Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS”[1] Part 1

Philippians 1.6

Turn in your Bible to Philippians 1.6: “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.” These are the words of the Apostle Paul, written to his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ in the Philippian church, located in the Roman colony city of Philippi, in the economically depressed region north of modern day Greece that was then known as Macedonia. Please take note of the fact that the inspired apostle writes with confidence, and that his language is both plain and definite.

This evening I want to bring a message from God’s Word concerning the perseverance of the saints. The first part of the message, that I will bring to you this evening, will be devoted to establishing the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The second part of the message, which I will deliver next Sunday, Lord willing, will be devoted to drawing inferences from the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Therefore, make sure you are here next week so that you can properly tie together these two important messages related to this crucial Bible doctrine.

First, ESTABLISHING THE DOCTRINE OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

With respect to this good work that Paul informs us that God has begun, several things claim our attention:

Let us deal, first, with the work itself. It may be observed that it is not the work of conviction that Paul speaks of here. Conviction commonly precedes this good work, and conviction is the effect of the Holy Spirit’s influence on a sinner, therefore some people have concluded that conviction must be this good work Paul mentions here, since it is the effect of a good cause. However, this is faulty logic. You see, since every effect is distinct from its cause, it is possible for a good cause to produce a bad effect. For example: The demons continue to exist because of God’s agency, which can only be described as a good cause. Additionally, God will forever cause the wicked to feel the weight of His wrath, which is a good cause. Yet this holy and righteous act of God will produce no virtue or good work in those who are damned to endure an eternity in the lake of fire. Other examples: Felix may tremble and Judas Iscariot may despair, but it was no virtue in either one of them. God may cause the terrors of Hell to seize on the most hardened sinner and he may die in despair, but this bears no resemblance at all to the good work referred to in our text. Therefore, it does not necessarily follow that a good cause produces a good effect. Understand that, in and of itself, there is no good in the fear of Hell. It is also evident that this is not the good work intended by Paul in our text, from the fact that the fear of Hell does not always remain. However, the good work referred to in our text, you see, will clearly go on in spite of all opposition. Conviction, as opposed to this good work, is oftentimes of short duration. It is a fact that sinners will tremble and have terrible fears about their future, will be tormented by concerns about endless punishment, but will then fall asleep again, more secure than ever. The work of conviction, being oftentimes of short duration, is, therefore, not the work the Apostle Paul is referring to here. Do you suppose this good work Paul speaks of is anything that can be found in the natural man, the unsaved person? This needs to be asked, since every imagination of the thoughts of your heart is only evil continually. According to the Bible, you are by nature depraved, and unto every good work reprobate. As well, in Matthew 7.17, Jesus taught that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Therefore, since good works cannot be the product of an unsaved man’s sinful nature, good works can only be the result of a new creation. Says Paul in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Therefore, this good work of which Paul writes in our text can only be regeneration, or the new creature. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,” Second Corinthians 5.17. This, then, is the foundation, the beginning of the good work. The good work of which Paul speaks in our text, which leads to a person doing good works, is regeneration. Observe about this work of regeneration that, first, the work is God’s work. The new creature is God’s workmanship, while man, who is the subject of this work, is completely passive. John 1.13 informs us that he is “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So you see, in this work God displays His sovereignty. “Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth,” James 1.18. God alone can raise a soul from the death of sin to a life of holiness. He must breathe upon the slain or they will never draw the breath of everlasting life.

Next, God not only begins but also carries on this good work. It seems that many people who acknowledge that God begins this work seem to forget that His power is equally concerned in continuing it. They talk and reason as though God in a sovereign manner began this work, and then left it in the hands of human beings to perform it or not. However, if it were depending primarily on the Christian it would instantly cease. Consider some things. Is the love of God shed abroad in a believer’s heart? It is by the Holy Spirit. Does that child of God continue in the exercise of faith? It is because he is kept by the power of God. As well, Jesus is the author and the finisher of his faith. Does he exercise any Christian grace, such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance? These are the fruit of the Spirit. The branch cannot bear fruit by itself. Respecting His vineyard it is written, “I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment,” Isaiah 27.3. Does the good Christian man walk in the path of duty? His steps are ordained of the LORD, Psalm 37.23. He cannot take another step without being led. Whatever might be said on this subject, he cannot pray an intelligent prayer to God without knowing this to be true. Not one Christian walks without being led. Paul wrote in Romans 8.14, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Later on in this same Philippian letter, Paul writes, “I follow after, if that I may apprehend . . . of Christ Jesus.”[2] Therefore, it is quite evident that the same power, which began the good work, is necessary to continue the good work. This is revealed in our text, “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it.” The beginning of this good work is, of course, regeneration, and that which follows in the Christian’s life is called sanctification.

We now come to the main thrust of this message, which has to do with finishing the work. That God’s work, once begun will be finished, is on the other side of the coin termed the final perseverance of the saints. The final perseverance of the saints, it must be understood, is not the result of either human effort or human ingenuity. What follows is what the final perseverance of the saints is predicated on. First, finishing the work is predicated on the Abrahamic Covenant. God made a promise to Abraham, which we do not have time now to deal with in depth, but which the New Covenant, found in both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, enlarges upon.[3] “Now to Abraham, and his seed were the promises made, he saith not, unto seeds, as of many; but as of one, to thy seed, which is Christ.” Paul writes this in Galatians 3.16, showing to us that the promises God made to Abraham, which are fulfilled in the Abrahamic Covenant and in the New Covenant, benefit those of us who have come to Christ by faith. All the promises of God are in Christ, to the glory of God. This Abrahamic Covenant includes everyone who will ever be saved. As Paul writes, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”[4] Paul also wrote, “According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy.”[5] And Christ said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6.37. So you see that in Christ are derived all the great spiritual benefits. This covenant depends on no conditions to be performed by man. God has engaged to cause beneficiaries of this covenant to persevere. This everlasting covenant, which the living God has sworn shall never be removed, certifies,

38     And they shall be my people, and I will be their God:

39     And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them:

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 in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.[6]

Here God, Who cannot lie, declares in the strongest manner that those who are included in this covenant shall not depart from Him, and that He will never cease to do them good. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shalt not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee,” Isaiah 54.10. Therefore, the saints will persevere because no man can disannul the covenant that God has made and which God alone is bound to keep. Second, finishing the work is predicated on the love of God. The unmerited, the eternal, love of God moved Him to begin this work. Jeremiah 31.3 reads, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.” David wrote in Psalm 103.17 “The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.” Then we turn to Romans 8.38-39 and read these words:

38     For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39     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.

Third, the final perseverance of the saints is predicated on the power of God. The power of God is engaged on behalf of those who are saved. Believers “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” First Peter 1.5. Listen to what Jesus said in John 10.27-28:

27     My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

28     And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

He also said, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand,” John 10.29. He who has all power in His hand, and whose kingdom rules over all, has declared by the mouth of His servant, as we read in Romans 8.28-30,

28     And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29     For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30     Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

Here is a chain, then, which all the powers of darkness cannot break. “They that trust in the LORD shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever,” Psalm 125.1. Fourth, the final perseverance of the saints is predicated on the intercession of Christ for His people. Our glorious Advocate, who ever liveth to make intercession for us, will thoroughly plead our cause. Our ascended Redeemer is not a beggar Who may or may not succeed in obtaining His requests. He is always heard by the Father, for He has fully performed the task to secure for us the benefits of the covenant, and to all its blessings He has an established right. In His intercession, every believer is interested. His plea is always valid. “Who, then, shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?”[7] And further, Christ has pledged His faithfulness. He said,

38     I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.

39     And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.[8]

If Christ, to whom believers were given, became responsible for those same believers to the Father at the last day, as these words clearly declare, then He will not lose a single one given to Him. The same truth is further evident from this; union to Christ. Scripture declares that Christ is our life, and “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” The life of one is the life of the other, because He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, and therefore, absolutely inseparable. By reason of this union, the life of Christ and the eternal life of the believer are one. As Jesus said, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” John 14.19. Fifth, the final perseverance of the saints is predicated upon the promises of God to His children. The Bible says, “He that believeth shall be saved.” That statement is unqualified, and that promise is absolute. Here it may be proper to consider a very common mistake on this subject. A very common error is made by correcting the Word of God by making all the promises contained in it conditional. People will add thoughts such as “if we continue to believe,” or “if we do our duty,” or “if we are not deficient on our part.” However, such an approach to scripture inverts the order of the text and subverts all of God’s work at a single stroke. For if we continue to believe, if we continue to do our duty, and if we are not wanting on our part, then God has nothing to do. The work is lifted from His hands and the believer undertakes the task alone. If these are the conditions on which we are to receive the promise of salvation, then there is not a single absolute promise in the Bible. Such conditions cannot be performed in this lifetime. Therefore, it is absurd to talk about such promises on this side of the grave, since the conditions would have to be performed before the promise could be claimed. If salvation is suspended on the condition that we do our duty, that we be not wanting on our part, then all will be lost. For if we do our duty we shall keep all the commands of God. In addition, if we are not wanting on our part we would be absolutely perfect. After the performance of such conditions, there would be no necessity for God to carry on the work of sanctification. That would be like a lifeguard telling a drowning swimmer that if he can just make it to shore on his own he will be glad to rescue him. So, how does all this work? If we do as well as we can, may we not claim some promise of help from God? That type of thinking is common among so-called Christians, but you cannot find it in the Bible. If it could be found in the Bible, not one soul would be saved in this way. This is because, if the assistance of the Holy Spirit of God is necessary in order to enable the Christian to do his duty, on what conditions does God grant that assistance? You will remember that every good work is the fruit of the Spirit. God begins, and carries on the work. On what conditions, then, does He do it? None whatever. If you make your perseverance depend on you, you will never make it. What about people who think they play a role in persevering to the end? It is no wonder that they imagine they can lose their salvation and be lost. For if they are right in their thinking they certainly will all be lost. While looking at the Christian and the conditions which he would perform, Paul would say his strength is weakness. He would say that he had no confidence in the flesh. However, when looking at the Christian and the work which God had undertaken to perform, he would say: “I am confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun it will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” While considering the promises of God to His children, let me point out one more important fact which you should never forget. Everyone agrees that what God promised to do He will certainly do. True? Then consider this: Either there is some connection between your believing now and your final salvation or there is not. Would you agree to that? If there is no connection between believing now and being finally saved, if God has made no such promise, then the fact that you now believe is no evidence that you will not eventually be lost. The fact that the Philippian jailer rejoiced after believing on Christ was no evidence that he would not be in Hell the next day. Is that not correct, if there is no connection between believing now and being finally saved then? If that be true, then all who believed on the day of Pentecost may now be in Hell. Is that not true? As well, you may rejoice in a revival, or because sinners are brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of conversion, but this is no evidence that they will not dwell in the blackness of darkness forever, if there is no connection between believing now and being finally saved then. True? Today there may be joy heaven over one sinner who repents, and tomorrow that sinner may very well be in Hell. You here today who are believing in Christ, you may rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory and your sins may now be actually forgiven. Yet, this is no evidence that you will not, for all your sins, suffer the pains of Hell forever if there is no connection between your present belief and your final destination. Is there no connection between your believing now and your final salvation? Yet this is precisely what those who think you can lose your salvation believe. Where, then, will you look for comfort and assurance? Are you supposed to start making resolutions? Resolutions provide no safety for even a moment. Suppose you decide, “Though I should die with thee, yet I will not deny thee.” However, that was what Peter did, yet we see from him that your own strength is perfect weakness. His resolution failed on its first test. You see, the man who trusts in his own heart is a fool. If you have ever seen the depravity of your own heart, and your absolute dependence on the sovereign, unmerited grace of God, where can you find an anchor for your soul? Nowhere can the Christian look for salvation with the least bit of confidence without adopting Paul’s language in our text. If you cannot say that you are confident of this very thing, that God will perform the good work wherever He begins it, you certainly can have no confidence that you will be saved. Whatever hope or consolation you may derive from any other source, it is all vain confidence and a delusion. Granting that God has actually begun a good work, yet if He has made no absolute unconditional promise that He will never leave it unfinished, then no Christian on earth has the least evidence that he will be finally saved. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Hey, the Christian may be lost. You stand in jeopardy every hour. Has God made no promise? Paul told the Ephesians that the stranger without the covenants of promise was without hope and without God in the world. “But the foundation of God standeth sure,” Second Timothy 2.19. Wherever God has begun a good work in the believer, He has sealed it with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of the inheritance. And the Father of mercies has declared that He will confirm them to the end and preserve them to His kingdom, that the righteous shall hold on his way, and be stronger and stronger, that though he fall he shall not utterly be cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand, that they shall not depart from Him. Yes, God has repeatedly declared that He will never, no never leave them nor forsake them. “And hath He said, and shall He not make it good?” Numbers 23.19. These promises, with many others, are unconditional and absolute. He that cannot lie made these promises. If God is immutable, if there is any validity in His promises, then the true believer shall certainly persevere. The basis of your confidence and your consolation is firm and strong. You have the utmost reason to conclude with Paul, that wherever God begins a good work, He will certainly perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. For the Only Wise God who has once laid the foundation of this good work in regeneration, will never leave it unfinished. No, it shall never be said by His enemies, “Here God began to build, but was not able to finish.”

Having considered the evidence in favor of this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, let me briefly deal with some of the principal objections against this doctrine. First, some will say that if professing Christians believe this doctrine, then no matter how they live they will think that their salvation is certain and that they cannot be lost. To that, I reply that I cannot guarantee that some sinners will not be deceived into believing some falsehoods, but let us be careful about which falsehood is responsible for their destruction. To be sure, there are some who now imagine themselves to be Christians who are almost certainly lost. I think this is the case with literally millions of people. However, this objection has nothing to do with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which is the belief that the true Christian will certainly persevere. Since the objection really has nothing to do with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, the objection is absurd. If we shall certainly persevere no matter how we live, then we shall certainly persevere whether we persevere or not. If it be true that the righteous shall hold on his way, no matter if he stop, or even go back, then it is true. Point made. Second, some people will say that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints tends to make Christians careless. That is just as absurd as the previous objection. Let me tell you why. You and I both know that everyone who has ever made a false profession of faith in Christ, everyone who has ever been baptized, everyone who has ever been to church and then has fallen back to living a wicked lifestyle, and every religious hypocrite you have ever known, derives great comfort from the phrase “once saved always saved.” I do not deny that for a minute. However, what does that have to do with those who are genuinely saved? We know that there are tares among the wheat. However, what does a doctrine that speaks only to the condition of the wheat have to do with the tares? This objection is absurd. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints applies only to the saints; only to those God has regenerated and given a new heart toward Him. Such people as have that new heart toward God will love Him, will obey Him, will serve Him, and will work for Him, because they have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and because the Spirit of God indwells them. I am suspicious of those who deny the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, who seem unaware of the existence of their new heart in their own bosoms, who seem alien to the results of regeneration. Besides, many very energetic and zealous Christians firmly believe this very doctrine. Paul is the best example, and he wrote, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”[9] Then, of course, there is our text in which he declares his confidence on this very subject. Third, some object to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, citing Hebrews 6.4-6:

4      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,

5      And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

6      If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

The old Puritans would say that this passage lacks proof that these were Christians being written to, since nothing is said regarding their love, their faith, and so on. Therefore, if those mentioned in this passage were not Christians, their case, had they been actually lost, would be no objection to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. On the other hand, if these are Christians, and if they had actually fallen, then the belief that this is referring to losing one’s salvation actually goes too far. Remember, Peter fell and repented again, while this passage says that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Therefore, if I grant someone who objects to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints his whole argument, he is left with a difficulty from which he cannot remove himself. How is it that Peter fell and repented again if this passage says that it would be impossible? Therefore, this passage does not really deal with the issue of a believer losing his salvation at all. Fourth, some would cite Hymenaeus, Alexander, Simon Magus, Demas, King Saul, Judas Iscariot, and others in God’s Word who have apostatized as examples contrary to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. However, the conduct of those men proves that they were never Christians. Their case will be found to be the best comment that can be given on First John 3.6: “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” There is also First 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.” These two passages show that those previously named were not Christians. For if they had been true believers, it is said in both verses I read that there could be no doubt of their perseverance. Finally, to conclude with objections to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, when the wicked shall be all assembled on the left hand of Christ, at the Day of Judgment, there will not be found one Christian Christ has acknowledged. Some will plead that King Saul, or Judas, and others, were once real Christians. However, when they stand up and plead for themselves that they have prophesied, and even cast out devils, and in the name of Christ done many wonderful works, Christ will say, “I profess unto you, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”[10]

My friends, this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is either true or false. Either it is a truth derived from scripture or it is an evil invention. I conclude this first portion of the sermon with a contrast. On the one hand, the doctrine is positively asserted in scripture, and on the other, it is positively denied by some men. Listen and decide which position you recognize to be valid.

On the one hand, we read in God’s Word: “He that believeth shall be saved.” On the other someone says, “He may be lost.”

On the one hand, we read in God’s Word: “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation.” On the other someone says, “He may be condemned.”

On the one hand, we read in God’s Word: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” On the other someone says, “They may be condemned.”

On the one hand, we read in God’s Word: “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” On the other someone says, “Some will be lost.”

On the one hand, we read in God’s Word: “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die. Believest thou this?” On the other someone says, “No, we do not believe it.”

With this doctrine being established, we see again that salvation is wholly of grace from first to last, and the believer is taught to put no confidence in his own strength or resolutions. It rests wholly with God whether any shall persevere and be saved, or fall and be lost. Though you are weak and feeble, Almighty God has said, “I will never leave thee.” “Fear not; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” What God has promised, He is able also to perform. Therefore, when the powers of earth and the gates of Hell unite to assail the believer, menacing his destruction, then the Name, the promises, the oath, and the attributes of our God are a strong tower and an impregnable fortress. Conscious of his own inability, the believer runs into that impregnable fortress and is safe from every attack. Are you safe from every attack? Only if you truly know Jesus. For only then is the work begun that will be done.



[1] Adapted from a sermon by Asahel Nettleton

[2] Philippians 3.12

[3] Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12.1-3, 7; 13.14-17; 15.1-21; 17.1-21; 22.15-18), New Covenant (Jeremiah 31.31-34; 32.40; Ezekiel 16.60; 34.25-31; 37.26-28; Romans 11.25-27). See Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link In Systematic Theology, (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries Press, 1994), pages 572-581, 586-587.

[4] 2 Timothy 1.9

[5] Ephesians 1.4

[6] Jeremiah 32.38-40

[7] Romans 8.33-34

[8] John 6.38-39

[9] Romans 8.38-39

[10] Matthew 7.22-23



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