During last week's morning sermon at Ascot Life Church, I was singled out for commendation for my faith remaining steady during trying times, especially when my dear beloved was confined to a hospital bed for nearly four months. Evening after evening, after a day's work, I cycled to the station to catch a train for the short run to Reading, simply because I wanted to be with her, to give her encouragement and to leave, two hours later, with her spirits raised - even if this included cracking jokes which made her howl with laughter, much to the annoyance of one elderly patient in the same ward whose grown-up son confronted me face-to-face one Saturday afternoon.
At least my calm reply was enough to cool his temper, even though I felt hot under the collar myself. To see my wife recover was the only thing I wanted. Yet in times like these, I have wondered how anyone without the love of God in their lives manage in similar situations. Personally, I thank the Lord dearly for reaching out for one who our culture calls a worthless lump of clay, such as myself, who was a catastrophic failure at school, yet had my eyes opened to the source of the richest wisdom anyone can possess. So no doubt I felt elated when I heard the commendation spoken out in front of everybody in the room.
When the service was over and enjoying a snack of coffee and doughnut, a young friend of mine approached and strongly encouraged me to stay close to Jesus. I replied that after forty years, if I had not strayed in all this time, it's not likely that I would fall away now. I could say that I knew the Lord while he was still a twinkle in his old man's eye! But I have found his advice encouraging, even if it may be for the wrong reason, which is to say that if I fell away, I could well end up in Hell.
And it is this kind of thinking which so sadly prevails in many Christians at present. I once read in a survey, or an article which contained the results of the survey, that of every believer who becomes disillusioned with the faith, or even fall away, more than 80% of these were taught never to believe in Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS) or Eternal Security of the Believer. I was even given a hint of the higher suicide rate among those who were taught to "hold out faithful" or face the possibility of a lost eternity, and others who were committed to an institution. And I'm not just referring to "orthodox" Christians here, but also include Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups who believe that OSAS is heresy, and the necessity to work to keep our salvation. I would go as far to say that in the vast majority of such cases - known in theological circles as Arminianism, after Dutch theologian James Arminius who first published these ideas - are under the guidance of their pastor, elder, an itinerant preacher or evangelist, or even literature written by an "expert" all pointing to isolated Scripture verses "proving" their point.
When I attended Spring Harvest Bible festival in Minehead with my wife in 2002, one of the sermons, preached one evening at the Big Top was about the Fatherhood of God to all believers. The preacher, who believed in Eternal Security, talked with a face radiant with joy, and his joy was infectious right across the several thousand strong congregation. The following evening, another preacher began to put various conditions on the talk delivered the previous evening. In other words, he said that granted, God is our Father, providing that...such conditions are fulfilled on our part. There was no radiant joy issuing from his countenance. Rather, he looked as if he had just received news on the death of his mother. His lacklustre was also reflected on the rest of us. Such was the influence of those who don't believe in the eternal security of the believer.
This has brought me to thinking: Do we need any form of guidance in our Christian growth? I would say yes, indeed. I was very fortunate to have grown up spiritually in an environment where OSAS was accepted by our Elders and teachers. I have read books by different authors, the majority having believed in Eternal Security. And if I had came across an Arminian author, even by chance, then I would have sensed the dismay in my spirit which would have compelled me to put the book down. Alongside Christian authors such as Hal Lindsey and the late Dave Hunt, both eternal security believers, the one I had always referred to as my mentor was the late Dr. John R. Rice, founder and director of The Sword of the Lord, based at Murfreeboro in Tennessee. Although I had never met the man personally, back in 1974 I have accepted him as my mentor in getting to understand the Bible better through reading of his literature, particularly in why I had to differentiate between my present faith from my former Roman Catholic youth.
But as for personal reading of the Bible, here in the UK at least, many believers have a daily devotional such as Everyday with Jesus. This may be fine for some - I don't have any issues over this, it's solely between God and the person who reads it. But as I understand, a verse from the Bible is read, followed by a commentary on it, and a time to meditate on what was read. The shortcoming with this, to my mind, is allowing a third party to constantly direct the reading of the Bible, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself.
I have found by letting the Bible speak for itself, that is, without a third party involved, I was able, so to speak, to knock on Heaven's door for answers. Rather than read one verse a day, I wanted to find out what the bigger picture was about. One of the greatest truths that came out was God's Omniscience. The whole of Psalm 139 spells it out well. But for those who have a familiarity with the Old Testament, have you ever wondered why, in Daniel 7:5 for example, talks of the prophet's vision of a bear with three ribs in its mouth? What was that all about? Was it a detail thrown in to puzzle, or even to scare its readers? Here I did not have anyone to guide me on this matter, but by asking God direct in prayer, the answer lies with the Jews, Israel, and their capital city Jerusalem.
In 586 BC, Jerusalem was sacked by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. However, some time before then, the young King Jechoniah, a descendant of King David, was taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar and escorted to Babylon. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evil-Merodach took the throne. But God gave this king a kind heart, and had Jechoniah released from prison to feast at the king's table. Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, who in turn became the father of Zerubabbel, the governor who was to lead the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple that was razed by Nebuchadnezzar seventy years earlier. Evil-Merodach's son Belshazzar then took the Babylonian throne, and during his reign, Darius the Mede conquered the Babylonians and had its final king executed. Therefore Daniel's vision of the bear with three ribs in its mouth - of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, and Belshazzar, the only three Babylonian rulers who ever had dominion over the Jews and Jerusalem, therefore they were well symbolised by the three ribs in the bear's mouth.
Is all this relevant to us? Well, Zerubabbel was the ancestor of Joseph husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Through Daniel's vision, which was given to him while still under Babylonian rule, demonstrates the omniscience of God in protecting the Messianic line, including both the Royal title as well as the biological side. Then staying with Daniel, in the past I have wondered why so much prophetic detail is given in chapter 11 - the prophecy about the conflict between the Greek kings of the North and of the South. It is not an exciting read, to my mind at least. But the detail is so startlingly accurate, that the unbelieving had long insisted that this Scripture was written after all the events written therein had taken place. If ever the Omniscience of God was in its full display, this was it. But why did the Lord take so much trouble in such specific detail?
It was when I realised that no part of the Bible was written when the Jews were dominated by the Greeks. As with all the other empires which ruled over Israel, some parts of the Bible were written. During the rule of the Egyptians, Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Mede/Persian empires which all had dominion over Israel, parts of the Old Testament were written. The entire New Testament was written under the Roman empire. But when the Jews were under the Greek empire, no part of the Old Testament was written, as Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was completed under the Mede/Persian rule. It was as if, by his Omniscience, God was preparing his word beforehand, prior to the Greeks taking over, and the chapter continues on right up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, future from our own standpoint in time. As I see it, this not only demonstrates his Omniscience, but also his Covenant with Abraham and his descendants will endure forever.
Then I'm fascinated with Paul's letter to the Romans. If there is a letter which first describes the universal wickedness of mankind, then goes on to explain about a righteousness from heaven, imputed to everyone who believes in Jesus, Paul's letter to the Romans explains all these with clarity. He then uses the case of Abraham, how he was justified by faith when God revealed to him that he will have a son. The righteousness imputed on Abraham was God's own righteousness, expressed and demonstrated in Jesus Christ. This righteousness is imputed to all who believe in Jesus Christ Resurrected, making salvation a free gift given without works to earn it. Then after explaining the presence of sin in himself, which is aroused whenever the Law is read out in the synagogues, he then goes on into chapter 8, for me, the most beautiful chapter in the whole Bible, and can be seen as a direct reference for those who believe in OSAS.
But what makes this letter fascinating. Again, it's an expression of God's Omniscience. In what way? That it was addressed to the church in Rome, the very city of the Emperor's throne, who one day in AD 313 will become the Bishop of Rome. A union of Church and State which will give rise of the Roman Catholic Church with its emphasis on salvation by works. Paul's letter to the Romans is a direct rebuke to the Roman Catechism. Paul himself most likely did not realise this when he wrote the letter, but in his Omniscience, the Holy Spirit behind its inspiration, knew. Romans is the only letter which at its end greets every household who meets in the city. What was meant to be Paul's care for each individual or household, the Holy Spirit points out that the apostle Peter was not present in Rome throughout his life as a minister, or else he would have got a mention in the given list, if not actually heading the list. Much, if not all, of the Roman catechism was built on Peter being in Rome and was the first Pope. The listing shows his absence, as he was in Babylon, far in the opposite direction from Jerusalem, ministering to the Jewish Diaspora.
And here I conclude why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved. God's Omniscience. It looks to me that, according to the Ephesians, we have been saved from eternity past as we are already seated in Heaven, as the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. Could this be the reason why men from the dawn of history were justified by faith, the same as with every New Testament believer? As God sees it, outside of the human time frame, every saint was saved from eternity past. Yet He commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. A mystery maybe. But God is God, beyond our finite understanding.