Eternal Security (once saved always
saved) Definitions And Origin

Dan Corner

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If you have ever discussed the doctrine of eternal security with its proponents, you have probably noticed there are some people who try to make a distinction between it and the perseverance of the saints and some who don't. The ones who do make such a distinction are sometimes repulsed that anyone would dare try to equate eternal security to the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints:

The Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, therefore, is not to be confused with the modern doctrine of "eternal security." Proponents of this doctrine, which they often capsulize in the cliche "once saved, always saved," assert that a decision for Christ fixes our eternal destiny no matter what may be our subsequent conduct. In this sense, then, eternal security teaches an unhistorical salvation: our eternal status is unaffected by historical events, having been fixed by our decision for Christ. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, in contrast, is a statement about history: True conversion will be demonstrated through subsequent events.
Conversely, others reject the perseverance of the saints in favor of eternal security:
The Bible teaches, and I believe in, the eternal security of the born-again believer. The man who has trusted Jesus Christ has everlasting life and will never perish. But the eternal security of the believer does not depend upon his perseverance. I do not know a single Bible verse that says anything about the saints' perservering [sic], but there are several Bible verses that mention the fact that the saints have been preserved. Perseverance is one thing. Preservation is another. No. The saints do not persevere; they are preserved .... So I disagree with all five points of Calvinism as John Calvin taught it.
The fifth and last (thank God) point of the Calvinistic system is the Perseverance of the Saints. This last point is often mistaken for the doctrine of eternal security or "once saved, always saved." But such is not the case, for the two have no connection whatsoever .... As the other "points," the Perseverance of the Saints is sometimes called by other names to add to the confusing Calvinistic labyrinth of TULIP terminology. Some prefer "final perseverance," hinting at the underlying meaning of the fifth point. Others recommend the "perseverance of God" since "the perseverance of the saints depends on the perseverance of God." The majority, however, are united on one thing: it is not the same as eternal security. Not only do some Calvinists take offence at the term, but it is even admitted that "it should be obvious that the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is not one and the same thing with once saved, always saved.'" Howbeit, some Calvinists who recognize the Arminian implications of the term perseverance do change it to the scriptural preservation, yet their descriptions of its operation are the same as their fellows. This brings us to the discriminating point between such diametrically opposed systems as the Perseverance of the Saints and eternal security (italics his).

Same Doctrine, Different Names

Yet there are still other advocates who readily admit eternal security, the perseverance of the saints and "once saved, always saved" are one and the same in essence. Reformed teacher Steve Brown holds to this view:
The doctrine is called by Baptists, eternal security or once saved always saved. Those of us who are Reformed call it the perseverance of the saints. But we mean the same thing. And the doctrine states that once you're saved, you're always saved, that God holds you, that you will persevere to the end.
Many others have said similar things:

Charles Ryrie:

.... eternal security, preservation, and perseverance in reality all teach the same bottom line conclusion (namely, that the true believer will not lose his salvation).
David J. Engelsma:
The doctrine of the perseverance of saints, or "eternal security," as some call it, follows from the truth of irresistible grace.
Publishers of Pink's book:
The book has been titled Eternal Security because today that is the name given to the doctrine dealt with in this book. But historically the doctrine was called Perseverance of the Saints, and Pink himself preferred that title. But whether it is called Eternal Security or Perseverance of the Saints, it is the same doctrine that has been held down through the years (italics theirs).
Harold Camping:
Can one lose one's salvation? ... Let us see if we can discover the Biblical teaching concerning the subject of eternal security, which is sometimes called the perseverance of the saints.
W. Boyd Hunt:
... perseverance is used not in this ordinary sense but in a technical sense, for the Calvinistic doctrine that God preserves to final salvation each of the elect whom He calls and regenerates. Popularly expressed, this is the doctrine of "once saved always saved."
Arthur C. Custance:
Perseverance of the Saints denotes what today is commonly referred to as the eternal security of the believer. A more suitable expression might be the "Preservation of the Saints" since this is more precisely what is involved. The security of the believer is bound in with the sovereignty of God, the unchangeableness of his purpose, and the constancy of his good pleasure. It is the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ and not the faithfulness of the believer that guarantees this security. Now these Five Points form an organic unity, a single body of truth. They are based on two presuppositions which Scripture abundantly supports. The first presupposition is the complete impotence of man, and the second is the absolute sovereignty of the grace of God. Everything else follows (italics his).
Walter A. Elwell:
Perseverance .... the verb is frequent, being translated "continued steadfastly," "devoted," "constant," and the idea of persistence, keeping on, patient endurance occurs very often .... Upon such assurances could be based not only encouragement but a doctrine of eternal security of every believer "once a Christian, always a Christian."
This is the perspective from which this book is written, that is, the doctrine of eternal security, the perseverance of the saints or Once Saved Always Saved all mean the same thing. Reduced to their simplest form these teachings all say the same, that is, once a person has been saved, he will always remain saved. Hereafter the abbreviation OSAS will refer to this teaching.

Various Descriptions And Definitions Of OSAS

Descriptions of terms are very important. Below are various definitions of this doctrine from different sources.

Charles Stanley:

Eternal security is that work of God, in which he guarantees that the gift of salvation once received is possessed forever and cannot be lost.
Charles C. Ryrie:
Eternal security. The work of God which guarantees that the gift of God (salvation), once received, is possessed forever and cannot be lost (italics his).
R. T. Kendall:
Whoever once truly believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, and confesses that Jesus is Lord, will go to heaven when he dies. "Once saved, always saved" means that such a person cannot lose his salvation. It follows, then, that he will go to heaven when he dies. It is an absolute enforcible [sic] promise. We are not saying once saved, always obedient. We are not saying once saved, always perfect. We are not saying once saved, always godly. It is once saved, always saved (italics his).
Vic Lockman:
Those truly repenting of their sins & trusting in Christ's atoning death will be kept in the faith by the power of God. It is as if they have boarded a non-stop train bound for heaven. This faith train may pass through dark and perilous places, but it will never discharge a person with a reservation short of his glorious destination!
H. A. Ironside:
When we speak of the eternal security of the believer, what do we mean? We mean that once a poor sinner has been regenerated by the Word and the Spirit of God, once he has received a new life and a new nature and has been made partaker of the divine nature, once he has been justified from every charge before the throne of God, it is absolutely impossible that that man should ever again be a lost soul.
David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas:
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not maintain that all who profess the Christian faith are certain of heaven. It is saints —those who are set apart by the Spirit—who persevere to the end. It is believers—those who are given true, living faith in Christ—who are secure and safe in Him. Many who profess to believe fall away, but they do not fall from grace for they were never in grace. True believers do fall into temptations, and they do commit grievous sins, but these sins do not cause them to lose their salvation or separate them from Christ (italics his).
James Montgomery Boice:
... persevering grace. It means that God will persevere with those whom he has called to faith in Christ so that none will be lost and that, because he perseveres with them, they also will persevere, resisting and overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil, and thus being ready for Jesus when he comes for them (italics his).
June Hunt:
What exactly is eternal security? It’s the doctrine that authentic Christians permanently possess everlasting life based solely on the gift of salvation given by God .... Now understand that eternal security is certainly a teaching. It’s a major doctrine of the church which teaches that Christians permanently possess everlasting life based solely on the gift of salvation given by God.
Adrian Rogers:
We’re talking about a person who has received Christ into his heart by faith, who has become a partaker of the divine nature, who has been twice born, who has received the new birth. This person can never, ever, ever again be a lost soul.
John MacArthur:
The point is not that God guarantees security to everyone who will say he accepts Christ, but rather that those whose faith is genuine will prove their salvation is secure by persevering to the end in the way of righteousness (italics his).
Robert Thieme, Jr.:
Standing in grace has to do with eternal security. Eternal security, then, is the unbreakable relationship with the integrity of God. Neither God nor man nor angel can destroy the relationship which begins at salvation. There is no sin we can commit. There is no activity on our part that can neutralize it or destroy it. It is something we have permanently and perfectly both now and forever.
A. A. Hodge:
What is the Scriptural doctrine as to the perseverance of the saints? “They whom God hath accepted in his beloved, effectively 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.”—“Con. Faith,” Chap. xvii.; “L. Cat.,” Question 79 (italics his).

Two Positions Within OSAS

From all these definitions, one should have a clear understanding of what OSAS teaching is. Before we move on to the origin of OSAS, another vital point needs to be made. There are two positions within OSAS theology.

The first position, hereafter referred to as the extreme position, is embraced by teachers such as Charles Stanley and Charles Ryrie. Their position declares that after a moment of saving faith such a person might even become an unbeliever, but will still remain saved.

The other position, hereafter referred to as the moderate position, is disseminated by John MacArthur and others who especially subscribe to the Westminster Confession. The moderate position of OSAS states that a true, saving faith will last forever. In other words, a true believer cannot become an unbeliever. The moderate position also tends to deny the concept of carnal Christians which is embraced by the extreme position of OSAS. More differences on these two positions will unfold in the chapters to come.

The Origin Of OSAS

OSAS can easily be traced back to John Calvin (1509-1564) from the Synod of Dort under the description of the perseverance of the saints. But did you know that it, and other points of Calvinism, can be traced more than one thousand years earlier to Augustine of Hippo (354-430)?

This was the theme about which Augustine structured his thinking during the last half of his writing ministry. As he put it: “Whatsoever persons are through the riches of divine grace exempted from the original sentence of condemnation are undoubtedly brought to hear the Gospel, and when hearing they are caused to believe it, and are made likewise to endure to the end in the faith which works by love, and should they at any time go astray, they are recovered and set right again.” Here are Election and eternal security.
As a consequence Augustine wrote two treatises: the first was entitled On the Predestination of the Saints, and the second On the Gift of Perseverance. In the first, Augustine reaffirmed that Predestination is in no way based upon foreseen merit in the elect. All a man’s strivings in his own strength to achieve holiness of life apart from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit are in vain, and Augustine explained why this is so. In the second treatise Augustine showed that the Perseverance of the Saints, by which he meant (in modern terminology) the eternal security of the believer, is not dependent upon the good works of the individual believer which would result from his conversion, but entirely upon the constancy and unchangeableness of God’s elective choice (italics his).
Since Augustine this doctrine [the perseverance of the saints] has served as a theological framework within which theologians have wrestled with the question of whether and how one remains in salvation. Augustine introduced the idea of a donum perseverantiae: as a divine gift the perseverance of the saints in grace was certain. Calvin later championed the doctrine by affirming the perseverance of believers through the power and faithfulness of God. The Reformed confessions, in particular, the Canons of Dort, emphatically espoused the perseverance of the saints by denying that they could totally or finally fall away (italics his).
Augustine’s specific teachings on perseverance, in part, are as follows:
We are speaking of that perseverance by which one perseveres to the end. If this is given, one does persevere to the end; and if one does not persevere to the end, it was not given .... Since no one has perseverance to the end unless he does in fact persevere to the end, many may have it, and none can lose it. It is not to be feared that when a man has persevered to the end some evil will may arise in him so that he does not persevere to the end. This gift of God, therefore, can be obtained by supplication; but when it has been given, it cannot be lost by contumacy (ellipsis his).
See now how foreign to the truth it is to deny that perseverance to the end of this life is a gift of God, since He Himself puts an end to this life when He wills, and if He puts an end to it before an impending fall, He makes a man persevere to the end. But more marvelous and more evident to the faithful is the largesse of God’s goodness, in His giving this grace even to infants in whom there is, at that age, no obedience to which it might be given.
According to church history, then, the teaching of OSAS and basic Calvinism began with Aurelius Augustine of the fifth century!

For example, the basic doctrines of the Calvinistic position had been vigorously defended by Augustine against Pelagius during the fifth century.
How then did John Calvin differ from Augustine in his influence on OSAS?

In some quarters it is becoming popular to assert that the true Christian faith resolves itself into the system of thinking which has come to be known—rightly or wrongly—as Calvinism. We are told that what we believe—if we believe as we should—is to be identified with teaching developed first by Saint Augustine and then more fully systemized by John Calvin.
As to the doctrines of the fall, of total depravity, the slavery of the human will, the sovereignty of saving grace, the bishop of Hippo and the pastor of Geneva are essentially agreed; the former [Augustine] has the merit of priority and originality; the latter [Calvin] is clearer, stronger, more logical and rigorous, and far superior as an exegete.
Church history declares Augustine was the originator and developer of OSAS and other related Calvinistic teachings, such as election, upon which it rests. John Calvin logically systemized Augustine’s theology.

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