A Voice from the Past:
Is Salvation Probationary? Part 1
by Willard Maxwell Aldrich
[Editor’s Note: Originally published in 1934 in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra, this article was written by then Th.M. student Willard Aldrich. He later went on to get his Th.D. and to be president of Multnomah Bible College (1943-1978). His son, Joe Aldrich, succeeded him as President (1978-1997) and is the author of Lifestyle Evangelism. I believe you will agree with me that this is a highly edifying article.]
The Question of Eternal Security
In taking up the question of the security of the believer, I am doing it not with the least intention of marshaling all the arguments into a complete discussion of the subject, for this has been done time after time before, but my purpose is to set forth certain arguments for the believer’s eternal safekeeping which have impressed me in my study of the question.
By way of opening inquiry this leading question might well be asked, “Upon whom does safekeeping depend? Upon God as giving and maintaining salvation, or upon man as though salvation were a gift to be received and rejected at will?” If we conclude that it is of God, as does the Apostle Paul in the words of Phil 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ,”1 then we must find evidence of a disposition on the part of God to keep the Christian safe in spite of the Christian’s sin and his tendency toward a lack of faith in Christ—the remedy for sin.
There is little doubt concerning the salvation of the one who continues believing and manifesting the fruits of his faith, but the question of security must deal, too, with the saint not thus manifesting his spiritual life, if not, then all we can say is that a man is safe so long as he believes. So far as we know a believer must continue in the faith in order to remain saved, and we take it that a final and complete apostasy argues that the person has never really been born again.2 If continued belief is a condition of security and if God has promised that He will do the keeping, then it must follow that to establish from the Scripture that it is God’s purpose to keep secure everyone He has saved also proves that God will supply all the means necessary to that end—including man’s faith. Let us proceed, then, to the discovery of God’s avowed purpose in the matter.
God’s Purpose and Provision of Eternal Security
Our first step in seeking to demonstrate God’s purpose and provision for the safekeeping of the saint is to show that man’s obligation with respect to obtaining eternal life consists of the one act of faith in the person and redemptive work of Christ. This runs directly counter to the belief of those who teach that saving faith is a meritorious and probationary process, the outcome of which is certain only at the death of the saint. Such is the affirmation of Butler and Dunn, two Baptist theologians:
The life of faith must continue as long as the natural life, or there is no salvation…Salvation is throughout conditional [emphasis original]—that voluntary obedience to the end is the condition of salvation to every one—and that the Scriptures afford no sufficient warrant for the teaching that all who are once regenerated do hold out to the end and obtain salvation. This doctrine is argued from the fact that the believer is still in a state of probation [emphasis added]. If he were not liable to fall, he would not be in a probationary, but in a confirmed, state. The promises of final salvation to Christians are all conditional, either expressly or implied. Perseverance in faith and obedience is the indispensable condition of their salvation [emphasis added].”3
We note that these gentlemen maintain that salvation is conditional, arguing on the basis that the believer is still in a probationary state, “If he were not liable to fall, he would not be in a probationary, but a confirmed state.” Now, if we reverse this statement, we shall have the precise argument I wish to prove: Since we are in a confirmed state, we are not probationaries, and our faith is not probationary but already productive of salvation and that we are not liable to fall in the final and absolute sense.
But before going further shall we not inquire whether or not there are Scriptures which definitely support what might be called our major premise, i.e., that we are in a confirmed state? “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Not only does the Apostle John write that “to as many as received him, to them he gave the authority to become the sons of God” (John 1:12), but he also writes “NOW are we the sons of God,”—not becoming sons, but now are sons—a relationship which is not in process or in a state of probation, but it is complete and perfect, and one of which there is no statement of reversal in the entire Scripture. This truly is a confirmed state. We are already confirmed as living sons in the household of God. But the objection comes—the sonship is conditional, when sin enters or there is a loss of faith, then this relationship is broken. But is it? Without going into the Scripture (e.g. 1 John 1–2) to prove that sin breaks communion but not union with God, and that sonship is not conditional, let us simply take the term for what it is worth. When it is used in the natural realm one never hears of a son being in a probationary state as to his sonship. Since there is nothing to the contrary to limit the usage of the word in its spiritual application, we may bring the full force of its usage from the natural into the spiritual realm. One becomes a son by birth and that relationship between parents and son is never changed—it is a confirmed state. Some have argued, “The son may die.” True in the natural realm, but so may the parent. In either case the relationship of parent and son still exists. But the nature of the Heavenly Father and the character of the life imparted forbid the idea that the relationship may be broken by the death of the son.
In John 6:37 the believer is called a gift from the Father to the Son, and the exchange of gifts is usually carried on independent of the attitude or condition of the gift, in case the gift is of such a character to have attitudes or conditions which might vary. The believer, then, as a gift from the Father to the Son, is in a confirmed state. This affirmation is greatly strengthened by the fact that the giving of the gift actually precedes the believer’s coming to Christ, and, further, that each gift is sealed unto the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph 1:13, 14). Who ever heard of a gift which had already been given being in a probationary state?
Conclusion of Part 1
The Apostle Paul has something to say on this very question, in fact employing the very terms we have been using,
I thank God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:4-8, emphasis added).
Here we find two things in a confirmed state: the testimony concerning Christ has been made sure, or confirmed, in the believer, and then our Lord Jesus Christ will confirm the believer unto the end. Both the gospel and the believer are in a confirmed state. This is the more remarkable when we remember to whom the Apostle is addressing this epistle. We recall the frightful moral condition of the Corinthian church and the low spiritual tone exhibited in divisions and strife and lack of church discipline. To this same body of believers, Paul writes, “Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made of God wisdom for us; even righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30). God’s righteousness, God’s sanctification, and God’s redemption become the believer’s when he is vitally united to Christ by faith. These blessings are the believer’s because he has been made “accepted in the beloved” (Eph 1:6). “Acceptance” is not a word of probation but one which suggests that the probation is over. These things above mentioned, which are the Christian’s by virtue of his union with Christ, along with many other positions and possessions, are not such as could be ascribed to one in a state of probation, but rather to one who has been taken out of it and placed in a position of safety, a confirmed state.
1 Editor’s Note: Aldrich is using this verse to argue for eternal security. For another Free Grace view, see John Hart, “Does Philippians 1:6 Guarantee Progressive Sanctification? Part 1 and Part 2” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring and Fall 1996).
2 Editor’s Note: While many Grace in Focus Magazine readers will likely disagree with this suggestion that apostasy is impossible for a truly born-again person, note well what the author is and is not saying. He is saying that faith in Christ necessarily persists. He is not saying that good works certainly persist. He holds the view that believers may backslide and even die in that state.