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persevere. By the branch that beareth not fruit, we are evidently to understand, one who is not a true believer ; one, who, though he may be in the visible church, which is Christ's mystical body, and consequently a visible member of Christ, has never been united to him by a living faith.
5. We are referred to Rom. xi. 17. 66 And if some of the branches were broken off, and thou being a wild olive tree wert graffed in among them,” &c.
By the olive tree, is meant the visible church. The branches which were broken off, were the Jews, who in the days of our Saviour rejected the gospel. And were these Jews believers, and did they fall from grace? Let every one read and judge. 6. We are referred to Gal. v. 4.
6. Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” The objection raised from this passage, is merely a play upon words. The apostle is showing that none are justified by the works of the law; and the obvious meaning of this passage is, that those who hold to justification by works, did thereby renounce the idea of salvation by grace. It does not mean that they had fallen from a state of justification ; but that they had fallen off, and turned
from the doctrine of grace. They had renounced the gospel plan of salvation, and substituted a self-righteous scheme in its stead. Now who had done this? Were they those who had once been real believe ers ? Nothing like this is intimated.
7. We are referred to that noted passage, Heb. vi. 4-6. " For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.
* If this text proves that real Christians ever fall from grace, it as decisively proves, that they cannot be again renewed. It is said, however, that it relates to high attainments in grace. But is
all which is here affirmed true of every real Christian? Has not every true Christian been enlightened, and been made partaker of the Holy Ghost ? Has not every Christian tasted of the heavenly gift, and of the good word of God, and of the powers of the world to come? If so, then no real Christian can fall from
grace, and be again restored. It is certain, therefore, that Noah, Lot, David, Solomon and Peter never fell from grace.
Whether the true meaning of this passage can be ascertained or not, it is easy to show that it does not militate against the doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance. Before it can be made to militate against this doctrine, two things need to be proved. 1. That what is here stated, cannot be truly affirmed of any but real christians. And 2. That it is here affirmed, that the persons spoken
It is very questionable, whether either of these points can be satisfactorily established.
Let us inquire, (1.) Whether all which is here stated, may not be affirmed of some, who have enjoyed great privileges, and had powerful awakenings, but who have never been truly and savingly converted to God. To be enlightened, it will be admitted, is no certain evidence of a justified state. To taste of the heavenly gift, and of the good word of God, and of the powers of the world to come, may possibly denote no more, than what was experienced by the stony ground hearers. They received the word with joy, but having no root in themselves, endured only for a time. As to the expression, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, it is admitted that many enjoy the strivings of the Spirit, whose hearts are never renewed. It is evident moreover, that in the days of the apostles, some were endued with the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, who were never savingly converted. In this delineation of character, there is no mention of holiness, of love to God, or of faith in Christ; and is it not possible that the apostle had in his eye, persons who had never passed from death unto life?
This interpretation is corroborated by what is said in the succeeding verses, particularly in ver. 9. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” If the apostle had been describing the experience of a true believer, and not only so, but the highest attainments in Christian experience, as has been supposed ; what were those better things which he was persuaded his Hebrew brethren possessed ? And if he did not believe in the certain perseverance of the saints, how could he be so confident that those better things would accompany salvation? These considerations render it, at least, very questionable, whether this passage was intended to be descriptive of Christian experience.
But (2.) Admitting that what is here said, can be affirmed of none but real saints; still, it is not asserted that any such ever will fall away, any more than it was asserted by Paul, that an angel from heaven will preach another gospel. All that is affirmed, is, that if they shall fall away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. But this does not decide the point whether any will thus apostatize.
8. We are referred to Heb. x. 29. " Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing ?" The objection raised from this passage, is founded on the expression sanctified by the blood of the covenant. But this evidently refers to the Son of God, and not to the person who had trodden him under foot. Observe the construction of the sentence, “ who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith HE (i. e. the Son of God) was sanctified," &c._Agreeable to John x. 36. Say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified," &c. And IIeb. xii. 20. “ The great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” This passage, therefore, is altogether irrelevant.
9. We are referred to 2 Pet. ii. 20, 21. 6 If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."
This passage, it will be remarked, is entirely hypothetical; but I do not insist on this, because it is evident that the persons here described were not true believers. There are multitudes, upon whose minds the great truths of the gospel make such an impression for a time, as to influence them to reform their lives : and that nothing more than an external reformation is alluded to in this passage, is evident from the next verse. “ But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is returned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” These comparı sons clearly show, that no change of character had been wrought in these apostates. The dog that casts up what was offensive to his stomach, still loves it, and again greedily devours it; and the swine that was washed, is a swine still, and loves the mire. Their natures are not changed. So these specious formalists, not being renewed in the temper of their minds, returned again to their beloved iniquities, and became worse than before.
10. We are referred to Rev. xxii. 19. 6. If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
To understand this passage, it is necessary to bear in mind a remark which has already been made ; that persons are frequently spoken of in the scriptures, according to their apparent or visible character. They are consequently represented as possessing what they seem to possess, and as losing it, when it becomes manifest that they do not possess it. In support of this idea, observe these words of our Saviour. Matt. xiii. 12. " Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance ; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” This is explained in a parallel text. Luke viii. 18. 66 Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” When it is said, therefore, in the text under consideration, that “ God shall take away tis part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city," the meaning evidently is, God shall make it manifest that he has no part or lot in these things. He shall take from him that which he seemeth to have.
11. An objection against the doctrine of the Saints' Perseverance, is raised from the cautions given to Christians against apostacy.
In reply to this objection, it may be observed, that God treats his people as free agents, and governs them by the influence of motives. He gives them commands, and cautions, and warnings; and it is by the effectual application of these means, that their perseverance is secured.
The fact that God has promised to keep saints from falling, is no reason why these cautions and warnings should not be addressed to them ; for these are means by which he accomplishes his promise. When Paul was shipwrecked in his voyage to Rome, God appeared to him and promised that the lives of all who were with him should be saved. But this promise did not render their own exertions needless. Accordingly, when the sailors who only knew how to manage the vessel, were about to make their escape, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved. God had determined to fulfil his promise by the instrumentality of these means; and the continuance of the sailors in the ship, was rendered as certain by the promise, as the event of their final deliverance. Take another example. God promised to Hezekiah, that fifteen years should be added to his life. But the common means of preserving life, were not thereby rendered needless. Accordingly he was directed to use means for the resto ration of his health ; and it was just as necessary that he should eat and drink as it ever had been ; and it would have been perfectly proper to say to him, except you eat and drink you cannot live. The promise of God made it as certain that he would eat and drink, as that his life would be prolonged. So it is perfectly proper to say to believers, except you endure to the end, you cannot be saved ;—and if you utterly apostatize, you will certainly be lost, although God has promised that all true believers shall endure to the end.
12. It is objected, that the doctrine vindicated in this tract, is contradicted by facts. We are told that there are instances recorded in the scriptures of the total apostacy of real saints; some of whom were again restored, and others finally lost. As examples, we are referred to Noah, Lot, David, Solomon, Peter, Saul, Judas, Hymeneus, Philetus, Alexander and Demas.
This objection, so far as it relates to those who are supposed to have fallen away, and been brought to repentance, is refuted by the passage in llebrews, in which it is said, if they shall fall away, it is impossible to renero them again to repentance. The passage in Ezekiel which we have already considered, is equally decisive. So also