Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Primitive Baptists Rightly Divide Preservation and Perseverance

In a recent internet discussion I was asked, "Could you clarify your beliefs on Perseverance? It sounds as if you don't believe that children of God will persevere in this world." I provided the following response:

Primitive Baptists make a distinction between "Preservation" (Jude 1), which is the surety we have "in Christ" regarding our eternal destiny as a result of his finished work on behalf of his chosen people (Romans 8:31-39, John 10:28), and "Perseverance" which is a matter of temporal obedience to which God's people are admonished and exhorted. Failure to rightly divide these two results in a great deal of confusion.

Since the eternal salvation of God's chosen people is a monergistic work, that is, a work of God alone, there is therefore no room to include man's works in any way, shape, form, or fashion without denying the notion of monergism. Thus, there is simply no way to include those things which fall under the rubric of "perseverance" as conditions of our eternal salvation without the unavoidalbe logical consequence of leaving the realm of salvation by sovereign grace.

That said, men are exhorted and admonished to persevere in the faith as a matter of obedient discipleship. To make this a condition of eternal salvation undeniably defines salvation as a matter of works, since all such obediences are undeniably works of righteousness. In stark contrast, Paul strictly excludes "works of righteousness which we have done" from having anything to do with the work that provided us eternal salvation (Titus 3:5). The admonitions to persevere (1 Corinthians 15:2, John 15) have respect to our temporal enjoyment of the truth of our salvation and to our capacity for fruit-bearing in the kingdom of God in this life, and have NO reference to our eternal standing before the throne of God. Indeed if such admonitions DID have respect to our eternal destiny, then salvation is most assuredly by works rather than by grace, and Paul was quite mistaken when he said that our salvation is "not according to our works." (II Timothy 1:9). Paul was not mistaken.

It follows that the sense in which God's people can be said to "persevere" in this life, is in the sense that we are "preserved" in a state of grace by the imputed righteousness of Christ which is "all our righteousness" and which is "not of our works" and which is vastly superior to the best obedience offered by the best of saints on the best of days (Isaiah 64:6). At the end of the day...

What lands us in heaven is the imputation of Christ's perfect righteousness, 
not our imperfect attempts at righteousness as disciples.

That said, there are a number of common objections to the PB distinction between preservation and perseverance. I submit for your review a few of the common ones along with my response.

OBJECTION #1: "The righteous shall hold on his way" (Job 17:9), yet you're trying to say that Solomon was saved into heaven though he didn't hold on his way.

TETH: I’m saying that Solomon was eternally saved based ENTIRELY upon the imputed righteousness of Christ and that his eternal salvation was not in any way, shape, or fashion, dependent upon works of righteousness which he has done (Titus 3:5). Indeed, how can anything else be considered salvation by sovereign grace? Are you suggesting that if Solomon did not “hold on his way” that he would not be eternally saved? To do so is to place an obligation upon Solomon that the bible says was laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:5). It is to require the obedience of two for righteousness, when the bible teaches that the righteousness of God’s children is based entirely on the obedience of “one.” (Romans 5:19) (See also the answer to OBJECTION #5 below. The same argument regarding "shall not depart" applies equally to "shall hold on his way.")

OBJECTION #2: The bible teaches that Christ achieved reconciliation for those who "continue in the faith" (Colossians 1:20-23).

TETH: So Christ reconciled those who meet the condition of “continuing in the faith?” That’s a very popular concept in Christendom and you will no doubt have little difficulty finding fellowship among the professing masses who would affirm such, but it is most certainly not the teaching of salvation that is “not according to our works.” (II Timothy 1:9) Indeed if our “continuing in the faith” is a condition of eternal salvation, then Christ did not meet all of the conditions, and therefore salvation is not by sovereign grace. To believe this is nothing short of affirming that something in “life” could, in fact, separate us from the love of God – a notion entirely foreign to Paul’s argument in Roman's 8 (Romans 8:31-39). The doctrine you are promoting is what I call “both/and-ism” or “antinomy-Calvinism.” It is the self-contradictory teaching that salvation is “all of God” yet “man is responsible.” Those who refer to such an arrangement as "monergism" betray the very definition of the terms they commandeer. Perched high atop their two-wheeled contraption they proclaim, "Behold my unicycle!"

OBJECTION #3: The bible teaches that we are the house of Christ "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6).

TETH: So to populate heaven Christ had to do His perfect work and you had to “hold fast… unto the end?” I thought Christ’s perfect work fulfilled the demands of the law on behalf of his people? While I can understand why some people come to this conclusion, I cannot understand how they can call such an arrangement salvation by sovereign grace based on the work of Christ alone. The sense in which these things are intended is in the here and now. Peter was no less an eternally saved man after denying Christ as he was beforehand. But he most definitely lost the joy of his salvation through this horrible act of betrayal. It is in this sense, the temporal sense, that he could be said to have “lost his salvation” at that time, because through disobedience he stepped out of fellowship with the Lord and suffered great consequences in his own life and conscience as a result. It is certain that all of this was very grievous to him, but it had absolutely NO bearing on his eternal salvation whatsoever, neither indeed could it, because Christ’s work on behalf of his people was a perfect work that was not dependent upon the acts of men whatsoever.

OBJECTION #4: Case studies such as Solomon should not be relied upon as proof texts when there are passages in God's Word which address the matter clearly.

TETH: What the bible states VERY plainly is that the salvation of God’s people is the result of a covenant and that it is based ENTIRELY upon the intercessory work of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 10:14, 9:12) and that our eternal salvation has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with works of righteousness done by us (Titus 3:5). That is VERY plain and it presents a great difficulty for your position, which insists upon man’s works of perseverance in order to get the job done. That is completely contrary to preaching the finished work of Christ. You should ask yourself the question – did Christ accomplish the salvation of his people? Is anything else required? More to the point perhaps, you should ask, is there a man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity? (Psalm 32:2) A sober answer to THAT question pours a bucket of cold water on any system that claims to be “all of grace” yet also insists upon man’s acts of righteous perseverance.

OBJECTION #5: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jeremiah 32:40) If the Word of God states that the regenerate "will not depart" then it is fruitless to try to find a case in scripture of one saint who did depart, but was saved to heaven anyway.

TETH: Is sin a turning away from God? Undeniably, yes. Do believers sin? Absolutely. (I John 1:8) It follows then, that any valid definition of “shall not depart” in Jeremiah 32 must be one that accommodates the undeniable reality of remaining sin in the lives of believers. To deny this is to logically posit that God’s people walk in sinless perfection. To accommodate the reality of remaining sin is to undermine what you imply is meant by “shall not depart.” So we see that this passage is in reference to the certainty of their standing before God as a result of the intercessory work of Christ, who most certainly DID NOT DEPART and whose righteousness is THEIR righteousness through imputation.

OBJECTION #6: Some in your order (Primitive Baptists) are coming to see the truth that perseverance and preservation are two sides of the same coin.

TETH: If by “coming to see the truth” you mean that people are embracing that salvation is “all of God and yet man is also responsible” then they most certainly are NOT moving toward the truth – but toward the self-contradictory errors of antinomy-Calvinism and Lordship Salvation. I would not affirm the statement that "perseverance and preservation are two sides of the same coin." Instead I would assert that preservation results from the imputation of Christ's perfect obedience (Jude 1, Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 5:19, II Corinthians 5:21); and in contrast, perseverance is a work of obedience to which God’s people are exhorted and admonished (Colossians 1:20-23). If our eternal salvation is in any sense contingent upon our obedience to those admonitions, then salvation is not by sovereign grace, but by works. To suggest such is nothing short of an insistence upon the obedience of two and a denial of the efficacy of the obedience of one (Romans 5:19). It is contrary to the teaching of monergistic salvation by sovereign grace.


  1. Dear Brother:

    Can you give a citation from any of your Baptist forefathers, prior to the mid 19th century, who denied perseverance as you do? Can you cite one of them who taught that perseverance was only for a time salvation? If you cannot, and yet you believe that believing as you do is required for a church to be a legitimate church, how can you claim to be a primitive Baptist?


    Stephen Garrett

    1. Brother Garrett,

      My belief regarding perseverance comes directly from my understanding of scripture, not from citations of “Baptist forefathers prior to the mid 19th century.” I make my arguments from a systematic approach to the bible, not from Baptist history. Were I to do so, it would prove nothing with respect to the validity of my theological position. I would recommend you read my article entitled “Calvinism is a Red Herring.” It exposes the notion of attempting to use historical figures as a means of establishing biblical truth as both threadbare and irrelevant. Stated more plainly, as a Primitive Baptist I believe that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Tim 3:16-17) It follows by logical consequence that any attempt to validate the legitimacy of one’s theology by any measure other than scripture is quixotic sophistry.

      You ask the question, “If you cannot (cite some old Baptist who agrees) and yet you believe that believing as you do is required for a church to be a legitimate church, how can you claim to be a Primitive Baptist?” In so doing you project a position onto me, namely that I believe that someone must believe as I do with respect to preservation/perseverance in order to be a legitimate church. I do not believe that. The bible is clear that mere doctrinal error is insufficient to make the determination as to whether or not a body of believers is a legitimate church. It seems that as soon as Paul established churches that they were straying off into doctrinal error in a variety of ways, many of which were more serious errors than those who would conjoin preservation and perseverance. This did not cause Paul to say, “Ok, because you have embraced error, you are now no longer a legitimate church.” But it also did not cause Paul to say, “It doesn’t really matter that you’re in error because you’re still a legitimate church.” Paul endeavored to correct churches that were in error so that they might be restored to the blessings of understanding the truth with clarity.

      That said, I believe that most Christian churches have done far more than merely stray-off-the-path into doctrinal error. They have canonized and institutionalized doctrinal error. In so doing they have hardened their hearts with respect to the truth and they visit great distress and confusion upon those of the Lord’s flock who find themselves in those assemblies. The unarguable fact that the VAST majority of professing Christian churches have doctrinal statements that are abjectly Arminian is proof positive of this statement.

      Finally, you ask, “how can you claim to be a primitive Baptist?” My claim to being a Primitive Baptist is based on my understanding of scripture, much of which was written by Primitive Baptists such as the Apostle Paul. These writings attribute the whole of our salvation to the work of God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, the imputation of our sins to Christ as our substitute, both of which were necessary due to both the imputation of Adam’s transgression to all of humanity, and the manifold transgressions which we have committed. This is what I believe the bible teaches regarding our eternal salvation. Paul said it best when he said that our salvation was "not by works of righteousness which we have done." (Tit 3:5) It follows that our righteous acts of perseverance have NOTHING to do with the work that populates heaven.

      We Primitive Baptists are in many respects quirky and imperfect. We are sinners saved by grace and nothing more. But I have yet to find a group of professing believers that is closer in doctrine and practice to what I find taught in the bible than the Primitive Baptist church.

      If you find that explanation insufficient, then I suppose I don’t have one for you.

      God bless,

  2. I know it doesn’t matter, like you said. But, can you point me to any historical authors who divided it this way?