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The Doctrine of Being Saved Eternally

    

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All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000.

 

John 17:1-5

Perhaps it is as well, at this point, to remind ourselves of the fact that when our blessed Lord and Saviour offered this prayer to his Father, he did so audibly. It was a prayer addressed to God, but it was meant to be overheard by the disciples. And the whole character of the prayer, not only in this first section, which we have been considering, but the entire prayer as recorded in the whole chapter, drives us to the same conclusion---that our Lord had one great object in thus praying this prayer audibly, and that was that these disciples and followers of his might know for certain the security of their position. The whole tenor of the prayer is that our Lord is handing over these disciples to God the Father, and praying to him to look after them, as it were, and he does so audibly in order that they might know that. But in so doing, he enters into certain details, and it is as we look at these details, as we have been doing, that we really grasp all the great and high doctrine, and come to the conclusion that our position is safe and secure.

In other words, we have been engaged in an analysis of these verses, in order that we all might really find ourselves experiencing what Augustus Toplady expresses in his well-known hymn, that position in which a man is confident and assured, certain that nothing can ever separate him from the love of God:

Things future, nor things that are now,

Nor all things below or above,

Can make Him His purpose forego,

Or sever my soul from His love.

 

That is the great doctrine that is announced here in these verses---the security of the believer. Our Lord was coming to the end of his earthly life. He was leaving the world and going back to God to share that eternal glory in all its fullness, and our Lord's great concern was that these followers of his---and through them all who would believe because of their preaching and all Christians in all ages everywhere---should know for certain the security of their position. And we find it, as a result, one of the greatest themes in all the New Testament epistles. In a sense, that is why every one of these epistles was written, in order that all Christians might know, and the writers exhort them to live a certain type of life because of this. Christians are not exhorted to do certain things in order that they ultimately might arrive in heaven. Rather, they are told to live this kind of life because they are destined for it, and it is because of this that sin is so unthinkable, and so incompatible.

John summarizes that in his first epistle when he says, `Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself' (1 John 3:3), so the great thing is to know that we have this hope. You find it again, for example, in Hebrews 6, where the author exhorts the Hebrew Christians to continue to give diligence to good works, `to the full assurance of hope unto the end' (verse 11)---it is the same thought. He wants them to know that they have an anchor within the veil, `Whither,' he says, `the forerunner is for us entered' (verse 20). That is the way to live the Christian life. The Christian was never meant to go through this world haltingly and uncertainly, wondering whether he is a Christian, hoping that sometime or other before death something may suddenly happen to him. No, he should start in this position and he should walk steadfastly and assuredly in the direction of his eternal hope. That, I say, is the purpose of this great prayer and it comes out especially in the great and high doctrine we have looked at together in these first five verses. Indeed, it has been our object and endeavour, as we have been considering them, to bring out that aspect of the truth, in order that we all might enjoy `the full assurance of hope right unto the end'.

Now we have been doing it in a detailed manner, and what I want to do here is to try to sum it all up and to take one of those synoptic views of the whole, so that we may see ourselves as we are in God's great plan and purpose. We have outlined that as it is taught here and we have seen certain things about it. We have seen that it is not something contingent or fortuitous, it is something that has been planned, and the names of God's people have been written in the Lamb's book of life from before the foundation of the world. That is the starting point and we have looked at it as it is unfolded and as it has been enacted and brought to pass in this world. In other words, our salvation is dependent upon God's eternal purpose, carried out in history, so that we are not saved by ideas or by theories, but by certain things that have been done and enacted once and for ever. Our salvation must always be thought of in those terms and categories. It belongs to history and it is as definitely historical as the fact that Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC. It is all dependent on certain events, things that have actually taken place. So, having gone into these things in detail, I want now to gather up the grounds for our belief in the security of the Christian believer, and to put it in the form of a number of principles.

First, we are told that the Christian is one who has been chosen by God and has been given by God to his Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.' Now that is a vital statement. I wonder whether you have ever noticed that our Lord repeats it seven times in this one chapter. I do not want you to become interested merely statistically---that is not the point---but I do want you to see the importance of this statement. There it is in the second verse: `that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him'. Then in verse 6, he says, `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world', and again 'thine they were, and thou gayest them me'---so he says it twice in that sixth verse. Then we find it again in the ninth verse: `I pray for them'---notice this---'I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.' He does not pray for the world, he prays only for those who belong to God and whom God has given to him---there is the great division. Then we find it in verse 11: 'And now,' he says, `I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.' It is the same reference. And again in the next verse: `While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition.' And finally we are given it for the last time in verse 24: `Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.'

Now the plain teaching of these scriptures is obviously that God the Father has given a certain people to God the Son, and the Son has come into this world specifically to give eternal life to those people and to nobody else.

'Ah,' you say, `but I do not understand that sort of doctrine!'

But I am simply explaining to you the statement of the Scriptures. If there is any other conceivable explanation of these statements I shall be interested to hear what it is. This is not my theory, or that of any other man. Our Lord says it seven times in this one chapter, and it is a statement you find repeatedly running through the Scriptures, namely that God his Father has given him, as it were, a mass of people, that he should give eternal life `to as many as thou hast given me'. So that the business of the Son is to give eternal life to each one of those people. That is what our Lord himself says in this great high priestly prayer under the very shadow of the cross.

But when I say something like this, people immediately begin to ask questions. They say, `I do not understand the love of God that can do this for some and not for others.'

My dear friends, I do not understand it, neither does anybody else understand it. Our business is to come to Scripture and to believe it. I do not pretend to understand the eternal mind of God and how it works. I am not meant to do that. This is the trouble with the philosophers. They say that they do not understand how God can to this or that, they want to explain the mind of the almighty God with their pigmy minds and it cannot be done. And that is why the philosophers find it so difficult to become Christians. All I know is that the blessed Son of God, standing in this world, says, `I pray not for the world'; he prays only for those whom God has given him. He does not even say that he has chosen them, he says that God the Father has chosen them and given him these people. And as I understand this doctrine, it is that when the Son came from heaven, he came with a great commission from the Father. It was that he should do certain things in this world in order that he could give eternal life to those people whom God had set apart unto himself and whom he had given to the Son as his inheritance.

If you trace that doctrine through the Scriptures, you will find it in the Old Testament quite as plainly as in the New; you will find it everywhere. Your salvation and mine was something that was known to God, and our names written in the Lamb's book of life, before the creation of the world. You do not understand it, neither do I, but, thank God, we are not saved by our understanding, but by our acceptance of the truth. Indeed, it is quite unscriptural for men and women to put their intellectual difficulties before the plain statement of Scripture, and I think we need to reconsider this matter. It is not a bit surprising that we find it difficult to equate certain scriptural statements with our conception of the love of God. But the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, says that `It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe' (1 Corinthians 1:21), but the wise, those people who trust to their own understanding are confused---'to the Greeks foolishness'.

My dear friends, the way to start considering these matters is just to remind yourself of what you are. Measure your mind, which you have set up as the ultimate court of appeal and authority, how big is it? What do we really understand with our minds? Do we understand ourselves, do we understand life, do we understand the whole mystery and marvel of creation? Do we understand `the meanest flower that blows', electricity, or something as small as an atom? Of course we do not! And yet we put up our little minds against the mind of God. Our minds are too small, their scope is too limited. But that is not the whole truth about us. Not only are our faculties limited to start with, we are, furthermore, sinful creatures. We see nothing straight and everything is influenced by that fact. Our mind is naturally at enmity with God and all our understanding is defective, tarnished and soiled by sin.

That is why the Christian position is that henceforth I cease to put anything in terms of `my mind and my understanding'. And I come as a little child to the Bible, realizing that it will not be open to me except my mind be enlightened by the Holy Spirit---so I do not trust to my mind. Faith means that we voluntarily and deliberately open ourselves up to the revelation of the Bible and that when we do not understand things we say, `I do not understand, but I am content not to understand. I believe the word of God and I rest myself and my whole position entirely upon it.' That is the faith position. The moment that you begin to bring in your mind and natural arguments and say that you cannot see or understand something, you are turning from the revelation and are reverting back to the sinful position of putting your mind up as the supreme court of appeal. In Romans 8 we are told that `whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son ... and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified' (verses 29-30). He has done it; the Christian is already glorified as he is justified in the sight of God, though still on earth. He may be `accounted as sheep for the slaughter' (verse 36), but he is glorified. God does not do things in a piecemeal manner, he does everything as a whole, and he knows his people. `The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal. The Lord knoweth them that are his' (2 Timothy 2:19). God has known his people from the very beginning, and he has separated them unto himself. Paul prays for the Ephesians that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened, that they may know `what is the hope of his calling and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints' (1:18). It is the same doctrine; we find it everywhere in the Bible.

So, this is the first basis and ground of our security and our assurance. My assurance rests upon the fact that, if I am a Christian at all, I am a Christian because God has chosen me unto salvation and separated me; he has taken me out of it all, and has given me to his Son that the Son might give me eternal life. What a blessed basis on which to live! What an astounding fact! Oh, the unutterable folly of men and women who try by philosophy to understand the inscrutable, the eternal, and reject such a doctrine! Some people believe that you can receive eternal life from the blessed Son of God and then lose it, then regain it, and then lose it again, and go on thus uncertainly in this world until you come to die. My friends, it is an insult to God! It is an insult to God's glorious plan of redemption, it is an insult to God's eternal way of doing things---'that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him'. What a conception, that God has given me to Christ, that Christ might save me and might give me eternal life.

That is the first ground, but let us come to another. The second basis of security and assurance, according to our Lord, is that every hindrance and obstacle to our receiving this gift of eternal life has been removed by the blessed work of the Lord himself. `I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.' Many things have had to be done before I could receive the gift of eternal life. As a natural man I wondered how I could get it. Now we have already considered what it is. You remember that eternal life really means that we are sharers of the life of God and are in communion with him. Is it not obvious, therefore, that a great many things have to happen before we can come into that condition? So, thank God, my second ground for assurance is that it has all been done. There is nothing that has been left undone. He has dealt with the problem of my guilt, by removing it. He has reconciled me to God, the law of God has been satisfied---'Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?' (Romans 8:33). I can ask, and without any qualification: `Is there anybody anywhere who can bring any charge against me as a child of God?' There is none, for, `It is God that justifieth' (Romans 8:33). He himself has done it for, `It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God' (verse 34).

Christian people, this is the position we are meant to occupy. Let me quote another hymn of Augustus Toplady:

 

The terrors of law and of God

With me can have nothing to do.

My Saviour's obedience and blood,

Hide all my transgressions from view.

 

That is not boasting for I am not relying upon myself, but upon him---'My Saviour's obedience and blood, hide all my transgressions from view', and unless you can say that, there is something defective about your faith. Far from being boastful, that is the thing that humbles a man, the thing that makes him strive after holiness, because it is true. Or take again that line.

 

Of covenant mercy I sing.

 

Now that is what our Lord is saying here. He tells his Father that all which was necessary has been done, the guilt removed, the law satisfied, the Father reconciled, the new nature given, the Holy Spirit given, and the work going on until ultimately this child of God will find himself faultless and blameless without spot or blemish, perfect in the presence of God. Our security is that the work has been done, every hindrance, every obstacle, every barrier has been removed, because Christ has done it all, He said, `I go to prepare a place for you' (John 14:2), and he has done what he promised, so that the ultimate outcome is, as Toplady says---

 

More happy but not more secure,

The glorified spirits in heaven.

 

What a statement to make! According to Augustus Toplady, on the basis of these things, the glorified spirits in heaven are not more secure than we are here on earth, because our security is in Christ. Of course, they are happier than we are, they are in a land where there is no sin, no shame, no sorrow, no sighing; more happy---yes---but they are not more secure.

And I will tell you why this is so. To be a Christian, you see, does not just mean that I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and have my sins forgiven. It also means that I am in Christ, I am in him and he is in me. I am a part of him; I have died with him; I have risen with him. He is my life and I am in him. So, being in him, I am as secure as those who are with him in heaven, and it is because he has dealt with every barrier and hindrance and obstacle to our receiving this blessed life.

Then the third ground and basis of my security and assurance is the very character and nature of the life itself. I need not dilate on this, because we have already spent some time in considering it. But to make this statement complete, I must just refer to it in passing. You remember that the nature of the life is that we really do become `partakers of the divine nature', that we are born of God, that we are his children and that we are sharers in the life of God himself. Now I argue that because of that, it is something which cannot come and go. It cannot change. It is something which is stable and everlasting. It is, indeed, eternal life, and we saw as we analysed it that `eternal' implies duration. We are all destined either for eternal life or for a life of condemnation and destruction, and they both go on for ever. Eternal life is the life of God, and because of that, it is everlasting, so it is eternal life in that sense.

I find it quite extraordinary that anybody calling himself a Christian can believe that he can receive this gift of the life of God, and then, because of sin, lose it and then accept it again and then lose it once more. You cannot go on being born and dying! No, if you receive the life of God, then God himself gives you this gift through his Son, and the very quality, the nature and character of the life means that it is imperishable. Our Lord has already said this in the gospel of John, `Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand' (John 10:28)---it is impossible. Or again, the apostle Paul says, `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 8:38-39). Furthermore, this is especially true because he himself has given us this life. So we are in this new relationship, we belong to the family of God, we are separated out of the world, we are separated unto God, we are a part of his plan and purpose, and we belong to him. That is why Paul can say with such confidence that `the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us' (Romans 8:18). We are saved by hope, hope which is sure and certain, because it is based upon the character, indeed upon the life, of God himself. Therefore, if we know that we have eternal life, it should encourage us, and strengthen us. It should enable us to know that because God has given us that gift, it is indeed, as God himself has said, an eternal life.

`Well, then,' says someone, `because I am saved, it means that I can blaspheme and do anything I like.' But the man who knows that he has eternal life, never reasons like that---'Every man that hath his hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure' (1 John 3:3). The man who knows that he has eternal life, and that he is going on to face God in heaven, is the man above everybody else who is going to be striving after holiness. That has always been the case, it is the argument of the Scriptures, and that is how God's people have argued throughout the centuries. Did you know that foreign mission work was started originally by people who believed things like this? The greatest motive of the missionary enterprise has always been that they have known that God is the means as well as the end. They have believed that God has called them to propagate the gospel, and because of that they have sacrificed everything, even their lives, and gone and preached. The man who is most ready to sacrifice his life for the gospel is the man who knows that even death cannot separate him from the love of God and that he has the life of God in him. This is why the men who believe these truths have always been the greatest workers in the kingdom of God. It has been their certain knowledge that they are the children of God and possessors of eternal life.

My next basis is one of the most precious of all. We must work out the argument based upon the fact that our Lord has suffered so much and so many things, in order that all this might be possible for us. This is his statement, `I have gloritied thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.' He was referring to his coming from heaven, to the fact that he had laid aside the signs of his glory. He did not clutch at his power or exhalt it. Though he was in equality with God, he humbled himself and decided to live as man. He relied entirely upon God and the gift of the Holy Spirit which he received. He humbled himself. He endured the contradiction of sinners, and he sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He staggered beneath the weight of the cruel cross, the nails were hammered into his hands and feet, he suffered intolerable thirst, and he died. He has done all that, so then---this is the argument `If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life' (Romans 5:10); `He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?' (Romans 8:32).

This logic is quite inevitable and I work it out like this: Christ has borne and suffered all that for me in order that he might give me the gift of eternal life. So, in the light of that, is it still feasible to believe that he should do all that for me and my salvation and then suddenly leave me and let me perish? It is impossible! `If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved'---and saved to the very end---'by his life' (Romans 5:10). What a wonderful powerful argument this is! I believe that is why he prayed aloud in the presence of these men, `I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.' I have done all this for them, and if I have done all this for them, I will never leave them to perish or sink now.

We must understand that argument and employ it. The Son of God has done the greatest thing for us and he will never fail us. If he suffered even to the cross, there, glorified in heaven, `He ever liveth to make intercession for them' (Hebrew 7:25). This is the logic, according to the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. `He saves to the uttermost. ..' (verse 25), to the very end. He will never fail, for his blood, his cross, is a guarantee of that. If he had come to do the work while here on earth, how much more will he do it now in heaven, in his glorified state. So as we use that argument we find it a great and grand basis of security and assurance.

But the last basis on which I stand, is the one which he puts in these words: `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.' It is a literal statement of fact. God the Father has given to the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, power over all flesh, over everything---there is nothing that is not placed under him. That is Scripture again. You realize what that means. The universe, the cosmos, every star in its orbit, the sun and moon, every power, every atom with its magnetic force and power, all are under his power. Everything in nature and creation, man and all his powers, his devices, his machinations, everything that he is capable of doing, it is all under the power of God, under the power of Christ.

It goes even beyond that. The future is in his hands. There is a picture in Revelation of the book that was sealed up, and we are told that no one was found who was big enough or strong enough to open the book of the course of history, until suddenly there appeared the Lion of Judah. He prevailed because he was strong enough and mighty enough to open the book. All this simply means that the whole of future history is in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may be worried about the international situation, you need not be, nor about any earthly force or power, because the whole of history is in his hands. Of course, we do not understand it all. He permits many things that we do not understand, but the fact that he permits it means that it is still in his power. There is nothing out of hand.

I want to go one step further and say that the devil is under his power. The devil is under the control of Christ, because he has absolute power and even the devil is subject to it. Christ has conquered, and what the devil does is under the sufferance of God, for God's inscrutable reason and purpose. We are so clever with our philosophies that we say, `Now why did God do that? Why didn't he decide to make us perfect? Why is Satan allowed to do this?' And we go on asking our questions. But the faith position is that you and I just humble ourselves as little children, and bow to the fact that God has so ordered and ordained it. He has determined the times, but there is a very definite limit to the time. God knows the day on which the Lord Jesus Christ will come back into this world. Men, and nations, and powers, and all that is opposed to God, will be taken by him and cast into the lake of perdition, and he will give the final proof that all flesh has been subjected to him and to his almighty power.

But the argument here is that all power has been given to him over all flesh in order that he might give eternal life. So Christ has done all that I have described in order to give to me the gift of eternal life. In this life and world the flesh is within me, and it drags me down. There are lusts and passions and desires in me. There is no such thing as a perfect human being in this world, even though he may be a Christian. Things are here trying to drag me down and to rob me of eternal life. Against me are the world and the devil, who even tempted the blessed Son of God. How can I stand against all this? There is only one way: he is able to control it all. The guarantee that you and I can arrive in heaven and in glory is that he does control it all and that we are saved in spite of the world and the flesh and the devil. This is because the `power that worketh in us' is the power of God, the power that brought Christ from the dead, and it enables us to go through and beyond it all.

Paul puts it in as extreme a form as this. There are, he says, certain preachers who are building upon a foundation of wood and hay and stubble. And at the end, when the testing comes, all their works will be burnt and destroyed, so that there will be nothing left. It will all be burnt up because it was so shoddy and useless. Yet, he says, they themselves will be saved `so as by fire' (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). And what has saved them? It is this power of the Lord over all flesh. He suffers us to be tried and tempted, but he will never suffer us to be lost. No man, nothing, can pluck us out of his hand. He exercises the power, and he will continue to do so, so that neither man, nor history, nor the devil, nor hell, nor anything at all can ever separate us from him. So in the words of the hymn we can say---

 

From Him who loves me now so well

What power my soul can sever?

Shall life or death, shall earth or hell?

No, I am His for ever.

James Grindlay Small

 

My dear friend, if you are relying upon your love for him or upon your grasp or hold of him, I am sorry for you. I pity you, because my only reliance is upon him. The gift he gives us is eternal life---it is himself. So the end and the consummation of all this is that we must trust, and trust alone, to the faithfulness of Christ. He has done everything for you and he will hold you and save you to the end, and will present you faultless before the presence of God's glory with exceeding joy. Oh, how we should thank him that he offered this prayer audibly, that we might know where we stand, and know that we are surrounded by his love, and saved eternally, safe in his eternal kingdom.(175-189)

 

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