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 and Part II appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of this magazine.
Thus far I have shown that eternal life with its many concomitant positions and possessions becomes the believer’s as soon as he exercises saving faith. I have also shown that the character of eternal life and these positions and possessions does not warrant the idea that they may be gained and lost again. But now, as a final step in this article, I will demonstrate from Scripture that God has pledged Himself to maintain these unchangeable and eternal relationships.
This would seem the only reasonable thing for Him to do when we look upon the life of the saint not as a probation but as anchored in the realm of the “much more love” of God as set forth by the Apostle Paul in Rom 5:9-11. When we further realize that it is “by grace that ye are saved and not of works” this appears as a necessary part of God’s great and gracious undertaking for the believer. And such is the statement concerning God’s purpose with respect to his children as set forth by the Apostle Paul in Rom 11:29, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”
The first question to settle in relation to this text is the right to take it from its context and employ it in proof of God’s purpose to sustain in the believer the things pertaining to salvation. First of all, we notice that the statement under consideration is a general principle, not contingent upon the immediate context, but introduced into it as an explanation of God’s method of dealing with men. This then liberates it from the immediate context, and gives us the right to consider it as a general proposition (Barnes’ Notes, Epistle to Romans, 277). In the second place, this very context deals with salvation, and that is the connection in which we are to use it. Furthermore, the words themselves, “gifts” and “calling,” are used of salvation truth. Finally, while this passage deals with the salvation of the Jews, the Christian comes under its spiritual blessings as spiritual seed of Abraham.
The principle set forth in the statement, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” finds support from other passages of Scripture. So it is with God’s covenant with Abraham. It is unconditional. God said, “I will,” and the fulfillment of the covenant depends entirely upon Him.
We have already seen that Christ has pledged Himself to the keeping of those to whom He has given eternal life (John 10:28-29). The fact that the Holy Spirit is the “seal” upon the believer unto the day of redemption (Eph 1:13) also points to God’s unchangeable purpose in bringing many sons into glory. Another interesting passage in support of this principle is 1 Pet 1:5, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” The keeping power of God seems at first here to be limited by the “through faith,” that is, He is able to keep only so long as the believer retains his faith. But, I have showed before that if the continued exercise of faith were essential to salvation, that God would have to guarantee it, for He has promised that “If any man eat, he shall live forever.” Thus we may conclude that man and his exercise of faith is not the prime mover in this passage, but that the governing principle is found in the statement of the keeping power of God. The postulate that man’s faith in this passage is no more than the intermediate agency over which God exercises control is supported by the Greek preposition (dia) used with faith. “Dia” is very often used to express the action of an intermediate agent or the way or manner in which a thing is accomplished.
We have seen that we both have a right to use this text, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” and also that the principle embodied in it is common to the Scriptures. Now let us examine the text itself a bit more clearly.
The “gifts” (charisma) are the favors or benefits which God bestows on men. The Greek word properly “denotes any benefit which is conferred on another as a mere matter of favor, and not of reward” (see: Rom 5:15, 16; 6:23). “Such are all the favors which God bestows on sinners, including pardon, peace, joy, sanctification and eternal life” (Barnes’ Notes, 277). The best way to determine what the Apostle Paul is referring to by “gifts” in this passage is to take a survey of its use throughout the book. The word is used in the singular in the following passages: 1:11, “some spiritual gift to the end that ye may be established”; 5:15, 16, 17, 18, “free gift unto justification, gift of righteousness,” etc.; 6:23, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In the plural the word is used both in the passages under consideration and in 12:6 where it has reference to the spiritual gifts for service. It is clear, then, from the Apostle’s use of the word that he means every gift of God from the beginning to the consummation of his salvation.
The word “calling” (klēsis) means more than the mere extension of the invitation to come and partake of the divine favors. An examination of Paul’s usage of the word in other passages shows beyond a doubt that his most frequent usage of it carries the thought of the “effectual calling, whereby sinners savingly believe, and obey the Gospel.” [Ed. Effectual calling was a common view among Free Grace believers of the time, and remains so even today. And it seems here that Aldrich intends “obey” to mean obey by believing.] Thus it involves a life purpose or vocation. It is so used in 1 Cor 7:20, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”
Thus the text may be expanded to read, “The gifts (including both the gifts of salvation and other spiritual gifts) and the calling of God (which involves the direction of the believer’s life vocation) are without repentance, i.e., not to be repented of.” If the attitude of God toward the gifts and calling is not to be repented of, it means that the gifts and calling themselves are to be forever unchangeable and irreversible.
Among the “all things given unto us pertaining unto life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3), are eternal life (Rom 6:23), authority to become sons of God (John 1:12) and salvation (Eph 2:8). These are specifically mentioned as gifts, but all of the positions and possessions of the believer belong here.
In summary of the treatment of this text, it may be treated in syllogistic form. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance, hence unchangeable, irreversible. The possessions and positions attributed to the believer the moment he exercises saving faith are gifts, and form the calling of God. Therefore, these relationships and possessions are without repentance, unchangeable and irretractable, and the believer entering into them is secure in the safekeeping power of God.
I have shown from the Scriptures that perfect positions and possessions are accorded to the believer in response to a look of faith, and therefore saving faith is an act instantaneous and complete in its effect; that among the possessions into which he so enters is eternal life, which means that he “shall live forever,” and finally that God has pledged to keep these positions and possessions unchangeable and irretractable. Concerning this last statement Barnes says, “God does not bestow on men the gift of repentance and faith, of pardon and peace, for a temporary purpose; nor does he capriciously withdraw these favors, and leave the soul to ruin. When he renews a soul, it is with reference to his own glory; and to withdraw those favors, and leave such a soul once renewed to go down to hell, would be as much a violation of all the principles of his nature as it would be of all the promises of the Scripture. For God to forsake such a soul, and leave it to ruin, would imply that he did repent. It would suppose a change of purpose and of feeling. It would be characteristic of a capricious being, with no settled plan or principles of action. No confidence could be reposed in such a being, and his government would be unworthy of the affections and trust of the intelligent creation.” [Ed.: Aldrich clearly quotes Barnes here for support regarding the doctrine of eternal security. Whether or not Aldrich believed regeneration precedes faith is not the purpose of the article. For a commonly held Free Grace view of the ordo salutis, see Dave Anderson, “Regeneration: A Crux Interpretum,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring, 2000), available online.]
But thanks be to God, for “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent; hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall it not be made good?” (Num 23:19). With the Apostle Paul we may conclude that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!