"Can one who has been fully justified in Christ, whose sins have been all blotted out, irrespective of their heinousness, by the perfect and efficacious price paid by Jesus Christ, become again unjustified, and fall under condemnation without a dishonor done to Christ’s righteousness?"
Dr. R.L. Dabney
Union Theological Seminary, Va., Aug. 15th, 1878
Scripture and experience concur in imputing to man, in his natural state, a...deadness of heart, which would leave the preacher of the gospel to labor in despair, were it not for his dependence on the sovereign grace of God. But when he believes firmly in the eternal covenant of grace, whereby God has promised His Son a chosen seed, not for any merit which He sees in sinners, and to call and perfect this seed by His efficacious grace, there is ground laid for cheerful exertions.
In this spirit the Apostle says that from the first day of their conversion till now, his prayers for his Philippian converts had always been offered in joy, because he was confident that the Redeemer, who had begun the blessed work in them, by their regeneration, faith, and repentance, would continue that work of sanctification, till it was perfected at the second coming of Jesus Christ, in the resurrection of their bodies, and their complete glorification.
This work was begun in them by God, not by their own free choice, independent of grace; for that choice always would have been, most freely and heartily, to choose sin. It must have been begun by God from deliberate design; for God works all things after the counsel of His own will. That design and purpose of mercy was not founded on anything good in them, but on God’s unchangeable mercy; and therefore it should not be changed by any of their faults, but the unchanging God would carry it out to perfection.
We have here the Apostle’s plain expression of his belief in the perseverance of the truly regenerate, in a state of repentance, unto the end. In attempting the discussion of this doctrine, let us exercise the spirit of humility and candor, laying aside prejudice, avoiding all abuses or perversions of God’s truth, and striving to apprehend it just as He has presented it.
That this perseverance in a state of grace is not innate and necessary, with the new–born nature, but gracious. It does not proceed from anything in the interior state of the regenerate soul, but wholly from God’s purpose of mercy towards that soul. Security from fall is the attribute of none but God, Adam in Paradise was capable of apostasy. Holy angels were capable of apostasy; for many of them fell; and doubtless the angels and glorified saints in heaven owe their infallibility, not to their own strength, but to God’s unchanging grace working in them. Much more would the Christian, in his imperfection, be liable to fall.
This perseverance does not imply that a man may be living in habitual and purposed sin, and yet be in a justified state, because he who is once justified cannot come into condemnation. We heartily join in everything which can be said against so odious a doctrine. It is impossible; because the living in such a state of sin proves that the man never was, and is not now, in a justified state, whatever may be his names and boasts.
Nor do we teach that all Christians have equal spiritual vitality at all times; but they may fall into partial errors of doctrine, coldness and sin, which may for a time wholly interrupt their comfort in religion, and overcloud their evidence of a gracious state. Yet is the root of the matter there.It is simply this ~
"They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, and effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved." (Confession of Faith)
This is proved by the immutability of the decree of election. When anyone is born again of the Holy Spirit and justified in Christ, it is because God had formed, from eternity, the unchangeable purpose to save that soul. The work of grace in it is the mere carrying out of that unchangeable purpose. As the plan is unchangeable, so must be its execution, when that execution is in the hands of the Almighty. How can argument be more direct?
"The perseverance of believers follows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father," which was the ground of their being chosen unto salvation. The Scriptures make it plain that the reason why God ever determined to save any man was not His seeing in him anything good, attractive or extenuating, but something without, known to His wisdom, which was to God a good and wise reason to bestow His eternal love on that particular sinner. This sovereign and unmerited love is the cause of the believer’s effectual calling.
Now, as the cause is unchangeable, the effect will be unchangeable. That effect is, the constant communication of grace to the believer in whom God has begun a good work. God was not induced to bestow His renewing grace in the first instance, by anything which He saw, meritorious or attractive, in the repenting sinner; and therefore the subsequent absence of everything in him would be no new motive to God for withdrawing His grace.
When He first bestowed that grace, He knew that the sinner on whom He bestowed it was totally depraved, and wholly and only hateful in himself to the divine holiness; and therefore no new instance of ingratitude or unfaithfulness, of which the sinner may become guilty after his conversion, can be any provocation to God, to change His mind, and wholly withdraw His sustaining grace. God knew all this ingratitude before. He will chastise it, by temporarily withdrawing His Holy Spirit, or His providential mercies; but if He had not intended from the first to bear with it, and to forgive it in Christ, He would not have called the sinner by His grace at first. In a word, the causes for which God determined to bestow His electing love on the sinner are wholly in God, and not at all in the believer; and hence, nothing in the believer’s heart or conduct can finally change that purpose of love.
This doctrine depends "upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ." As all Christians agree, the sole ground of the acceptance of believers is the justifying righteousness of Jesus Christ. The objects of God’s eternal love were "chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world," "accepted in the beloved," and made the recipients of saving blessings, on account of what Christ does in their stead.
Now, this ground of Justification, this atonement for sin, this motive for the bestowal of divine love, is perfect. Christ’s atonement surmounts the demerit of all possible sin or ingratitude. His righteousness is a complete price to purchase the sinner’s pardon and acceptance.
Can one who has been fully justified in Christ, whose sins have been all blotted out, irrespective of their heinousness, by the perfect and efficacious price paid by Jesus Christ, become again unjustified, and fall under condemnation without a dishonor done to Christ’s righteousness?
The perseverance of the saints proceeds "from the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them."
Every Christian, at the hour he believes, is so united to Christ, that he partakes of His indwelling Spirit. This union is a permanent one. The moving cause for instituting it, God’s free and eternal love, is a permanent and unchangeable cause. The indwelling of the Spirit promised to believers is a permanent and abiding gift.
His regenerating operations are spoken of as a "seal," and an "earnest" of our redemption. The use of a seal is to ratify a covenant, and make the fulfillment of it certain to both parties. So the renewing of the Holy Spirit is, to every believer who has enjoyed it, a seal, impressing the image of Christ on the wax of his softened heart, closing and certifying the engagement of God’s love, to redeem the soul. It is the earnest, or advance, made to the soul, to engage God to the final bestowal of complete holiness and glory. Unless the final perseverance of believers is certain, it could be no pledge nor seal.
The inference is as simple and as strong as words can express, that he who has once enjoyed this seal and earnest is thereby certified that God will continue to give the Holy Spirit until the end.
On the eternal certainty of this covenant is founded the faithfulness of the gospel offer, pledging God to every sinner who believes and repents, that he shall through Christ receive saving grace; and among those gracious influences thus pledged with eternal truth to the believer, from the moment he truly believes, is persevering grace
"Compare carefully Rom 5:8–10; Rom 8:32, with whole scope of Rom. 8:28–end of chapter".
Phil 1:6, Matt 24:24, 2 Tim 2:19; Heb 6:17-18, Jer 32:40, Rom 11:29, Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:22