Is Salvation Probationary?
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). He died in 2009. Part I appeared in the May/June issue of this magazine.]
We have seen that the Scriptures point out by means of various figures and expressions that the believer has many positions and possessions by virtue of his relation to Christ. I have mentioned but a few of them. Dr. Chafer lists some thirty-three of such. These are attributed to the believer as his during this life, and they are positions and possessions of an absolute or unchangeable nature, as perfect upon the moment of receipt as when the believer is an old saint going to his reward. In the language we have adopted thus far, they speak of a "confirmed state."
However, if saving faith is a probationary process, then the results of it can at best be but in a state of probation and terms which describe that state as being "confirmed" would be wholly misapplied, but such a description is exactly what we have found in the Word of God. The believer is represented as being, not becoming, a Son of God; justified, not becoming justified; made meet, not becoming fit for the presence of God, etc. Whatever means were employed to produce these effects must have been complete and adequate, and, since the Scriptures plainly state about 150 times that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only means the sinner may employ to obtain salvation, we must conclude that the faith which brings the sinner into these positions and possessions is saving faith. But these positions and possessions comprising the believer's "confirmed state" are attributed to him the moment he believes, therefore the momentary faith must be saving faith.
We have reasoned from effect to cause. These positions and possessions are the effects of which faith is the cause. We might think of it in these terms. The report of a rifle shot is heard, and immediately we know that the trigger has been pulled and caused the hammer to descend upon the cartridge thus effecting the firing of the gun and producing the report. Because the report was heard, we know that the trigger has been pulled. Now, we may conceive of pulling the trigger as a process if we choose. If so, we note that the report is not heard until the process is completed. Likewise, if saving faith were a life-long process, then these positions and possessions, the result of it, could not be attributed to the person until the process had ended, with his death. But the Bible applies them to a man the moment he believes, thus proving that saving faith is an act of faith and not a probationary process.
There are many passages of Scripture to substantiate this position. Perhaps John 3:14-15, might be called the classic prooftext. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." This reference to Moses lifting up the serpent of brass for the healing of the snakebitten people gives us the famous Gospel message of "life for a look." The background of the story is familiar. The people had murmured against God and poisonous snakes were sent among them in judgment. As a provision for their healing the Lord said to Moses, "Make thee a fiery serpent and put it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." The Apostle John employs this story to show that even as a look at the up-lifted serpent saved the people in Moses' day, even so now whosoever will look at the crucified Son of God in faith shall be saved instantly. Some may object that the present tense of the verb is used in the John passage and that it demands a continuance of the believing to retain eternal life. That does not follow, for the present may be used here to denote the continual offer of salvation. "Whosoever believeth" at any time may have eternal life. So also John 1:12, 5:24.
There are three passages wherein the act of "eating or drinking" is given as the only condition of obtaining eternal life. The first is found in Gen 3:22, which reads, "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever." Without attempting to understand the mystery of this passage, let us note the simple condition advanced for the obtaining of life eternal—to put forth the hand, take, eat and live forever. The impression which this verse gives is that the moment the fruit of the tree of life touched the lips of Adam he then would come into the possession of eternal life. It would not depend upon his continued eating, but upon the initial act of taking and eating. Further, it would seem that the eating once included in it a provision for continued eating if that were necessary.
The second passage is found in John 4:14, "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Jesus was addressing a woman who was accustomed to come day after day to the well to draw water, and he had just said to her, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again," evidently meaning that whosoever came one day and took a drink would have to come back again and drink. Then he parallels taking a drink from the natural well and from the water which he offers, but contrasts the results. The one taking a drink from the well thirsts again, but the water that Jesus will give will itself be a well of water springing up in the individual unto eternal life. This most conclusively shows that it is the one act of "drinking," or exercising faith, which gives to the believer eternal life—a fountain springing up from within which sustains the believer.
The third passage is John 6:51, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever." In the Greek this is a future, more-vivid, conditional sentence, "If any man will eat of this bread, he shall live forever," and a "conditional sentence may state what is or will be true on a particular occasion, or what is always true if the protasis is fulfilled" [Elementary Greek, Burgess and Bonner, p. 55]. Here we have stated "he shall live forever," that is, what will always be true; if the condition, "if any man shall eat," is fulfilled. A single act of eating fulfills the condition set forth in this statement, for the aorist tense, used generally of point action, is employed in the protasis. Thus from the above three passages we have found support from the Scriptures for the statement that saving faith is an act, instantaneous and effective, and not a probationary process. This is a great step in advancing the proof of the security of the believer, because it places the responsibility for his salvation upon the Lord and takes it from the believer's shoulders the moment he exercises genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.
We noted in the last of the passages quoted that "if any man eat, he shall live forever," and have shown that the initial act of eating puts the condition into effect. The one who eats once or begins to eat shall live forever. It is a far more forceful thing to say that a man "shall live forever" than to say he possesses "eternal life" in view of the current teaching which would make eternal life, the new birth, the place in the family of God, a thing which can both be truly possessed and then lost again. The statement, "he shall live forever," is unconditional. It is a positive, unequivocal, blank statement with no strings tied to it. Therefore, if it is once affirmed of a man that he "shall live forever," and the man has met the Scriptural condition of exercising saving faith, then all the power and honor of God are behind the statement to see that he does live forever. There is no loop hole here for anyone to argue that "he shall live forever," only so long as he eats, i.e., exercises faith, for the passages above referred to do not make continuous eating or drinking the condition, and while I believe that the saved one will continue to believe, it will not be in order to become saved, but because he has been saved. There is no question that the one act of eating or drinking fulfills the condition set forth in these passages.
Now it is interesting to note that in the great discourse on the bread of life, in John 6, Jesus uses "eternal life" as an equivalent for the declaration, "shall live forever." In verse 54 is the statement, "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood hath eternal life," and in verse 51 the same truth is worded, "If any man eat this bread, he shall live forever." The condition is the same in both cases, "If any man eat," so we are justified in concluding that the result is also the same, hence, "hath eternal life" means that he "shall live forever." In other words when the words "eternal life" are on the lips of the Lord Jesus in John's Gospel they are equivalent to the more forceful statement, "shall live forever." To be able to substitute this positive declaration for the somewhat dubious phrase "eternal life" in the many offers of salvation in John's Gospel greatly strengthens the argument for the security of the believer. Eternal life is not of such a character that it continues to be eternal life whether in the possession of the individual or not. It is not like a sack of potatoes thrown upon the outstretched arms of the eager believer which continues to be potatoes whether he is able to sustain them or not. The potatoes are in no way vitally related to the person, but eternal life is not thus distinct from its possessor. It is some way mysteriously linked up with the new nature, the result of the new birth. It involves a new personality, and its very eternal character must guarantee the eternal life of the new nature with which it is inseparably linked.
Other passages of Scripture confirm the contention that eternal life is eternal in the believer, inseparably joined to him, thus guaranteeing his living forever. John 10:28 puts it this way, "And I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish." The Greek negative employed in this passage is a combination of two negatives (ou and mē) thus forming the strongest possible statement "they shall never perish." This leaves no room for the supposition that one having eternal life "could" give it back. However, in our experience it is not so much of a speculative "could" or "couldn't" but rather the gracious loving care of God which so guards us that we "wouldn't" if we "could." So also John 5:24, "He that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life.