Secure Forever. Revised Edition. By Harold Barker. Long Green, MD: Timeless Publications, 2004. 261 pp. Paper. $12.99.
Although not the most persuasive or consistent in explanation, Harold Barker has spoken to almost every passage dealing with the security of the believer. He generally lets each verse speak for itself with only minimal commentary as he presents to the reader a scriptural outline of the passage. This book is divided into two parts: 1) His argument for eternal security; and 2) His answer to arguments against eternal security.
Although this book does not advance any arguments for eternal security, the most helpful information I found was in the last two chapters of part 1. In chap. 17 Barker deals with the believer’s union with Christ, showing how the believer is “in Christ” and how the Father views us in Him. Just as the Father receives Christ, He receives all believers because all that Christ has done is credited to the one who believes in Christ. Chapter 18 looks at the appeals for godly living. Barker shows how the appeals to live in obedience are actually based on the believer’s security, not the threat of losing his salvation. The Bible does not use loss of salvation as a motivation for obedience; rather believers are motivated to quit sinning because of the security they find in God’s grace. This clarity is greatly needed.
Other strengths in the book include Barker clearly walking the reader through Eph 2:8-9, that eternal life is a present possession, that the Law can no longer condemn the believer because Christ has already paid the penalty, God chastens (corrects) the believer because of his sin but He does not disown him, God is omniscient with exhaustive foreknowledge and knew all the sins each believer would commit yet He still predestines all believers to be glorified in the future, and that the Holy Spirit is the believer’s seal that will not be broken thus guaranteeing the believer’s future glorification.
However, the book has very problematic weaknesses and inconsistencies that almost undo its strong arguments. Chapter 1 could be stronger in its presentation of the fact that once a believer receives eternal life he can never lose it. Personally, I feel Barker could have presented better primary passages and presented them in a more logical, persuasive order (e.g. John 6:38-40; 10:27; Eph 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:3-5; Romans 8). He also misuses several passages. Barker uses Phil 1:6 as his third primary passage; however, this verse is not teaching that God will complete the eternal salvation of the believer. The completion of the good work spoken of in Phil 1:6 is better understood as the church of Philippi’s fellowship with Paul in the spreading of the gospel through their financial giving. This passage does not teach that God will cause all believers to persevere in good works, nor does any other.
Denying the Majority Text causes Barker to misunderstand passages like Rom 8:1 where he takes it as positional for the believer rather than practical. Other problems include him taking Rom 8:17 as a promise to all believers that they all will be joint-heirs with Christ and does not distinguish this from being an heir of God or only for those who suffer with Christ. This has to do with his view of the new nature. As he explains in chap. 6, “He [a true believer who is a new creation] may occasionally slip into sin but he will not be happy nor will he continually practice sin (1 Jn. 3:9) for he has a new nature” (p. 45). We should understand 1 John 3:9, the passage Barker uses to support this statement, to be dealing either with only the new nature (which is the true identity of the believer) or teaching that sin is never the result of being in fellowship with God. It does not teach that it is impossible for a justified believer to continually sin. Barker seems to imply that being happy and not habitually committing sin are conditions for receiving the free gift of eternal life.
Unfortunately, Barker continues this error in part two of the book. In this section he starts out by reiterating that no true believer can habitually sin. This is terribly inconsistent with other parts of his book where he argues that a believer can know for sure they are saved and eternally secure (chap. 5). The obvious question from the grace person who holds to a true eternal security position (no perseverance in good works required) is this: “How much sin qualifies as habitual and shows that I am not a true believer?” The reply has to be, “I don’t know.” The main problem is that Barker divorces assurance from eternal security as though they are two different issues. Yet, they are not. Assurance is the essence of saving faith. He continues to show that his position regarding the security of the believer would be better understood as Perseverance of the Saints by making statements such as, “If it becomes obvious that a man, who once appeared to be saved, is not saved, it is only proof that he was never saved” (p. 149). This is contradictory and inconsistent teaching that all grace people would do well to avoid.
Barker ends the book by addressing what he refers to as “misunderstood passages.” In this section he does not explain each passage’s interpretation exegetically, but offers his explanation in a more general sense. I was encouraged to see that he does a good job of maintaining the distinction between relationship and fellowship with the passages from John, Hebrews, 1 John, etc. He understands the teaching of rewards lost and gained, that the judgment fire is often speaking of the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers and not the lake of fire for unbelievers, and he interprets many passages consistent with dispensational theology.
Barker does a good job arguing against the possibility of losing salvation, but he drops the ball with inconsistencies regarding sin in the believer’s life. Though he rightly maintains that sin does not cause one to lose their salvation, it is unacceptable to conclude that the presence of habitual sin indicates that a person was never saved.
Overall this book was written for a popular audience and does not contribute much to those looking for a more in-depth treatment of the issue. In light of this, I would only recommend it for the discerning reader.
G. Brian Stone
Union Gospel Mission