The Righteous Holding on His Way
No. 749. Delivered on May 12th, 1807, By
C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle
I. Perseverance is necessary
II. Perseverance is difficult
III. Perseverance is guaranteed
IV. Perseverance is guaranteed only to "the righteous"
"The righteous will hold to their ways." Job 17:9
We are thrice happy in having a goodly number of young beginners in our midst. Our springtide is cheered and beautified with many blossoms of hopeful converts. They have just begun to go on pilgrimage, and would be as happy as the birds of the air were it not that some of them are grievously afflicted with the fear that they shall not hold out to the end. This is one of their daily torments, that, after all, they shall be false to Christ; that the grace of God will fail them, or that they will fail to depend upon it; that so, having begun well, they shall by-and-by be hindered, and shall not obey the truth.
Now, perhaps a little plain conversation upon that subject may help to relieve them of their fears. Ignorance about divine truth is not bliss, and is not the friend to bliss: "that the soul be without knowledge is not good." The more we know concerning the doctrines of the gospel the better for our comfort, if by faith we are able to receive them. Many and many a doubt and fear now oppressing the people of God might be driven like chaff before the wind, if they were but better established in the truth relating to the points under their consideration. If they did but know more fully what God has revealed they would tremble less at what Satan suggests. It is, therefore, with the view of very simply talking about this matter of holding on the way of the heavenly pilgrimage, that I have taken this text this morning. May God the Holy Spirit bless it to us.
First, we intend to say, this morning, that the believer must hold on his way- it is necessary that he should do so; secondly, it exceedingly difficult for him to do so- the perseverance of the saints is surrounded with enormous perils; yet, thirdly, this perseverance is guaranteed by divine promise; but, fourthly, it is only guaranteed to certain people whose character is described in the text as being "the righteous." These only shall hold on their way.
I. First, then, IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO FINAL SALVATION, THAT WE MUST PERSEVERE. It has been said by some that he who once believes is therefore saved. I shall not deny the truth of that statement; but it is an unguarded mode of speech, and does not place the truth in the most Scriptural form. I would infinitely prefer to assert, that "He who truly believes, shall by grace continue to do so, and therefore shall be saved." For it is not true that, supposing a man did once believe, and then became altogether an unbeliever he should be saved. If that were possible, that the believer should altogether fall from the grace of God, and become in all respects changed into an unbeliever, he would be damned; for on this point the word of God is very clear and decided; read the twenty-fourth verse of the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel: "But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned- in them shall he die."
If it were possible for one who had entered upon the way of righteousness- truly entered upon it- to turn from it, utterly and totally, the consequences must be his final destruction; for Paul tells us "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." Hebrews 6:4-6. This is not the point we raise at all in the discussion of final perseverance. We do not admit the possibility of total apostasy in the case of the real believer in Jesus, but believe that he will hold on his way, and so be saved, but only saved by being enabled to hold on his way. We hold that in order to have ultimate salvation, it is absolutely indispensable that every one who is a believer, should continue to be a believer; that he who is made by grace to be holy, should continue to be holy; that he in whom the divine life is placed, should never lose that divine life. It is the keeping of that life which we believe ultimately ends in perfection and everlasting bliss.
1. The necessity of final perseverance is very clear, if you look at the representations of the believer in the Word of God. He is frequently compared to a traveler. But no traveler reaches his journey’s end merely by starting upon the road. If it should be a journey of seven weeks’ length, if he shall sit down after journeying six weeks, he certainly will not reach the goal of his desires. It is necessary, if I would reach a certain city, that I should go every mile of the road; for one mile would not take me there; nor if the city be a hundred miles distant, would ninety-nine miles bring me to its streets. I must journey all the length if I would reach the desired place.
Frequently, in the New Testament, the Christian is compared to a runner. He runs in a race for a great prize; but it is not by merely starting, it is not by making a great spurt, it is not by distancing your rival for a little time, and then pulling up to take breath, or sauntering to either side of the road, that you will win the race: we must never stop until we have passed the winning-post; there must be no loitering throughout the whole of the Christian career, but onward, like the Roman charioteer, with glowing wheels, we must fly more and more rapidly until we actually obtain the crown.
The Christian is sometimes, by the apostle Paul, who somewhat delights to quote from the ancient games, compared to the Grecian wrestler or boxer. But it is of little avail for the champion to give the foe one blow or one fall: he must continue in the combat until his adversary is beaten. Our spiritual foes will not be vanquished until we enter where the conquerors receive their crowns, and therefore we must continue in the fighting position. It is in vain for us to talk of what we have done or are doing just now. He that continues to the end, the same shall be saved, and none but he.
The believer is commonly compared to a warrior: he is engaged in a great battle, a holy war. Like Joshua, he has to drive out the Canaanites, that have chariots of iron, before be can fully take possession of his inheritance; but it is not the winning of one battle that makes a man a conqueror; no, though he should devastate one province of his enemy’s territories, yet, if he should be driven out by-and-by, he is beaten in the campaign, and it will yield him but small consolation to win a single battle, or even a dozen battles, if the campaign as a whole should end in his defeat. It is not commencing as though the whole world were to be cleared by one display of fire and sword, but continuing, going from strength to strength, from victory to victory, that makes the man the conqueror of his foe.
The Christian is also culled a disciple or scholar. But who does not know that the boy by going to school for a day or two does not therefore become wise? If the lad should give himself most diligently to his grammar for six months, yet he will never become a linguist unless he shall continue perseveringly in his classic studies. The great mathematicians of our times did not acquire their science in a single year; they pressed forward with aching brow; they burned the midnight oil and tortured their brains; they were not satisfied to rest, for they could never have become masters of their art if they had lingered on the road.
The believer is also called a builder, but you know of whom it was said, "This man began to build, but was not able to finish!" The digging out of the foundation is most important, and the building up of stone upon stone is to be carried on with diligence, but though the man should half finish the walls, or even complete them, yet if he does not roof in the structure, he becomes a laughing-stock to every passer-by. A good beginning, it is said, is more than half, but a good ending is more than the whole. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. In every aspect of the Christian, continuance in faith and well-doing is essential to his salvation. Without a perpetual perseverance his profession is of no value. We will look at one more illustration, and see this most clearly.
Take that simple metaphor of wheat: of what value is the corn in the blade or even in the ear? What man can live upon the green blade or the half- formed ear? The joyous shout of the reaper is only evoked by the full corn in the ear; and you, young believer, you, growing Christian, must press forward and ripen into the perfection of your Christian manhood, for it is only then that the shout of "Hallelujah," and "Glory to God," shall be fully heard. Take the Christian in any way in which God describes him, and he is one in whose ear is whispered the words, "Forward! Onward!" He is not one who can say, "I have attained." In a certain sense it is true he is saved, but as to his ultimate salvation, his perfection before the throne can only be wrought in him by the continual, sustained, and abiding work of the Holy Spirit.
2. But the fact that final perseverance is absolutely necessary is also clear, if you for a moment take into consideration the nature of the case and suppose that the man did not persevere. Imagine a man who started with sincere simple faith in Christ, and with a new heart, and a right spirit; imagine him to have gone back to the world: can you suppose that he will enter heaven? He has deserted good for evil, he has shut his eyes to the light, and gone back to the darkness from which he professed to have escaped. He has, not ignorantly, but knowingly and deliberately, quenched within his soul the spark of heavenly flame. He knew that the road led to hell, and he turned from it, he knew that the other path led to heaven, and he ran in it.
But after a while he tired, he fainted, and he deliberately set his face hell-ward and gave up eternal life, pawning and throwing it away like Esau for a mess of pottage. Do you think it could be said otherwise of him than it was of that selfsame profane Esau, that he found no place for repentance, though he sought, sought it diligently and with tears? For this man, you see, has denied the Lord that bought him. He said he rested on Christ and depended on his precious blood; but he deliberately denies the faith, deliberately returns either to the beggarly elements of his own self- righteousness to rest under the law, or else to plunge again into open sin, and follow the devices of his flesh. What shall be said of this man, but that his last end shall be worse than the first? Enter heaven! how can it be? It is the place of the perfect, and this man, so far from being perfect, does not even press towards it. He has turned aside from perfection, he has given up everything which constituted him a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light; he has, after being illuminated, gone back to the darkness; after being quickened, has gone back to the tomb. What remains for him? Take the case into consideration, and you will see at once the impossibility of a non-persevering professor were entering into heaven.
3. Thirdly, I must strengthen that consideration by reminding you that we have very express declarations in Scripture about professors, and about believers too, if such could be, who do not persevere. Do you not recollect the Savior’s words, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God"? Luke 9:62. Do you not remember that terrible sentence about the salt, "Salt is good: but if the salt have lost it's savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned. It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out"? To the same effect is that fearful warning, "Remember Lot’s wife!" -she came out of the city of destruction, but she looked back, and became a pillar of salt as an everlasting warning to us against so much as the thought and look of apostasy.
Then comes in that warning, where we are told concerning some, that it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; and that word of Paul, "For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth herbs fit for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God: but that which bears thorns and briars is rejected, and is near unto cursing; whose end is to be burned." And that of Peter, in his second epistle, and second chapter: "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But 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."
Supposing a man, then, to have been washed in the blood of Jesus, to be quickened of the Spirit of God- supposing him to have gone back and to have entirely and totally lost all grace, he would be the hopeless man, beyond the reach of mercy, damned while yet living, a living hell even in the midst of this world. O beloved, how necessary then is it that the Christian should persevere and hold on even to the end!
4. I would have you observe the form of many of the promises, and as we have little time this morning, I ask you to read the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. There are some very choice promises made to the seven churches, but they are all put in this shape, "To him that overcomes will I give," and so on. Not to him that begins the fight; not to him that buckles on his harness; not to him that proclaims war; but "to him that overcomes will I give." The promises are reserved for such; and you know how, in contradistinction to such promises, it is written, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him."
Brethren, before I leave this subject this morning, there is something which I wish to press upon your minds: it is not very pleasant, but it is needful for us to hear it. Let me remind you of some whom you yourselves have known, who did appear to be among the most gracious and excellent of the earth, who are at this moment so far cast off as to have become entirely forgetful, even of the outward forms of religion, and have gone aside, by fearful sins, we fear, into perdition. That, mark you, has happened in some cases after many years of profession: the vessel has been wrecked at the harbor’s mouth.
The fire of religious excitement burned all day, at least, so they said (we do not search hearts), and it went out at night, just when it was most required, when the chamber, the chill, cold chamber, most needed the genial flame. Doubtless John was right when he said, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us." But what a dreadful thing, not to persevere, and yet to have had the name of a Christian! When a man goes up a ladder, if he shall fall at the first step, that is bad; but if he shall fall when he has nearly reached the top, what a falling is there! God save us from it!
If ever I prayed in my life, I think I did this morning when we were singing those words, "Let us not fall! Let us not fall!" for oh! to fall backward into perdition is the worst way of falling into hell! Christian, it is not with you that you may persevere or not- it is not an optional blessing- you must persevere, or else all you have ever known and felt will be good for nothing to you. You must hold on your way if you are ultimately to be saved.