child you should sin against your Father, God will have to deal with you about that, but as a father and not as a judge. That is a line of truth that stands by itself and does not contradict what I am now teaching. It explains some things that bewilder people when this doctrine is brought before them.
In the second place, we base the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer upon the perseverance and omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit of God. Look at Philippians 1:6. Writing to these saints, the apostle says, when he thanked them for their fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Do you see that? Who began the good work in you if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus? The Holy Spirit of God did. It was He who convicted you of sin; it was He who led you to put your trust in Christ; it was He who through the Word gave you the witness that you were saved; it is He who has been conforming you to Christ since you first trusted the Lord Jesus. Having thus taken you up in grace, the Holy Spirit has a definite purpose in view. He is eventually going to conform you fully to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He never begins a work that He does not intend to finish. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." If when you were a poor sinner the Holy Spirit had power sufficient to break down your opposition to God and to bring to an end your unbelief and rebellion, do you think for one moment that He does not have power enough to subdue your will as a believer and to carry on to completion the work that He began?
People say, "I see you believe in that old Baptist doctrine of 'once in grace, always in grace.'" Or another says, "I understand you hold that old Presbyterian idea of 'the final perseverance of the saints.'" I do not know why this should be called either Baptist or Presbyterian, only to the extent that Baptists and Presbyterians agree with the Book, and the Word of God clearly shows that once God takes us up in grace nothing can separate us from the love of Christ so that evidently the expression, "once in grace, always in grace," is a perfectly correct one. But, on the other hand, I am not so enthusiastic about the other expression, "the perseverance of the saints." I believe in it; I believe that all saints—all really belonging to God—will persevere to the end, for the Book tells me, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13), and if a man starts out and makes a profession but gives it all up, he will never be saved, because he was never born again to begin with, he was never truly changed by grace divine. On the other hand, the reason he endures to the end is not because of any particular perseverance of his own. What I believe in, and what the Word of God clearly teaches, is the perseverance of the Holy Spirit. When He begins a work, He never gives up until it is completed. That is our confidence.