Eternal Security
Without Presumption

The doctrine of the security of the believer, like so many other biblical doctrines, contains a measure of logical tension within it. On the one hand we are assured that Christ's sheep can never perish and, on the other, we are warned that if we do not persevere until the end, we will perish. The result of this tension is that Christians often line up on one side, distorting the verses that support the other side. On the one hand we have full blown Arminianism teaching that a true Christian can lose his salvation and end up in hell, and on the other we have Calvinistic Arminians and Antinomian Calvinists teaching that once we have prayed to receive Christ we cannot possibly go to hell, no matter what we do: "Sign your name here and put today's date. If you ever doubt your salvation, take this out and read it again. Once you are saved, you are always saved."

I would like to propose a middle way, actually, fully and simultaneously embracing both positions: believing in eternal security and accepting as genuine the warnings to Christians about apostasy.

The book of Hebrews does that in several places, take, for example, Hebrews 3:14: "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." What Hebrews is affirming is that there are people who are in fellowship with the church; to all outward appearances, even to themselves, they are true Christians, but then they turn away from gathering with the Lord's people and never return to the fold, having lost their confidence in the Lord Jesus. Hebrews warns all Christians of this danger; yet it does not say that those who have truly come to share in Christ can commit apostasy; in fact, it says the opposite. In effect, what Hebrews 3:14 says is: The proof of any person's having become a true Christian is that he continues on in that profession firmly until the end. If he does not, then he never came to share in Christ.

This is similar to Hebrews 3:6: "And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast." In effect, if we do not hold on to our courage and hope in the Lord Jesus on into the future, we are not Christ's house at the present time. This pushes me to ponder my present state in view of the future: if I turn away from following the Lord Jesus, then I never really was part of his house. I may have thought that I was, and others may have been persuaded of the genuineness of my faith. People may have even been converted to Christ under my preaching, but if I don't continue seeking the Lord and finally turn away, I prove that I was never savingly united to him.

The Apostle John puts it this way: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." (1 John 2:19) In effect, true saints persevere to the end, and they do so, because of God's omnipotent grace.

God preserves me, so I persevere. If I do not persevere, it is due to my failure to make diligent use of the means of grace in seeking the Lord Jesus with all my heart. The fault is all mine. If I do persevere, it is due to God's live-giving, effectual grace. The praise and glory is all his.

These things are often put in juxtaposition. Take the passage in Philippians 2:12, 13: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence -- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

I must throw my whole life into the pursuit of holiness -- entire conformity to the restored image of God in Christ, the Servant who was obedient unto death -- the goal that is never fully attained in this life. (Philippians 3:12 ff.) I must do so with fear and trembling, because if I do not, I will perish everlastingly. I, to every witness, a true Christian, must work it out with fear and trembling. And, when I have worked it out, when I am fully like the Lord Jesus, who made himself of no account and esteemed others more important than himself (Philippians 2:5 ff.). When the Lord Jesus confers on me the crowns of reward at his judgment seat for whatever that I may have done for him in this life, I will cast my crowns before him and confess, "You are worthy, my Lord and God. (Revelation 4:10) The glory alone is yours: it was simply your sovereign, effectual, predestinating, calling, justifying, sanctifying, preserving, enabling, unmerited grace; it was you who were at work in me to will and to act according to your good purpose."

So it is, that Paul who says, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day," (2 Timothy 1:12) takes seriously the danger of reprobation: "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:27)

What About Revelation 22:19?

The passage in question states in the King James Version: "And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

At this point the King James Version deviates from the Word of God. No Greek manuscript has that wording; they read "tree of life" rather than "book of life."

How the authors did this contains a curious piece of history. Although somewhat familiar with the science of textual criticism,* the authors of the King James Version substantially relied on the work of the Christian humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, for their New Testament translation. In 1516, with pressure to beat others into print and lacking a complete Greek manuscript of the book of Revelation, Erasmus simply made up his own Greek text based on the Latin text that he had for the last six verses of his Greek New Testament. (Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (2d edition; New York and Oxford: Oxford University, 1968)

At this point, the Revised Standard Version (and virtually all modern translations) is correct: "and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

* The Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucar, who having become a Calvinist prior to having been murdered, had sent King James I of England the ancient fifth century Greek manuscript now known as Codex Alexandrinus. Seventeenth century biblical scholars were familiar with this manuscript.