by Randy Corn
For the last few years I have become a devotee of Accordance Bible Study Software. As with most such systems, one can buy books and commentaries, which are indexed through the program, resulting in an easy accumulation of vast amounts of material on any passage or topic he might wish to study. I have used two other systems on my journey to Accordance: the Logos/Lebronix program and Bible Works. One advantage of Accordance is that you can also access hundreds of theological journals. Some of these were familiar to me already like the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, while others were new like the Journal of Ministry and Theology. I was also glad to find one of the few theological journals I have subscribed to, Bibliotheca Sacra, the journal of Dallas Theological Seminary.
I had read BibSac since my days in college, but had not explored the earlier issues. That is where Accordance came in. I went to the first issue of the Accordance collection and found it came from 1934! I scrolled through that issue until I was intrigued by an article entitled “Is Salvation Probationary?” by a DTS student named Willard Maxwell Aldrich.
Brother Aldrich states his argument early in this article:
“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,’ 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” (Aldrich, 88).
He goes on to state that no one is all that concerned about the Christian who is evidently growing in grace. The issue is what do we make of those who are not?
It is at this point that the article took on special interest. As an example of those who disagree with his premise, the author gives an extensive quotation from Butler and Dunn, whom he refers to simply as “two Baptist theologians.” Of course I recognized that he was quoting from the Systematic Theology by J. J. Butler and Ransom Dunn published by the Free Baptists in 1891. In that volume they wrote,
“The life of faith must continue as long as the natural life, or there is no salvation…. Salvation is throughout conditional,–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. 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” (Butler, 330).
Now, it would be beyond the scope of this blog post to consider all of the arguments that Aldrich makes in his article or the earlier arguments of Butler and Dunn in their volume. Since Aldrich states it at the outset of his article as though it is an incontrovertible argument for the “once saved, always saved” position, we will look at Philippians 1:6.
This verse may not be the most solid ground for Aldrich’s position when one considers the context surrounding it. Aldrich must contend that this verse means God will complete the work of salvation in the individual’s life regardless of their lack of continuing faith. Philippians 1:5 strongly suggests the continual faith of the Philippian believers, “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” This is followed by the prayer of Paul in verse 9, 10: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.” Paul clearly has in mind that the Philippians would continue in faith.
It seems to me that Aldrich may be missing the point of Philippians 1:6. Paul is speaking of the confidence, or assurance, that all believers can have in God’s work to secure our relationship with Him, but the context clearly indicates believers will continue to believe. This would seem to me to balance the argument on both sides. Yes, believers must believe, but our assurance is in the object of our faith, not our faith itself.
Butler, J. J., and Ransom Dunn. Systematic Theology. Pawnee City, NB: The School of the Bible, 1891.
Aldrich, Willard Maxwell. “Is Salvation Probationary?” Bibliotheca Sacra, January 1934, (pages of article).