“Final perseverance implies final faithfulness—he that endures to the end shall be saved—he that is faithful unto death shall have a crown of life. And will any man attempt to say that he who does not endure to the end, and is unfaithful, shall ever enter into life?” [Adam Clarke, Commentary, 5:595].
Clarke, as with most Christians, would find it incredible to think that there are actually Christians who would argue that unfaithful Christians —those who do not endure in faith to the end—still will enter into life everlasting with Jesus. But this is exactly what we find being taught today, and from none other than the popular author and pastor Charles Stanley, “The unfaithful believerwill not lose his salvation…. Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy…. Christ will not deny an unbelieving Christian his or her salvation” [Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? pp. 93-94, emphasis added].
Remarkably, Stanley is arguing for saved unbelievers. To most Christians this seems to be an oxymoron like “married bachelor,” that makes no sense. Yet, this teaching is entirely consistent with Stanley’s theology of salvation. He teaches that salvation “is applied at the moment of faith… And its permanence is not contingent upon the permanence of one’s faith” [p. 80]. Since one moment of faith secures one’s eternal destiny then it necessarily follows that a believer’s salvation cannot be taken from them “for any reason, whether it be sin or disbelief” [p. 81]. Therefore it is no surprise that Stanley objects to “those who hold that one’s faith must be maintained to ensure the possession of eternal life” [p. 92].
I have demonstrated in a previous Arminian article, “The Meaning of Eternal Life and Who Possesses It” [Fall 2002] that the Scriptures do teach that one’s possession of eternal life is conditioned upon a maintained attitude of trust in the person and source of eternal life—the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not alone in this assessment of the Scriptural witness. Even the Classical Calvinist agrees with the Arminian that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must continue to the end if one is going to experience salvation in the age to come. For example, Reformed author James White says,
Throughout this passage [John 6:35-45] an important truth is presented that again might be missed in many English translations. When Jesus describes the one who comes to Him and who believes in Him, He uses the present tense to describe this coming, believing, or, in other passages, hearing or seeing. The present tense refers to a continuous, ongoing action…. The wonderful promises that are provided by Christ are not for those who do not truly and continually believe. The faith that saves is a living faith, a faith that always looks to Christ as Lord and Savior…. Many in our world today…. teach essentially that a person can perform an act of believing on Christ once, and after this, they can fall away even into total unbelief and yet still supposedly be “saved.” … Christ does not save men in this way. The true Christian is the one continually coming, always believing in Christ. Real Christian faith is an ongoing faith, not a one-time act. If one wishes to be eternally satiated, one meal is not enough. If we wish to feast on the bread of heaven, we must do so all our lives. We will never hunger or thirst if we are always coming and always believing in Christ [Drawn by the Father, pp. 19-20].
James Arminius said, “At the beginning of faith in Christ and of conversion to God, the believer becomes a living member of Christ. If he perseveres in the faith of Christ and maintains a good conscience, he remains a living member. But if he becomes indolent, has no care for himself, gives place to sin, he becomes, by degrees half-dead: and proceeding in this way he at length wholly dies, and ceases to be a member of Christ” [Works, 3:470, emphasis added).
Wesley admonished believers to likewise, “Continue to believe in him that loved thee, and gave himself for thee; that bore all thy sins in his own body on the tree; and he saveth thee from all condemnation, by his blood continually applied. Thus it is that we continue in a justified state.” He goes on to add, For, by that faith in his life, death, and intercession for us, renewed from moment to moment, we are every whit clean, and there is not only now no condemnation for us, but no such desert of punishment as was before, the Lord cleansing both our hearts and lives. By the same faith we feel the power of Christ every moment resting upon us, whereby alone we are what we are; whereby we are enabled to continue in spiritual life, and without which, notwithstanding all our present holiness, we should be devils the next moment. But as long as we retain our faith in him, we “draw water out of the wells of salvation” [“The Repentance of Believers,” 2.4-5].
Wesley was in complete agreement with Arminius who taught “that it is impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation…. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation—that is, if they still continue unbelievers” [Works, 1:742]. This is clearly expressed by Wesley in his Serious Thoughts Upon the Perseverance of the Saints. Throughout this article Wesley states the objection raised by those who hold to unconditional security and then provides a response that is true to the Scriptural text:
10. “But how can this [teaching that a Christian can fall from God as to perish everlastingly] be reconciled with the words of the Lord: ‘He that believeth shall be saved?'”
Do you think these words mean, “He that believes” at this moment “shall” certainly and inevitably “be saved?”
If this interpretation be good, then, by all the rules of speech, the other part of the sentence must mean, “He” that does “not believe” at this moment, “shall” certainly and inevitably “be damned.”
Therefore that interpretation cannot be good. The plain meaning, then, of the whole sentence is, “He that believeth,” if he continue in faith, “shall be saved; he that believeth not,” if he continue in unbelief, “shall be damned.”
11. “But does not Christ say elsewhere, ‘He that believeth hath everlasting life?’ (John 3:36), and ‘He that believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death untolife?'” (v. 24).
I answer, (1.) The love of God is everlasting life. It is, in substance, the life of heaven. Now, everyone that believes, loves God, and therefore, “hath everlasting life.”
(2.) Everyone that believes “is” therefore, “passed from death,” spiritual death, “unto life;” and,
(3.) “Shall not come into condemnation,” if he endureth in the faith unto the end; according to our Lord’s own words, “He that endureth unto the end shall be saved [Matt 10:22];” and,”Verily I say unto you, if a man keep my sayings, he shall never see death” (John 8:51) [Works, 10:288, emphasis added)
To understand salvation as being conditional upon a persevering faith inevitably raised another objection encountered by Wesley,
“Nay, but are not ‘all the promises, yea and amen?'” They are firm as the pillars of heavens. Perform the condition, and the promise is sure. Believe, and thou shalt be saved. “But many promises are absolute and unconditional.” In many, the condition is not expressed. But this does not prove, there is none implied… . For example: “This is the Father’s will, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing.” [John 6:39] Most sure, all that God hath given him, or as it is expressed in the next verse, “every one that believeth on him,” namely, to the end, “he will raise up at the last day, to reign with him forever” (John 6:40) [Works, 10:290-291, emphasis added].
“So long as he performs the condition, so long is he heir of the salvation,” writes Daniel Whedon. “When he ceases to be a believer he loses all claim to the divine promise, and all interest in eternal life. That he has once believed no longer secures him heaven, any more than the fact that he has once disbelieved secures eternal death” [Commentary, 2:288].
To Wesley, God will deliver on all the promises of God … provided that you fulfill the condition. “Again: ‘I am the living bread:— If any man eat of this bread,’ (by faith,) ‘he shall live forever.’ (John 6:51.) True; if he continue to eat thereof. And who can doubt of it? [Works, 10:291, emphasis added].
The last objection Wesley deals with is handled in the same way as the others:
29. “Can a child of God, then, go to hell? Or can a man be a child of God today, and a child of the devil tomorrow? If God is our Father once, is He not our Father always?”
I answer, (1.) A child of God, that is, a true believer (for he that believeth is born of God), while he continues a true believer, cannot go to hell. But, (2.) If a believer make shipwreck of the faith, he is no longer a child of God. And then he may go to hell, yea, and he certainly will if he continues in unbelief. (3.) If a believer may make shipwreck of faith, then a man that believes now, may be an unbeliever some time hence; yea, very possibly tomorrow; but if so, he who is a child of God today, may be a child of the devil tomorrow. For, (4.) God is the Father of them that believe, so long as they believe. But the devil is the father of them that believe not, whether they did once believe or no [Works, 10:297-98, emphasis added].
Wesley rightly understood that no biblical author guarantees one’s final salvation apart from a living faith. The Apostle Peter agrees when he says to his fellow believers “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:9). Joseph Benson arrives at the same conclusion as Wesley in his commentary on Matthew 10:22: But be not discouraged at the prospect of these trials, for he that perseveres in the faith and practice of the gospel, and who bears constantly and with invincible patience these persecutions, (which my grace is sufficient to enable you all to do,) shall be finally and eternally saved from all sin and misery, into the kingdom and glory of God [Notes, 4:99, emphasis added].
Adam Clarke began our discussion by asking a rhetorical question: And will any man attempt to say that he who does not endure to the end, and is unfaithful, shall ever enter into life? He never would have expected to hear a “Yes” response from an influential pastor such as Charles Stanley. May the body of Christ rise up and refute such teaching and proclaim that which is agreement with what God has declared, “But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (Heb 10:38-39, NASB).
[This post was taken from The Arminian Magazine 22.2 (Fall 2004).]