|Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 10, March 4 to March 10, 2007|
The Lord Jesus told His disciples that after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, they would be indued with power to become witnesses for Him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). It is clear from Acts 8:4 that the apostolic church applied this not only to the apostles themselves, but also to all of the members. In other words, all believers are to be witnesses of the Gospel to the world.
One rejoices in the fact that there is a renewed interest in evangelism throughout the church today. On the one hand, there are the non-church related groups that are carrying on independent evangelistic efforts in various ways, such as, evangelistic crusades, and campus work. On the other hand, there is a development of an emphasis on evangelism in the old-line denominations themselves. This renewed interest in the task of evangelism is bringing forth a variety of views as to how the Gospel is to be presented to the lost. In the face of this multiplicity of evangelistic methods, the Biblical Christian needs to examine them in the light of the Scripture, so that he may be able to discern which are the most Biblical methods of evangelism, and so that he may himself become an evangelist in the Biblical sense of the term.
As one who is committed to the historical Reformed faith, the present writer is sending this forth with the hope that it may be of help to those of like persuasion in their evaluation of modern evangelistic methods. It is his hope that this will not in any way curtail evangelism, but that it will make the readers better evangelists as they conform their practice more and more to the Bible.
A. The Bible is our final rule of faith and practice. The great hallmark of Reformed theology is that it seeks to be a theology reformed by the Word. The Bible is seen as the infallible and authoritative Word of God. All other writings and traditions are but human products, and do not carry the authority of the Bible. The Bible is, therefore, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. That is, it is the only source of what we are to believe, and also of how we are to put our beliefs in practice.
In the field of evangelism it sets forth what we are to believe ourselves, and what we are to teach. It also sets forth how we are to evangelize. The latter may be seen more on the basis of examples in Scripture, than as a set of rules set down.
B. Confessional statements. Those who hold to the reformed faith have the advantage of possessing concise statements in their Reformed creeds and catechisms of what the church holds to be Biblically true. A confession, of course, is never a final source of authority for a Reformed Christian. That final source is the Bible. Nevertheless, it would be poor practice for the Reformed Christian to ignore his confessional statements. They are a concise treatment of Christian doctrine, and are based upon the Word. For those in confessional churches, which adopt such standards as their doctrinal constitution, they set forth the official position of such a church. The most commonly accepted Reformed Confessions in the American churches are the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, adopted by Presbyterian churches with the English or Scottish background, and the continental Reformed Confessions, namely, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, as held by Reformed churches of the continental background. These confessions will be cited in this work as reflecting the historic Reformed position on particular doctrines. It is always understood that they are subordinate to the Scripture.
C. Evangelism defined. The word 'evangelism' comes from the word euaggelion. This is a word composed to two other Greek words, eu which means 'well' or 'good', and aggelion, meaning 'message'. The word 'evangel', therefore, means 'good message' or 'good news'. To evangelize is to set forth this good news. Sometimes we think of evangelism as including the result, namely, of reaching men for Christ. That this is the goal of evangelism is true, but evangelism should not be defined in terms of the results, rather, it should be defined in terms of the activity of setting forth the good news itself. It may be done in various modes and methods. In this connection it might be well to quote a recent action of the Faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary as it sees its own purpose in connection with evangelism.
Reformed Theological Seminary defines its purpose in evangelism in terms of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), and Paul's directives for Christ's ambassadors (II Cor. 5:11-6:2). As an academic community, it approaches an evaluation of any particular method in the spirit of self-criticism; it instructs and trains students in evangelism. considering all methods in the light of their effectiveness and consistency with the biblical mandate: and it cultivates a warm concern for evangelism by speaking the truth in love and leading men to Christ. This concern is expressed in missions and various types of evangelism (such as personal, intellectual, pastoral, and ecclesiastical), and through mass communication media (radio, television, and literature). In evangelism, the Christian becomes all things to all men, using all available means to save some (I Cor. 9:22): and he rejoices whenever people are brought to new life in Christ, whether by His proclamation of Christ or by that of others (Phil. 1:15-18) 1
It should be noted that in this definition of the purpose of the seminary in evangelism there is the recognition that the mandate for it comes from the Great Commission and Paul's testimony as a Christian ambassador. There is also the recognition that various methods of setting forth the good news may be valid. Finally, it should be observed that even if one differs with the methodology of another in this area, Christians should join in rejoicing over the conversion of lost sinners to Christ.
To return to the basic defining idea of what evangelism is, it should be observed that evangelism is to be defined as the setting forth of the good news of the Gospel of Christ, and not on the basis of the results of that proclamation. Very simply stated, evangelism involves the telling of the truth about the Gospel to sinners. There are many elements that may be included in this statement of the truth, such as, the Bible view of God, our need of a Saviour due to our sinfulness, and the saving work of our Lord. A study of the presentations of the Gospel by Jesus and the apostles will reveal that there is no stereotyped form in which this Gospel was presented. In each case there is variety as to the specific content set forth, and in the way in which it was done. This will come out more clearly as biblical examples are considered.
A. The Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God. In order to summarize briefly the Reformed view of salvation and its emphasis on the sovereignty of God, we shall review the "so-called" five points of Calvinism. These points were set forth in the Canons of Dort (161 9), in opposition to the opposite positions taken by the Remonstrants. The problem raised by the Remonstrants, and dealt with by the Synod of Dort are the problems of the nature of the Gospel, and thus to review the decisions of Dort will be to review the basic issues of the Gospel itself.
1. The total or radical depravity and inability of man. Dort concluded that the Bible teaches that sin radically affected all men. They have become sinners by nature. The heart of man has been corrupted by sin. Thus all his actions are tainted by sin.
Man was originally formed after the image of god. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.
Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature, in consequence of the just judgment of God.
Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to reformation. (III, 4).
The Westminster Standards teach the same thing. The Confession says:
By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.
They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation.
From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions (WCF VI, 2, 3, 4).
The Larger Catechism also teaches this doctrine:
The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually, which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions. (LC 25).
Not only is he totally depraved, but as the Canons indicate he is unable to change his nature. "Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:7,8). Not only can he not change his nature, he does not want to change it "and Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5) and Jehovah smelled the sweet savor; and Jehovah said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground anymore for man's sake, for that the imagination of man's heart is. evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21a).
When the evangelist recognizes the biblical teaching of the total depravity and inability of man, he may wonder why he should try to evangelize such men. He may feel that it is useless to do so. Even Paul spoke of "the foolishness of preaching" (I Cor. 1:21). Such would be the case were it not for the sovereign grace of God (cf. I Cor. 1:18-21; II Cor. 4:1-7). This leads to the next point developed by the Synod of Dort, namely, the election of some to salvation.
2. Unconditional or sovereign election. The Synod saw that Scripture teaches that God did not leave all men in their lost situation. Rather He has graciously elected some to everlasting life.
Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the mediator and head of the elect and foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his word and spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of his Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of his mercy, and for the praise of the riches of his glorious grace; as it is written: "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the beloved" (Eph. 1:4,5,6). And elsewhere: whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified them he also glorified (Rom. 8:30). (I, 7).
Again the Westminster Confession of Faith is quite explicit on this doctrine.
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto, and all to the praise of his glorious grace. (WCF III, 2, 3, 5).
No man would or could come to God, unless God initiated the action. The good news of the Gospel is that God has and does so initiate such action, out of his sovereign good pleasure (cf. John 6:44; Rom. 9:11 ff.; Eph. l:4ff.).
Because He has elected some to everlasting life, He has provided salvation for them in Christ. The biblical teaching of the doctrine of election has led some to hold erroneously that the Gospel is to he preached to all men indiscriminately (cf. Acts 17:30; 1:8). The Reformed evangelist takes comfort in the fact that since God has elected some to life, He will make the preaching of the Word effectual unto salvation in the hearts of the elect (cf. Acts 18:10; 13:48; 2:47). This is to anticipate the fourth point of the Canons of Dort.
3. The Definite Atonement. The fact that God has only elected some to salvation implies that the salvation He has provided in Christ is designed to save only the elect and not all.
". . . it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to him by the Father: that he should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death: should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing: and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever. (11.8).
The Westminster Confession says:
The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.
To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation, effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation. (WCF VIII, 5, 8; cf. WCF III, 6).
The Larger Catechism also teaches the same:
Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering himself a sacrifice without spot to God, to be a reconciliation for the sins of his people; and in making continual intercession for them. (LC, A. 44;cf. LC, A. 59, 60).
If the atonement were designed to save all men, then all men would be saved, once Christ had completed all the requirements of their salvation. The logic of this has not always been recognized, but with the coming of neo-orthodoxy, this sort of universalism has been openly held by a number of theologians.
The older Arminians held that the atonement of Christ just provided a universal provision of salvation, and that the decision of whether or not one would accept it was in the hands of men. Such a view of the atonement really meant that Christ did not actually accomplish the salvation of sinners. He only provided the possibility of it for all. The act that accomplishes the salvation is the act of faith by which man receives the Gospel.
The definite atonement holds that Christ had the elect in view, and that he accomplished their salvation upon the cross (cf. Matt. 1:2 1; Eph. 5:23, 25, 26; John 10:11). It is this that is proclaimed in the Gospel, and not just the possibility of salvation. That is, the Gospel offers salvation already accomplished by Christ to sinners (cf. Acts 2:36; 5:31; Rom. 3:24, 25; 5:6-11).
Though the atonement is limited in its design. there is no limitation in its value. If God had elected only one person to salvation, the price paid would have been the death of Christ. If he had elected all men, no higher price could have been exacted than this. Thus, the death of Christ was sufficient for all, though it was actually designed for and saved only the elect.
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. (II, 3).
Because it is an all-sufficient salvation, and because it is adapted to the needs of all sinners, the Gospel based upon it may be offered to all men. The fact that it is limited in God's plan only to the elect does not give us any warrant to restrict the evangelistic offer. We do not know who the elect are, and we have been commanded to preach the Gospel to the whole world (Matt. 28:19-20). The decretive will of God is not our rule of faith and practice, but His preceptive will or commandment is.
4. The Efficacious Grace. The Westminster Confession has a very fine section on "Effectual Calling." The first paragraph reads:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ: enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. (WCF X, 1; cf. WCF III, 6).
Just as God's election determined that Christ would accomplish salvation for the elect, so it also implies that He will effectually call the elect to respond to the Gospel. Without such efficacious grace men who are truly depraved and thus unable to respond to the Gospel would never come to Christ. No one can come, except the Father draw him (John. 6:44). All that the Father has elected shall come unto Him, because of the drawing power of the Holy Spirit (John 6:37, 63-65). This drawing is described in the Shorter Catechism in its definition of effectual calling. This is the work of God's Spirit by which He convinces us of our sin and misery, and enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ by faith as He is offered to us in the Gospel (cf. Tit. 3:5-6; 1 Thess. 2:13-14; Acts 16:14).
What a comfort to the evangelist, who knows that men are unable to receive the Gospel he is preaching, to know also that the Spirit of God may be accompanying that preaching with His effectual calling, thus enabling the elect to respond to the preaching of the Gospel! (cf. Acts 18:9-11).
5. The Perseverance of the Saints. The Westminster Confession devotes an entire chapter to this subject.
They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own freewill, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (WCF, XVII, 1,2; LC, A. 79, 80).
That God's will regarding election will be accomplished is one of the great doctrines that grows out of this understanding of the Gospel. This means that the salvation of the elect is assured. It is accomplished, on the one hand, through the finished work of Christ on the cross; and on the other hand, by the effectual application of it to us by the Holy Spirit. Further, there is the requirement of man's response to the Gospel, first by faith, and a persevering in that faith. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as set forth by the Canons of Dort, and held by Reformed Churches, emphasizes the human responsibility of man. Man is required to persevere (cf. II Tim. 2:19; II Pet. 1:10; Matt. 10:22; 24:13). This is guaranteed for the elect by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. It is a part of the good news of the Gospel that God does give His Spirit to His elect, and that He will finish the good work that He has begun in them (cf. Phil. 1:6; John l0:28-29; I Pet. 1:5-9).
B. The Universal Offer of the Gospel. Having dealt with the sovereignty of God aspect of the Gospel, it is now necessary for us to also state the fact that this does not exclude the idea of a universal offer of the Gospel to all men. We have already touched on this to some extent under the point dealing with election. Again the Canons of Dort assist us in this area. We have already noted the fact that the Canons speak of the sufficiency of the death of Christ to expiate the sins of the whole world. The Canons go on to say:
This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute him as saviour for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with the sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.
Moreover, the promise of the Gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinctions, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the Gospel.
And, whereas many who are called by the Gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but wholly to be imputed to themselves.
But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own. (II, 4,5,6,7).
The offer of the Gospel is to be made to all men, and it is to be understood as a sincere offer. "As many as are called by the Gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in his word what is acceptable to him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe." (III-IV, 8).
The point that we are making here is that the Reformed view of the Gospel, with its doctrines of election and definite atonement, does not eliminate or exclude the universal offer of the Gospel. Rather, it has been the understanding of the Reformed Churches that the Gospel is to be preached to all men indiscriminately. Admittedly this gives the Reformed thinker some tension in his thought as to how both can be true. It is only because the Bible teaches both that one is forced to hold to both. Were we to apply the canons of logic to either side, we might exclude the other. It is this kind of thing that men have done in the history of Christian thought. There have been those who have pressed only the doctrine of election, and have excluded the free offer of the Gospel to all men. This view is known as "hyper-Calvinism". On the other hand. there are those who want to press only the free offer, and ignore the sovereignty of God. When this is done, the inability of man is also ignored, and it is held that he is able to receive the Gospel on his own.
Such a view is essentially Pelagian in its view of man. It is held today by those who are called Arminians, named for Jacob Arminius, whose teachings brought on the Synod of Dort. It shall be our purpose in the remaining portion of this article to try to deal with the proper way in which the Gospel is to be presented by those who hold to the Reformed theological position.
A. Reformed View and Modern Evangelicalism Contrasted. As we have already noted, the particular problem faced by one who holds the Reformed faith is to keep the Biblical balance and emphasis of both the sovereignty of God and of human responsibility, or of predestination and election with the limited atonement and the free, universal offer of the Gospel. To hold either to the neglect of the other is to fall into heresy. On the other hand, to teach that since God is sovereign, man has no responsibility, is to fall into the position sometimes known as "hyper-Calvinism". On the other hand, to hold that it is all of human responsibility, and that God's sovereignty plays no (even a limited part) part, is to take the Arminian position. The true Reformed faith, however, seeks to maintain a balance between these two Biblical teachings. At this point, the true nature of the Reformed faith comes out. That is, to be Reformed is to be Biblical. This means that one will not be able to carry a principle out to its logical consequences regardless of the teaching of the Bible on the subject. Rather, one must submit his mind to the Bible, even if he is not able to rationalize how both of these two themes can fit together. This is not to say that the evangelism of one who is Reformed may be set forth in terms that are contradictory to the theology.
Rather, the theology must govern the kind of evangelism that is to be used. James I. Packer in his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God has dealt with this problem very effectively. He says, "God as King, controls all things according to His eternal purpose. As Judge, He holds all men responsible for the choices he makes and courses of action he pursues." (p. 122) It is for this reason that he feels that the proper definition of evangelism is so important. Again he says,
If we regard our job, not simply to present Christ. but actually to produce converts — to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully — our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. Techniques would become ends in themselves . . . But it is not right when we take it on us to do more than God has given us to do. It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish. To do that is to intrude ourselves into the office of the Holy Spirit, to exalt ourselves as the agents of the New Birth—thus: only by letting our knowledge of God's sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault. 2
It is the judgment of this writer that Packer has analyzed correctly what has happened in the area of evangelism. Men have been so concerned to produce results, that they have been willing to use techniques and methods that seem to work, without regard to whether they are biblical or not. As we have already noted, the Bible must be our rule not only of faith, but also of action. This is particularly so in dealing with the Gospel message.
The problem as it has developed in the American Presbyterian circles is particularly acute, because the Reformed faith itself has been generally forgotten, even by those who profess to be conservatives or Reformed. With the departure from the Biblical faith, there has also been the departure from Biblical evangelism. All too often the man who has come to an awareness of the truth of the Reformed faith, has not thought through the implications of that faith in terms of evangelism. He becomes ecclectic in his approach to his theological life. He chooses the Reformed faith for his doctrine, but since he does not see good examples of Reformed evangelism, but rather finds the evangelical Arminian appearing to be more effective in evangelism, he chooses his evangelistic method from that source. The result is a method of evangelism that is not true to his theology, or more important not true to the Word. Just because a method seems to work does not justify its use. The Roman Catholic Church was very effective in using the sword in the Spanish Inquisition, and in "evangelism" of pagan tribes in the new world. Surely we would not be ready to agree that this was a proper method of evangelism, just because it worked. Yet this seems to be the position of many good evangelical Presbyterians, who do affirm the Reformed faith as their own faith. They have not been taught the proper way in which to communicate that faith. They have simply borrowed the methods of Evangelical Arminians around them, and feel that because in their judgment it works this justifies the method. As Reformed Christians, we would insist that it is always wrong to do the wrong thing. It is always right to do the right thing in the right way, but it is not right to do the right thing in the wrong way. What is the test of rightness or wrongness? The Bible must be that test. The first paragraph of The Westminster Confession on Good Works says: "Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His Holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention." (Chapter 16, par. 1).
J. I. Packer again in his "Introductory Essay to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" has beautifully contrasted the Reformed faith with modern evangelicalism.
There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement... . Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel (the biblical Gospel) for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic Gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character in content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be helpful to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old Gospel was helpful too, more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new Gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was. God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.
From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in supposed interest of helpfulness. Accordingly, the themes of mans natural inability to believe, of God's free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ's dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not "helpful"; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their power to be saved through Christ. . . . The result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than making it possible for us to save ourselves by believing: we speak of God's love as if it were no more than the general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust: and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly acting and drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence "at the door of our hearts" for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. 3
Again it is the feeling of this writer that Packer has very accurately presented the situation in modern evangelical evangelism. We who hold the truths of the Reformed faith dear must constantly be on our guard lest the apparent success of Arminian evangelical approaches to evangelism persuade us to teach anything less than the Gospel we know to be true.
B. The Place of God's Love in Presenting the Gospel. It is common for evangelicals to teach that God loves all men. The question that needs to be asked is whether this is a Biblical representation, and whether it is the appropriate way to present the Gospel.
The proof generally given for using the idea of God's loving all men as part of the evangelistic message is a citation of John 3:16. To do so, however, is to fail to recognize that the term "world" in John 3:16 should be taken qualitatively and not quantitatively. B. B. Warfield in his excellent sermon on this text says:
The key to the passage lies. . . in the significance of the term "world". It is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when He gave His Son for it. The whole debate as to whether the love here celebrated distributes itself to each and every man that enters into the composition of the world, or terminates on the elect alone chosen out of the world, lies thus outside the immediate scope of the passage and does not supply any key to its interpretation. The passage was not intended to teach, and certainly does not teach, that God loves all men alike and visits each and every one alike with the same manifestation of His love; and as little was it intended to teach or does it teach that His love is confined to a few specially chosen individuals selected out of the world. What it is intended to do is to arouse in our hearts a wondering sense of the marvel and the mystery of the love of God for the sinful world—conceived here, not quantitatively but qualitatively as, in its very distinguishing characteristic, sinful. And search the universe through and through—in all its recesses and through all its historical development—and you will find no marvel so great, no mystery so unfathomable, as this, that the great and good God, whose perfect righteousness flames in indignation at the sight of every iniquity and whose absolute holiness recoils in abhorrence in the presence of every impurity, yet loves this sinful world—yes, has so loved it that He has given His only begotten Son to die for it. 4
R. B. Kuiper comments on the passage thus:
That God loves all men may be implied in the term "world" of John 3:16, hut that is not the point of this verse. And, God being infinite in all His attributes, the love spoken of in John 3:16 is infinite; but to deduce from the infinity of God's love that He loves all men is an obvious absurdity. One might as well make the deduction, as the church father Origen did, that God loves also the fallen angels. The sum total of men who have lived on the earth in the past, who are living here today, and who remain to be born is finite. If the number of fallen angels be added, the sum is still finite. But the infinite simply cannot be measured in finite terms. Eternity minus a billion years remains eternity. 5
It would appear that the best interpretation of John 3:16 then does not give us 'warrant' for asserting a universal love directed to all men alike.
A stronger passage for asserting that God loves all men with a universal love is to be found in Matthew 5:43-45 and Luke 6:35. The Matthew passage reads:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
Murray and Stonehouse in The Free Offer of the Gospel say of this passage:
The disciples are to love their enemies in order that they many be the sons of their father; they must imitate their father. Clearly implied is the thought that God, the Father, loves His enemies and that it is because He loves his enemies that He makes His sun rise upon them and sends them rain. This is just saying that the kindness bestowed in sunshine and rain is the expression of divine love, that back of the bestowal there is an attitude on the part of God, called love, which constrains Him to bestow these tokens of His lovingkindness. 6
What the passage is saying then is that God loves not only His friends but also His enemies. He loves all men. His love is universal in this sense. This is frequently spoken of as "common grace". It is a love that is directed to all men. It should be distinguished, however, from God's electing or saving love.
That there is such a distinguishing or saving love in the Scripture is clear. In the Old Testament God said that He set His love upon Israel as distinguished from the world around Israel.
For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. Jehovah did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all peoples: but because Jehovah loveth you, and because He would keep the oath which he sware unto your fathers hath Jehovah brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8.)
When we remember that the word "know" is frequently used in the Scripture in the pregnant sense of love, we see that such distinguishing love is frequently asserted. "For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked shall perish." (Psalm 1:6) This is not to say that the Lord does not know the ways of both the righteous and the wicked, rather it is asserting that God loves the way of the righteous, whereas the way of the wicked shall perish under His wrath. Again in Hosea 11:1 we find the fact that Israel was loved as a son in comparison to Egypt. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my Son out of Egypt." Again in verse four he says: "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love; I was to Him as they that lift up the yoke on their jaws; and I laid food before them." Again the New Testament uses the word "know" in the full sense that we have seen in Psalm 1 in Romans 8:29: "For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the first born among many brethren." Paul speaks of the election of Jacob as opposed to the reprobation of Esau in the terms of love and hatred, quoting from Malachi 1:2,3. "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth, it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Romans 9:11-13; cf. John 13:1).
As we put these passages dealing with the particular love together with those passages that teach the universal love, we must conclude that the Scripture teaches that there is a saving love, and there is also a divine love that does not save. There is an electing love. There is also a non-electing love. One may say of Esau that God hated him, as far as election was concerned. Herman Bavinck, the great Dutch theologian, said with regard to the particular love of God: "One cannot and may not say that God has loved all men, at any rate not with that special love wherewith He leads the elect to salvation." 7 To identify God's love for men in general with the love for the elect is, to say the least, misleading, and not true to the Biblical representation. It is exactly at this point that the Arminians have erred.
Arminianism teaches that God loves all men with the same love that by the death of His Son He has in that love made salvation possible for all, and that whether or not salvation shall become actual in the case of a given individual depends on the use which that individual does or does not make of his unregenerate will. Universalism goes a big step farther. It teaches that God loves all men alike and that consequently in the end all men are bound to be saved. 8
C. The Use of Expressions Such as "Christ Died for You". Along with the common practice of saying that God loves you to all men is the equally common practice of saying that "Christ died for you" to all men indiscriminately. What has been said concerning the distinction between universal and particular love must also be said about the universal benefits of Christ's death and the particular benefits of His death. It is true that there are some benefits of His death that are for all men. John Murray says this concerning these benefits:
Many benefits accrue to the non-elect from the redemptive work of Christ. There is more than one consideration to establish this proposition. Many blessings are dispensed to men indiscriminately because God is fulfilling His redemptive purpose in the world. Much in the way of order, equity, benevolence, and mercy is the fruit of the Gospel and the Gospel is God's redemptive revelation centered in the gift of His Son. Believers are enjoined to "do good to all men" (Galatians 6:10) and compliance has beneficient results. But their identity as believers proceeds from redemption. Again, it is by virtue of what Christ has done that there is a Gospel of salvation proclaimed to all without distinction. Are we to say that the unrestricted overture of grace is not grace to those to whom it comes? Furthermore, we must remember that all the good dispensed to this world is dispensed within the mediatorial dominion of Christ. He is given all authority in heaven and in earth and He is head over all things. But he is given this dominion as the reward of his obedience unto death (cf. Philippians 2:8,9) and his obedience unto death is but one way of characterizing what we mean by the atonement. Thus all the good showered on this world, dispensed by Christ in the exercise of his exalted Lordship, is related to the death of Christ and accrues to man in one way or another from the death of Christ. If so it was designed to accrue from the death of Christ. Since many of the blessings fall short of salvation and are enjoyed by many who never become the possessors of salvation, we must say that the design of Christ's death is more inclusive than the blessings that belong specifically to the atonement. This is to say that even the non-elect are embraced in the design of the atonement in respect of those blessings falling short of salvation which they enjoy in this life. This is equivalent to saying that the atonement sustains this reference to the non-elect and it would not be improper to say that, in respect of what is entailed for the non-elect, Christ died for them? 9
On the other hand Murray makes the point very clearly that there is a radical difference between the design for the atonement for the elect and the design for the non-elect.
The difference can be stated bluntly to be that the non-elect do not participate in the benefits of the atonement and the elect do. The non-elect enjoy many benefits that accrue from the atonement but they do not partake of the atonement. 10
Just as in the case of the statement that God loved you can be misleading, so the statement that Christ died for you can be misleading. When one is presenting the Gospel, he is not talking about these general benefits that accrue from the atonement, but rather he is talking about the atonement itself. Bavinck says, "The preaching of the Gospel does not say to each person, head for head: Christ died in your place, all your sins are atoned and forgiven." 11
William Cunningham, the great Scottish theologian of the last century says that the revelation of the word
does not warrant us in telling them that Christ died for all and each of the human race—the mode of preaching the Gospel never adopted by our Lord and His apostles—yet it does authorize and enable us to lay before men. . . facts and arguments, which.., should warrant and persuade all to whom they are addressed to lay hold on the hope set before them ... 12
R. B. Kuiper again has a very pertinent statement regarding this way of preaching the Gospel:
The statement "Christ died for you", when addressed indiscriminately to the unconverted, is grossly ambiguous. It bypasses the primary design of the atonement, the salvation of the elect. In an environment in which Arminianism and Universalism are rampant, as they are in these United States of America and in a great many other lands besides, it is bound to prove misleading. In numerous instances the person addressed will conclude that Christ by His death designed to save him. But no one can tell him that with certainty. Now in the presentation of the Gospel there is neither need nor room for ambiguity. It must be unequivocal. The sinner must needs be told what Paul and Silas told the jailer at Philippi: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). He is to be told that Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6); that God makes to every ungodly person a bonafide offer of salvation if he repents and abandons himself to the Christ crucified; that God urgently invites him to repent and believe because He does not desire the death of any but the salvation of all; that God will not merely be pleased to save him if he repents and believes but, in the words of Calvin, that "God desires nothing more earnestly" than that he would repent and believe and thus be saved. 13
A careful reading of the entire book of Acts, the only record of evangelism practiced by the New Testament Church, is very revealing. Not once do we find these New Testament evangelists saying that God loves their hearers indiscriminately, or saying to them, "Christ died for you." Further it is striking to see the forms in which Christ was offered to sinners, such as Lord (Acts 2:37; 10:36; 14:23; 16:31; 20:21; 26:15), and Judge (Acts 10:42; 17:31; 24:25), as well as Savior.
D. The Doctrine of Election and Reprobation and Evangelism. It has sometimes been maintained that the doctrines of election and reprobation are not a part of the evangelistic message, and should not be preached to the unbelievers. One wonders whether Paul would have agreed with such a position. In Acts 20:26,27 he says, "Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God." It seems clear that he is speaking of his evangelistic preaching, and that this included the whole counsel of God. Jesus Himself set forth the concept of God's sovereign election in connection with the free invitation of the Gospel. "All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). Again in the same message he said, "No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). It was in the end of this chapter, that many turned away from him. Can we presume to be better than Jesus in this area? He knew what he was doing when he proclaimed the whole counsel of God to lost sinners. Who are we to think that we are wiser than Jesus in selecting only certain portions of the Word to be proclaimed to sinners?
It is interesting to note that in the history of the church, there have been great evangelistic messages which included the doctrines of election and reprobation as part of that message.
David Brainerd in 1745 spoke of the amazing revival that came to the Indians under his preaching. Concerning the way in which he preached he said,
Those doctrines, which had the most direct tendency to humble the fallen creature, to show him the misery of his natural state, to bring him down to the foot of Sovereign Mercy, and to exalt the great Redeemer—discover his transcendent excellency—were the subject matter of what was delivered. 14
Iain Murray concludes this article with the following statement:
It remains for us to briefly summarize some reasons why these doctrines are essential to a Scriptural presentation of the Gospel. The natural man is content to live "without God in the world— (Eph. 2:12) until he sees the dreadfulness of his condition and the desirableness of conversion. This discovery comes to him by the apprehension that he is a creature of God, bound to obey His law in every point, yet because of his sin unable to do so. His duty to meet God's righteous claims is the same as when God created him perfect and holy; his inability is a proof of the fall and of his sin. He is still a creature and has not lost his responsibility, but as a sinner he is now "not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). He has lost his ability to obey God. Guilt and helplessness are the causes of the sinner's misery, and only when he comes to self-despair does he start to "fear God which is the beginning of Wisdom" (Ps. 111:10). Pride is the grand obstacle to conversion, and nothing more humbles man than to realize that he depends upon the sovereign mercy of God, and that Christ alone is able to save him.
Man's sinful inability applies equally to the commands of the Gospel. Faith and repentance are his duty, God has commanded them Just as He has commanded the law; but he can no more believe and love Christ than he can believe and love God—which is the First Commandment. The natural man is no more able to decide for Christ than he is able to decide to keep the law. Therefore while the preacher is to exhort men to believe on Christ, he is at the same time to plainly declare that conversion is a work of divine power. Saving faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8) and not to teach this leads to the fatal error of accepting and mere profession of assent to the Gospel as a sign of salvation. There is a temporary faith (Matt. 4:16-17), and there is the faith of devils who believe and tremble (Jas. 2:19). The faith of God's elect (Titus 1:1) is of an entirely different nature and origin; it involves a renewal of the whole person; God makes a new creature, implants new principle in the soul— a hatred of sin, love of holiness, desires for heaven. To teach that a soul has a saving faith before these marks of his "calling and election" (11 Pet. 1:10) by God are evident, leads to antinomianism, carelessness, and the eternal delusion of multitudes. Unless these truths of God's sovereignty in conversion are taught, Luther rightly says, "Every man will bolster himself up with a delusive hope of a share in that salvation which is supposed to lie open to all; and thus genuine humility in fear of God would be kicked out of doors." In conclusion, we would assert that unless the doctrines of grace underlie the presentation of the Gospel, a true view of the glorious nature of conversion is impossible. Edwards tells us that prior to the revival in New England there had been "a great deal of talk about conversion and spiritual experiences," but when persons became the subjects of conversion they declared their former idea of it was "brought to nothing. . . they have seen themselves brought down, and become nothing; that free grace and divine power may be exalted in them. 15
E. Biblical Evangelism.
1. The Message of Evangelism. As we have already noted, Paul insists that the Gospel message includes a declaration of the whole counsel of God. for anyone familiar with the Scriptures, it is obvious that the person and work of Christ are central themes of the entire book. Packer says,
In a word, the evangelistic message is the Gospel of Christ, and Him crucified; the message of man's sin and God's grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a message made-up of four essential ingredients. 16
He then goes on to develop the four basic elements. We shall summarize these. The first is that the Gospel message is about God. It is an announcement of who He is, His attributes, His standards and requirements for us. Involved in this, is also our relationship to Him as His creatures, made for His glory. As Packer says,
These truths are the foundation of theistic religion, and until they are grasped the rest of the Gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here, with the assertion of man's complete and constant dependence on his creator, that the Christian story starts. 17
It is interesting to observe the sermons in the book of Acts. They all either assume this doctrine, on the basis of the knowledge of the listeners of the Old Testament, or they taught it to pagan listeners. We see, therefore, that the doctrine of creation is basic in the presentation of the Gospel. It is only as we know of ourselves as the creatures of the living God, that we can also know of what sin is, and what the good news of salvation from sin is. The second basic ingredient of the Gospel is the message about sin. Involved in this is the fact of our fall, and then our continuing in our guilty, filthy, and helpless state. Men need to be faced with the awfulness of sin, and to come to despair of any help in themselves. It is when they realize this that they are aware of the need of salvation. Packer emphasizes the fact that we need to bring men to a conviction of sin. He suggests three signs of true conviction. First it is an awareness of the wrong relationship with God. Second, there is a sense of guilt for particular wrongs done in the sight of God. Third, conviction includes conviction of sinfulness. It is a sense of one's own corruption and perversity before God. Psalm 51 speaks of both the transgressions and the sinful nature (cf. vs. 4-6). In the Psalm the Psalmist confesses both as his own. The third basic element of the Gospel is the message about what He has done. It is important for us in the presentation of the Gospel not to leave out either of these elements. It is necessary to point men to the person of Christ as the object of their trust, and also to that which He has done for them as the object of their faith. Jesus calls men to come unto Himself to receive rest from their labors (Matt. 11:28), and Paul points to faith in His blood as the means of our justification (Rom. 8:24-25).
The final element of the Gospel is the summons to faith and repentance. The demand of the Gospel is for both of these. On the one hand, it's not sufficient just to turn from sin, or repent. On the other hand, it is not sufficient just to talk about faith in Christ without turning from one's sin. Both are necessary. True saving faith involves Godly repentance. In this connection it is striking to see how often repentance is used as the primary word to call men in the Scriptures (cf. Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; II Tim. 2:25). Sad to say in our day and age this is all too often neglected. Packer says,
Our task in evangelism is to reproduce as faithfully as possible the New Testament emphasis. To go beyond the New Testament or to distort its viewpoint or shift its stress, is always wrong. . . . The Gospel is not "believe that Christ died for everybody's sins, and therefore for yours," anymore than it is "believe that Christ died only for certain people's sins, and so perhaps not for yours." The Gospel is, "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sins, and now offers you himself as your Saviour." This is the message which we are to take to the world. We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement; our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him.
It was because they had both grasped this that John Wesley and George Whitefield could regard each other as brothers in evangelism, though they differed on the extent of the atonement. For their views on this subject did not enter into their Gospel preaching. Both were content to preach the Gospel just as it stands in Scripture: that is, to proclaim the living Christ, the virtue of His reconciling death in Him, to offer Him to sinners, and to invite the lost to come to Him and so to find life. 18
2. The Universal Proclamation of the Gospel. (The "Free Offer" of the Gospel). In addition to the treatment of the message of evangelism, it is also important that we take a look at the nature of the "free offer" of the Gospel.
Iain Murray in an article entitled "The Free Offer of the Gospel, Viewed in the Light of the Marrow Controversy" 19 makes some very good points, which shall be summarized here: First of all, he points out that the term "offer" of the Gospel is rooted in the Reformers, and occurs in the Reformed Confession. For example, "God invites all indiscriminately by outward preaching", says Calvin, and in this invitation "is the grace of God offered to us." 20 The Canons of Dort read: "It is the promise of the Gospel that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified should not perish, but have life everlasting, which promise, together with the injunction of repentance and faith, ought promiscuously, and without distinction, to be,declared, and published to all men and people" (Ch. 2, Art. 5). Again the Westminster Confession says: "He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved (Ch. 7, Par. 3).
In Scottish history, it was in the Marrow controversy that this matter was debated most clearly. Three great preachers of the period were Thomas Boston (1676-1732), Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754) and Ralph Erskine (1685-1752). There were those who opposed Marrow-men by denying the universal call and offer of the Gospel. They maintained that only the conscious sinner, the convinced and contrite, have a warrant to come to Christ. In other words, the only warrant for a person's coming is to be found in inward qualifications, and not the divine command and promise. It was in opposition to this that the Marrow-men argued for the universal offer of the Gospel. They taught that it was:
1. A free offer. "Christ invites all without distinction, even the worst of sinners, to this spiritual feast: Isa. 55:1, 'Ho, everyone that thirsteth. . .'; Rev. 22:17, 'and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely'. These are Gospel-invitations, clogged with no conditions, comprehending all who are willing to receive Christ, whatever their case is or has been." 21 The Marrow-men did not deny that a preparatory work of conviction was necessary, but they insisted that the warrant to believe lay not in that innerwork, but in the free offer of the Gospel.
2. A particular offer. "The general call and offer of the Gospel reaches every individual (who hears it), and God speaks to every sinner as particularly as though He named them by his name and surname. Remission of sins is preached to you, we beseech you to be reconciled, the promise is unto you; and for my part I do not know what sort of a Gospel men make, who do not admit this." 22
3. A real and sincere offer. Again Ebenezer Erskine says: "God offers Christ cordially and affectionately in the Gospel; His very heart goes out after sinners in the call and offer thereof. It is not possible to conceive anything more affectionate than the words in which he bespeaks sinners, Isa. 55:1-3; Ezek. 33:11; Hosea 11:8. God—s whole heart and soul is in the offer and promise of the Gospel." 23
4. A commanding offer.
Sinners must come in. "Compel them to come in" (Luke 14:23). Sirs, ye not only may come, but ye must come, even the worst of you. Ye are not only desired to come in, but ye must not abide without. Consider, "This is His commandment that ye believe" (I John 3:23). Ye are preemptory commanded to come in. Therefore I charge you in His name to come in, and not disobey His preemptory command. Those that were first bidden to His supper, they would not come, but they sent their excuses: But were their excuses sustained? No! God passes a preemptory sentence against them.., this is the duty God has commanded you: (John 6:29) "this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He bath sent." This is the great comprehensive duty:, ye do all; if ye do not this, ye do nothing. 24
5. An urgent and solemn offer. The case is made here that this is the only offer of grace that men shall have. There shall be no second chances after this life.
O children of the house of hell, close with the offer of adoption into God's family! I beseech you to accept it, nay, I charge you to come out from among them this day, and enter into God's family through Jesus Christ, under the pain of God's eternal displeasure. 25
Murray then goes on to deal with the question of whether the Marrow-type of evangelism is essentially different from that of Arminianism. He indicates that there are four areas of difference. First, the Arminians deduce from the offers and invitation of the Gospel that man has ability to respond. The Marrow-men, in contrast, asserted the distinction between what a man may, and ought to do, and what a man can, or will do. "They affirm God's right to call and command, but also man's sinful inability to repent and believe. None taught human depravity more clearly than Boston and the Erskines." 26
A second difference is that the Marrow-men held with Reformed theology that the Holy Spirit is necessary to make the external call of the Gospel efficacious in the heart of men. The Arminian view is that there is sufficient grace given to all men.
The third difference is that Arminians set forth a universal atonement, whereas the Reformed view asserts that the atonement is designed only for the salvation of the elect. The Marrow-men
affirmed that while the Gospel offer expresses God's revealed purpose to save all who believe on His Son, it does not express God's unrevealed and sovereign will as it relates to election and the extent of the atonement. Although God's secret will regulates all His dispensations towards its creatures, it forms no part of the rule either of our faith or of our duty. The unconverted are not called upon to believe that they are elected or that Christ died for them in particular. 27
The fourth difference has to do with the love of God. The Arminians hold that God loves all men equally and alike. The Marrow-men affirmed that the universal expression of God's benevolence and compassion contained in the Gospel offer was not the same as His electing love. If one tries to deal with the question of whether the doctrine of election excludes the free offer, the answer must be given that the Scriptures teach both the general invitations of the Gospel, and the particular and special work of Christ. God has not chosen to reveal clearly how both truths are consistent with each other. "A minister should preach a full, unfettered Gospel because God has commanded it to be preached to every creature. He has forbidden His ministers to exclude any man from his offer." (Ibid. p. 13). 28
The sole ground or warrant for man's act, in offering pardon and salvation to their fellowman, is the authority and command of God in His Word. We have no other warrant than this; we need no other; and we should seek or desire none; but on this ground alone should consider ourselves not only warranted, but bound, to proclaim to our fellowman the good news of the kingdom, and to call upon them to come to Christ that they may be saved. 29
When we admit that we are unable to harmonize in our mind the limited atonement and the unlimited offer of the Gospel, we are not positing that there is any inconsistency between the two.
The Gospel offer contains nothing that is not absolutely truthful. All who comply with its directions shall certainly be saved. If some will not comply the cause lies in themselves. The decree of reprobation leaves men to do as they like and it is only their sin that hinders them from trusting in Christ. 30
In this connection, it should be pointed out that the proper preaching of the Gospel should be truthful. It is improper for us to present the Gospel in terms that are not biblically warranted. For this reason it would seem best to couch the terms of invitation and presentation of the Gospel in biblical terms, or in terms that can by good and necessary consequence be deduced from the Scripture. (lain Murray gives a number of quotes on the free offer of the Gospel from Calvin, Puritans, and from Robert Murray McCheyne).
An excellent little booklet on the subject of the free offer of the Gospel has been prepared by Professors John Murray and N. B. Stonehouse as part of a report to the 15th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in l948. 31 In this booklet various scriptural passages are exegeted. It will not be our intention to repeat that exegesis, but to bring in the conclusions that have been reached. Some of the passages dealt with are Matthew 5:44-48; Deut. 5:29; 32:29; Psalm 81:13ff.; Isa. 48:18; Matt. 23:37; Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; Isa. 45:22; II Pet. 3:9. As conclusions, the committee found five basic points. First, that the grace of God bestowed in ordinary providence expresses the love of God, and that this love as the source of the gifts is bestowed and enjoyed by the ungodly as well as the Godly. Second, that God Himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things, which He has not decreed. In other words, that there is a distinction to be made between His decretive will, and His preceptive will. Admittedly this involves a great mystery as to why he has not decreed what He indicates is an urgent desire. The fact is, however, that such is the case. Third, Christ Himself commanded that the Gospel be preached to all, even those who were not decreed to be saved. Fourth, God clearly reveals Himself as not taking pleasure in, or desiring the death, of those who die, but rather as taking pleasure in the repentance and salvation of the wicked. This pleasure of God is expressed in the universal call to repentance. Fifth, "the full and free offer of the Gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness." In saying this, however, the thought is not that one should tell all men that they are equally the objects of God's saving love. There is a distinction to be made between the love of common grace, and the distinguishing electing love of God which results in the salvation of His own. For one to assert that God loves all men equally and in the same way, is to assert something that is not true to the Bible. If one does make this assertion, he cannot preach the distinguishing grace of God found in the doctrine of election.
This is not to deny that many are saved through the Arminian message. God can use even the crooked stick. What is required of Biblical Christians is to seek to conform their practice to the Bible. Anything less will involve them in defective evangelism, and therefore less effective ministry for the glory of Christ.
Christians should certainly seek to inculcate in their hearts and lives a zeal for evangelism. This can best be done first of all by being involved in evangelism. Such involvement may take on various forms, such as, preaching evangelistic services, personal evangelism, campus evangelism, setting forth the Gospel in a written form, etc. Due to the natural sluggishness of sinful men, this zeal must be constantly cultivated by each believer. We find the example of the New Testament church in Acts 4:29 praying that God would give them boldness to speak the Word. The answer to this prayer came in verse 31 "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken wherein they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness." It would seem that the Biblical example then is for us to pray for such boldness, and to expect that God would give it to us.
One other point that needs to be stressed is the fact that the Reformed faith involves the whole man. That is, Reformed theology inculcates into one's thinking a world and life philosophy, which involves everything that he does. This type of thought needs to be passed on to all Christians. It is as they are seeking the glory of God in every phase of life that they will be the most effective evangelists. Sometimes this may involve the direct approach, using tracts, or a pressing of the message upon an individual. At other times, it may not be so direct, yet the very quality of life that the Reformed believer displays should itself be an attraction to the lost around us, so that they will want the quality of life that we have. In this sense then a passion for the glory of God becomes a passion for the lost around us.
In this work it has been our desire to set forth the basic theological position that all Reformed believers hold, emphasizing both the sovereignty of God aspect of salvation, and also the universal offer of the Gospel. We have tried to face some of the problems that arise out of holding both of these doctrines in tension. We have tried also to set forth what we believe to be a better form of evangelism than is so commonly held by evangelical Christians of our day. It is the prayer of this writer that this article may be helpful in guiding Christians into the most consistent type of Biblical and Reformed evangelism.
1. "Minutes of the Faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary," January 6, l972, p. 251, par. 6-174.
2. Packer, James I., Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1961, pp. 27-29.
3. Packer, James I., "Introductory Essay to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ," pamphlet, no publisher listed, pp. 1-5.
4. Warfield, Benjamin B., The Saviour of the World, Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Mack Publishing Company, 1972, pp. 8 1-82. Also found iWarfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1952.
5. Kuiper, R. B., "Professor Dekker on God's Universal Love," Torch and Trumpet, Vol. 13, p. 5.
6. Murray, John and Stonehouse, Ned B., The Free Offer of the Gospels Phillipsburg, New Jersey: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948, p. 6.
7. Bavinck, Herman, Gereformeerde Dogmatick, Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1928, Vol. III, p. 530.
8. Kuiper, Op. cit., p. 8.
9. Murray, John, "The Free Offer of the Gospel and the Extent of the Atonement," Torch and Trumpet, Vol. 15, p. 20. Also in Banner of Truth, No. 58, 59,60
10. Ibid., p. 22.
11. Op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 5.
12. Cunningham, William, Historical Theology, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1870, Vol. II, p. 344.
13. Op. cit., p. 8-9.
14. Murray, lain, "The Presentation of the Gospel and the Doctrines of Grace," Banner of Truth, Fourth Issue, p. 26.
15. Ibid. pp. 27-28.
16. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Op. Cit., p. 57.
17. Ibid., p. 58.
18. Ibid., pp. 68-69.
19. Murray, Iain, Banner of Truth, Issue 11.
20. Calvin, John, Tracts, Vol. 3, pp. 25 3-4.
21. Boston, Thomas, Works, Vol. 10, p. 95.
22. Erskine, Ebenezer, Gospel Truth, p. 355.
23. Erskine, Op. cit., p. 365.
24. Boston, Op. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 288-9.
25. Boston, Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 651.
26. Murray, Iain, Banner of Truth, Issue 11, p. 12.
28. Ibid., p. 13.
29. Cunningham, Op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 347-8.
30. Murray, Iain, Banner of Truth, Issue 11, p. 13.
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