Lawyer Hardhead and the pastor spend an evening cracking more “Eternal Security” nuts.
“Who shows up oftener than I do,” called young James Sinceer over Dr. Arminius’ phone, one evening. “Again I am asking whether you heard Dr. Calvin’s broadcast today,” he continued. The pastor replied that he had heard it, and that he was keenly interested. He added, “I suppose our friend Brother Hardhead is all heated up again, being so reinforced by Dr. Calvin? Does he want to come over and have another round of discussion?”
After an aside conversation between the two lawyers, the voice of Sinceer again came over the wires. “Yes, Hardhead is all loaded up. He took notes on Dr. Calvin’s statements and is very volubly discussing them with me. He thinks that he has some fresh ammunition that will silence your guns. If you are at liberty, we will be glad to drive over and exchange shots with you.”
Soon there was the purr of an engine, a sound of brakes, and then a knock at the pastor’s study door. Greetings were exchanged and all comfortably seated when the doctor inquired:
“Well, gentlemen, what have we on hand for tonight? I understand, Brother Hardhead, that you took some notes on Dr. Calvin’s broadcast today, and that you are prepared to fire something of a broadside at me. Tell us what you have.”
“Instead of a broadside,” grumbled forth the elderly lawyer, “perhaps, we had better say that we have a basket of ‘nuts’ for you to crack.”
“Very well,” responded the minister, “what shall be the first one?”
The attorney consulted his note book, and then asked,
“How do you explain the passage in the New Testament which says that nothing can ever separate the Christian believer from the love of God? The statement is so clear and emphatic that it seems to be undeniably on the side of eternal security.”
“That,” replied the pastor, “is to be found in Romans 8:38 and 39. Brother Sinceer, please turn to that passage, and then let Brother Hardhead read it.” The young attorney rapidly turned to the reference, and handed the Bible to the older man. He adjusted his eye-glasses and then read, gruffly clearing his throat as he did so.
“‘For I am persuaded that 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.'” Lawyer Hardhead ceased reading in his gruff tones and then glanced significantly at the doctor and added, “Sounds very convincing to me. Looks as though if a person is once saved, he is there to stay.”
The pastor cheerfully returned the significant look of the older attorney, and then said, “Certainly, it looks on the face of it as though it taught `once in grace always in grace.’ But wait a moment. In enumerating all the enemies that might make an effort to separate a believer from his salvation in Christ, the apostle did not mention himself. God is abundantly able to keep, provided the individual is keenly willing, and sincerely alert to enable Him to do so. He, himself, then, is the key to the whole matter. His own purpose, his own will, his own determination, his own fulfillment of the requirements of salvation are the chief factors in being eternally secure. Does he, himself, have a great desire to stay saved, if he does, and carefully turns a deaf ear, an unresponsive heart toward the world, the flesh and the devil, and continues to fulfill all the qualifications of salvation, then he is safe from any and every creature. He enables God to keep him eternally secure. Then death and life and angels and principalities and powers and height and depth shall beat at him in vain. With the salvation conditions fully met — and he, himself, is the only one who can meet them — which enables God to pour the holy life-giving Spirit in and through his soul, he is then, and only then, eternally secure. Any other interpretation than this, puts a premium on sin, reflects on the wisdom of Almighty God, belittles the atonement of our Lord, opens wide the door for introducing sin into a holy heaven, and charges God with inconsistency.
“Note also that the Apostle Paul, who wrote this passage in Romans, which we are considering, also wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. In closing the ninth chapter, he gives us this significant utterance: ‘I therefore run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast away.’
“Here he distinctly states that it is he himself who can ruin his own chances of continued salvation, that his lack of sincere compliance with the terms of salvation would prevent God from keeping him secure. He declares in the original Greek that he ‘beats his body black and blue’ in his efforts to bring it into subjection and not allow it to be the channel through which his soul might be lost. He emphatically teaches that no person can reach a place in Christ where he does not need to be on his constant, watchful guard lest he fall from grace and ruin his own hope of heaven.”
The pastor paused and looked full into the face of Lawyer Hardhead. That worthy was grumbling something under his breath. However, he apparently had nothing coherent to offer, so the doctor inquired courteously for his next “nut.”
The attorney consulted his note book, and then said, “Somewhere in First John there is a statement to the effect that if one is born again he cannot sin. Is this not equivalent to stating that once saved one can never lose it?”
The doctor quickly turned the leaves of his Bible and then read in his expressive voice, “‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.’ That is found in 1 John 3:9. This passage, my dear brother, can hardly be claimed by the eternal security people. Their contention is that they can sin, and yet not lose their salvation because they have a ‘positional relation’ to Christ that causes His merits to be imputed to them, despite their sin. This passage distinctly claims that if one is born of God he will not sin, for he knows that if he does he will lose the ‘pearl of great price,’ indeed, it declares he cannot sin as long as His holy life germ remains in him. We holiness people admit that, and declare the same thing. True, we feel sure that this does not teach that a person cannot himself get rid of that holy life implanted in his breast. He surely can so offend the Holy Ghost as to drive Him from his heart, and if he leaves He takes His eternal life with Him. One can certainly so grieve God as to forfeit the life-giving Spirit who deposited the divine seed within him, and, grieved and insulted, He will withdraw it from that person’s soul. John says in this same letter, ‘these things write I unto you that ye sin not.’ No, Brother Hardhead, this is not an eternal security text, this is clear over on the other side. What is your next ‘nut’?”
Again the attorney’s note book was consulted, and he inquired, “Where is the passage that states that the ‘elect’ cannot be deceived? If one is ‘elect,’ and, cannot be deceived, is he not eternally safe?”
“Look in Matthew 24:24, Brother Sinceer, and then let Brother Hardhead read it,” responded the doctor.
It was soon found, and with much clearing of his throat, the lawyer read, “‘For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.’
The elderly attorney paused a moment and then added, “It seems clear that if one is ‘elected,’ it looks as though he were beyond the power of deception.” The pastor smiled, and then replied, “This is a scene taken from the closing days of the present dispensation. Our Lord’s return is very close at hand here, and the great tribulation is on in its fury; Satan is exceedingly active. Many are claiming to be the long looked-for Messiah, and others lay claim to be ‘prophets.’ These exhibit signs and wonders, and the AntiChrist also proffers the ‘mark of the Beast’ in order to authorize one to buy and sell. The Master states that the pressure will be so great that His own elect ones will be fearfully subjected to it. It cannot mean, however, that none of the elect will yield to the solicitations of the enemy. Some of His elect in other ages lapsed from the faith. We saw the other day when considering Judas Iscariot’s case, how clearly the Scriptures taught that though he was genuinely converted, yet how woefully he yielded, and how pitifully he fell to his eternal doom. We also saw that Ananias and Sapphira were likewise saved and yet how fearfully they were lost, God himself striking them dead. Consequently, it is impossible to believe that these words mean that actually none of God’s elect folk will fall and be lost, when the awful scenes of the Tribulation are in the earth, and the enemy is exercising commercial, political and ecclesiastical power. Indeed, the Scriptures constantly tell us of the great ‘falling away’ that will characterize Christianity about that time. No doubt, the greater portion of this apostasy will occur during the tribulation. Our Lord pathetically states that when He comes He will scarcely find faith on the earth.
“However, we are clearly to understand that if we ‘watch and pray always,’ as the Master commanded, then we “shall be accounted worthy to escape all those things that are coming upon the earth and to stand before the Son of Man.’ It will, however, require extra diligence in these terrible days to ‘make our calling and election sure,’ but we are emphatically told that it can be done. However, no ‘positional salvation’ will carry the believer through such a flood of persecution and trial. No imputed righteousness can be sufficient in that tempest. We must be freed from all sin, cleansed from all carnal principles of sin, and filled with the Holy Ghost, or we cannot maintain the position of the ‘elect.'”
“Just what,” interrupted young James Sinceer, “does this word ‘elect’ mean, as employed in the Scripture about God’s people?”
“It means,” replied the doctor, “to enter, line up with, or be admitted to the plan of God in any age for that particular individual. God elects, or chooses or ordains a life plan for each person, or a career for a nation, or an ordered sequence for a series of events. Thus He elected Abraham, not that Abraham was compelled to accept that election, but he chose of his own free will to accept God’s conditions of election, and became, by doing so the ‘Father of the Faithful.’ In this way God elected the line that was to eventuate in the Israelitish nation. Then He elected the line that was to result in the birth of His Son. In each case He did not violate any man’s free moral agency, but carried out His divine will in connection with, and by means of the voluntary choices of all these people.
“Today, election means to surrender, and accept the atoning blood of Jesus, and thus qualify for pardon of one’s sins, and then it means to go on into a full consecration and faith that enables the Holy Ghost to cleanse, sanctify and occupy the heart. Following this must come a lifetime of devout service. Then, and only then, is that person ‘elected.’ He is in the center of God’s will for him. However, it requires that throughout his Christian life he shall do his best to please God, and walk in all the light that the Master shall shed across his path, in order to stay in that will, in order to continue to be ‘elected.’ It is such elect persons as these whom the devil shall attempt to deceive during the Tribulation. Unless they watch and pray always, they will succumb to his wiles and be lost.”
Lawyer Hardhead interrupted with an eager remark, “I have a recollection, my dear Doctor, that the Scriptures declare that God raised King Pharaoh up in order to glorify Himself by the king’s damnation. Also that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. Does not this prove that the Lord sovereignly created Pharaoh and Esau for destruction, and that He sovereignly created Jacob for promotion and salvation?”
“Not necessarily,” answered the pastor. “There can be no doubt but that God `elected’ Pharaoh to become a great channel of blessing to Israel. If he had co-operated with God, if he had accepted this election, this would have been the case, however, when he refused, he suffered an eternal punishment. The statement that God ‘hardened Pharaoh’s heart,’ must necessarily be understood in the light of God’s universal dealings with mankind. He has never been known sovereignly to harden men’s hearts; men do this themselves. And in case of Pharaoh it can mean only that God so surrounded him with such profuse miraculous evidences of Himself in order to enable him to be a great blessing to His chosen people, that when he refused divine mercy and grace, and declined God’s opportunities, the very miracles that would have conspicuously enabled him to be a blessing to God and Israel, caused him selfishly and sinfully to permit them to anger him and to harden his own heart, and thus his damnation was sealed. It was, indeed, God’s miracles and His efforts to release Israel that hardened the great Egyptian’s heart, but it was the king’s wrong, sinful, selfish personal attitude toward those divine activities that produced this damning effect.
“In the case of Esau, the scriptural narrative distinctly states that he voluntarily sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. This birthright was not his personal salvation, but rather his opportunity to be one of the great originators of the Messianic line. While God rejected him from that line, He permitted him to bring about that rejection himself, voluntarily, by selling out to Jacob. God did not hate Esau personally, or reject him personally, or exclude him from obtaining salvation. He chose Jacob to be the progenitor of the Christ-line, and allowed Esau to sell that great privilege for a venison stew. The statement that Esau ‘found no place for repentance though he sought it carefully with tears,’ does not refer to repentance for his personal sins in order to be saved; not at all; it refers to his efforts to recover his birthright, and to secure a reversal of the patriarchal blessing that his dying father had given to Jacob.
“But,” said the pastor, “the evening is passing, and before you are compelled to leave for home, let me call your attention to a `nut’ and ask you to crack it for me. What about the great ‘falling away’ spoken of by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 and 3? Also, something similar is mentioned in Hebrews 6:6, where the author says, ‘If they shall fall away.’ Again, the same thing is apparently referred to in Matthew 24: I 2, ‘And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.’
“Here’s my question, gentlemen: How can there be a ‘falling away,’ (for that is the translation for the word apostasy,) if the teaching of ‘once in grace always in grace’ is true? The great apostasy referred to in the New Testament must be dismissed as a myth, as a mere figure of speech meaning nothing if those persons who once secure a ‘positional salvation’ in Christ can never lose His salvation favor.”
“But,” excitedly exclaimed Lawyer Hardhead, “maybe they had never known Christ, and consequently, had no ‘positional salvation’ to lose. Could that not be the case?”
“In that event,” replied the doctor, “the expression ‘falling away’ would even be worse than a myth, it would convict the person who used it, (and in these references we see that Paul used it twice, and our Lord used its equivalent once,) of the veriest nonsense, for it would have no meaning at all — they had nothing, if that be true, to fall away from. Then why mention it? My dear Mr. Attorney, you are too good a lawyer not to see that if you allow the meaning of apostasy, that is, a departing from a salvation once possessed, to be attached to these references, it can have no other significance than that a great host of people who had once known Christ as their Savior from sin, gave Him up under pressure of the awful iniquity of the tribulation days, and denied the Lord that bought them. This being true, where is your eternal security? Your case is gone.”
The pastor ceased speaking, and looked at his visitors with an appraising glance. For a full minute there was not a word said. Then the younger man drew a long breath, almost an audible sigh, and said, “Well, I admit that I am fully convinced. Doctor Arminius, you have made a convert out of me.”
The older lawyer breathed hard also, and cleared his throat a time or two. “I can see,” he almost snorted, “that my case is gone glimmering, but I desperately dislike to admit it. However, a fair estimate of the evidence compels me to recognize it.”
All sat silently again for a moment, while the pastor’s tiny desk clock ticked painfully loud. At length the young man aroused himself and asked:
“Doctor, it is clear to me that hundreds, yes, thousands of clear-thinking, shrewd, well-meaning men, hold as a sacred truth this idea of eternal security. On all other matters they seem to think with clear, sane, wholesome logic, but when they come to this phase of religion, this peculiar doctrine, they abandon all their logic, leave well-beaten paths of intellectual poise, and accept this very strange notion; one that we can readily see actually belittles the atonement of our Lord, reflects on the goodness, wisdom and ability of God effectively to cure sin, actually opens the doors of heaven for its admittance, and puts an overwhelming temptation in the way of poor struggling humanity here on earth to commit it. The final question I would like to ask you is this: How can you account for this? Why do they do it? What makes their minds go so suddenly and so completely awry?”
It was the pastor’s turn, now, to draw a full breath before he made any reply. For several seconds he sat as in a keen meditation. Then he said, “It’s all because of a wrong view of sin and its treatment. The entire Bible, primarily, is a treatise on the sin question and its solution. It tells of its introduction in the Garden of Eden; it traces its course through the ages; it delineates the horror, anguish, woe and final damnation produced in all who refuse to be delivered from it. It then, in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord, and His atoning grace, introduces the great cure. We holiness people believe that the cure is complete. We also believe that it can be possessed in its completeness right here on earth, if the simple directions of the Book are faithfully followed, if the divine conditions are sincerely met. We believe that complete cure can be continued up to the moment of death and then on into eternity, provided we do not violate the conditions and that this full salvation, this likeness to God, is what qualifies the recipient for admission to a holy heaven and association and fellowship with a holy God. But this holiness must be imparted, and not imputed, Christ must live in the believer’s heart.
“Now, if one takes any other view of sin, one must make provision for its solution, its removal elsewhere. The Roman Catholics do not admit that it is possible to be cleansed from it wholly down here on earth and consequently they have invented purgatory, in order to have the matter attended to before the soul reaches heaven. For it is naturally repugnant to every honest thinking person to think of sin: raw, black, polluted, uncovered, unforgiven, uncleansed sin, appearing in heaven in the presence of the holy Deity there. Unfortunately for the Roman Catholics, there is not a shred of scriptural evidence for purgatory. It is created out of their own desires and imaginations.
“The eternal security people also deny the possibility of a full and complete cleansing of the soul from all sin in this life. Indeed, they declare that any coming short, although ignorantly and unwittingly, of the perfect and holy will of God, is sin, and that we must consequently commit it in thought, word and deed, every day we live. We holiness people do not believe that all mistakes, blunders, fallings short of the perfect will of God through ignorance, errors of judgment and absence of holy ideals, are sin. We denominate them as human infirmities and frailties. We believe they are under the unconditional merits of Christ’s atoning blood. These infirmities and frailties are innocent because they are due to ignorance. They are not sin-tainted; they are not antagonistic to God. They are not inseparable obstacles to the possession of a holy character here on earth. When `that which is perfect is come’ at the resurrection, then these limiting, handicapping infirmities will disappear, and with the dawn of perfect knowledge, ‘we shall know as we are known.’
“But if your theory of sin demands that it remain in your soul all your earthly life, if you cannot have it cleansed away here in this life, you must have it removed, or cleansed, or dealt with, or arranged for somewhere. You cannot ignore it; you dare not fail to deal with it. You must do something about it. The eternal security folks have insisted upon a theory of sin that requires it to remain in their hearts and lives all their earthly sojourn, consequently, they must deal with it here and also in the eternal world. They do not recognize purgatory. They have no purification of the soul either here or after death. It is a theology gone insane to allege that sin resides in the human body and that when it dies, the sin question is solved. As a consequence of not having it cleansed away they must cover it up; fix it so God cannot see it. Their plan is an imputed salvation, in which the purity and holiness of Christ is unconditionally put on and over their sinful souls. It is a ‘positional salvation,’ an unconditional, unmerited covering of one’s sins by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, so that God will see His holy Son and not the sinful human soul hiding beneath His robe of righteousness. Mind you, this is not just for the innocent, the idiotic and the ignorant; we holiness people believe that Christ’s unconditional atonement covers these classes and also that it covers the human frailties and infirmities of the sincere Christian, and that these are not held against a believer. But the eternal security folks hold that Christ’s imputed merits cover the believer from the moment that he accepts the Lord’s salvation, and continues to cover him afterward even though he lives in open sin and rejection of righteousness, and then they still cover him when he comes into heaven.
“As long as one holds an erroneous view of the sin question, as long as one does not secure its complete solution and its utter cleansing in this life, by means of our Lord’s merits and the baptism with the Holy Ghost, he is bound to accept either the view of the Roman Catholics and invent a purgatory in order to have it cleansed away in eternity, or else he is compelled to accept the eternal security position that sin is covered with Christ’s righteousness and no matter how actually sinful you are, if you have believed in Christ, God then cannot see your sins, for they are covered by the Savior’s merits and His imputed holiness. In this way your soul, all polluted with sin, can enter heaven just so it continues to be covered by Christ’s spotless robe. With such an arrangement, a sinner needs only to repent and believe long enough to secure the new birth, and then having established his ‘positional salvation’ in Christ, he can renew his sinful course, live as wickedly as he pleases, and then, covered by the spotless robe of Christ, he can enter heaven, and all unforgiven, uncleansed, unpurified, he can live there forever, concealing his polluted soul with that spotless robe. Surely, men of sober mental poise, accustomed to weighing evidence in law cannot accept this. This is an unthinkable doctrine.
“Eternal security is one of the most subtle and dangerous heresies that the Christian cause has ever known. It is peculiarly the fatal fallacy of many noble and good men. They have been led to believe that they cannot possess full salvation in this life, and consequently, embrace this cunning sophistry of the Adversary. It is so often the vice of the virtuous; the pitfall of thousands of splendid men and women. It has also become the hiding place of other thousands who have a desire to escape hell, and reach heaven, and yet who do not care to pay the price of genuine salvation from sin and a holy life. They forget that hell is not only a place, it is a condition. Hell’s prime ingredient is hate, and hate is a factor of all sin. Unless a man has hate cast out, and perfect love imparted, he has hell on board wherever he is, whether on earth or standing in the blazing presence of the glorified Christ. Can he possibly then be comfortable in the presence of the glorified Master with his soul all weltering in hate? This is unthinkable.”
The pastor ceased speaking. Young Sinceer lifted his hand with a peculiar affirmative gesture and with a happy smile. He burst forth:
“I am glad that I got converted in the old-fashioned camp-meeting way. I feel right now the joy bells ringing in my heart. I am sure I have eternal life through Jesus Christ my Lord. But, pastor, your remarks have made me hungry for this second work of grace that you have mentioned. I must be sanctified wholly. I shall come and hear you preach on it; I am a seeker already for that experience.”
The doctor nodded at him with a happy smile. “Good, good,” he exclaimed.
Lawyer Hardhead looked troubled. He shifted his eyes from one of these happy men to the other. Evidently Sinceer’s testimony had stirred him tremendously. He finally fairly shouted:
“You men have just about got me ‘buffaloed,'” he blurted out. “I must admit that I am a sinner, a wicked sinner; I have stolen and defrauded, and lied, and taken God’s name in vain. I was converted, soundly converted in a great revival years ago. I got on fairly well for a while, but I heard this ‘eternal security’ notion preached and talked about, and its effect upon me was to make me careless. I assumed that if I had a ‘positional salvation’ in Christ that I could not forfeit. I did not need to pray so much, or be so faithful in my attendance on church and prayermeetings. I reckoned that I was a son of God, and ‘if a son, then always a son.’ I was sure I had eternal life, and if it was eternal, then nothing could rob me of it. I quit praying and testifying; I soon fell into open sin; I excused all my sin on the grounds that it was my body that sinned and not my soul. I rested in the doctrine of ‘once in grace always in grace.’ I felt secure of my ultimate reception in heaven. I knew I had no joy. I knew that I was offensive to God, in fact I knew I was a miserable, black-hearted, devil-possessed sinner, but I depended on ‘eternal security.’ Now you men have convinced me that ‘eternal security’ is not true; that though I was once a son, I have lost that sonship by sin, that I am now dead again in trespasses and in sins. Men I . . .”
He lifted his voice while his face lost its ruddy hue and turned deathly white, and great beads of sweat stood on his forehead; he stood to his feet, and fairly yelled:
“Men, I’m a lost soul! I have hell in me now; I feel the horrors of the damned. Is there hope for one who has for twenty years crucified the Son of God?”
Doctor Arminius quickly arose and caught the elderly lawyer’s hand. He looked calmly into the other man’s agonized eyes, and quietly said:
“There’s abundant hope for the convicted penitent, Brother Hardhead. There’s infinite mercy in the blood of Christ. Kneel here and let us beg God for forgiveness and salvation.”
Lawyer Hardhead fairly fell thunderingly to the floor. He lighted upon his knees beside the chair, and poured out his soul in a great, gruff yell to God. No one had to urge him to pray. He was desperate. James Sinceer knelt on one side, and the pastor on the other, and all three were calling on God without regard to the babel it caused. The doctor kept patting the old lawyer on the back, and between petitions the young attorney would shout in his ear, “Trust the blood, Hardhead, trust the blood!”
Suddenly the older man ceased screaming and beating the chair. For a full moment he was silent, with his eyes wide open gazing off into space, and then he yelled, “I see it. Christ bore all my sins in His own body on the tree, and if I walk in the light He and I will have fellowship one with another and the blood of God’s great Son will cleanse me from all sin. Walking faithfully and sincerely in all the light I can get, I will have eternal security . . . I’m saved! I’m saved! The ponderous attorney leaped to his feet like a boy. He laughed, he shouted, he hugged the other two men, he capered about the study like a great animal threatening to turn it into a rough house. He shook hands with both his associates again and again. He tried to sing, but broke down in a ridiculous yowl!
Sinceer was as excited and happy as his partner. He was almost beside himself. At last they both started for home. With great affection they bade the pastor good night, and started half laughing, half singing and sometimes half crying toward their car. The doctor laughed with them. As he closed the study door, he whispered to himself, “They are surely intoxicated on the new wine of the kingdom.”