07 May 2007

Election vs. Salvation by Works

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Effects of Sound Doctrine," a sermon delivered Sunday evening, April 22nd, 1860, at New Park Street Chapel.

y dear friends, after all, the kicking against the doctrine of election is a kicking against the gospel, because this doctrine is a first principle in the divine plan of mercy, and when rightly known, it prepares our minds to receive all the other doctrines.

Or on the contrary, misunderstand this, and you are pretty sure to make mistakes about all the rest.

Take for instance final perseverance; some men say, "If we continue in faith, and if we continue in holiness, we shall certainly be saved at last." Do you not see at once that this is legality—that this is hanging our salvation upon our work—that this is making our eternal life to depend on something we do?

Nay, the doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works, lifted up; for he always thinks faith is a work of the creature and a condition of his acceptance. It is as false to say that man is saved by faith as a work, as that he is saved by the deeds of the law. We are saved by faith as the gift of God, and as the first token of his eternal favor to us; but it is not faith as our work that saves, otherwise we are saved by works, and not by grace at all.

If you need any argument upon this point, I refer you to our great apostle Paul, who so constantly combats the idea that works and grace can ever be united together, for he argues, "If it be of grace, then it is no more of works otherwise grace were no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more of grace, otherwise work is no more work."
C. H. Spurgeon


Stefan Ewing said...

That's interesting: I had never seen belief in salvation by works as a consequence of lack of assurance of salvation, but the connection is compelling. (To be clear, it seems to me that good works should be a natural consequence of our salvation, but not at all a necessary condition for our salvation.)

And may the Lord forgive me for taking away from the weight of Spurgeon's sermon, but I can't help noticing there's something about the way he looks in this picture--his smile, it seems, or the way his hair is brushed back, or something. There's something almost sly (not in a bad way) about the way he looks in this picture....

donsands said...

It's not even 99.9% God and .1% man.

It's all 100% purely God.

Kaffinator said...

I would love to see someone reconcile Spurgeon's third paragraph with Col 1:22-23:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

I have no quarrel against the doctrine of election. But a robust understanding of God's election must be reconciled against scripture's exhortations, which are not infrequently expressed in conditional terms.

James Scott Bell said...

Spurgeon, unfortunately, delivers an all too common canard against Arminians, and misuses the word "works."

What Paul means by "works" is that which OBLIGATES payment. That which MERITS a return. See, e.g., Romans 4:4. He most commonly distinguishes faith from works of the law, e.g., Ro. 3:28.

Spurgeon's is a rhetorical move only, so that one can then say, "Ah, but Scripture says we are not saved by works!"

Such a move doesn't work (pardon the pun). That is not how Paul uses the word, and no right thinker claims that responsive faith EARNS or MERITS salvation.

The issue is not "Election v. Salvation by Works." That's a false opposition. Correctly stated, it is "Unconditinal v. Conditional Election."

I don't mind disagreement over THAT issue, because it's the correct area of debate. But I'd like to see the declaration that responsive faith is a "work" dropped, because it's simply not Pauline.

donsands said...


Here's a couple verses that came to mind.

"If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself." 2 Tim. 2:13
"And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!" 2 Tim. 4:18

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also WILL DO IT." 1 Thes. 5:23-24

The truth here is that God is a faithful Father to His children.

Though He charges us to be faithful, He will see to it by His grace and power, that we are disciplined, for it is God who works in us to will and to do.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for responding. I hope others do, too. I think it is Biblically defensible to say that God will see to our faithfulness by His grace and power. But it is just as Biblically defensible to say, "if you, man, do not continue in your faith, you can make no claim on Christ". But, this is just the sort of statement Spurgeon seems to decry. So I'm just wondering how this tension is resolved.

Dave on the Prairie said...

Perhaps there are different shades of arminianism. My thoughts on this are not so much about works. Salvation is a gift, freely given.
However, can the gift be rejected?
There have been people that had surely embraced salvation only to decide later in life that they didn't really like God anymore. I would say we have the freedom of will to un-save ourselves.

Jerry Wragg said...

Kaffinator –
(sorry for the length)

Perseverance is to be understood from two vantage points: From the divine perspective, God “works in [us] both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), and from the human perspective, man “works out [his] salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). It is clear that God has ordained the preservation of His workmanship (Eph. 2:10), but also the means by which believers are preserved, namely “abiding” in Christ (John 15:8), which demonstrates the genuineness of salvation. In a word, God preserves us so that we may persevere. This divine work/human effort formulation is not unlike other great doctrines such as that of conversion, wherein God, at the appointed time, effectually calls a sinner to repentance and faith (Rom. 10:20), yet exclusively through the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:14,17). Regarding diligence in sanctification, Paul, in Ephesians 3:11-4:3, notes that the ultimate cause of Christian growth is the “eternal purpose…carried out in Christ Jesus (3:11)…according to the power that works within us” (3:20), but quickly follows up with entreaties to “walk worthy of the calling with which [we’ve] been called”, and to be “diligent” in the development of moral character (4:1-3). We see this two-dimensional framework in passages such as Jude 21 and 24, where the imperative calls believers to “keep” themselves in the love of God, in an attitude of eager anticipation of the mercy of final salvation. Complimentarily, verse 24 extols the power of God to “keep” the believer from falling away from ultimate blamelessness in the presence of Christ. Jesus regularly associated the endurance of one’s faith to the evidence of God’s genuine preserving work (John 8:31-32; 10:27; 14:17,21,23; 15:1-10,14,16-17; 16:3; 17:6,11-12,15,18-19,23-26). The Philippians were told to “conduct [themselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel…for to [them] it has been granted for Christ’s sake…to believe in Him” (1:27,29). And there are many other texts in this regard.

You may ask, “Wouldn’t this approach tend to foster an unhealthy introspection, external performance, and ultimately weakened assurance?” The answer lies in the fact that in the infinite wisdom of God, redemption is accomplished both as to the end as well as the means. The perseverance of the saints is soundly rooted in the eternal decrees and power of God, but does not exclude the providential outworking of all things in due course. Stated another way, God has created us in Christ Jesus and prepared long ago that we should walk in good works, yet the ordained means by which He brings about our preservation and glory is the manifold commands, admonitions, encouragements, and calls to faithfulness. Furthermore, He has ordained our obedience as the objective source of assurance (“if you abide in My love, then you are truly My disciples”), which is to be kept fresh and blossoming daily (2 Pet. 1:3ff.).

God’s warnings against unbelief are intended to forge an active and passionate growth in His grace, to prevent the self-deception of false security, to test levels of faithfulness, and to cause sober reflection on the dangers of unbelief. These warnings will have different impact, depending upon the maturity level of each believer:
For the strong Christian– Warnings offer a reminder to press on all the more, and an abiding confidence that one has obeyed these cautions.
For the weak but willing – Warnings provide a graphic deterrent to future patterns of sin; They display the specific care of God in pointing to dangers; They engender a greater dependence on grace.
For the weak and stubborn – Warnings bring instant clarity to trouble (chastening); They bring greater conviction to the conscience; They expose unbelief as the source of all stubbornness.
For the hardened – Warnings call for the justice of God, thereby upholding holiness; They confirm the traits of apostasy; They declare the absence of true conversion.
Warnings are God’s gracious “red lights” that stop the believer in his tracks and call him to greater diligence and faith. When a true believer lapses into a season of sin, God chastens (even severely at times) them so as to increase virtue and the sharing of His holiness in greater ways (Heb. 12:5:12). Indeed, it is this very process of divine discipline and its results that confirms the love and acceptance of our heavenly Father (Heb. 12:6-8). During such seasons, personal assurance can wane (2 Pet. 1:8-11; 1 John 3:19-22), and intimacy with God is interrupted (Rom. 8:14-16), but the maturing believer need not become dejected at the crossroad of struggle with sin. Neither should real assurance, forged in the fires of obedience, be taken away. To neglect biblical warnings, however, is to be vulnerable to deception or false assurance.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Jerry, thank you for the response. I really liked your breakdown of the effects of warnings against unbelief against the spiritual maturity of the hearer. And I think what you've written was along the lines of what Don posted.

I'm still not sure I understand the substantive difference between saying, as you did, "He has ordained our obedience as the objective source of assurance" and the statement upon which Spurgeon commented, "If we continue in faith, and if we continue in holiness, we shall certainly be saved at last." What exactly turns that second statement into a damnable heresy, where the first is not?

Jerry Wragg said...

Kaff –
It depends upon the class of the conditional “if”. In other words, when the statement is meant to condition final salvation on one’s continued holiness it is unbiblical, since justification cannot be based upon our faithful obedience. When, however, such a statement calls the believer to perseverance in holiness as the means by which God brings us to final glory, it is not heresy. It is merely a call to proactive faithfulness and a warning about neglect. True believers will never ultimately fall away because God supernaturally preserves His own, but He never intended for us to be passive in His gracious means of salvation.