The young lawyer and the Nazarene pastor discuss “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Also whether anything can separate a believer from the love of Christ.
“Good morning, my young friend,” heartily exclaimed Pastor Arminius, as his young lawyer acquaintance knocked at his study door, some two weeks after the interview recorded in the first chapter.
“I missed you last week, were you not able to come?” he continued as he took his guest’s coat and hat. “Be seated.”
“Allow me to apologize, Doctor, for not appearing last week,” explained the young man. “Court was in session at the county seat below us, and I was hastily summoned to assist in pleading a case. My absence was in no sense due to lack of interest, but wholly unavoidable. Indeed, I have heard Dr. Calvin again lately, and his reiteration of his ‘eternal security’ positions makes me all the more eager to discuss this interesting question further with you.”
“Very well,” answered the pastor, reaching for his Bible and turning its leaves, “where shall we begin?”
“Let me hear your explanation of the statement `neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,'” replied young Mr. Sinceer.
“That is found,” said the pastor, “in the 10th chapter of St. John’s gospel. Will you please read it? Permit me to ask you to read a few verses before the one you have quoted, so that we may be able to secure the correct setting of the text.”
The attorney turned to John 10:26, and read in his expressive manner: “‘But ye believe not because ye are not my sheep, as I said unto you. 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 hand. My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.'”
“It seems to me,” exclaimed the keen young man, with a shade of triumph in his voice, “that this text pretty well settles the matter in favor of the contentions of ‘eternal security.’ Note those statements, ‘Give unto them eternal life;’ also ‘They shall never perish.’ And ‘neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,’ which statement is repeated.”
His eyes glowed with considerable satisfaction, as he held his Bible toward the elderly pastor, with his finger indicating the emphatic repetition.
“Surely,” said that good man, with a smile, “if we allow this passage to stand for its face value, and not be affected by other portions of the Word, then it would certainly appear to teach ‘eternal security.’ But let us examine it in the light of New Testament teachings elsewhere.
“Take the first statement addressed to the Pharisees ‘Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep’; would you want us to infer that these men were excluded from believing on Jesus as the Messiah, because they were unable to do so? That is, had they lost their free moral agency, their power of free choice? Or had they sinned so deeply that His teaching and divine presence convicted them, unmasked their sin, and let them turn fiercely against Him?
“In other words, does it not take humble faith in Jesus, and loyal submission to Him, in order to qualify for being one of His ‘sheep’? And was it not their voluntary hatred and rebellion against Him that kept them from belief and submission? Consequently it was not some divinely predestined condition in which they were born, that excluded them from the ‘sheep’ character, but wholly because of their own willful selfishness and hard-hearted, sinful rejection of Him. That is, it was willful unbelief. It would be manifestly unfair, would it not, for the Creator to predestine some to eternal damnation, regardless of their choice?”
The young lawyer slowly nodded his head as though reluctantly conceding the point, as he continued critically to examine the text before him.
“Then,” continued the doctor, “take the next statement, ‘My sheep know my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’ This is not difficult to understand. For when once one qualifies for the ‘sheep’ character, by willing, submissive faith and obedience, at once Christ recognizes him by means of the witness of the Spirit, and through that same witness the one who has thus become a `sheep’ through the new birth, recognizes his Lord, and joyfully follows Him.
“Again, following the verses farther, take the 28th: ‘And I give unto them eternal life.’ Surely! as a natural, or rather supernatural consequence of knowing Jesus Christ, eternal life is conferred. Does not our Lord corroborate this in John 6:47, where He says: ‘He that believeth on me hath everlasting life’? Also in John 17:3, where He says: ‘This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.'”
“But,” eagerly interrupted the young attorney, “if the Lord accords one eternal life, how can that eternal gift be forfeited? If it’s eternal, it’s eternal, is it not? And thus it would be nonforfeitable.”
“This might be true,” replied Dr. Arminius, “if a human being were like a beast, devoid of the power of choice, or were like a machine, constructed to run just as its creator had planned, with no personality or fluctuation of the will to affect its relationships. But if the power of choice is what brings us to repentance and to submission and faith, in order that we may `know the true God and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent,’ then it must be a continuing voluntary choice that keeps us where He can continue the eternal life in us. Otherwise, if one could acquire eternal life and then never forfeit it, God would have conferred that eternal gift upon one who later might sin against Him, and become a fearful enemy to His cause and kingdom and yet at death claim a place in heaven with the God against whom he had fought all his life.
“You can readily see that if a person through submission to Christ and faith in His atoning blood could thus secure the new birth, and with it eternal life, and that such an eternal gift could never be forfeited, that this would thereafter place a premium upon sin. It would offer almost irresistible temptation to that poor mortal to rely upon his possession of that nonforfeitable bestowment and then turn toward the sinful gratification of his flesh, satisfy his carnal ambitions and otherwise live a worldly, corrupt life.
“We see examples of this among men whose physical health seems to them to be nonforfeitable, and because of that they plunge into extravagant excesses, which lead to their physical ruin. Also among men whose wealth appears to be so fixed as to be in no danger of loss; consequently they proceed to the wildest and most foolish expenditures.
“There is an inevitable law among human beings that only the momentary possibility of losing a thing induces one to take momentary steps to conserve and preserve that good thing. Must we imagine then, that the greatest boon that can be bestowed upon humanity, that of eternal life, shall be an exception to that law? Can men possess that unspeakable gift and yet play fast and loose with the qualifications by which they obtained it? This is unthinkable.”
The keen, intelligent interest of his alert auditor, inspired the good pastor to bring forth further arguments. Said he, “In addition to what I have already said, let me add this: the idea of a nonforfeitable gift of eternal salvation, would not only put a woeful and irresistible temptation to commit sin in the way of millions of Christians, it would clearly indicate a vital defect in the plan of salvation itself, which would belittle the Deity, and reflect upon His power and ability. His redemptive plan, as announced by the angel to the Virgin Mary was to ‘save his people from their sins.’
“Now, please note, that it was not to save them ‘in their sins.’ Not at all. But ‘from their sins.’ The advocates of ‘eternal security,’ these men who proclaim ‘once in grace always in grace,’ have made it possible, if their teachings be true, for a man to be saved, that is to be in possession of eternal life, and yet return to the sinning business and continue in it till life is done, and then, all unprepared and unfitted for heaven, to be caught up to meet a pure and holy God, to live forever in a pure and holy heaven, and consort (at least with some), pure and holy spirits. Such a conception as this is appalling.
“If this be true, then it proves that sin was too much for God. He could not provide a complete cure for it. He had to accommodate Himself to a plan whereby He could overlook it, to hide it from Himself under the robe of Christ’s merit. In fact the Deity is beaten when it comes to the solution of the sin question in humanity. He had to provide a plaster that did not quite cover the sore, and a salvation salve that could not quite reach to the roots of the disease. Instead of saving his people ‘from their sins,’ He only puts a robe of imputed righteousness over their sins and then when they come to die, He is compelled to take them to heaven sin and all. This plan, if it is the truth, naturally and necessarily arranges for sin to exist in heaven eternally with God, instead of being shut up in hell with the devil and his angels. Is this not a fearful thing to allege about our Holy God and His Calvary purchased plan of salvation?
“My dear young friend, you cannot, I am sure, accept a plan that reflects so upon God and makes so great mockery of Christ’s atonement as to allow for sin in heaven in the presence of a pure and holy God, and compels those who do become free from it, and utterly saved from it, if they shall make their home in heaven, to live in the presence of it forever in the souls of these sinning ‘Christians.’ Is this your idea of the holy religion of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
The young attorney was silent for several seconds. At length he aroused himself as from a period of intense thought, and said, “I must confess that I had never followed this teaching into all its logical sequences. Your argument has considerably staggered me. But we are not near through. Take that next passage; ‘They shall never perish; neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’ What do you do with that? It seems to me to be emphatically convincing.”
“It means,” continued the older man, now thoroughly warmed to his task. “It means just what it says — ‘they shall never perish,’ provided they do not themselves invalidate the terms upon which they first received forgiveness and regeneration. ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of God’s hand.’ Certainly not. It is only the Christian himself who can pluck himself out of the Father’s care. This he can do by failure to walk in the light. No man can force him out. No government can compel him to apostatize. No force in hell or earth can drive him from the Father’s care. But he can himself, by failure to qualify, by refusing or neglecting to adjust himself to God’s provisions of grace, by neglect of the means whereby that grace is made effective, so deflect the life-giving current that flows from God and maintains his spiritual existence as to deprive him of it, and thrust him back into the death of sin, from whence his repentance and faith enabled God to bring him.
“He is eternally safe and will ‘never perish,’ as long as he whole-heartedly complies with God’s wondrous provisions of grace. This is clearly implied in the passage in 1 John 1:7, ‘If we walk in the light, . . . we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from all sin.’ If we do this we will never perish. If we do not, we are doomed.
“My precious young friend, every good gift, whether earthly or heavenly, is conditioned. It is hedged about by an ‘if.’ If you always obey the laws of health, you will be well. if you love and cherish your family, and live in honor and chastity before them, they will be glad to own you for a husband and a father. If you obey the laws of mentality and its proper development, you will have a cultured, gifted mind. You cannot recall any good bestowment of God that is not hedged in with a condition. If everything in the physical and mental realm is thus conditioned, can we imagine that our relationship to the highest things of the spiritual world are unconditioned? Would God compel one to fulfill all the conditions of the physical world in order to be well, happy and prosperous; would He compel one to fulfill all the conditions in the mental and intellectual realm in order to be a keen, safe and sane thinker, and then suddenly reverse all His laws, contort all His methods of dealing with men, when He comes to the matter of salvation from sin? This is unthinkable.
“There can be no doubt that our relation to the forgiveness of sins through Christ is conditioned. ‘He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy.’ There are your conditions for forgiveness, and they must be met.
“There can be no doubt that regeneration, that is, the new birth, is conditioned. ‘As many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, who were born, not of man, or of the will of the flesh, but of God.’ There’s your condition for the new birth — to receive Christ with a willing, submissive, obedient faith. Lacking this, no one can be born again.
“There can be no doubt that heart cleansing is conditioned. ‘If we walk in the light . . . the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’ There’s your condition for heart cleansing — walking in the light. Refusal brings darkness and death.
“Inasmuch then, as there is a condition for obtaining all these experiences of salvation, and if those conditions are not sincerely met, there can be no forgiveness, new birth or cleansing, then, if God be true and equitable and just, there is bound to be a condition for their retention. In Peter’s second epistle, first chapter, he gives this. First, he states that those to whom he has addressed his exhortation had through God’s great and exceeding promises been ‘made partakers of the divine nature,’ and ‘escaped the corruption that was in the world through lust.’ In other words, they were Christians, Then he begs them to add to their faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. At length, he gives us the following most startling statement. If you will be so kind I will ask you to turn to it, and read.”
The young lawyer hastily turned to 2 Peter 1:8-10. He read: “‘For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, But he that lacketh these things is blind and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things ye shall never fall.”
“Please note,” said the doctor, “the fact that they had been ‘purged from their old sins.’ That is, they had been not only converted, but sanctified wholly. ‘Purged,’ you see, it says. That is the most drastic word for cleansing. That suggests most thorough eradication.
“Then also note that after being saved and sanctified, they were to ‘give diligence to make their calling and election sure,’ that is, their retention of the blessings they had received, were conditioned, And then it adds this very significant statement: ‘For if ye do these things ye shall never fall.’ Here he clearly declares that their lapse from the faith, their backsliding from grace, their return again to that state of spiritual death from which their conversion and sanctification had brought them, was possible and imminent, and that only the keenest diligence could prevent it. Do you not see this, and does it not appeal to a mind like yours that is accustomed to weighing evidence?”
Again the lawyer slowly nodded his head. “I feel,” said he, “that you have given me all that I can carry this time. You surely have put up some arguments that I am not able to answer. However, before I capitulate, I would like to ask you several more questions. Among them are these: Is it not true that once a son is born to his father he is always his son? Also are there not some dispensational truths that must be given consideration in the New Testament? And is there not some truth in the matter of imputed righteousness?
“I am sorry,” continued he, as he reached for his coat and hat, “that I cannot wait till you discuss these this morning, but I will be glad to call again this coming week and listen to your explanation, if you will permit me. Also, if you are minded to do so, I shall be delighted to have you offer prayer again for me, as you did on my last visit.”
“With all my heart,” responded the pastor. “Let us pray.” After a hearty petition from the doctor, he tenderly requested the young lawyer to voice his own requests to God. This the young man somewhat hesitatingly did, closing his prayer with and urgent plea that “thou wilt guide me into all the truth of Thy Holy Word.”
Dr. Arminius uttered a solemn “Amen” to this earnest and humble petition, and the young attorney hastened from the study.