Preservation or perseverance? Which is the correct way to express the security of the Lord’s saints? The only problem that can be found with using preservation is that it does not immediately answer the question as to how they are preserved. It could be that the elect are preserved by God in their state of unbelief or ungodliness! Therefore, unless we convey the point that they are preserved in holiness the position could open the door for antinomianism.
There’s a good story involving D.L. Moody which illustrates how this could happen. A drunkard stopped him once and said, "Don’t you remember me? I’m the man you saved here two years ago." Moody’s reply was most appropriate:
"Well, it must have been me, because the Lord certainly didn’t do it."
Closer home to the Old Baptist circle, Elder E.H. Burnam expressed it correctly in the trial of Mt. Carmel Church(emphasis mine):
“Now the faith of the Old School Baptists or Regular Baptists, as they used to be called and are still called by us, was salvation by grace through faith, and the perseverance of the saints in grace to glory. The perseverance! The word perseverance instead of preservation. A clear distinction must be drawn between the two words. Preservation does not necessarily include faith, but perseverance could not exist without it. None persevere unto eternal life except through a God-given faith.”
It was most pleasant to read the words of Elder Zack Guess on this as well, who states things correctly. He writes (emphasis mine):
“Someone has said that perseverance and preservation are two sides of the same coin. I agree with that statement.
Preservation means that none of the elect will finally be plucked from the hand of God. This is sometimes referred to as the doctrine of ETERNAL SECURITY. It is sometimes defined as ONCE SAVED, ALWAYS SAVED. This is definitely a beautiful and comforting Biblical truth.
Perseverance is the other side of the coin. What I understand this to mean is that the elect will persevere in some degree of faith and holiness. When people hear this they sometimes run backwards, because they think that those who hold to this doctrine are teaching perfectionism. But this is not true. When I say that the elect will continue in some degree of faith and holiness, I am simply saying that their faith will not totally and finally fail. Someone has already given the example of Christ praying for Peter that his faith would not fail. Peter certainly had a grievous lapse of faith, but the Lord interceded for him and his faith was not totally and finally overthrown. In fact the Scripture teaches this in 1 John 5:4, where it is said" For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
When I say that the child of God will persevere in some degree of holiness, I simply mean that there is a difference in one who is spiritually alive and one who is spiritually dead. A child of God cannot live permanently in gross sin and be happy in it.
We get no credit for our perseverance. It is the work of God in us.”
Further down in the same article he says:
“Perseverance is not works salvation. It is simply the outworking in our lives of what God has worked in us.”
There is much to be thankful for in these words. Living at a time in which the perseverance of the saints (not eternal security itself) is being denied by many of my former acquaintances, it was good to see a correct balanced view being presented. Guess is correct in saying that preservation and perseverance are two sides to the same coin. They express the objective and subjective side, respectively, of our perpetual union to Christ. And on this the scriptures agree. To illustrate, simply compare John 10:27-29 with Job 17:9.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” (John 10:27-29)
“The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” (Job 17:9)
Nor is any credit given to the creature for his perseverance. It is not a “works” system as some have suggested in identifying the doctrine as teaching legalism.