Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-74 7:30 p.m.
Let’s read out loud the last paragraph of this “God’s Purpose of Grace.” Last Wednesday night the lecture was on the first part of it, on Election and Predestination. And tonight, the lecture is on Perseverance. So let us begin at the second paragraph, if there are enough of us with the copies of those articles to read it with me. How many of you have a copy of it, hold up your hands? Ah, that is good. Well, share it with somebody, and let us begin at the second paragraph, “All true believers,” let us read that. All right, together:
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the cause of Christ, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Now, that is the article on perseverance. It might be interesting for us to begin with, to look at the word itself: “persevere, persevere.” The Latin is persevērus, persevērus, which means “very serious.” Per is an intensive there, a little intensive particle, and sevērus means “serious, or severe,” so “perseverance” refers to someone who’s in dead earnest in the face of obstacles and difficulties and discouragements; perseverance. And that is the doctrine that we are going to look at tonight: that God’s saved will persevere.
Because of the original purpose and continuous operation of God, we believe that all who are united to Christ by faith will continue in a state of grace and finally attain to the everlasting life in heaven. Those whom God has saved are saved forever. They will not fall away. They will persevere. That is the doctrine.
The mercury in a thermometer may go up and down, fall and rise, but it will always do it inside the thermometer. It is never lost. It’s always there, though it rises and falls. A man on shipboard may fall again and again, but he doesn’t fall overboard. So with a man in Christ; he may make mistakes, he may fall into sin, he may fall into grievous error—there are many things that may overtake him—but he will never fall away from that grace by which God has redeemed him and added him to the kingdom of Christ.
Our old timers, our forefathers, sang a song that we sometimes sing today:
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design,
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
Do you know the last stanza enough to say it with me? If you do, try it.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
That is a song that is built upon Isaiah 43, verses 2 and 3:
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior.
This is the doctrine of perseverance: that those who are saved, God keeps by His gracious, omnipotent hand, and they will never ultimately fall away. They will persevere.
Now there are several things that we’re going to look at tonight about that doctrine. Number one: God has made special and explicit promises to the believer. There are things that God, by immutable unchangeable decree, has said to those who trust in Him.
John 1:12 says:
But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name; who are born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, nor of blood, but of the will of God.
Now, John 3:16 quotes the Lord as promising to us eternal life. Now let’s say it together, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is either true or it is not true. If it is true, then God has given to the one who trusts in Jesus eternal life. Is that life for a day, or a month, or a year, or forty years, or one minute before a man dies? It is forever.
John 5:24: the Lord says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, he that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life”—got it, present tense—“and shall not come unto condemnation; but is passed out of death into life.” In John 10:28-, the Lord says:
I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish; nor shall anyone pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.
That is an explicit promise from God to the one who looks in faith to Christ. Luke 12:32: “Do not be discouraged, do not be fearful, My little flock, it is the Lord’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He intends it for you; it is going to be yours to possess. Now, that’s the first thing. God has made special and explicit promises to us who look in faith to Christ, namely, that we shall be saved forever. We shall never be lost.
All right, number two: God sustains a special relationship to the believer. He is especially guarded and helped and kept by the Holy Spirit. There may be five hundred million people out there who don’t believe in the Lord, but these who do believe in God, the Lord has a special and unusually blessed guardian helpful relationship with them.
When a man trusts in Christ there is a relationship established between him and God, and that is especially, particularly spoken to us in the Holy Scriptures. For example, Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
God is not going to save us and work with us for six months and then let us drop, nor is He going to save us and His Spirit help us and work with us for six years and then let us drop, or for sixty years and let us drop; but the good work that God hath begun in the believer He will perform until the coming of Christ, the consummation of the age.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:3, Paul writes, “But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil.” God has promised that special thing for those who look in faith to Him, and in 1 Peter 1:3-5 you have one of the most magnificent passages in the Bible. He says he is Simon Peter, “an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the upper diaspora, those that are scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect, elect.” Now that’s the election, God has chosen them. Now, he’s going to speak of their perseverance in a minute:
… Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
Blessed be, praise God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.
[1 Peter 1:1-4]
God has it marked up there with our name on it: “All of us who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” [1 Peter 1:5]. These who are elect of God are given an inheritance in heaven, reserved for us, and we are kept by the power of God to that day when that final salvation is revealed to us at the last time.
The same Lord God that elected us is the same Lord God who is keeping us. And no one who is kept by the Lord is ever, ever going to stumble and fall away, much less fall into hell. This is a special relationship that God has made between Himself and us who are looking in faith to Him. God does something to see us through.
It is wonderful to hold God’s hand, but it is far more wonderful for God to hold our hand, and that’s what God does when He saves us. I have often thought of a little incident that happened when our little girl, Mabel Ann—she was very small; we had just come to Dallas. She was just about oh, say, five years old, and we were walking down Akard Street, and came to Akard and Main. And the light turned green, so she looked up to me and took my hand and said, “Daddy, the light is green, let’s go.”
Well, the traffic is heavy, and she was holding my hand when we, you know, there’s a step down there at Akard and Main, and she was holding my hand. Well, that’s very fine, very fine. But how do I know, being a little child, that something might distract her, and she turn loose of my hand and walk out into the way of an automobile or some other thing that might interest a little child. So when she said to me, “Look, Daddy, the light is green, let’s go,” and she took my hand, I said, “That’s right, honey, the light is green, let’s go,” and I took her hand from mine, and I took her hand in mine, and then I walked across the street holding her hand, because I knew I would not let her go.
That is exactly what God does for us. It may be all right for a man to say, “I’m holding onto God’s unchanging hand,” but it is a far more wonderful thing for a man to praise God and say, “It is the Lord that is holding my hand, and He will not let me go.” That is the doctrine of perseverance.
Now, for our encouragement, it is a blessing to my heart to remember that the least of God’s saints is dear to the Lord. No one is too small. No one is too obscure to escape the loving care and attention of our Savior. He Himself taught us that.
It is easy, and I tell you sometimes it is depressingly easy, to come to the place where you feel—“I don’t believe God knows I’m living. I don’t believe God knows my name. I think He has forgotten me.” It is so easy—in all of the vast multitudes of this world, now numbering toward four billion people, and in all of the press of events, and a thousand things that happen—it is very easy for us to fall into the despair that “I am of no more consequence than an autumn leaf falling down to the ground. I am no more picked out, as such, than a snowflake up there in the Himalayas. I am just like a grass of the field that withers and like a flower that fades.” Life seemingly looks that way to us, and sometimes the feeling of that oppresses us. It was against that that the Lord spoke so many, many things. For example, He said, “There is not a little sparrow that falls to the ground but that our heavenly Father sees it, knows it, follows its fall to the earth” [Matthew 10:29]. Now, I don’t know anything more inconsequential, I suppose, than a tiny sparrow.
When we were living on the farm, I remember one time, just out there in the pasture, walking by the barbed wire fence, I saw a little sparrow whose foot had got entangled with a piece of twine on the barbed wire fence. And the little thing was hanging between the top strand and the next strand. It was just hanging down with its foot caught in that twine, and it was just flapping and flapping to no avail, to no end, because its foot was caught in the string. And seeing it, I walked over there to it, and I took the little thing in my hand, which I’m sure frightened it to death—that, being caught, somebody now was seizing it—but I took the little sparrow and held it in my hand, and undid the twine that encircled its foot, and then turned it loose, and let it fly up to heaven again. And that, though I was a very small boy, that passage of Scripture came to me in my heart: that God saw that little sparrow, and He noticed that it was caught, and that it was flapping its wings, trying to find escape, only to see nothing but despair and apparent death. Well, God is that kind of a God. He looks upon, He sees the smallest one of His creatures.
I ran across this story in my reading. God called the angel Gabriel into His presence, and the Lord said, “Gabriel, I’m sending you on a mission to the earth. I have two things I want you to do.” Now you look at this: “Number one, Gabriel: my king, David, is pressed by his enemies. He’s fighting for his very life. Now, Gabriel, I want you to go down there and help David fight against his enemies. Then, second, I want you, Gabriel, to go to the top of Mount Ararat. There is a little tiny ant up there that’s having a hard time pulling a little pebble from the entrance to its home, and I want you to go and help that little ant roll that pebble down the hill.
Now, I like that story. That is God. Whether it is big or whether it is little, the Lord sees, and knows, and cares, and helps. And that is the doctrine of perseverance: that God has a special relationship with those who trust in Him, and His Spirit helps them.
Now, the unregenerate will fall away, but not the regenerate. A mark of our regeneration is our perseverance. The perseverance of the saints is a sign of God’s love and preservation of us. God’s people do not fall away, and the sign that they are God’s is that they remain. They persevere. Now I have some comments to make about that. Number one: it is sometimes difficult for us to distinguish between the two. Who is really regenerated and who is not really regenerated?
For example, I remember one time a man brought me some tares. Have you ever seen tares? A man brought me some tares, and I tell you truly, they look exactly like wheat, exactly! I could not tell the difference. The tares that were brought to me were exactly like wheat, I mean, in every little detail. They were wheat. The only thing lacking was up there where you have the chaff, the husk—when you mashed it, it was absolutely empty. There was no seed in it. There was no fruit in it. There was no wheat in it at all. But outside of its sterility and its barrenness, it looked exactly like wheat.
Now, we are like that. When we look out at people, sometimes it is very difficult for us to know who is a tare and who is a wheat. An illustration of that, and a poignant one, is when the disciples were seated around the Last Supper table of our Lord, and “the Lord said, Verily I say unto you, one of you shall betray Me this night. And the disciples began to be exceeding sorrowful, and to ask Him, Master, is it I?” [Matthew 26:21-22].
Now, you look at that closely: they suspected themselves before they suspected Judas. There was not one of them there who suspected Judas, not one. Simon Peter said, “Lord, is it I?” John said, “Lord, is it I?” Matthew said, “Lord, is it I?” Nathanael said, “Lord, is it I?” Philip said, “Lord, is it I?” Thomas said, “Lord, is it I?”
There wasn’t one of them who said, “Lord, we know whom you are talking about. You are talking about Judas”; not a hint of anything like that. And they were exceeding sorrowful: “Lord, could it be I that will betray Thee this night?” So Simon Peter, who was seated here, asked John, who was seated here next to the Lord, Simon Peter said to John, “John, ask the Master, who is it? Who is it?” [John 13:23-25]. And John asked the Lord, “Lord, who is it that will betray You?” And the Lord said, “He it is to whom I will give this sop.” And He took a piece of the bread, and dipped it in the broth of the Passover lamb, and handed it to Judas Iscariot [John 13:26].
Then the Scriptures say, “And Satan entered into him and he went out; and it was night” [John 13:30]. Now, that is a remarkable story! These men had lived together, day and night, intimately, for three years. And at the end of those three years, when the Lord made that solemn pronouncement, there was not one of them who suspected, even dreamed that it could be Judas.
They suspected themselves before they suspected him. Now, when you look out over God’s heritage, you cannot sometimes distinguish between those who are regenerate and those who are not. There are tares who look exactly like the wheat of the Lord, and we cannot distinguish.
May I parenthesize here? Something that I don’t have in my notes to say, but a reason why it is that God says to us, “Just leave them alone. Leave it alone. Do not try to pull it up. Do not try to pull it up because when you pull up the tares, you may pull up some of the wheat.” Be very careful, the distinguishing you make between the people in the church. Let God make the judgment.
Now, there are certain developments in human life that give us indications about who is regenerate and who is not. First, let’s say, it is sometimes difficult for us to distinguish between those who are saved and those who are not. But there are certain developments in human life that give us indications about people that are truly regenerate and some who are not.
Now here’s one. In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul says—and this is absolutely one of the most unusual verses you could find in the Bible—in 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul says, “For there must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
Now, can you imagine that? To me, heresy in the church is a horrible thing, a terrible thing, an awful thing. Heresies, wrong doctrine, strange doctrine; people come forward with all kinds of things, and the doctrine is not biblical, it’s not right, it’s not according to the Word of God. And what happens? Well, when these heresies arise among us, there are people who are wooed away into them. They follow them. They’re gone off after them. Now, Paul says that is needful. It serves a good purpose: in order that you might know those that are true to God, have really been born again, and those who are not. For the assumption here is, on the part of the apostle, that the man who is truly regenerate will not be wooed away into these heretical doctrines and strange, enticing interpretations of men. That’s what he says.
So he says, when these heresies come along, we are not to look upon them with dread and terror and horror as I do. I’m not to do that, he says. But when these strange doctrines come along, these heresies develop, well, he says, all that does for you, it just shows you who is a truly regenerate person of God and who isn’t. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
All right, here’s another development in human life that give us indications. In 1 John 2:19, the apostle John writes, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out from us, that it might be made manifest that they were not of us.” Now, isn’t that something?
Here is something that comes along, and it just pulls out some of our people, and you look at it and you say, “Oh, this is, this is terrible, this is tragic!” No, says the apostle John, that thing happened that God might separate and might make known to you that these were not really regenerate. They weren’t really saved. They left us. They are gone from us because they were not of us.
Now, someone who is really converted and really regenerated, when he might fall away, what does he do? What kind of a response does he have? Well, in Matthew 26:69-75, you have the story of a man who fell away. Simon Peter said one time, “I do not know Him,” and he said the second time, “I do not know Him,” and in this story, the third time, a little maid said, “Your speech betrays you. You’re a Galilean. You’re one of His disciples.” And Simon Peter said, “So you think my speech is like His, and you think my speech betrays me? Well, you listen to this,” and he let loose an oath, a curse, a blue streak of foul words. When they say, “He curses like a sailor,” I suppose that’s a part of that meaning. He grew up as a rough, rude, crude fisherman, and his language was like that. So when this little maid asked him if he weren’t a disciple, why, he cursed and used vile language. “I never saw Him. I do not know Him. I am not of His disciples.”
And while Peter was cursing and denying the Lord, the Lord turned, and through that door that opened from the courtroom where he [Peter] was warming himself by the fire, the door into the judgment hall where Caiaphas was trying the Lord Jesus, while Simon Peter was cursing and denying, the Lord turned and looked at him. And the Book says, “And Peter went out and wept bitterly” [Luke 22:61-62].
That’s the sign of a sheep’s heart, what Simon Peter did. That’s the sign of a truly regenerate child of God. When a pig falls in the mudhole, he likes it and wallows in it. He just wishes it were deeper, and bigger, and smellier, and filthier, and dirtier. He likes it. But when a sheep falls in the mudhole, he will struggle with all of his might to get out of it. That is the difference between a sheep and a pig. And when a man has a sheep’s heart, when he gets into dirtiness, and filth, and worldliness, and sin, and evil, he struggles and tries to get out of it.
There are certain developments, I say, in human life that indicate to us those who are really regenerate and those who are not. Here is a sign of an unregenerate man in 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul writes, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. He has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The blandishments of the world were too much for Demas, so he forsook the faith and forsook the apostle in order to live in the pleasures of the world for a season.
Does that bring to you to mind somebody who didn’t do that? “Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” [Hebrews 11:24-25]. So there are developments in human life that show us some who are not regenerate, and Demas is an example of one of them. They fall away to the world.
Dear me, I could not tell you the number of people that have gone through my purview in these thirty years. They were here, and they are just lost to God and His church altogether. The world has them. They are not with us. They are with the world.
Now, belief can be external and superficial, not genuine and not real. When somebody comes down the aisle, accepts the Lord as his Savior, is baptized, and starts off in the work of the Lord, we do not know just by those outward accouterments that he is really regenerated. They do not persevere in the way of life because they never actually entered into it.
The water flowing from a living fountain and the water from a cup are altogether different. The water from the fountain flows and flows and continues. The water from a cup is exhausted in a moment. Now, the Lord said that. In the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13:3-9, He said, “There were some of the seed that fell by the wayside, and the birds devoured it. Some of the seed fell on stony places, and the earth scorched it. Some of it fell into thorns, and the cares of the world choked it to death.” Now, that’s exactly the way it is when people respond to the gospel appeal. Some of them respond this, some of them respond that, but they didn’t really give themselves to God, not really.
I remember a story by Sam Jones. He said that he was walking down the street, and there was a drunk in the gutter. And a fellow, to ridicule the evangelist Sam Jones, said, “Sam, come here, look at that.” And Sam Jones went over there to the gutter and looked at that drunk in his filth and vomit, and the man said, “Sam Jones, that is one of your converts.” And Sam Jones replied, “That’s right, he’s one of my converts. God never had anything to do with him.” Now, that’s exactly the way it is.
When a man is regenerated, there is something about him that God has done, and God will continue to do. But there are many things that are external and superficial that we see people doing in the church. As Romans 9:6-7 says, “They are not all of Israel, who are Israel.” There is an Israel that is not truly Israel, and we can say the same thing about church members. There are some who are not real church members. They just have their names on the book, and they never really were regenerated.
Now, God knows the truly repentant, the truly regenerate, and those who are not regenerate. And someday we shall know. Isn’t that a remarkable thing that God reveals to us? Now, Jesus knows it now, immediately. In the second chapter of John, “Now,” the closing of the chapter:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men,
And needed not that any should testify of man; for He knew what was in man.
Jesus was never fooled by the acclaim of the crowds. Now, He was acclaimed there at the beginning of His Judean ministry, but that didn’t deceive the Lord. He knew exactly what was in their hearts, exactly.
I’ll give you another illustration of that, at the end of His ministry. At the end of His ministry, in His triumphant, royal entry into Jerusalem, the whole populous cried,