In 1929 we wrote a booklet entitled "A Threefold Salvation" based upon the instruction we had received during our spiritual infancy. Like most of that early teaching, it was defective because inadequate. As we continued our study of God's Word further light has been granted us on this subject--yet alas how ignorant we still are--and this has enabled us to see that, in the past, we had started at the wrong point, for instead of beginning at the beginning, we commenced almost in the middle. instead of salvation from sin being threefold, as we once supposed, we now perceive it to be fourfold. How good is the Lord in vouchsafing us additional light, yet it is now our duty to walk therein, and, as Providence affords us opportunity, to give it out. May the Holy Spirit so graciously guide us that God may be glorified and His people edified.
The subject of God's "so-great-salvation" (Heb. 2:3), as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures and made known in Christian experience, is worthy of a life's study. Any one who supposes that there is now no longer any need for him to prayerfully search for a fuller understanding of the same needs to ponder "If any man think he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:2). The fact is that the moment any of us really takes it for granted that he already knows all that there is to be known on any subject treated of in Holy Writ, he at once cuts himself off from any further light thereon. That which is most needed by all of us in order to a better understanding of Divine things is not a brilliant intellect, but a truly humble heart and a teachable spirit, and for that we would daily and fervently pray, for we possess it not by nature.
The subject of Divine salvation has, sad to say, provoked age-long controversy and bitter contentions even among Christians. There is comparatively little agreement even upon this elementary vet vital truth. Some have insisted that salvation is by Divine grace, others have argued that it is by human endeavor. A number have sought to defend the middle position, and while allowing that the salvation of a lost sinner must be by Divine grace, were not willing to concede that it is by Divine grace alone, alleging that God's grace must be plussed by something from the creature, and very varied have been the opinions of what that 'something must be--baptism, church-membership, the performing of good works, holding out faithful to the end, etc. On the other hand, there are those who not only grant that salvation is by grace alone, but who deny that God uses any means whatever in the accomplishment of His eternal purpose to save His elect--overlooking the fact that the sacrifice of Christ is the grand "means'!
It is true that the Church of God was blessed with super-creation blessings, being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and predestinated unto the adoption of children, and nothing could or can alter that grand fact. It is equally true that if sin had never entered the world, none had been in need of salvation from it. But sin has entered, and the Church fell in Adam and came under the curse and condemnation of God's Law. Consequently, the elect, equally with the reprobate, shared in the capital offence of their federal head, and partake of its fearful entail: "In Adam all die" (1 Cor. 15:22): "By the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation" (Rom. 5:18). The result of this is, that all are "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts" (Eph. 4:18), so that the members of the mystical Body of Christ are "by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:3), and hence they are alike in dire need of God's salvation.
Even when there is fundamental soundness in their views upon Divine salvation many have such inadequate and one-sided conceptions that other aspects of this truth, equally important and essential, are often overlooked and tacitly denied. How many, for example, would be capable of giving a simple exposition of the following texts: "Who hat/i saved us" (2 Tim. 1:9), "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' (Phil. 2:12), "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed' (Rom. 13:11). Now those verses do not refer to three different salvations, but to three separate aspects of one, and unless we learn to distinguish sharply among them, there can be naught but confusion and cloudiness in our thinking. Those passages present three distinct phases and stages of salvation: salvation as an accomplished fact, as a present process, and as a future prospect.
So many today ignore these distinctions, jumbling them together. Some contend for one and some argue against the other two; and vice versa. Some insist they are already saved, and deny that they are now being saved. Some declare that salvation is entirely future, and deny that it is in any sense already accomplished. Both are wrong. The fact is that the great majority of professing Christians fail to see that "salvation" is one of the most comprehensive terms in all the Scriptures, including predestination, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. They have far too cramped an idea of the meaning and scope of the word "salvation" (as it is used in the Scriptures), narrowing its range too much, generally confining their thoughts to but a simple phase. They suppose "salvation" means no more than the new birth or the forgiveness of sins. Were one to tell them that salvation is a protracted process, they would view him with suspicion; and if he affirmed that salvation is something awaiting us in the future, they would at once dub him a heretic. Yet they would be the ones to err.
Ask the average Christian, Are you saved? and he answers, Yes, I was saved in such and such a year; and that is as far as his thoughts on the subject go. Ask him, To what do you owe your salvation? and "the finished work of Christ" is the sum of his reply. Tell him that each of those answers is seriously defective, and he strongly resents your aspersion. As an example of the confusion that now prevails, we quote the following from a tract on Philippians 2:12: "To whom are those instructions addressed? The opening words to the Epistle tell us: 'To the saints in Christ Jesus.' . . . Thus they were all believers! and could not be required to work for their salvation, for they already possessed it." Alas that so few people today perceive anything wrong in such a statement. Another "Bible teacher" tells us that "save thyself" (1 Tim. 4:16) must refer to deliverance from physical ills, as Timothy was already saved spiritually. True, yet it is equally true that he was then in the process of being saved, and also a fact that his salvation was then future.
Let us now supplement the first three verses quoted and show that there are other passages in the New Testament which definitely refer to each distinct tense of salvation. First salvation is an accomplished fact: "Thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50); "by grace ye have been saved" (Greek, and so translated in the R. V.--Eph. 2:8); "according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5). Second, salvation as a present process, in course of accomplishment; not yet completed: "Unto us which are being saved" (1 Cor. 1:18--R. V. and Bagster Interlinear); "Them that believe to the saving (not the 'salvation') of the soul" (Heb. 10:39). Third, salvation as a future process: "Sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1:14); "receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls" (James. 1:21); "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:5). Thus, by putting together these different passages we are clearly warranted in formulating the following statement: every genuine Christian has been saved, is now being saved, and will yet be saved--how and from what we shall endeavor to show.
As further proof of how many-sided is the subject of God's great salvation, and how that in Scripture it is viewed from various angles, take the following: by grace are ye saved" (Eph. 2:8); "saved by his (Christ's) life," i.e., by His resurrection life (Rom. 5:9); "thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50); "the engrafted Word which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21); "saved by hope" (Rom. 8:24); "saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15); "the like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us" (1 Pet. 3:21). Ah, my reader, the Bible is not a lazy man's book, nor can it be soundly expounded by those who do not devote the whole of their time, and that for years, to its prayerful study. It is not that God would bewilder us, but that He would humble us, drive us to our knees, make us dependent upon His Spirit. Not to the proud--those who are wise in their own esteem--are its heavenly secrets opened.
In like manner it may be shown from Scripture that the cause of salvation is not a single one, as so many suppose--the blood of Christ. Here, too, it is necessary to distinguish between things which differ. First, the originating cause of salvation is the eternal purpose of God, or, in other words, the predestinating grace of the Father. Second, the meritorious cause of salvation is the mediation of Christ, this having particular respect to the legal side of things, or, in other words, His fully meeting the demands of the Law on the behalf and in the stead of those He redeems. Third, the efficient cause of salvation is the regenerating and sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit, which respect the experimental side of it; or, in other words, the Spirit works in us what Christ purchased for us. Thus, we owe our personal salvation equally to each Person in the Trinity, and not to one (the Son) more than to the others. Fourth, the instrumental cause is our faith, obedience, and perseverance: though we are not saved because of them, equally true is it that we cannot be saved (according to God's appointment) without them.
In the opening paragraph, we have stated that in our earlier effort we erred as to the starting point. In writing upon a threefold salvation we began with salvation from the penalty of sin, which is our justification. But our salvation does not begin there, as we knew well enough even then: alas that we so blindly followed our erring preceptors. Our salvation originates, of course, in the eternal purpose of God, in His predestinating of us to everlasting glory. "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" (2 Tim. 1:9). That has reference to God's decree of election: His chosen people were then saved completely, in the Divine purpose, and all that we shall now say has to do with the performing of that purpose, the accomplishing of that decree, the actualization of that salvation.