God is gathering a people for Himself. He finds them in Satan’s kingdom and calls them effectually by the Holy Spirit in His infinite grace. He convinces them of sin and makes them willing and able to believe in Christ and to follow Him along the narrow way which leads to everlasting life.
But will they continue on the way? Will they arrive safely in heaven? Or will they wander back to the broad way and end in everlasting destruction? After all, many seem to begin well; they are full of zeal and very earnest in their new-found religion. But they do not continue; they give up prayer, Bible reading and church attendance; they return to the world and its ways of sin with more enthusiasm than ever. It is no new thing; Peter had probably seen it many a time before he wrote: 'It is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire' (2 Pet. 2:22).
Yet the promises of God stand sure and they guarantee that all who have been effectually called – who therefore are among the people, the sheep, of Christ, having believed sincerely in Him – will never fall away. The Scriptures assure us that 'the Lord will not cast off His people' (Psa. 94:14). They are not only perfectly secure in this life, but they will be absolutely safe throughout eternity. We may notice five reasons why this is so.
1. God’s eternal purpose. All that happens in this world takes place according to what God has decreed will happen. In particular, He has decreed to call into His kingdom sinners who were wandering along the broad way towards eternal destruction; He has decreed to make them His people. Paul speaks of them (in Rom. 8:29) as those whom God 'foreknew' – which Charles Hodge explains as God 'looking on the fallen mass of men and fixing on some whom He predestines to salvation'.
And that is a sure salvation, for Paul continues: 'Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.' Thus God’s original choice in predestinating some to salvation will be followed through in effectual calling – they will all be drawn by the power of the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God. And those who are thus effectually called will be justified; for Christ’s sake all their sins will be forgiven and God will accept them as righteous.
But, and this is the main point for us at present, those who are effectually called and justified according to God’s eternal purpose – those who are born again and, believing, set out on the narrow way – will actually be glorified. They will persevere to the end; they will be brought at last to heaven. For God will not cast them away; He will not forsake them; He will keep them to the end. He has begun, in their effectual calling, to demonstrate His purpose to save them and, the Bible tells them: 'He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ' (Phil. 1:6) – until He will return for them at the end of time.
2. The effectiveness of Christ’s work. Each of those who believe is saved because Christ died for them as individuals. Their guilt was imputed to Him, and He bore that guilt 'in His own body on the tree'. He paid the price for their redemption, and He therefore has a right to them; they are His people. When He sends the Holy Spirit to regenerate them, that work will be effective; they become new creatures in Christ Jesus. And the Holy Spirit continues His work in their hearts, still for the sake of Christ – it is all the result of His redemptive work in this world and the fruit of His continuing, and effective, intercession at the right hand of His Father in heaven. God will never forsake His people; He will never give up his own work; for Christ’s sake He will bring it to a complete conclusion. Thus believers will never perish; they will persevere on the way to heaven.
3. God’s power. There are many obstacles in the way of the believer’s progress towards heaven. There is Satan, going about as a roaring lion 'seeking whom he may devour'. But Satan, powerful as he is – and let us not underestimate either his power or his subtlety – is limited, while God is unlimited in every way. And He will use His infinite power on behalf of His people, against Satan. He will either protect them from Satan’s temptations or, if He allows Satan to set snares for them, He will use His power to prevent them from becoming entangled in these snares, at least permanently so.
The world also is a source of serious danger, not least in a generation as wicked as ours. But however serious these dangers are, God is able to protect His children, and they are to commit themselves to His care. No one, Christ promised, will 'pluck them out of My hand' (John 10:28).
Perhaps most insidious is the danger that comes from their own corrupt hearts – hearts which are but partially sanctified. Yet the 'good work' of sanctification has begun, and it will be continued through the infinite power of the Holy Spirit until God’s people are made absolutely perfect.
4. God’s love. Perhaps the clearest evidence of His love is His adoption of believers into His family; He has made them His children. Every loving father in this world will do his best to care for His children, to protect them from all danger and provide for them until they are able to look after themselves. How much more will God’s love for His children lead Him to watch over them! Their Father in heaven can never cast them off. He has loved them with an everlasting love; so that love can never change. And it never will; He will bring them into a better world. As He watches over them in His love, they will continue in the narrow way that leads to everlasting life.
5. God’s honour. Samuel assured Israel: 'The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake' (1 Sam. 12:22). He had revealed Himself by mighty signs and wonders when He brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt; He had preserved them through the wilderness and brought them victorious into the promised land. He had entered into covenant with them; so He could not cast them away without dishonouring His name – the revelation He had given of Himself in His Word and providence. Samuel’s statement refers particularly to God’s dealings with Israel as a nation; how much more closely is His honour associated with spiritual Israel, His own people! He has redeemed them; He has entered into covenant with them; He has begun a work of grace in their hearts; He has adopted them into His family. His honour is therefore bound up, not only with the beginnings of their salvation in the past, but with its completion in the future. So their arrival in heaven is absolutely sure – not least because the honour of God’s name is bound up with it.
In the light of these five points, God’s people have every reason for confidence as they make their way to the eternal world – confidence in Him, not in themselves. Yet those who believe they are God’s children must beware of presumption. They are directed: 'Give diligence to make your calling and election sure' (2 Pet. 1:10). Nor may even God’s true children presume on His power to deliver them if they wander carelessly into sin. Christ directs them: 'Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation' (Matt. 26:41). And Paul, inspired by the Spirit, gives the corresponding direction: 'If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth' (Col. 3:1). After all, the narrow way which leads to eternal life is 'the way of holiness'. Walking in that way, God’s children may enjoy the confidence of a safe arrival in a better world. Asaph, for instance, could sing in confident faith: 'Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory' (Psa. 73:24). May we get grace to follow him!
- Kenneth Macleod