|Is it possible for those whom Christ redeemed finally to perish?
I AM REVEALED
Mar 21 2011
In attempting to answer this question it is more important than ever for our study to be in accordance with 'the analogy of
faith'. (This is a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation by which one passage of Scripture is to be understood in
the light of the whole teaching of God's Word.) We must free ourselves from every system of theology which man has
created and listen to what the Word of God says, to what the whole Word says. Now clearly the teaching of universal
atonement openly contradicts this analogy, either because those who uphold such views do not pay attention to the text
or because of their lack of spiritual illumination. Their inattention to this correspondence between one text and another
leads them to claim that a soul once united to Jesus can nevertheless finally cease to belong to him.
Before we go any further in our search for the truth in this important matter, let me repeat something which I have
already said. Personally, I cannot find two statements in Scripture which appear contradictory without feeling obliged to
apply myself to a deeper study of God's Word. I do this so that these statements might be reconciled by considering
them as subordinate to a higher truth, and so I am led to an ever deepening worship of God.
Some of my fellow Christians find two clear statements in Scripture which they consider to be contradictory. Two
examples would be 'No one is able to snatch [my sheep] out of my Father's hand' (John 10:29) and 'Because of your
knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?' (I Corinthians 8:11). This leads them to say that, while
both are true for they are in the Bible, the two statements contradict each other. Now I cannot agree with this
conclusion. (If I am wrong I trust my reader will correct my error, or at least bear with me!)
They claim that we find ourselves confronted with a mystery which we need not bother to try to understand. He who
gave us the Scriptures gave them to us as they are, and he knows for what reason these mysteries are there. Let it
suffice for us then to declare the Scriptures as they are. The Bible states, on the one hand, that God's gifts and his call
are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), and on the other, that it is nevertheless possible for someone who has received them
to fall away beyond restoration and repentance (Hebrews 6:6).
The analogy of faith reconciles perfectly the apparently contradictory sayings of Paul and James. Paul argues that a
man is justified by faith, without the works of the law (Romans 3:28), while James states that a man is justified by works,
and not by faith alone (James 2:24). I am equally convinced that on every other occasion where two biblical passages
seem to contradict each other, a deeper understanding of the truth removes these differences and demonstrates that
God never contradicts himself.
To that I would add that it is important to have a proper understanding of what the biblical text actually says. That is the
first duty of someone who is qualified to each others (II Timothy 2:2). When a passage of Scripture contradicts a
fundamental biblical truth, let us refrain from saying that because a certain version of the Bible says so, then that is what
the Holy Spirit has said.
We must also avoid restricting the meaning of certain words, which for example glorify the sovereignty of God, simply
because a certain dictionary does not give that particular shade of meaning to the word. The Holy Spirit is not
dependent on a single dictionary! Dictionaries are not inspired writings but the Bible is, and when properly understood
communicates truths which a single dictionary, the work of mere men, may not.
For example, the best versions of Scripture translate Luke 9:56 as 'The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives,
but to save them.' Now my friends base their erroneous teaching on this verse by wrongly understanding Jesus as
saying that he gave himself for the life of everyone without exception. But if the text says, as I believe in fact it does, that
'The Son of Man did not come to destroy but to save some men's lives' (rather than 'the lives of men'), then it is
immediately clear that those who espouse a universal atonement can no longer use it to bolster their theory. It is
absolutely necessary, then, to be sure of the true meaning of a text. A superficial understanding can lead to false
Let us hear what a Christian who believes in a universal atonement has to say about the possibility of someone for
whom Christ died falling away and being finally lost. This is how he reasons: 'Scripture most certainly does not teach
that Jesus died solely for those whom the Father chose, who shall never perish. On the contrary, many statements in
the Gospels declare not only that those for whom Christ died can lose their faith, but that it is also possible for them to
perish - that is, finally to be cursed by God'. In support of this view he quotes the following passages:
Hebrews 3:14: 'We have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.'
Our friend points out that according to this verse the death of Christ for the elect is effectual only in so far as they
persevere in appropriating it. 'If we hold...steadfast' is clearly a condition imposed on them. It shows that if Christ's
sacrifice has affected the elect, they must still appropriate it for themselves and maintain its effectiveness for
themselves. The implication is that if they fail to do so, even though Christ really did die for them, they will lose their
First Corinthians 9:27: 'I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself
should become disqualified [lit. So that I will not be disapproved]'. Here Paul tells the Corinthians how he forces himself
to undergo rigorous physical tasks lest after having preached to others he should somehow find himself not acceptable
to God, or disapproved by God. This surely shows that the apostle, who was convinced that Christ died for him, was
also of the opinion that it was possible for him finally to be rejected by God.
Revelation 3:2: 'Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your
works perfect before God.' Clearly, according to this verse, it was possible for those who belonged to the company for
whom Christ died to die - that is, to be lost. That is why Jesus Christ commanded the angel of the church in Sardis to
strengthen the remaining disciples who were about to die.
First Timothy 1:19 speaks of ship setting sail, with Jesus himself as goal and port of destination, which nevertheless is
shipwrecked and lost.
In Philippians 2:12 and II Peter 1:10 all, including those who belong to the church and are addressed as saints in Jesus
Christ, are exhorted to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and to make their calling and election sure, lest
they fall and finally perish.
In Hebrews 10:26 we find teaching which removes all presumptuous confidence. If anyone deliberately sins after he has
received the knowledge of the truth, only a fearful expectation of judgement awaits him.
The person spoken of in Hebrews 6:4-6 had been enlightened, had tasted the heavenly gift and had shared in the Holy
Spirit. He had tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age. But then he fell away, and
for him there is no repentance since he has crucified the Son of God all over again and subjected him to public disgrace.
In II Peter 2:1 and verses 20-21, Peter speaks of false teachers who secretly introduced destructive heresies and denied
the sovereign Lord who bought them. Despite having escaped the corruption of the world by knowing the Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ, they are entangled in it again and are overcome.
John 15:2,6 tells of a branch which was in Christ. He belonged to the vine, but since he bore not fruit he was cut off. He
did not remain in Jesus and so was thrown away.
In Romans 11:22 Paul calls believers to be vigilant lest through failure to continue in the kindness of God they be cut
off. Let him who stands take heed lest he fall!
And finally Romans 14:15, by our eating we must not destroy a brother for whom Christ died. It is possible, then, for a
brother for whom Jesus offered himself on the cross, to be so scandalized by our eating meat offered to idols, that we
cause him to perish (compare I Corinthians 8:11).
Our friend will doubtless consider the above passages quite sufficient to prove that even those for whom Christ died can
finally perish. To maintain, then, that Jesus did not die for those who will ultimately be lost shows a failure to recognize
both the extent of the Saviour's death and the depth of God's love for humanity.
What the texts do not say
A detailed examination of each of the above passages would require a long dissertation far beyond the scope of this
study. I will therefore begin by making a few negative remarks which, according to the analogy of faith, are applicable to
all the texts.
The consistent general teaching of God in Scripture is that 'God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son' (I
John 5:11-12). So, 'He who has the Son has life'. Such a person has received the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15), by
whom he has been sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14). The truth will remain in him for all eternity (II
John 2). Foreknown (or loved in advance) by God in his grace in eternity past, called by an effectual calling, and freely
justified, he will be finally glorified in heaven, having been rendered blameless on the day of Christ (Romans 8:28-30;
Ephesians 1:19-20; I Corinthians 1:8,30). These are clear statements which nothing must be allowed to contradict or
I assert, on the basis that 'God is light, and in him is no darkness', that not one of the passages quoted in support of
universal atonement, nor their accumulative weight when taken together, contain one word from God which contradicts
the consistent teaching of Scripture. Superficially they might appear to do so, but only for someone who refuses to look
a little deeper into what they really say. There is not the slightest hint of what some delight to refer to as a 'mystery', or
irreconcilable tension, between these verses and the general truth of Scripture, nothing which would cause us to say
that we cannot be dogmatic, and must teach both sides of the argument. Indeed quite the opposite is true. I am
convinced that the person who promotes the teaching of universal atonement is blinded, as the apostle Peter puts it, by
the dogmatism with which he clings to his 'system' (II Peter 1:9). That is why he unwillingly and unwittingly confuses
ordinary statements and revealed truth.
I lay down the same simple, solid rule that my friend himself quotes to a unitarian who, for example, quotes seemingly
plausible passages in an attempt to disprove the eternal deity of Christ. In his discussion with the unitarian he takes as
his starting point the consistent consensus of biblical truth, the analogy of faith, based on the comparison of individual
texts with the rest of Scripture. He has an unshakable conviction that no statement can be found in Scripture which
contradicts fundamental Christian teaching. Our friend knows that it is the unitarian's dogmatism and the system which
he has embraced, which blind his spirit. He does not accept for a moment that the apparent conflict between those
passages which state clearly that Christ is 'God, far above all, eternally blessed' and those which seem to speak of him
as a creature are but a 'mystery' - far from it! He rightly maintains with great determination that the unitarian needs
more light and humility in order to discern divine truth.
When I am asked what the dozen or so texts which our friend quotes to support his view of universal atonement do not
mean, I give the same reply. I believe it is the only reply that I need give. I fully recognize that if they are read as he
reads them, then they can be quoted in support of universal atonement. I too once thought that was what they taught,
until I really studied them. Feeling duty-bound to study them further, and for my own peace of mind, I compared them
with the rest of Scripture, and soon discovered that they taught something very different from what I had once thought.
Moreover, none of the above passages directly concerns the question we are considering. Most deal with the
assurance of faith and the perseverance of the saints more than the extent of the atonement. However, since all of
them can be viewed as related to the atonement, and it is in this connection that those who hold a different view on this
subject quote them, we need to examine them closely. By studying each text we can establish that in no case do we
ever find that the Saviour offered himself for someone who will finally perish.
What the texts do say
Let us first look at Hebrews 3:14: 'We have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence
steadfast to the end.' This passage does not at all say, 'You will be enabled to share in Christ provided that you persist'
- that is, you will be saved only after you have desired to be saved, or after you yourselves have accomplished it. What
does the text actually say? It states that those who have become partakers in Christ will hold firm to the end the
assurance they had at first. That means that only those who have been united to Christ will persevere in faith. This is
another way of saying that inevitably those who belong to Christ will never perish.
This verse in no way contradicts the certainty of the salvation of the elect, whose salvation was assured by the death of
Christ. Rather it demonstrates it to be true. Let me give an illustration to prove my point.
A goldsmith holds in his hand two pieces of metal which he is about to melt. Both shine brightly. The goldsmith,
however, knows that one is gold while the other is only polished copper. He also knows that only the gold will be able to
withstand the heat of the furnace, which will evaporate the copper or reduce it to oxide. He puts both metals in crucibles
and places them in the fire. 'The one which retains its original substance unaltered to the end will prove itself to be
gold,' he tells himself. Now note carefully that the gold smith did not say, 'The metal which withstands the fire will
become gold.' That would be absurd. Nor did he say, 'This metal will be gold provided that it withstands the fire.'
Rather he simply stated a fact, that withstanding the heat of a furnace is the property of gold, and proof of its
The goldsmith lights the furnace and turns it up to its maximum heat until he observes one of the metals begin to smoke,
burst into flames, and finally be calcified into dry whitish lime flake. The other crucible by contrast contains a shiny
bright liquid metal which reacts very differently to the heat from the way the first one did. The heat of the fire only serves
to purify it. 'That is real gold!' declares the goldsmith. He proceeds to pour it out to become an ingot, which he
subsequently forges and works upon fully confident that he is dealing with real gold.
Now what are we to say about this metal ? Do we say that it was gold in so far as it was able to resist the heat of the
furnace? Could someone have said to it, 'You will partake of the nature of gold, provided that you retain that nature
right up to the end'? 'What an absurdity!' protests even the person who believes in universal atonement. Well then,
why do you make Scripture say with regard to those whom Christ redeemed what you would never say to a piece of
metal? Abandon your provided that if by that you mean a condition rather than a consequence.
'I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become
disqualified' [lit. 'disapproved'] (I Corinthians 9:27). We must get rid of any suggestion that here the apostle was
contemplating the possibility of his being finally damned. He could never say nor think that he could be disapproved
before God. He joyfully declared, 'I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have
committed to him until that day' (II Timothy 1:12) and '[Nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is
in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:31-39).
'But that is what he said!' replies my friend. My reply is that this is simply not true. Let the person who upholds the
teaching of universal atonement pay careful attention to what the text actually says.
Let us first notice the subject under discussion here. Paul is speaking about love and condescension in our behaviour
towards others. He has just informed his Corinthian brethren that he does not intend to insist on his rights with regard to
the material things he might expect to receive from them. He tells how to the Jews he became as a Jew, and to the
Gentiles as one not having the law. He accommodated himself to the weakness of the one and to the ignorance of the
other. This he did so that he might follow the example of someone running to obtain a corruptible crown. But Paul was
running with his eyes fixed on a different prize, the crown that Jesus would one day give him. That was how Paul acted,
as he beat his body and made it his slave, lest the brethren for whom he had prescribed self-denial should be able to
criticize him for not having done so himself. In that case his brethren (not God) would be able rightly to judge and
condemn him, saying, 'Preach to us by your example! Physician, heal yourself!'
It is for this reason that in I Corinthians 9:27 the apostle uses the word 'disapproved' or 'disqualified' (Greek, adokimos,
literally, 'unable to stand the test', 'rejected', 'considered impure' or worthless'). This word was applied, for example, to
an athlete who had not observed basic dietary rules, and as a result was overweight and unfit for a race or for wrestling.
He was therefore rejected or disqualified, considered unfit to participate. But he was not put to death! We use the same
word 'docimasy' with reference to counterfeit gold or copper coins which contain unacceptable amounts of alloy. The
alloy renders it lightweight so we deem it a base coin which has failed the test of sterling quality. We do not throw it
away as worthless, but we do not accept it at its face value. That is precisely what Paul wanted to avoid.
Paul uses the same word when he exhorts the Corinthians to examine themselves to test that they were in the faith,
indwelt by Christ, and that their ministry was approved by God (II Corinthians 13:5-7). He does not say that whoever was
not of the finest quality was hostile to the truth; rather that person was not fully defending it.
Elsewhere Paul uses this word which refers to sterling quality, not with regard to the personal dignity of one of Christ's
disciples, but solely to demonstrate what God had enabled that person to become. (Romans 14:18; 16:10; I Corinthians
11:19; II Corinthians 10:18; II Timothy 2:15; James 1:12).
First Corinthians 9:27, then, in no sense indicates that a true child of God believes that he can finally be cast off by
God. On the contrary, he declares that the very fact that he knows that he belongs to Christ for ever constrains him to
take care not to incur the disapproval of his brothers. Universal atonement can find absolutely no support for its theory
in this verse.
'Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect
before God' (Revelation 3:2). Is it possible for my friends to obtain support for their view from this text? Here the Head
of the church in his great goodness gives a command not to strengthen people or souls, but things, virtues, and spiritual
qualities, which still remain in a feeble, languishing church. The Lord has just told this church in Sardis that it is dead -
that is, that while it has the appearance of godliness, nevertheless by its works it denies God (Titus 1:16). He exhorts
the person who is in charge or takes care of this church to confirm, nourish and strengthen what good deeds are still to
be found there, for these very works are also in danger of dying.
Those who espouse universal atonement deduce from this command to the church in Sardis that it is possible for those
whom Jesus Christ redeemed to die! But the implications are exactly the opposite, for the works of these, God's elect,
are, through the Holy Spirit, living works. Those deeds which are threatened with death or extinction are solely the
deeds of those who have the name of being alive, but who do not possess 'life'. Here once again my friend has been
'Fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked
their faith' (I Timothy 1:19, NIV). Once again it is a mistake to see in this passage the possibility of a Christian being
shipwrecked while being in the faith, as if 'the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints' (Jude 3) could be taken
from them. Hypocrites who as far as outward appearance and talk are concerned seem to be Christians (but in heart
and good conscience are not), are finally shipwrecked as far as their 'faith' is concerned, but not in the faith. They are
like the disciples who followed Jesus for a time but finally abandoned him, for their hearts were not upright towards him
(John 6:61). Those to whom Paul refers similarly found that the self-denial which Jesus required was too demanding.
Like Orpah, they returned to the world with its idols (Ruth 1:14-15). They made shipwreck as far as faith was concerned
- that is, they did not succeed in attaining faith. They did not enter the secure heavenly harbour, but perished far from
port, lost on the sea of the world, just as Orpah died far from the people of God.
There is absolutely nothing in this passage to support universal atonement. My friend is quite mistaken in attempting to
quote it in favour of his erroneous view.
Is he less mistaken in quoting the following two verses in support of his belief? 'Therefore, my beloved, as you have
always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear
and trembling' (Philippians 2:12). 'Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if
you do these things you will never stumble' (II Peter 1:10). In the first passage, the apostle Paul is addressing 'the saints
in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi', those to whom belong grace and peace from the Father, and for whom the apostle in
all his prayers can but thank God (1:1-3). However, he is grieved to discover in them a continuing spirit of pride and self
sufficiency, as if these gracious gifts flowed from their own personal merit. He therefore entreats them, 'If there is any
consolation in Christ...any comfort of love...any affection and mercy' (2:1), to get rid of this carnal spirit by adopting the
same attitude of humility and self-denial that was in Christ (2:5-11). He urges them, on the basis of these qualities, to
stop acting 'through selfish ambition or [vain] conceit' (2:3), but rather to 'work out [their] own salvation' in humility and
modesty. Such qualities are appropriate for those in whom God has effectually worked, first to will and then to perform
these heavenly acts, according to his good purpose (2:12-14). That is the apostle Paul's judgement and declaration.
The person who holds to universal atonement, however, fails to see in this powerful exhortation either a spiritual father's
tender rebuke of his children, or the means used by God to remove all pride from their obedience. Rather he sees an
apostle giving an injunction to saints in Christ to the effect that they must still, by themselves, bring about their own
salvation, and what is more, with the real fear of failure! Is it possible to be more mistaken regarding the apostle's
thoughts and words, or to twist with more grievous consequences what God's servant actually said?
It is inconceivable that someone who accepts that 'The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable' (Romans 11:29)
could possibly be mistaken in this way. Yet that is precisely the error my friend makes when he quotes the apostle
Peter, 'But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-
control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly
kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the
Lord Jesus Christ' (II Peter 1:5-8). By understanding Peter here to be telling his readers that they must make God's
calling and election of themselves sure, the person who seeks to support the doctrine of universal atonement is totally
Peter is addressing those who 'have obtained like precious faith with us' (II Peter 1:1), and 'who are kept by the power of
God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time' (I Peter 1:5). He has repeatedly told them that, as
far as their own personal enjoyment of these divine blessings is concerned. Christians must see to it that they become
an ever-increasing present reality by making every effort to add to their faith all the other Christian virtues. In this way,
as the text says, they will receive an abundant, or rather a triumphant entrance into the kingdom of God. That is indeed
what the apostle tells his fellow Christians. Let us be on our guard then lest we make him say something he did not say,
namely, that believers must make more true, sovereign, firm and immutable the divine election and effectual calling
which they through grace have received.
There we have two further passages which do not at all state that a soul for whom Jesus shed his blood can finally
perish. In fact they teach the exact opposite. In exhorting and encouraging such a person, they assure him on the one
hand that he is the object of God's constant care, and on the other, that an inheritance is infallibly reserved for him in
Has not our friend who believes in a universal atonement once again revealed his imperfect understanding of what God
has given us in Jesus Christ?
We turn now to another verse, Hebrews 10:26, 'For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth,
there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.' The same flaw appears once again in my friend's interpretation of this
verse. The apostle is speaking of a deliberate total contempt for Christ, a deliberate arrogant apostasy, similar to the
pride which provoked the Jews to reject the law of Moses (verse 28).
He is not dealing here with something which we might describe as an ordinary sin, the sort of sin for which the believer
has an Advocate with the father (I John 2:1). On the other hand, he knows that there is just one expiatory sacrifice, that
of Christ. So the sinner who arrogantly and maliciously rejects or dispenses with the atoning sacrifice of Christ, will find
that there is no other blood to wash away his sin, and no other refuge from divine judgement. The author therefore
proclaims the full terror of this judgement against rebels who have opposed the grace of God in his Son. Let those who
interpret this incorrectly take heed!
Christ shed his blood 'for the remission of sins' (Matthew 26:28). How is it possible for someone who believes this to
imagine that it was shed in vain, to the point even that someone for whom that blood was poured out can nevertheless
find himself finally confronted with hell and the coming wrath of God?
But is not the man who tramples the Son of God underfoot one of those for whom Christ died, for Scripture says that he
has been sanctified by the blood of the covenant? (Hebrews 10:29).
My reply is that we must note who it is who has been sanctified. The consecration (or 'sanctification') spoken of here is
that of the Son of God. The blood of the covenant sanctified Jesus Christ, the true, eternal High Priest, but in a manner
different from the way Aaron was sanctified by the blood of animals (Exodus 20:21; Leviticus 26:14-15; 1 John 5:6).
It was the Son of God, then, who was 'sanctified by the blood of the covenant', not the unbeliever who treats his sacrifice
with contempt. That is why for a sinner who despises such a High Priest, the only thing left is 'a certain fearful
expectation of judgement, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries [of God]' (Hebrews 10:27).
What a vast difference there is between divine judgement for someone who treats the heavenly Priest with scorn, and
the idea that a soul washed in the sacrificial blood of Christ can finally perish!
Yet again my friend who believes in a universal atonement finds in this passage not assurance that the whole body of
Christ, the church, will be saved; rather he sees the possibility that the sacrifice of its Head will prove useless and fail.
Once again he is strangely mistaken.
'For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become
partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away,
to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame'
Does our friend understand the mystery of Christ any better in dealing with these verses? I know what those do who, in
reality, still trust in the flesh - that is, in a righteousness which comes from the keeping of the law. They usually construe
these verses as teaching that a believing soul can nevertheless lose his faith and be eternally lost. I know too that those
who read this passage without due consideration of what exactly is being said find numerous conclusive statements in
support of their view. But how do they relate to the analogy of faith - that is, how consistent are they with the teaching of
the rest of Scripture? Do these statements threaten with damnation those for whom Christ died? I encourage you to
judge for yourself.
Firstly, the most important thing to notice is that nowhere in these three verses do we find the word faith, or any
reference to belief of the heart. Reference is made to having been enlightened, of having tasted the heavenly gift, of
having shared in the Holy Spirit and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age. But
there is no mention of faith, of having believed. The word is not found in this passage.
But is there any need for the word if the thing itself is referred to? Are the phrases 'have tasted the heavenly gift', and
especially, 'have become partakers of the Holy Spirit', not the equivalent of faith, if not faith itself?
The terms used most certainly do not amount to the same thing as faith. It is impossible to maintain that the apostle
says that one can fall away from faith. I repeat what I have just said, he does not mention the word. It would be
impossible for him to say such a thing, for faith, which is the gift of God and the result of his sovereign working in the
heart, is faith unto salvation (I Thessalonians 5:9; John 6:47). This being so, the soul to whom faith has been given can
never fall away, for God who gave it does not withdraw it.
What then is the apostle saying in these verses? He has stated that the Hebrews in the desert had been enlightened by
truth from heaven. In other words, they had received oracles and revelations from God while other nations were left in
darkness. In addition, they had tasted the heavenly gift, especially when God revealed himself at Sinai (Exodus 20).
Then they had often, if not constantly, shared in the Holy Spirit, in his giving them the law of Moses, in the system of
divine worship, and in all the miracles and wonders he had performed on their behalf or that they had witnessed. They
had tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, particularly when they were submissive
to God's servant who addressed them, or fled in terror when the earth opened and swallowed those who rebelled
(Numbers 16:34). Despite all these privileges, we read, 'The word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed
with faith to those who heard it' (Hebrews 4:2). Though these people had been given so many privileges, they perished
in the desert, and never saw the promised land.
That is what the apostle Paul is saying in these verses. (May those who have the Word of God and the sacraments of
Jesus Christ, and yet do not believe, take time to reflect on these things!) He speaks of a person who has been
wonderfully privileged to receive the Scripture, and in being placed by God in a situation where he is surrounded by
Christianity he has participated in the work of the Holy Spirit. On many occasions he has been touched, pierced and
moved by the promises and threats of the gospel. In some ways, he has been at the very extreme point which separates
earth from heaven. But if he remains there - that is, if he persists in his state of enmity and hardness of heart, despite
his having been drawn towards Jesus and even having conformed to outward expressions of spiritual things, he will
nonetheless fail to benefit from those privileges. In the end he will do what Demas or Orpah did, in fact what all
hypocrites always do. He will be a testimony to the fact that the soul which has seen but has not believed in the gift of
God remains arid. In God's sight he is like ground which though watered from heaven and heated by the sun, produces
only thorns and thistles (Hebrews 6:7-8). Such ground is rejected, is on the point of being cursed, and, says God, will
finally be burned!
Once again we cannot find a single word which would remotely suggest that a soul for whom Christ was offered could
finally perish. Here again the teaching of universal atonement cannot find support from this passage without
misrepresenting it. The passage teaches precisely the opposite to what they erroneously teach (verses 7-20).
secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift
destruction...For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through knowledge of the Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the
beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having
known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (II Peter 2:1, 20-21).
My friend will take heart and argue that here we most certainly find men who denied 'the Lord who bought them', and
who for this reason are cursed by God. Those who 'through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [had]
escaped the pollutions of the world' are once again entangled in them and consequently discover that their final state is
worse than it was at the commencement.
All this is in perfect agreement with scripture. But we must ask a further question. Who are these people who are
thought of as being souls for whom Jesus died and whom the Father by the Holy Spirit had united to the Saviour?
In reality they were false teachers and schismatics who by coming to know something of Christianity had been separated
from the vices of the world. This separation had conferred on them the reputation of being true and faithful disciples
among those who judged merely by appearance and hearsay. But does he who searches the heart and whose eyes are
like blazing fire (Isaiah 11:3; Revelation 2:15,23) see them that way and apply these terms to them? This is by no
means so. The apostle Peter, the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:8), writing to strangers - that is, to scattered tribes (I
Peter 1:1), simply warns them that from among their ranks men would arise who would be so irreligious that they would
even go so far as to deny the Sovereign Lord, the Master of the world, the Almighty God who had redeemed them with
his mighty hand and outstretched arm.
At this point my friend will want to express his objection. 'While I accept that what you say about the term used in this
verse is true, that what is normally translated by "master" refers to the Sovereign Lord, the Eternal God, and not to the
incarnate Word, the Son, I cannot, however, accept that the redemption spoken of here refers only to the deliverance
from Egypt. Is the redemption that the apostle specifically speaks of not rather the redemption which Jesus purchased
on the cross?
My response is that this is not the case, at least in the terms that are used. First of all, the word used here to express
this redemption simply means to take away from the market or the public square something which to begin with had been
mixed with the rest. It is worth noting that it is not the word the same apostle uses when he speaks, for example, of the
redemption of the church by the precious blood of the Lamb. (I Peter1:19). Further, when it is a question of the
redemption of the church, biblical writers, or rather the Holy Spirit through them, normally add to the word redeemed a
reference either to the circumstances relating to the act of redemption, or to the price that was paid. For example, the
apostle Paul tells the saints at Corinth that they have been 'bought at a price' (I Corinthians 6:20). Again, he reminds
the Galatians that they have been redeemed from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), and Peter tells his brothers that
they have been 'redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot' (I Peter 1:
19). Finally, the whole church in heaven sings a new song to the Lamb, praising the one who purchased it with his blood
(Revelation 5:9). In the particular passage which we are examining, the words which we find here do not correspond to
those the Holy Spirit employs when he refers to the redemption of the church.
It is necessary to view this passage according to the analogy of faith - that is, in the light of the whole of Scripture. We
can then understand how Jews, though occupying a place right in the heart of a Christian church, where they testified to
having been separated from the abominable practices of the world by coming to know Jesus Christ (though only
outwardly) could still, through the unbelief of their hearts, continue secretly to love 'this present evil age'. Subsequently
they draw closer and closer to the world until they finally immerse themselves in it once again. They proceed, first
secretly then brazenly, to introduce 'destructive heresies' into the church which they hate, and end up by shamelessly
denying even the Eternal God who had so mightily delivered the Jewish nation from slavery.
The determining factor which proves conclusively that the passage most certainly does not refer to a child of God
denying Jesus, is the fact that the Saviour positively identifies these people as false prophets (Matthew 24:11; Acts 20:
30). Paul calls them cruel wolves (not lost sheep), or heretics, or those who have abandoned the faith (not believers
who had been seduced) (II Corinthians 11:13; I Timothy 4:1). Scripture never speaks this way of those who have been
renewed by the Holy Spirit and reconciled to God by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The dogs which return to their vomit, and the sows which go back to their wallowing in the mud are in fact the house
which first of all had been 'swept and put in order' by a purely human cleansing. But the evil spirit returns to that house
with 'seven other spirits more wicked than himself' (Matthew 12:43-45). But this is never true of a soul for whom the Son
of God died. In fact, by his sacrifice the person who was the object of that atoning sacrifice is sanctified, or consecrated,
made perfect for ever (Hebrews 10:14).
I hold that my friend whose position leaves him open to universal atonement is greatly mistaken in quoting these two
passages as teaching that a 'redeemed' soul, a soul bought with a price, as Peter puts it (I Peter 1:18-19; 2:9), can
subsequently be so poorly redeemed that he is able finally to deny his Saviour. Peter, who himself suffered the great
sadness of denying his Master, at least was brought back to reality as soon as Christ fixed his gaze on him, and thereby
was reduced to bitter tears of repentance. Does my friend really think that one of the dear sheep for whom Jesus
declared his love, and for whom he laid down his life, will no longer be loved by his Saviour, that Christ will no longer fix
his gaze on him, or that his Saviour's gaze will no longer prove effective?
may bear more fruit. If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather
them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:2,6).
My friend quotes these verses in support of his view. (Let us remember that he 'trembles at the word of the Lord', and
does not speak from hidden motives of unbelief.) 'But take this vine,' he argues. 'Though it was "in Christ", it is still
pulled up and thrown into the fire! Does it not clearly represent someone for whom Jesus died (for he is "in him"), but
who, because of his rebellion, is no longer found in him? Through his own deliberate defection, the branch which once
was attached will be cut off, never to rise again' (Romans 11:22).
My reply is that thousands of Hebrews who were baptized into Moses and in the cloud when they left Egypt, were also in
Moses. But as we have already seen, they did not bear fruit, and as a result fell dead in the desert. The church at
Laodicea to whom the Spirit of Christ spoke was to all outward appearance united to Jesus, and honoured as such. But
since it was neither cold nor hot, he vomited it out of his mouth. The huge church of north Africa, which in the early
centuries of the Christian church embraced vast areas of population, outwardly gave every indication of being united to
Jesus, and made a great show to that effect. However, it grew arrogant, lost all sense of godly fear, and what became
of it? Where is it to be found today? If it had been planted by the Father, would it not still be growing today? (Matthew
Many today belong to Christ, as far as outward profession of the gospel is concerned - that is, if we go by the many
indications they give, over a sustained period, of taking great pleasure in their religious practices. They profess to
belong to the body of Christ , and like true Christian branches, produce an abundance of the greenest shoots
imaginable. Yet the Lord Jesus solemnly warns them that if the branch is attached to the vine only by its bark, it does
not have within it the vital life-giving and life-sustaining sap, the Holy Spirit. It does not produce tasty fruit, only bitter
verjuice grapes. It will therefore finally be cut down and thrown into the fire.
In this strong and explicit parable does the Lord declare that he had loved this soul which will finally be cut off, that he
had borne his sins in his own body and been raised for his justification? Does he say that this soul, which had once
been like a vigorous, healthy, quality branch united to the vine, in intimate union with the Son, according to the will of the
Father, nevertheless through its own fault transformed itself into a dead piece of wood and will no longer be united by
the Holy Spirit to the Vine which came down from God for him?
In effect that is the logical outcome of the position which leads to a universal atonement. Whoever holds it must
convince himself that while the heavenly vine was sincerely united to this branch when he offered himself on its behalf,
nevertheless against his will he was forced to break that union when the branch no longer wanted it!
'Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the
one for whom Christ died' (Romans 14:15); 'Because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ
died?' (I Corinthians 8:11).
In the light of these verses, my friend will reply, 'Is it wrong then to say that someone for whom Christ died can be
destroyed and finally perish? After all, are these not the very terms used by an apostle? Do the two words which he
employs not clearly declare that to be so?'
'Ah, my dear friend!' I reply. 'I could never accept that. If another ten or twenty passages seemed to say that it was in
vain that the blood of the Lamb was shed, and that consequently one single soul for whom the Son of God was cursed
on the cross could be cursed a second time, I would never agree. Nor can I accept that a sinner is justified before God
by his own works and merits, though many false protestants and the whole Church of Rome claim and declare that to be
so, and quote numerous passages of Scripture to sustain their error. No, no, friend, the King whom the Father has
made an object of blessing "shall not be moved" (Psalm 21:7), and will not allow one of his blessed subjects to perish.'
'Well then it is a "mystery", for the words are there, and the Holy Spirit did not put them there for nothing!' replies my
At this point I must state that I am convinced that the interpretation that you give to those words is not what the Holy
Spirit intended to convey. Let me prove that this is so.
Firstly, there is the context and the purpose lying behind the two passages. Both are concerned with the question of
scruples with Christians who were still weak in faith and as yet not fully liberated from the law of Moses were
experiencing. Those who have a stronger faith, and who thereby have been liberated from the dominion of the
ceremonial law, must deal tactfully with their fellow Christians in this matter. Above all, they must take care to avoid
causing those who are weaker to do something of which their consciences do not fully approve.
So, for example, a true Christian who right up to his conversion sincerely observed the Mosaic ordinances, may not yet
understand that for a believer all distinctions between clean and unclean foods have been removed. In particular, he
does not yet see that 'an idol is nothing in the world; (I Corinthians 8:4). As a result he does not realize that an animal
that had been offered to a so-called idol may be eaten by a Christian just as well as an animal which has no association
with an idol.
In this regard this believer holds a scruple, a fear even, a strong repulsion, for he is still convinced that meat which had
been offered to an idol was impure, defiled and prohibited for the true worshipper of God. He knows that that was what
the Mosaic law commanded, and is convinced that those ordinances are still in operation.
Now since those are his beliefs, clearly if he were to eat such food he would be doing something against his own
conscience. He would be doing something which the Lord has forbidden, and by disobeying he would be committing a
The other Christian sees things very differently and consequently, for him, the animal which a pagan had offered to his
idol carries no overtones of religious defilement. But he must still take care, lest by setting an example he cause his
brother who is still bound by the law to offend his conscience. By inducing his brother to eat meat which had been
sacrificed to a false god, or even by eating it himself in the presence of his brother who considers it to be impure, the
stronger Christian would be an offence to his brother. He would cause him to commit sin, or wound and harm him. His
imprudent action would demonstrate a lack of compassion and love towards someone who was still weak in the faith, and
would lead him to sin against God by causing him to do something which he believed was still forbidden by God.
That being so, two suggestions must be rejected out of hand. Firstly, it is totally unwarranted to depict the stronger
believer as determining to upset his brother's peace by deliberately inducing him to do wrong. That was the very
strategy and aim of Satan when he tempted Eve and seduced her. A believer, regenerated and sealed by the Spirit of
love, could never think of doing such a thing. If he was so unwise as to cause his brother to be involved in a particular
action, he most certainly did so because he thought there was no more harm in it for his brother than for himself. The
idea of disturbing his brother's peace never entered his mind.
The other suggestion, which is even more ludicrous, is that the stronger believer wanted to cause his brother's ruin, his
final destruction, his eternal damnation. Such a suggestion is outrageous. No child of God could ever think of doing
such a thing. In addition, a believer knows very well that that is impossible. No sin, much less a sin of that nature, can
destroy Jesus' love for someone he has redeemed by his own death. Above all, no sin is so great that it cannot be
washed clean by the blood which cleanses the transgressions of God's people, and which makes sins which are red like
crimson as white as snow (Isaiah 44:22; 1:18).
The fact that both believers referred to in the passage had experienced divine grace and were the objects of divine
faithfulness makes it inconceivable that the apostle was really saying that someone for whom Christ died could finally
perish, be cursed by God, so that the work of grace in him could be totally destroyed.
But is that not what the words actually say? Indeed, they do not! The words that are used do not at all say that.
Whoever takes the pains to look at the words carefully will discover that to be so.
It is doubtless true that in the first passage, Romans 14:15, the Holy Spirit employs an expression which can mean to
lose, to cause to perish for ever. The word is usually used in this sense, as, for example, in Matthew 10:28, where we
read that God 'is able to destroy both soul and body in hell'.
However, it is also true that this same Holy Spirit uses precisely this word in the sense of to stray, as for example when
the Saviour tells his disciples, 'Go rather to the lost [strayed] sheep of the house of Israel' (Matthew 10:6).
The apostle Peter clearly refers to them as 'going astray', or 'wandering' (I Peter 2:25). We find the same thing
elsewhere. For instance, the lost sheep had only strayed, as the shepherd found him. Similarly, the lost coin had only
been misplaced and the lost son had only strayed (Luke 15:6,9,32). The Holy Spirit also uses this word to describe a
state of extreme weakness or exhaustion. The lost son, for example, when surrounded by pigs is described as saying, 'I
perish with hunger', as our versions translate it (Luke 15:17). This word 'I perish' is used here to describe a painful
wasting away, not death, and most certainly not eternal damnation.
It is for this reason (quite independently of the analogy of faith which forces me to take this view) that I have no
hesitation in saying that this word, both in Romans 14:15, 'Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are
no longer walking in love,' and in I Corinthians 8:11, 'So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your
knowledge' (NIV), should be translated as led astray. Further, in the first passage, Romans 14, just two verses
previously, Paul makes the whole meaning abundantly clear when he writes, 'But rather resolve this, not to put a
stumbling block or a cause to fall in [your] brother's way.' The description of the brother as being grieved in verse 15
also makes clear what Paul had in mind. Similarly in I Corinthians 8, where the action of the stronger Christian is said to
cause a weaker brother to perish, the next verse (verse 12) goes on to speak only of wounding or offending his weak
conscience, and the following verse of 'causing him to stumble or fall'.
It is therefore impossible, either by a consideration of the whole context in which these verses are found, or the very
words employed, to come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is inspiring the apostle to say that a soul for whom Jesus
died can finally be cursed. Verse 20 of Romans 14 confirms this. There we read, 'Do not destroy the work of God for
the sake of food.' God the Holy Spirit well knows that the work of him who is the Rock of salvation can never be ruined, if
by that we mean total destruction, for that work is perfect. 'He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice'
(Deuteronomy 32:4). 'His work is honourable and glorious, and his righteousness endures for ever' (Psalm 111:3). In
addition, his mercy towards his children is eternal (Isaiah 54:8; 55:3; Hebrews 13:20-21). It would be quite impossible for
the Holy spirit to say that this 'eternal' work of God could ever be destroyed, above all, by an offence. He chose rather
to use a word which in Matthew 26:61 signifies the opposite of to build - that is, to demolish. In point of fact, Christ's
body (the temple spoken of in this passage) was not destroyed by the crucifixion, but only broken or demolished, as it
were, only to be raised and rebuilt three days later (Matthew 27:40). Again, it is the expression specifically used by
Christ when he prophesied the total demolition of the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 21:6), and by Paul when he speaks of
the dissolution of the earthly tent, the body we live in (II Corinthians 5:1). It will be raised from the tomb where it has lain
in a state of dissolution, but not one of annihilation.
The Spirit of truth teaches us that the work of God, who gives his children peace which transcends all understanding
(Philippians 4:7), can indeed be troubled or as it were demolished in the experience of a faithful, vigilant believer by an
act of unfaithfulness. Every Christian knows that to be true only too well! And yet the work of God is not annihilated,
destroyed or annulled. 'God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the
temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it' (I Corinthians 10:13). 'The steps of a good
man are ordered by the LORD, and he delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the
LORD upholds him with his hand' (Psalm 37:23-24).
My conclusion is that nowhere does God's Word ever say that a soul for whom Jesus died will ever finally be lost. Since
according to God's own set purpose there will be a Last Day, it follows that those souls who perish on that day, and be
eternally lost, will be those for whom the Lord Jesus did not die.
It is clear, then, that the teaching which says that the Saviour laid down his life on the cross for every child of Adam is a
doctrine of purely human origin. In essence it denies that the Lord Jesus made a perfect atonement for the sins of those
for whom he was cursed.
THE CHURCH IS MINE, by César Malan, Copyright 2001, EVANGELICAL PRESS.