Eternal Security: Once Saved Always Saved

Updated on March 23, 2018
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Introduction

Eternal security, or the doctrine of perseverance, is defined as the inability for a Christian to lose their salvation, either by conscious or unconscious decisions or actions.[1] Few issues hold the ability to rock a believer’s faith a feeling of security like their understanding of this doctrine, and none can undermine a believer’s sense of security to their salvation more. There are two differing viewpoints that approach this issue.[2] One stance is that salvation is eternal, stemming from the moment of salvation and lasting for eternity, no matter the circumstance, while the alternative view states that a believer can lose their salvation by their personal choice, desire, or sin. While this paper will deal with both views of this issue, the paper will show that a Christian is secure in the fact that their salvation is not that of works, but that of faith, and once that salvation is granted to a believer, it cannot be lost.

History of the Argument

Historically, the church began to experience differing views with regard to the doctrine of perseverance in 1610, to which the Synod of Dort was convened in 1618-1619 to deal with this issue and its effect on the church.[3] The appearance of the Arminian view, posited by Jacobus Arminius, was that one could fall away from salvation was at issue, and the church began to wrestle with either side of this issue. The followers of Arminius brought the opposing viewpoint, as written by Bischop and Grotius in the Sententia Remonstrantium, where they argued that one can in fact lose their salvation.[4] This was counter to the church’s teaching at this time, and throughout the Synod, the teaching of eternal security by John Calvin was reinforced and the leaders of the Arminian opposition were refuted. After the Synod concluded, while the Arminian view of the possibility of apostasy, or losing one’s salvation, was ruled against and stifled, it found its way to other regions and was adopted by John Wesley and is prominently included in Methodist theology.[5] Arminianism views also found their way to North America and are included in many denominations such as Church of Christ, Pentecostal, and Assemblies of God churches today.[6]

Presently, Southern Baptist churches find this issue frequently, where in small groups of bible studies, congregants find certain scripture to be contradictory with regard to this issue and seek assistance from a teacher, church leader or pastor. While denominations such as Presbyterians claim eternal security, some SBC pastors find themselves explaining Calvinism and Arminianism together when arguing for free-will of Salvation but eternal security of the believer.

Differing Nomenclature

The belief that a person cannot lose their salvation is stated in various ways. Some may refer to this as “eternal security”, another may call this belief “once saved, always saved”, and still others use the term the “perseverance of the saints”.[7] While all three terms are very close in their meaning, there are slight variations with each statement. With regard to the explanation of eternal security, Louis Berkhof stated that believers could not be removed from the body because it would “frustrate the divine ideal”[8] and with this nomenclature it is stated that salvation is dependent on Christ’s faithfulness.[9] This particular term teaches that Christ alone is the one that provides regeneration, and thus their salvation is solely derived by Christ’s faithfulness and his work. Because it was Christ alone that secures the believer, while one may fall into sin, they can never fully fall out of Christ’s grace because His promise of redemption is secure.[10] As to the term “Preservice of the Saints”, this is the theological ideal is that God will cause the Christian to persevere to the end. Slightly different that eternal security, this states that upon a genuine profession of belief in Christ, God is sovereign to allow that person to persevere and be unable to lose their gift of salvation. Finally, the term “once saved always saved” is used. This is the position that no matter what, a person will remain saved. Apostasy is inconceivable, and true regeneration of a believer will yield a life that could never turn away from their salvation. While these 3 different terms vary slightly in their direct meaning, they all however yield the same result that a Christian cannot lose their salvation, no matter the circumstances.[11] Because these three terms, while having slight differences, can most times be used interchangeably, hereinafter the term “eternal security” will be used to define the viewpoint that salvation cannot be lost by the believer.

Losing Salvation

Opponents to eternal security reference different verses in the Bible that seem to provide validity to their assertions. Once such verse is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he wrote that certain people had fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4). While it may seem to read as such, this one verse cannot be referring to losing salvation because the verse itself is referring to people trying to be justified by their works.[12] John wrote that there were people that were “from us, but not really of us”, evidencing that there were individuals that were part of the church but they were not part of the believers. They were in the corona of the church, but not actually true believers who had experienced salvation. Another such verse is found in found in 2 Peter, stating that there are people who “deny the master that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). Opponents of eternal security argue that these false teachers were bought by the Lord, so that verbiage would seem to indicate that Jesus had purchased them at a price, and thus were believers who would then lose their salvation. According to Matt Slick, other writing by the same author and within the same book indicate that in no way was the author’s intent to mean these false teachers were true believers.[13] Other places within the same work use the same words to denote not fellow believers, but fellow Jews. As the author was pointing with his words, back to the Old Testament, and as salvation is not a birthright but a personal choice, the author of 2 Peter was using this particular wording to denote the Jewish people who had been bought and freed from bondage in Egypt, not then current believers who had been bought with Christ’s blood. Another example opponents of eternal security will use is found in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, where Paul seemingly conveyed the possibility of losing one’s salvation, by his writing with an urgency to his efforts, so as to not be disqualified. He writes that “I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor 9:27), but while this may seem to indicate he thought losing his eternal reward was at stake, the reality is that this in no way confirms that viewpoint.[14] Further evidence is found in various writings of Paul that he used references to apostasy. He wrote in Galatians 6:8 that one could “reap corruption”, in 1 Corinthians he warned of destruction (1 Cor 3:17), and in a letter to Christians, in Ephesians 5:5 he warned that immoral people will not inherit God’s kingdom. In these references though, it seems more likely that rather than Paul stating one could lose their salvation, he was more likely motivating Christians to not let their witness or the gospel be distorted into Hellenistic enthusiasm or moral passivity.[15]

One of the most common arguments used against eternal security is that certain people in the Bible were called out as apostate or having fallen away, thus yielding evidence of its possibility.[16] Whether the example is Judas, Saul, Peter, or the fictitious person written about by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 10, examples of apostate individuals seem to appear within the pages of scripture. With the example of Judas, scripture seems to indicate that he was never a true believer. While he did have direct access to Jesus directly, the message of the gospel seemingly never resulted in a true acceptance of Jesus’ salvation, as evidenced by his actions recorded in John 12:6. With regard to Peter, while he did deny Christ three times (Mark 14:66-72), that was done in a moment of weakness and would not rise to the level of actual apostasy. Also, while the Holy Spirit departing from Saul may be considered a person losing their salvation, Saul was living under the old covenant and the Holy Spirit as we know Him had not been released upon the world, so relating Saul’s experience to defend the losing of one’s salvation is difficult at best.[17] The author of Hebrews did in fact write in 10:6:4-6 that it was impossible to bring one who had fallen away, back to the faith, indicating that it was possible to fall away. The author also wrote in 10:26-27 about the continuation of sin following the knowledge of salvation, and that there was nothing left for those people but raging fire and judgement. Here, there is no direct person to whom the author referenced, so the author seems to be stating a mere possibility and kept his writing at an abstract level.[18] However, it is unclear whether the author is stating this as a possibility, or like Paul, is using this argument as motivation for a believer to remain consistent to their witness, for both the church and for perceptions from outside the church.

There are two types of individuals who do seem to give credence to the ability to lose salvation. There are individuals who claim to be believers during a season of their lives, but their salvation does not stand the test of time. They claim Christ at one season in their lives but then deny Him later. C.H. Spurgeon stated in his observations that there were people that seemed to have a faith that appeared to be genuine but they never personally commited to Christ.[19] This is further evidenced by Jesus parable of the sower and the seeds. Jesus himself stated that there would be those who an apparent salvation would spring up, but because it was not rooted in a true salvation and was based on rocky ground, they would wither and die (Luke 8:4-15). This parable seems to indicate there would be people who experience a type of emotional salvation, but it never results in true salvation. While the term apostate or “the abandonment of one’s religion”[20] does appear in certain scriptural pericopes, certain scholars argue that the word “apostate” is synonymous with the word “backslid”.[21] Thus, in these specific biblical settings where the word appears, the intent of authors were either conveying a diminished fervor for the faith or that the individual had a nominal experience with Christianity but had never experienced true salvation, negating the argument because one cannot lose something they never had.[22]

There are also those who profess to be Christian, but show no fruit of such. Brennon Manning is quoted as saying “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”[23] Paul wrote in Titus that those who claim to be believers but live like they are not are detestable. It is with both these examples that Spurgeon addresses the lack of a true salvation, and one that is not genuine and is not real. Eternal security does not apply to these individuals because their claim of Christianity shows no fruit of such.

Another final issue arises with the question of the possibility of a believer voluntarily exiting the faith. In volume 2 of his works, Jacobus Arminius stated that "The providence of God is subordinate to creation; and it is, therefore, necessary that it should not impinge against creation, which it would do, were it to inhibit or hinder the use of free will in man.” [24] While his argument for the free will of man stands true, this cannot remain consistent to the Doctrine of God.[25] Believers cannot hold God’s promises to the same argument and restrictions that are held to His creation to. The fact remains though, with respectful opposition to Arminius, that John wrote in his gospel that no one can snatch a believer out of the Father’s hand (John 10:27-29). It is Scripture that states that no one can snatch a believer from the Father’s hand, and that includes the person being held, so arguing about the extent of the word’s definition of who is performing the snatching seems pedantic.[26] Also, the Greek words that John used in verse 28 are emphatic and argues that anyone who follow Jesus can never perish.[27]

Eternal Security

Eternal Security or the “Doctrine of Perseverance”, allows a Christian believer to rest in the security that once they come to salvation and experience the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, they are eternally secure in that salvation. Nothing they can do can separate them from the promise of Salvation given to them by God (Romans 8:38-39). The Westminster Confession states clearly that one “called and sanctified by His Spirit can neither totally nor finally fall away.”[28] The author of 1 Peter also clarified this when writing that Christians have an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-5). John also wrote in his gospel that nothing can nullify the connection the believer has with Christ (John 15:1-11). Paul again wrote in Ephesians 1 that upon salvation, the Christian is sealed by the Holy Spirit, and the verbiage used in the original language was that of a legal term or contract (Eph 1:13-14). [29] This conveys to the reader the idea that once the believer is sealed, the onus is upon God to continue to deliver the promises that are contractually obliged. Paul echoed this sentiment in Philippians 1 that once the Holy Spirit begins a work in someone, He will carry that work through to its completion.[30] Those who oppose the viewpoint of eternal security argue that the author of Hebrews gives many warnings of falling away and warns the Christian to stay on guard, thus implying that falling away is possible.[31] While this is one way to interpret this text, many biblical authors have also written about the assurance Christians have, (1 John 5:3, 1 Peter 1:5, 1 John 5:14, Hebrews 6:11) thus calling into question scripture’s validity if this assurance is less than complete.[32] Augustine argued that the nature of the gift of salvation is irresistible, and thus ensures the believer remains in grace for eternity.[33]

There are those examples, however, of a believer experiencing true salvation who then backslides so much that the evidence of their salvation is suspect. This is sometimes refered to as “Saved soul wasted life."

Conclusion

While scripture may seem to argue both sides of the issue, it seems clear that a deeper look into each verse yields the understanding that a believer, either by volition or aversion, cannot give up their eternally secure salvation. As the Bible cannot disagree with itself, the Christian can be sure of their salvation by understanding John 8:29 and John 6:39. Here, Jesus states that He always does the will of the Father, and that God’s will is that Jesus not lose any that has been given Him by the father.[34]

References

[1] Bruce A. Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 441.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 914

[3] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 278.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 917

[5] “Synod of Dort,” Theopedia, accessed June 27, 2016, http://www.theopedia.com/synod-of-dordt.

[6] “Arminianism,” Theopedia, accessed June 27, 2016, http://www.theopedia.com/arminianism.

[7] Matt Slick, “What Is the Difference between Eternal Security, Once Saved Always Saved, and Perseverance of the Saints?,” www.carm.org, accessed June 27, 2016,http://carm.org/what-is-the-difference-between-eternal-security-once-saved-always-saved-and-perseverance-of-the-saints.

[8] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 916

[9] Matt Slick, “What Is the Difference between Eternal Security, Once Saved Always Saved, and Perseverance of the Saints?,” www.carm.org, accessed June 27, 2016,http://carm.org/what-is-the-difference-between-eternal-security-once-saved-always-saved-and-perseverance-of-the-saints.

[10] Matt Slick, “What Is the Difference between Eternal Security, Once Saved Always Saved, and Perseverance of the Saints?,” www.carm.org, accessed June 27, 2016,http://carm.org/what-is-the-difference-between-eternal-security-once-saved-always-saved-and-perseverance-of-the-saints.

[11] Matt Slick, “What Is the Difference between Eternal Security, Once Saved Always Saved, and Perseverance of the Saints?,” www.carm.org, accessed June 27, 2016,http://carm.org/what-is-the-difference-between-eternal-security-once-saved-always-saved-and-perseverance-of-the-saints.

[12] Matt Slick, “Does Galatians 5: 4 Teach That We Can Lose Our Salvation?,” www.carm.org, accessed June 30, 2016, http://carm.org/does-galatians54-teach-that-we-can-lose-our-salvation.

[13] Matt Slick, “Does 2 Peter 2: 1 Teach That We Can Lose Our Salvation,” www.carm.org, accessed June 27, 2016, http://carm.org/does-2peter21-teach-that-we-can-lose-our-salvation.

[14] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 918

[15] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 566.

[16] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 915

[17] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 922

[18] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 918

[19] Bruce A. Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 442.

[20] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Apostasy, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 253.

[21] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Apostasy, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 253.

[22] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Apostasy, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 253.

[23] Brennan Manning, “Brennan Manning Quotes,” Brainy Quotes, accessed June 27, 2016,http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/brennanman531776.html.

[24] James Arminius, The Works of James Arminius: Volume Two, 2 ed. (Lamp Post Inc., 2015), 460.

[25] Gregory Alan Thornbury, The Doctrine of God (Jackson, TN: Union University, 2010), 7, accessed May 13,2016, https://au.instructure.com/courses/5647/files/316131?module_item_id=218588, slide #14

[26] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994), 790.

[27] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994), 790.

[28] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 915

[29] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994), 791.

[30] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994), 791.

[31] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 918

[32] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 917

[33] Alister E. McGrath, ed., The Christian Theology Reader (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1995), 220.

[34] Matt Slick, “Scriptural Proof That Christians Cannot Lose Their Salvation,” www.carm.org, accessed June 27, 2016, http://carm.org/scriptural-proof-christians-cannot-lose-salvation.

© 2018 Pastor Kevin Hampton

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    • profile image

      Oxygen CX 

      2 months ago

      The Holy Spirit is the SEAL of our true salvation, without which we are not yet truly and fully saved. Jesus Himself said this in John 3:5 "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" - How then can we really experience God as Jesus Himself did while he was on earth if we are not baptized with the Holy Spirit? In the Book Acts, after the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they went ahead baptizing everyone that believes thereafter both with water and the Holy Spirit. We all know what the works of the Holy Spirit consist of based on the words of Jesus Christ Himself. Among other things, He is our teacher, comforter, enabler in all things and He is the one to reveal the truth about God's views concerning our life and things we encounter in this present world. At the least, this was the same with Jesus Christ while he was on earth. He constantly told the Pharisees and Sadducees that He was doing what He saw His Father doing or saying; that He was not acting on His own. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing in our lives, but most Christians of our time have neglected this Third God of the Trinity. He is the one in charge of the events after Jesus left, and most Christians do not regard Him in their lives. That's one of the reasons we have some much chaos in our daily Christian lives. We should learn about the Person of the Holy Spirit and Who He is and what He is supposed to be doing our daily lives. Only those Christians who are fully and truly saved, who are the seeds that fell on the good soil and germinate well and then bring fort fruits, are sealed by the Holy Spirit. We need not ramble much of this. Jesus Christ, Himself said that there are broad road and narrow road. Now we all know how many people are heading towards both roads based on the word of Jesus Christ! Case closed!!

    • Tony Muse profile image

      Tony Muse 

      3 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thedecadentone - Good works are the fruits of our faith. If someone truly is a follower of Christ, the love that dwells within them will compel them to want to help out those who are in need. These good works aren't motivation for some kind of higher status in the kingdom of God, but a basic part of being citizens.

    • Pastor Kev profile imageAUTHOR

      Pastor Kevin Hampton 

      3 months ago from Spartanburg, SC

      According to Jesus' brother, who writes in his epistle (James 2:14-26) that works are a result of a person's faith. A true faith will yield Christ-centered works.

      And Paul echoes this in Romans 6:1-2 "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"

    • profile image

      Thedecadentone 

      4 months ago

      Works for a Christian is only important if you're big on having a fancy ruling position like Abraham and Moses and other Christ like people of renown in the 1,000 year millennial kingdom. Has nothing to do with eternal life. I'll be quite happy driving the holy dump truck for a thousand years, but quite a few will gnash their teeth when they join me in menial kingdom jobs as I'll admit I'm a pretty awful repeat sinner. I care for the sick and orphans, but I'm dragging my cross on a hand cart rather than carrying it on my shoulders; I'll probably require a lot of refining fire. I try but I just have too many vices, most of them sexual unfortunately.

      Oh, and insuling the holy spirit is when you accept it but then kick it out and reject Jesus' salvation later. That'll have god hardening your heart reeeeal quick and coming back from it is hard to nigh impossible.

    • Tony Muse profile image

      Tony Muse 

      6 months ago from Texas, USA

      I believe that all that is truly required is our belief in Jesus Christ. Whether or not someone who once "believed" and then disavows that belief constitutes that their belief was not ever genuine, is up for debate. It is ashamed that many Christians who earnestly believe in Christ do not have that assurance that scripture promises.

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