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Eternal Security of the Believer: Part 2

By Harry Ironside

      A Dangerous Doctrine?

      People say, "If you preach this doctrine of the eternal security of the believer, men will say, 'Well, then it doesn't make any difference what I do, I will get to heaven anyway.'" It makes a tremendous difference what you do. If you do not behave yourself, it shows that you are not a real Christian. I know that a real Christian may fail, but the difference can be seen in Peter and Judas. Peter failed, and failed terribly, but he was genuine, and one look from Jesus sent him out weeping bitterly; his heart was broken to think that he had so dishonored his Lord. But Judas companied with the Lord almost three-and-a-half years and was a devil all the time; he was a thief and was seeking his own interest. He was even made the treasurer of that company and he held the bag, but we read, "He bare [away] what was put therein" (John 12:6), as this has been literally translated. At last remorse overtook him, not genuine repentance, and what was the result? He went and hanged himself. He was never a child of God. There is a great difference, you see, between a Christian and a false professor.

      Justified By Faith

      "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life." Do you believe it? I do not understand how people can read a passage like that and then talk about a Christian losing his life. It would not be eternal if it could be lost. "And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." The original is very strong here. In the English a double negative makes an affirmative, but in Greek it only strengthens a declaration. "They shall never, no never, perish." It is impossible, it is unthinkable, that one who has eternal life shall ever perish. "My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." Here I am, a poor lost sinner, but the Lord in grace picks me up and saves me, and I am in His hand. And now the Father puts His hand around too, and I am in the hand of the Father and of the Son, and the devil himself cannot get me unless he can loosen those hands. Could you think of any greater security than to be in the hands of the Father and of the Son? "Never perish," "eternal life"--what wondrous words are these! Do not be afraid of God's truth. You might as well be afraid of the beginning of the gospel that God can freely forgive and justify a guilty sinner by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. People try to put guards around that truth and say, "Yes, you are justified by faith if you have enough good works to add to it." That is not true. It is by faith alone, and good works spring from that. When you know you have eternal life, you will find your heart so filled with love for Christ that you will try to live for His glory.


      There will be certain passages coming up in the minds of different ones, and they will say, "What he has said may sound logical enough, but what about this Scripture and that?" Let me say, there is no possible Scripture that will come to your mind that the present speaker has not considered carefully over and over again. I have not time in one address to go into all these, but I can assure you that having examined them all with the greatest degree of care, I have never been able to find one that can set aside this: "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." If you have a clear, definite, positive Scripture, do not allow some passage that is perplexing, that is difficult to interpret, that seems somewhat ambiguous, to keep you from believing the positive statement, "He that believeth hath everlasting life." It is because I have a salvation like this to offer to men, it is because God has sent me to proclaim a salvation like this to sinners, that I have confidence in inviting people to come to Jesus, for I know if they get in living touch with my Savior He will make them His forever.

      I recently received from a gentleman a tract entitled "All about the Eternal Security Doctrine." He is afraid that this doctrine may have a tendency to make people careless about their lives. I can sympathize with him in that for this reason: I was a Christian worker in an organization that believed in what is commonly called the Arminian view; that is, when a person gets converted he has a good start for heaven, and then it is up to him to keep on going. As my old instructor used to say, "Getting to heaven is like riding a bicycle: if I stop, I will fall off." I believed that thoroughly, so thoroughly that when people spoke to me about being eternally saved I used to say, "That is a doctrine of the evil one; that would mislead people and lead folks to become careless," until I had a rather rude awakening.

      I found our halls were thronged by people who were getting converted over and over again every few weeks. It seemed as though that old hymn, "Ye Must Be Born Again," should really be sung, "Ye must Be Born Again and Again and Again." That puzzled me, for I never read of anything like it in the Bible. Then I found that the falling away doctrine had a tendency to make people very careless indeed. Let me give you a concrete example. A young man in whom I was quite interested had been addicted to a certain sin in his unconverted days. After he professed conversion he turned from that particular sin, but he confessed to me privately that he had gone out in the darkness of the night, when no one knew where he was, and had fallen into the same sin many times. "How can you do it?" I asked him. "Well," he said, "I always make up my mind that I will commit the sin and then get converted again when I come home." I saw from that how dangerous was the doctrine of being saved today and lost tomorrow. The last time I saw that young man, he said to me, "It's no use; this sin has such a grip on me that I cannot stand it." "Don't yield," I said. "Let me call in several of the others and let us pray with you." So four or five of us knelt and prayed very earnestly, but he rose again and clenched his fists, for he was in great agony, and said, "It's no use. I am going out to sin, but I am coming back to get converted afterwards." I never saw him again, and I do not know what became of him. That, you see, was one effect of this doctrine that a person loses his salvation when he sins but can come back again and get converted any time he desires. Certainly the Word of God teaches nothing like that. You can see that the Arminian view can be used to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. It is possible for the other view to be misused also. But I want you to see that the misuse of any doctrine does not in itself prove the teaching is wrong. We need definite Scripture upon which to base our faith. If people have no conscience toward God, they can misuse any doctrine in the Bible. But what we want to get at is this: Are the objections brought against the doctrine of eternal security really tenable?

      Question 1 - Man: A Free Moral Agent?

      "Is not man an absolutely free moral agent?" as one objector insists. He says, "We can quote no Scripture on unconditional eternal security, because there is none."

      I do not know what he means, but of course there is no eternal security that is not based on personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But this writer goes on to say, "When a man is saved, he is on God's altar to live or die, for service or sacrifice, and neither the devil nor demons can pull him off so long as he chooses by God's grace to keep himself in that place."

      The fact of the matter is that man is not an "absolutely free moral agent." In his unsaved state he is the slave of sin "led by the devil captive at his will." When regenerated he is the servant of Christ, delighting in holiness and indwelt by the Spirit of the loving God. I was not saved by placing my all on the altar. I was saved when I trusted Christ who gave Himself as the offering for my sin. I am not keeping saved by my surrendered life. I am "kept by the power of God." The same grace that saved is the grace that keeps.

      I do not simply "choose" to keep myself in the place where I am secure. God has chosen me, and I say amen to His choice. But if it were possible for me to choose to abandon Christ, would I not perish? Yet the Word tells me that Christ's sheep shall never perish. Let us look again at the words of the Lord Jesus in John 10:27-29: "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 Father's hand."

      I wish you would look at verse 27. Who is a sheep of Christ? He is one who hears His voice and follows Him. If a man says, "I am a Christian," but does not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and does not follow Him, that man is a hypocrite; he is not a Christian. Jesus says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." Notice the expression, "I know them." I pointed out in my former address that in Matthew 7:22-23, the Lord Jesus says, "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." Observe that according to Scripture He never says to any soul in the day of judgment, "I used to know you, but I do not know you now." He says, "I never knew you." That ought to clear up the whole question. He says of His sheep, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them." Therefore, if one has ever been a sheep of Christ, the Lord Jesus knows him. Now if by some strange metamorphosis that sheep of Christ were changed into a goat, one of the devil's goats, and appeared at the day of judgment among the goats, Jesus could not say to that goat, "I never knew you." He would have to say, "I used to know you but I do not know you now." But He says, "I never knew you," because He gives His sheep eternal life. What is eternal life? One asks, "If the spiritual life of Adam were conditional, how could the life of a believer be secure? Adam must have been eternal in nature." This shows how little well-meaning people distinguish between the life that God gave to Adam by creation and the life that He gives to us by regeneration. Adam's life was simply natural life and he forfeited that when he sinned, but God gives to believers eternal life, and that can never be forfeited. It would not be eternal life if it could. So He says, "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish." He puts no conditions around that promise, "They shall never perish." The word "perish" is in the middle voice, so that if rendered literally in English, you would have to make two words of it, because we do not have a middle voice. The words "perish" and "destroy" are the same in Greek. "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never destroy themselves."

      Sheep so easily destroy themselves. I was going over the desert when out among the Indians, and as we passed a bridge over a deep chasm, we heard the pitiable bleating of a lamb. We went to the edge of the bridge and saw the lamb about fifty feet down on a little ledge. It was a sheer descent of nearly two hundred feet to the creek below that. We looked to see whether there was any possible way to get down there, and we could not find any. That lamb had been eating and had come to the edge and had looked down. There was that little ledge all green, and so down he went and ate all the green that was there before he found that he could not get back. We tried to lasso him, but were not expert enough to do that. We looked up, and already there were three great buzzards flying around, just waiting for the time when the little animal would give up. That lamb was destroying himself. Jesus says, "My sheep will never destroy themselves. I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish" (in the middle voice, "never perish themselves"). Why not? Because they have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.

      The Word of God says, "Being confident of this very thing, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Jesus first says, "I give unto them eternal life," and then, "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." Some may say, "Well, I know a devil cannot pluck me out, no angel would want to, and man could not, but I might pluck myself out." Then you would perish, would you not? And He says "They shall never perish," before He tells you, "neither shall any pluck them out of My hand." Is man an absolutely free moral agent? He was when God created him, but is he now? Is the sinner a free moral agent? What does Scripture say? "Ye are led by the devil captive at his will." What? A man led by the devil captive at his will is a free agent? "Know ye not, that he to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his slaves ye are?" (Romans 6:16). Man is a slave to sin and Satan; he is not free. But now the gospel comes to the man, and he does have the power of decision, and when he decides for Christ he gets eternal life with all that that implies, and that life is the same life that is in the blessed Son of God. It is communicated to him, and now he is led captive in the chains of love to the Savior's feet, and he does not want to be a free agent. He is glad to be a bondman, as Paul puts it, of Jesus Christ.

      Question 2 - Matthew 24:13

      What about Matthew 24:13? "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Weymouth says, "He who stands firm unto the end."

      The writer of this question recognizes that primarily this refers to the great tribulation, but it is a principle that I believe every preacher of the Word should insist on. There is no use in people professing conversion, going forward, raising their hands, going to an inquiry room, joining the church, getting baptized, taking communion, teaching a Sunday school class, doing missionary work, giving their money for Christ's work, and going on like this for years, and then by-and-by drifting away, turning from it all, denying the Lord that bought them, refusing absolutely the authority of Jesus Christ, and yet professing to be saved. It is endurance that proves the reality of a work of grace within the soul. That is the difference between one who is merely reformed by the teaching of Christianity and one who has been born again. You see this very clearly when you contrast Peter and Judas.

      Peter slipped and sinned grievously, but in spite of it all he endured to the end. Jesus said, "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not," and though his outward life for a brief period was not what it should be, his faith remained, and Jesus restored him, and he went on to the end of his life until crucified for his Savior. Judas was one of the chosen, he was with the apostolic band but never was regenerated, and so when he sinned and sold his Lord, he turned away an apostate and died a suicidal death. Jesus said of him long before, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" Not, "One of you is in danger of becoming a devil," but "One of you is a devil." And we are told: "Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place" (Acts 1:25). Peter was a backslider, Judas was an apostate, and there is a great difference between the two. If a man says, "I am saved," let him prove it by going on. That is why I say we should not be afraid of the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer. Some say, "But I knew a man who was a wonderful Christian, and now he has given it all up and says he is still saved." He is only deceiving himself. The next time you see him you tell him that the Bible says, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." There is no use your carrying on a profession if your life does not prove it to be real. Men can misuse any doctrine.

      Question 3 - John 8:31

      What about the Scripture found in John 8:31? "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed." Is not the condition for permanent discipleship "if ye continue in My word?"

      Certainly. Every man who knows the truth of eternal security believes it. There is no use for a person to profess to be a disciple of Jesus if he does not continue. It is this that proves there is a genuine work of the Spirit of God in his soul.

      Question 4 - John 6:66

      What about John 6:66? "From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him."

      That has happened down through the centuries. Jesus distinguishes between a disciple and "a disciple indeed," or between one who is only a disciple and one who is a true believer. The Greek word translated "disciple" means "a pupil" or "a learner." There were many who up to a certain point learned of Jesus, and they were learning more and more every day as they listened to Him. But when He declared, "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life" (John 6:54), they said, "That is too much for us; we are not going on with this man," and they went back. It was not a question there of whether people were born again and lost, but whether they who had been numbered among the learners would go on learning and let Him be their teacher, or whether they would refuse further instruction and turn back. We are not told that even those who turned back ever again returned.

      Question 5 - John 6:67

      John 6:67, "Will ye also go away?" What about this question?

      The question and the answer bring out the very thing I am speaking of. He turned now to the apostles, that little group who had accompanied Him so long, and said, "Will ye also go away?" and Peter said what every truly converted soul always says, "Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). If you are really born again, that is always the answer. I remember reasoning on this subject with a dear good brother for something like two hours one day, and he was insisting that a man could take himself out of the Lord's hand. I said, "Why do you keep insisting on this? Are you sure that you are saved?" He said, "Absolutely." "How long?" I asked him. "Forty years," he replied. "And you have been kept for forty years? Do you want to take yourself out of the Lord's hand that you are talking like that?" "Certainly not," he answered. "Well," I said, "you are better than your creed."

      That is just the point. If a man is born again, he never wants to take himself out of Christ's hand even if he could. Christ alone is the one who satisfies the soul.

      Question 6 - 2 Thessalonians 2:3

      How about 2 Thessalonians 2:3? "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition."

      The word translated "falling away" is "apostasy" in the original. That has nothing to do with the question of individual salvation. It does not touch this doctrine. Can you not see that it is a prophecy of what is happening all about us at the present time? Recently, we were told that seventy-five per cent of the ministers in the church federation in the city of Chicago signed a questionnaire saying that they did not believe in some of the great fundamental truths of the Bible. There you have apostasy. Does that mean that these ministers were all Christians once and now are not saved? My dear friends, I am afraid the whole trouble is that most of them have never been born again at all. They do not know anything of regenerating grace and therefore are quite ready to apostatize from the doctrines held sacred by the great evangelical denominations. I remember when a certain preacher came out with a blatant attack on the doctrine of blood atonement. It shocked a lot of people who had been reading his books, and they said, "Isn't it strange that a man who was once such a fine Christian now denies the blood of Christ?" I sat down and read every one of his books and found that he never mentioned in any of them the blood of Christ or Christ's death on the cross, except in one when he spoke of the example of humiliation Jesus set by going to the cross. But there was never one other reference to the death, the blood, or the atonement. Later he stated: "They charge me with giving up the doctrine of blood atonement; I never believed it." He showed that he was simply an apostate. These things had no place in his heart or life. The apostasy is coming; it is coming fast. The great professing church is going into it, but not one born again person will ever bow to the Antichrist.

      Question 7 - Hebrews 12:14

      What about Hebrews 12:14? "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."

      That is exactly what we stand for. Anyone who says "I am a Christian" and does not follow peace and holiness will never see the Lord. But I remember how that used to trouble me. When a young Christian, I was taught that when I was converted all my sins up to that moment were put away, and then it was as though God said, "I have wiped off the past and have put you back where Adam was before he fell: if you can keep the record clear from now to the end, you will be saved and you will get to heaven." I started out and soon began to fail, and then they said to me, "The trouble with you is you have not gotten holiness yet. If you get that you will be able to live the right kind of a life." I asked, "What is this blessing of holiness?" and was told, "When God saved you, He only justified you." Only justified you? "He forgave your past sin, but now you have to get sanctified, and that means you must have all your inbred sin rooted out, and you will get true holiness." I thought, "But it didn't work very well with Adam," and it rather bothered me. Yet they assured me that was the thing, and so I went in for it and for six years I struggled. (For a more thorough treatment of this subject, see Holiness: The False and the True, Loizeaux Brothers.)

      I was working on a text that is not in the Bible: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." I heard many sermons preached on it, and sometimes I preached on it myself. I had a large red banner with that text in white letters, and I tried to get holiness. Sometimes I thought I had it, and then something would go wrong and I would have to try to get it all over again. I shall never forget the first time I read, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." I thought it said, "Without holiness it is impossible to see God." I thought I had to get perfect holiness in this life, but what it says there is, if you do not follow holiness you will not see the Lord. Every Christian follows holiness. A man who says "I am a Christian" and does not follow holiness is either self-deceived or a hypocrite. I maintain this with all my heart.

      Question 8 - Romans 6:16

      What about Romans 6:16? "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?"

      I have already spoken of that. Romans 6 is like the book of Exodus. When the children of Israel were in Egypt they obeyed Pharaoh because they had to; when they were brought to God in the wilderness, Pharaoh's power was broken and they became the servants of God. We, in our unsaved days, were servants to sin; now, as Christians, we are servants of God and we are to walk before God in holiness and righteousness.

Back to Harry Ironside index.

See Also:
   Eternal Security of the Believer: Part 1
   Eternal Security of the Believer: Part 2
   Eternal Security of the Believer: Part 3


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