Many people believe that God has a balance or a set of scales in heaven. Into one side, He places our bad works; and into the other side, He places our evil works. If our good works outweigh our evil works, we will go to heaven. If our evil works outweigh our good works, we will not go to heaven, at least not immediately.
But that is not what the Bible, which is God's Word, teaches.
What is a good work according to the Bible?
Christians everywhere glory in the cross. To Christians the cross is salvation. But Christians are divided on what the cross means, for whom the cross was intended and what the cross accomplished. By "cross" I mean, of course, the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, or His atonement.
A comparison between the popular Christ who wants to save everybody and the Christ of the Bible who actually saves His people.
For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour ...
Who is the Saviour?
The Only Saviour
In this passage God declares Himself to be the Saviour. He emphasizes the fact that He alone is the Saviour. The word I in the text is emphatic. God says, I, the Lord... your Saviour. This emphasis is even stronger in verse 11 of Isa. 43. There God says, I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. He does not simply say, I, but He says, I even I... God wants to make it very clear that He is the only Saviour. Beside Him there is no Saviour.
We might wonder why God puts such great emphasis upon His identity as the Saviour. Don't we all know that God is the only Saviour? Doesn't just about everybody know that?
The answer to that question is, No! There are many who are either ignorant of the fact that He is the only Saviour or they deny that He is the only Saviour. That is true today just as it was in the days when this Word of the Lord was given to the people of Israel.
Throughout her history, by word or deed, Israel denied that God was the Saviour. She was continually going awhoring after other gods. This was true at the very beginning of her history as a nation. Immediately after God had led Israel out of the house of bondage in Egypt, while He was giving the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, Israel built a golden calf and worshipped that calf as her Saviour. During the time of the Judges, over and over again Israel turned to the gods of the Canaanites so that God had to send her enemies against her in judgment. The same thing was true in the time of the kings after the death of Solomon. Israel fell into great apostasy, denying the only Saviour, so that finally God had to lead her away into captivity.
What was true of Israel is also true of the Church of today. The Church as it is manifested in the world (all that goes by the name of Church) is, for the most part, ignorant of or denies the true Saviour. Oh, there is much talk about God and Christ. We hear the name Jesus all the time-so much so that one tires of it. These names, however, have been drained of their meaning. Even though people take these names upon their lips, they do not know of whom they speak. People have so many misconceptions about God and Christ that the God and Christ of most people are not the God and Christ of the Bible. Today God is considered by most to be a weak and helpless God who does not rule this world. He is brought down to the level of man. There is very little respect for Him. He is common-just a buddy. In fact, He is made even lower than man. For man is able to frustrate the will of God by his will. God is supposed to love everyone and want everyone to be saved. God, however, does not get what He wants because many refuse to receive Him as their Saviour.
Is this the god who is the only Saviour? No! Certainly not! We must, therefore, not only take careful note of the fact that the true God is the only Saviour, but we must also take note of His description of Himself as the only Saviour. In this passage God refers to Himself as the Saviour by means of three of His names-Jehovah, Holy One, and God. By these three names we learn precisely who the Saviour is.
The Saviour Is JEHOVAH
First let us notice that the Saviour is not dependent upon man and his will, for His name is Jehovah. He says, For I am the LORD... Here the name LORD is literally Jehovah. Whenever the King James Version has the name LORD in all capital letters it is the name Jehovah. This is the personal name of God. It teaches us much about the Saviour. The meaning of this name is given to us in Ex. 3:14-15, And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. ...this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. The name Jehovah means I AM. The Saviour is not I HAVE BEEN, I WAS, or I WILL BE. His name is I AM. He does not merely exist. He does not simply possess life. The Saviour is life. As the I AM, He IS.
This name teaches us that the Saviour is the absolutely independent One, Who is Himself the only ground and cause of His own being. He is the very opposite of His creation. We are all utterly dependent. The inspired apostle Paul says, ...he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things... For in him we live, and move, and have our being... (Acts 17:25-28). We are dependent upon God for life and breath and all things. It is by the power of God that we live and move and have our being. We could not exist without God.
But that is not true of God. The Saviour needs no one and no thing. All that He is, He is in Himself. He receives nothing from outside of Himself. He is totally self-sufficient. Jesus says, For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. (John 5:26). As the I AM, the Saviour has life in Himself. No one can add to or take away from the Saviour. If we could take away the sun, moon, and stars; the mountains, rivers, and trees; animals, men, and angels; yea, the whole world; we would not take anything away from the Saviour. He is just as great and glorious with or without us. He does not need any of us.
That the Saviour is I AM implies all of His other glorious attributes. He is the UNCHANGEABLE Saviour. I AM does not change. I AM does not increase or decrease. I AM is always the same or He would not be I AM. He is the ETERNAL Saviour. I AM is not subject to time. He does not have a beginning or end. He is not limited by the progression of events. He is above time. Time does not apply to I AM. He is the EVERYWHERE-PRESENT Saviour. He is not here today and there tomorrow. Then there would be change in Him. Since He is I AM, He must be I AM everywhere at the same time. I AM can not be limited by space. He is the ALL-KNOWING Saviour. One can not add to the knowledge of I AM nor take away from it. The knowledge of I AM is always complete and constant. He always knows all things. He is the ALL-POWERFUL Saviour. I AM has all power so that there is no power beside His power. If another being had power, I AM could be changed. But I AM is always I AM. He alone has all the power.
That the Saviour is Jehovah (I AM ) means that He is not weak and helpless as so many seem to think. He is not dependent upon man, man's will, or anyone else. These are terrible misconceptions of the Saviour. The true Saviour is an unsearchably great and glorious Saviour, Who needs no one-certainly not us finite creatures. We ought to recognize His greatness and praise and honour Him for it. We must say with the inspired psalmist, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. (Ps. 145:3).
The Saviour Is The HOLY ONE
The second name by which the Saviour identifies Himself in this passage is the name-Holy One. The Saviour is not ordinary or common as so many think. He is not one of us-not just a buddy of ours. The Saviour is the Holy One of Israel (v. 3).
The word, Holy, means set apart, separate. It refers to something that is sacred rather than common. That the Saviour is holy means that He is set apart from all other beings. He is completely different. There is no being in all the world who is like the Saviour. There is not even another being that is close enough to the Saviour to be likened unto Him. In Ex. 15:11 the questions is asked, Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Oh, what a question? Who is like the Saviour? Can you find any earthly man-some great king or mighty emperor-who is like Jehovah? Can you find an angel of heaven who can be compared to Him? Perhaps, Michael or Gabriel? The obvious answer is, No. There is no one who is like the Saviour. He stands alone.
That is because the Saviour, in both His being and work, is high and lifted up. For Thou, Lord, art high above all gods. (Ps. 97:9). He is infinitely exalted above all other beings. Even the greatest of His creatures are nothing in comparison to Him. In Isa. 40:15,17 we read, Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing ... All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. All the nations of the world are so insignificant in comparison to the Saviour that they are like the dust that collects on the balances-so light that it does not even affect the weight. If you could add up all the nations of the world, you would come up with less than nothing. That is the holiness of the Saviour in comparison with the world.
That the Saviour is holy not only means that He is holy in His being, but also that He is ethically holy. The Saviour is without moral imperfections. He is absolutely free from all sin and evil. There is no wickedness in His being and there is none in all of His activities. All that the Saviour is and does is ethically perfect. We may never question His ethical perfection.
That is why the Saviour is not a God of love only. He loves righteousness and the righteous in Christ. But because He is holy, He hates unrighteousness and the unrighteous. His holiness demands that He hate the unrighteous. He would not be holy if He did not hate the wicked. Thus the psalmist declares, The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. (Ps. 11:4). In His love the Saviour tries the righteous, but He hates the wicked.
Nor is it true that the Saviour is good to everyone. As the Holy One, He must judge and condemn the wicked. He can not tolerate wickedness nor the wicked in His presence. The psalmist says, Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright. (Ps. 11:6) The Saviour so hates the wicked that, in this life as well as in hell, He rains destruction upon their heads. He is the Holy One of Israel.
The Saviour Is GOD
The third name by which the Saviour identifies Himself is the name-God. The Saviour is not weak and helpless. His world is not out of control. For the Saviour is none other than God himself. He is the Master of the universe-the Ruler and King of the world. He is the sovereign Lord who rules, directs, and controls all things.
The psalmist declares, Our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. (Ps. 115:3). The Saviour who reins on high accomplishes all of His good pleasure by the power of His providence. He has eternally willed and planned all things. Nothing is outside of His eternal decree. That decree can not be frustrated. Not even man can keep the Saviour from getting exactly what He wants. For, as God, the Saviour has the power to bring about all that He has eternally willed. No one can stop Him as He Himself declares in Isa. 43 verse 13, Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it? The Saviour works and no one will let it-reverse it.
Surely this means that the Saviour can and does save all whom He desires to save. He saves by His sovereign will and power and no one can stop Him. In fact, the Saviour's saving acts are so powerful and so great that He calls them His wonders. As the sovereign God, the Saviour performs mighty deeds for the salvation of His people. We read of them in Ps. 145:4-6, One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of they wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness. The acts of the Saviour are mighty and awe-inspiring acts. His works are wondrous. All who know the power of His grace are witnesses of His great deeds. In Isa. 43:10 we read, Ye are my witnesses saith the Lord... Therefore, we are to declare His wondrous works to our generations and praise the glory of the great Saviour.
The Glorious Triune God In Christ
These three individual names-Jehovah, Holy One, and God-teach us much about the Saviour. However, if we take these three names together they teach us even more.
First of all notice that these three names teach us that the Saviour is a very great and glorious Saviour. He is so wonderful that He shines with all the splendour of the sun-yea, infinitely brighter than the sun. He is glorious in all of His being and all of His actions. He is so glorious that all things serve the manifestation of His great glory. All creatures in heaven and earth have their existence in order to show forth the glory of God. Even man serves the glory of God-both the righteous and the wicked. The manifestation of the glory of the Saviour is man's highest purpose-even higher than salvation itself. In Isa. 43 verse 7 we read ... for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea I have made him. This verse does not refer to physical creation, but spiritual creation-salvation. The Saviour saves His people, not for salvation's sake, but for the sake of His glory. The glory of the Saviour is so great that even salvation serves Him.
In the second place these three names teach us that the Saviour is the triune God. The Saviour is not simply Jesus. This is what so many say today. They are always taking about Jesus as the Saviour. But they do not connect Jesus with God. Most people who speak of Jesus don't understand the most fundamental points about God. That is why their Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Saviour is not simply Jesus, but the triune God-Jehovah God, the Holy One of Israel. That is what God declares in this passage, I am the Lord thy God, the Holy one of Israel, thy Saviour...
Nevertheless, we must learn in the third place that Jesus is indeed the Saviour—as the revelation of the triune God. The triune God is the Saviour in and through Jesus Christ. In Christ is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In Christ we see God, the Saviour. This is indicated by the fact that all three of these names apply to Jesus.
Jesus is Jehovah. The name Jesus means, Jehovah Salvation. Every time Jesus said, I AM, He identified Himself as Jehovah. He said, I am the bread of life. I am the water of life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, and the life. By these statements He said, I am Jehovah.
He is also the Holy One. The apostle Peter preached to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you. In Christ is all the holiness of the triune God. He has the same attitude of love toward the righteous and hatred toward the wicked as God does.
He is Himself very God. The apostle John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1). Thus in Christ is all the power and might of Almighty God.
This is the description which the Saviour gives of Himself. This is how He identifies Himself. He is the glorious Jehovah God, the Holy One, who reveals Himself in Christ as the Saviour. This is why the apostle Peter declares of the name Jesus Christ, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12). Christ, as the revelation of the triune God, is the only Saviour.
What is Salvation?
Salvation From Sin
Now that we have learned the identity of the only Saviour we must go on to notice what it means that He is Saviour. We must answer the question, What is salvation?
This is very important, for there are many who have a very shallow conception of what salvation is. Just as they do not understand the identity of the Saviour, they do not understand what it means to be saved by the Saviour. Most have a very man-centered view of salvation-a very humanistic view. They believe that salvation is basically an act of man rather than an act of God. Man must ask Jesus into his heart for salvation. He must say a little prayer so that Christ can come into his heart. He must accept Christ as personal Saviour. At the very least, man's action must come before God's action in salvation.
If this is your conception of salvation, you do not understand what true salvation is. The salvation of the only Saviour is a very wonderful thing. It is not only an act of God. It is a miracle of grace which only God can perform.
First of all, let us notice what salvation is from a negative point of view. From what does the Saviour save His people. We learn this from the word, Saviour, in verse 3. It means, to save, to deliver, to help. Its root idea is that of making wide or sufficient that which is narrow or insufficient. Thus, it refers to the freeing or delivering of someone from a tight situation-from distress or trouble of some kind.
This meaning is very graphically illustrated by the history of Israel. Over and over again God delivered Israel from physical trouble-tight situations. He saved her from the armies of her enemies, from plagues of all kinds, and from various kinds of sicknesses. But perhaps the best illustration is that of the saving of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. In Ex. 14:30 we read, Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. God saved Israel from Egypt. Israel was in a very tight situation in Egypt. She was in the house of bondage. Israel was enslaved to hard, cruel taskmasters who were seeking her destruction. So troublesome was her situation that she could not free herself. She was doomed. Her situation was hopeless. But in the midst of her great trouble God came and delivered her from that terrible bondage. He lead Israel out of the house of bondage through the sea on dry land while He drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Thus God widened Israel's tight situation. He freed her from her distress. That was her salvation.
What is true of Israel from a physical point of view is true of all of God's chosen people from a spiritual point of view. By nature, God's people are in a very tight spot. They are enslaved to sin and Satan. That bondage is just as terrible as the bondage of Egypt. They are not only sinners who commit acts of sin every day, but they have corrupt natures (Jer. 17:9). They are not only wicked on the outside, but on the inside. The Bible says that they are, ...dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1). By nature, they are the children of the devil and they will to do the will of the devil (John 8:44). They hate God and rebel against Him. All of this makes them worthy of damnation. They deserve to be condemned to hell forever. What is even worse, they can do nothing to get out of that terrible, tight spot. As far as they are concerned, their situation is hopeless.
But God in His love and grace saves them. He opens up their situation so that they are no longer in trouble. He frees them from their sin and their sinful natures. He saves them from Satan and the wicked. He forgives their sins so that they are not counted guilty. The Psalmist says, As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:12). In freeing them from the guilt of their sins, the Saviour delivers them from the torments of hell and all of His holy wrath which He manifests upon sinners. He gets them out of that most terrible of all tight spots.
Having God As Your God
That is salvation from a negative point a view. But salvation is also positive. We find the positive meaning of salvation in the Hebrew parallelism of the text. We read literally, For I Jehovah, God of you...The Holy One of Israel, Saviour of you. Notice that we have two parallel statements here-Jehovah is your God and the Holy One is your Saviour. These two statements explain one another. That Jehovah is your God means that He is your Saviour. That the Holy One is your Saviour means that He is your God. That is the positive meaning of salvation. It means that the Saviour is the God of those whom He saves.
The Saviour is not the God of all. Oh yes, He is the God of all from the point of view of creation and His providential rule. All men ought to worship and serve Him as their God. But from a spiritual point of view, He is the God only of those whom He saves. If that were not true this text would be meaningless. Why then would the Saviour emphasize that He is the God of Israel? These words teach us that salvation is having God as your God. It means that those whom God saves belong to Him and He belongs to them. They are His people and He is their God. Thus the Saviour says in Isa. 43:1, ...Thou art mine. His people could say the same thing, He is ours.
Thus salvation, from a positive point of view, is a covenantal idea. This is exactly the idea of the covenant which God established with Abraham. God said to Abraham, And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. (Gen. 17:7). The covenant which God established with Abraham was that He would be the God of Abraham and his seed and they would be His people. This is true with respect to all those whom the Saviour saves. He establishes a covenant with them whereby He is their God and they are His people. The apostle Paul demonstrates this in II Cor. 6:16 by saying of those who are saved, And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus salvation is a bond or union of fellowship and friendship with the living God. God walks with His people and talks with them. He shares His life with them. They walk and talk with God and share their lives with Him. They know and love God even as He knows and loves them.
Chosen, Loved, Secure
This positive idea of salvation implies several things about salvation. It implies in the first place that the source of salvation is divine election. Since those who are saved are, by nature, the children of the devil and not the children of God, God must have chosen them for adoption as His dear children. No one can be a child of God—have God as their spiritual Father—without God first choosing them to be so. Thus God says in Isa. 43:10, Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen. All those who are saved are saved because God has selected them to be saved from before the foundation of the world. The apostle Paul says, According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. (Eph. 1:4-5).
It implies in the second place that the Saviour eternally loves those whom He saves. Why is it that the Saviour chose some to be His children and not others? It certainly is not because one is better than another. All are unworthy of God and His salvation. No one deserves His grace. The answer is that God eternally loved some and in that love selected them to be saved. This idea is found in verse four, Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee ... All who are saved are chosen to be saved, and all who are chosen to be saved are eternally loved of God. The Saviour says ... I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (Jer. 31:3).
Finally the fact that salvation is having God as your God implies that the Saviour is for those whom He saves and against their enemies. Since God loves those whom He saves and in that love chose them to salvation, certainly He is on their side. He is not against them. He does not seek their hurt. He is for them and seeks their good. He is against their enemies. He will hurt those who seek the hurt of His people. But He is always with His people for their good. He says in verse 5, Fear not: for I am with thee... Salvation means that God's people need not fear. They need not be afraid-not of anything. For God is with them. The Saviour says, When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned: neither shall the flames kindle upon thee. (Isa. 43:2). When the waters of spiritual troubles come or when the spiritual fires burn about those whom God saves, they may have the assurance that because God is their Saviour they are safe and secure in His hands. The waters will not overflow them and the fire will not burn them. That is salvation.
God's Wonder FOR His People
Having considered the meaning of salvation, we now consider the way or means of salvation. How does God deliver His chosen people from their sin and how does He give to them eternal life-covenant fellowship with Him?
The answer in general is this: by means of His sovereign grace. This is implied in the names God and Holy One. Since He is the all-powerful God, salvation must be the work of His almighty power. Since He is the Holy One, the salvation of the sinner must be a work of His grace. Thus salvation is the wonder-work of the sovereign grace of God.
This wonder-work of the Holy God is twofold. It is a wonder which He works for His people and also a wonder which He works in His people.
Reference is made to the wonder which God works for His people in the last part of Isa. 43:1. There we read ... Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine.
When God saved His people from the bondage of Egypt, He redeemed them. He purchased them out of their slavery with ransom money. That ransom money was the blood of the lambs which were slain the night before they left Egypt. Without the shedding of blood and the sprinkling of that blood upon the door-posts of the houses of Israel, there could be no salvation from Egypt. They were redeemed on the basis of the blood.
What is true of Israel's physical salvation is also true of the spiritual salvation of all of God's people. God saves His people by redeeming them with the blood of the lamb. The lambs which were slain that night by the Israelites were types of The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who shed His blood on the cross for the redemption of His people. The Spirit of inspiration says, Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (I Peter 1:18-19).
God does not redeem His people with corruptible things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. For unlike the things of this world, the blood of Christ is of infinite value. It is more than able to redeem all of God's people from all of their sins. God sent Christ into this world and imputed to Him the guilt of all the sins of His people and then poured out all of His terrible wrath against those sins upon Christ. On the cross Christ suffered the agonies of hell in the place of His people. The blood of Christ represents that sacrificial death of Christ.
What a wonder-work of God's grace. Although God's people are such great sinners and undeserving of the least of His favour, He has given them His only begotten Son-given Him even to the death of the cross. Indeed, that is grace. That is the undeserved favour, the beautiful attitude, which God has toward His people. It is the grace by which He saves them. The apostle says in Rom. 3:24, Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
This shedding of the blood of Christ was absolutely necessary. Because God is the Holy One and because His people are sinners by nature, they can not live in covenant fellowship with Him unless the guilt of their sin is gone. God can not have fellowship with sin. Without the death of Christ and the payment He made on behalf of His people, there could be no salvation.
Thus we see that the only basis for salvation is the blood of Christ. A person does not go to heaven because he accepted Christ. He is not saved on the basis of a decision for Christ. The basis of salvation is not found in man at all. A person is saved and goes to heaven for but one reason-Christ died for him and thus redeemed him from his sin. It is the blood of Christ alone that makes the difference between heaven or hell. This is the wonder which God works for His people. He redeems them with the precious blood of Christ.
God's Wonder IN His People
But this work for God's people must be applied to the heart and life of His people. If God's people are to experience this salvation, a work must be done in them as well. Reference is made to this wonder-work of God in the first part of Isa. 43:1. We read, But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel ... There is also the statement in verse 7, I have made him ... Notice that here we have the three words which are used of the creation of the world. In Genesis one and two where we read that God created the world it is said that He made it (1:7), created it (1:1), and formed it (2:7). These verses in Isa. 43, however, do not refer to the physical creation of Israel, but the spiritual creation of Israel. It refers to Israel's creation as the people of God who spiritually belong to God. It is a creation that has to do with salvation.
Thus we learn that the work which God performs in His people by His grace is nothing less than a creation. It is a re-creation in Christ Jesus. We read in Eph. 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Just as God created, made, and formed the world, so spiritually He creates, makes, and forms His people, so that they are spiritually His workmanship. They are the product or handiwork of His grace.
He takes the spiritually dead sinner and He gives him life. He raises him from spiritual death. He creates in him a new heart with the principle of the life of Christ within it. This is regeneration, the new birth. Then, out of that new heart God calls forth faith. He brings the regenerated sinner to repentance so that he turns from his sin. He puts the love of God in His heart and gives him the desire to walk in the way of obedience to God.
Thus they who were once the children of the devil, children of darkness, become the children of light. They become members of the kingdom of God's dear Son. God's people are indeed new creatures in Christ-creatures who reflect the glorious image of Christ in their hearts and lives. This is how God sprinkles His people with the precious blood of Christ and thereby applies the work of Christ to their hearts and lives.
Oh, what a wonder-work of God's grace. This is why the apostle could say in Eph. 2:8-9, For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. It is not of works. It has nothing to do with the will and works of man. That is why no one may boast. No one has anything in himself of which to boast. The wonder-work of God for His people and in His people is all of grace and only of grace. It is all God's work. Regeneration, faith, and all that belongs to the application of salvation is the gift of God. Moreover, it is the gift of God in order that God might receive all the glory.
Who are Saved?
Having considered the identity of the Saviour and the meaning of salvation, we now turn our attention to the objects of this wonderful salvation. The question which we must answer is this, Of whom is Jehovah God, the Saviour? Is God the Saviour of everyone or is He the Saviour of only some? If only some, then of whom?
The answer which most people give to this question is that God in one way or another is the Saviour of everyone. Salvation is universal. Some believe that God actually saves every person. They do not believe that anyone will go to hell. They do not even believe in hell. They say that a good and loving God would not create such a place as that. Others, believe that even though God does not save all, He would like to save all. They know that the Bible teaches that there is a place called hell and that many people will spend eternity there (Rev. 20:11-15). Nevertheless, that people go to hell is not God's doing. He seeks to save all. He offers salvation to all. If He had His way all would go to heaven. It is only because of man's own refusal to receive the gift of salvation that he goes to hell.
A careful examination of the passage in Isa. 43 will reveal that these conceptions are entirely wrong. God is not a universal Saviour in any sense. God says in verses 3 and 4 ... I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.
This means that when God delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, He did so by means of judging and destroying Egypt. God sacrificed Egypt for Israel's life. The land of Egypt was destroyed by the plagues and the host of pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea. God also gave the Canaanites for Israel's life. For Israel entered into the promised land only by means of the destruction of the Canaanites. Thus Israel's salvation was through the judgment of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Because Israel was saved from Egypt and from the Canaanites, God had to judge and destroy them in order to save Israel.
What is true of Israel physically is true of all of God's chosen people spiritually. God saves those whom he saves by means of judging their enemies. Because God saves His people from the devil, from the wicked, and from sin; the devil, the wicked, and sin must be judged in order for salvation to take place. This is one of the reasons there is a hell. God judges and condemns to everlasting hell the devil and the wicked who hate God's people and seek to destroy them. Thus we see that God gives the life of some people (the wicked) for the spiritual life of His people. This means that God can not possibly save everyone. He can not even will the salvation of everyone. He deliberately judges the wicked in order to save His people from them.
This is clearly taught in Scripture. In Romans 9:13 we read, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. God loved and saved Jacob but He hated and did not save Esau. In Jude 4 we read, For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. God not only does not save all, but He does not want to save all, for ungodly men who crept into the church were eternally ordained of God to be condemned.
Such passages as I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9 do not contradict this truth of Holy Scripture. We must interpret these verses in harmony with their context. When the apostle says in I Tim. 2 that God will have all men to be saved, he is not speaking of all men head for head. The context shows that He is talking about all kinds of men. He has just commanded us to pray for kings as well as common people in order that some of them might be saved so that the Christian may lead a quiet and peaceable life. Thus God wills the salvation of kings as well as common people. He wills the salvation of rich as well as pour, bond as well as free, Greek as well and Jew. He wills the salvation of all different kinds of people.
In II Peter 3:9 where the apostle says that God is not willing that any should perish, he is speaking of God's people alone, not all head for head. For we read, The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God is longsuffering to us-ward. That is, He is longsuffering to His chosen people to whom this letter was address (I Peter 1:1-2, II Peter 1:1). He is not willing that any of His chosen people should perish and therefore He is patient and does not bring the end of the world until all of them have come to repentance.
God's Chosen People
No, God is not the Saviour of all. According to Isa. 43, He is the Saviour only of a very special people. Verse three makes it very clear that when God says, I am the Lord thy God ... thy Saviour, He is speaking to Israel. He is the Holy One of Israel. He speaks of Jacob whom He has created spiritually, of His servant whom He has chosen, and of those who are called by His name. All of these statements show us that God is the Saviour of Israel.
But that does not mean that God is the Saviour of all physical Israelites-those who are the physical descendants of Jacob. That is not true. God has never been the spiritual Saviour of all of physical Israel, even though in the old dispensation He saved most of His chosen people from among the physical Israelites.
The proof of this is found in Rom. 9. In verse 6 we read, For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Notice that the apostle declares that those who are physically out of Israel are not all true spiritual Israel. We have the same thing stated in verse 8, That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Those who are the children of the flesh of Jacob are not the spiritual children of God. Those who are saved by the power of the covenant promise of God are the true children of God-the true Israel.
It is the elect people of God of all ages who are the true Israelites of God. True, spiritual Israel is comprised of all those whom God has chosen to salvation from before the foundation of the world. The true Jew is a physical Jew or Gentile who is circumcised in his heart-regenerated by God's grace. God says, For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Rom. 2:28-29).
It is this spiritual Israel who is the true seed of Abraham with whom God established His covenant and to whom God is a God and Saviour. The apostle under the inspiration of God explains who the seed of Abraham is in Gal. 3:16. We read, Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. The apostle makes the point that when God gave the covenant promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:7), He did not use the word seed as a plural, but as a singular. By that singular word, seed, He referred to none other than Christ. Christ is the seed of Abraham with whom God established His covenant and to whom God is a God. Christ, as Mediator, is the one Whom God saves from the devil, the wicked, and sin.
But not only Christ. We read in Gal. 3:29, And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Those who belong to Christ by election are also the seed of Abraham and therefore are the objects of salvation with Christ. Who are those who belong to Christ? It is the elect people of God whom God gave to Christ from the foundation of the world to save-spiritual Israel. Christ refers to them in His high-priestly prayer when He says, I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. (John 17:9-10).
No, God is not the Saviour of all men. That is the lie of the devil. God is the Saviour of a very special group of people. Not special because they are worthy of salvation in themselves, for they are not. They are no more worthy than the wicked who are condemned to hell. They are special because God out of His great love and mercy has chosen them to be His people whom He saves and in whom He glorifies His great name.
What a tremendous comfort for God's people. If you have a heart that is filled with true faith and repentance and thus manifest the fact that you have been chosen of God to salvation, the words of this text are for you. God says to you, Fear not...For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour...
The subject as assigned to me by the committee was put in the form of a question: 'Does emphasis on the love of God lead to Arminianism or to comfort for God's people?' At first I did not understand the question. How could emphasis on the love of God lead to Arminianism? Upon a bit of reflection, however, I think I know what the committee had in mind.
There are those who emphasize the love of God. God is love, they say. And the Bible does indeed say that God is love. But these people say this means that God loves everyone, all men. It belongs to God's very nature to love all. Because He is love, God cannot hate. God cannot and does not reprobate people, determine to condemn them to everlasting punishment on account of their sins. God in His love gives everyone a chance to be saved. Only when a person obstinately and persistently refuses to repent of his sins does God condemn. God offers His love to everyone. And some even go so far as to say that God actually saves everyone—even unbelievers. Hence the church, according to this view, is called to preach the love of God in the form of a 'well-meant offer.' The church must tell people everywhere, God loves you; God has a wonderful plan for your life; God wants to save you! It's all love, love, love! And one must never talk about hatred or the wrath of God.
This extremely popular conception of the love of God not only leads to Arminianism—it is Arminianism, if not outright universalism. And, this conception provides absolutely no comfort at all for the people of God. It may sound like a comforting doctrine to say that God loves everyone and hates no one, but in reality it makes the love of God depend upon the fickle and sinful will of man. If man accepts the offer of God's love, God will save him. In other words, God cannot love unless man loves! There is nothing certain about that! A man may love one day and hate the next. There is no comfort in that. Besides, if that be true, who is God? According to the Arminian conception, man is really God for his love must be first. That is blasphemy. From this point of view Arminianism is just as destructive of the Christian faith as liberalism.
Out of all this comes a fear on the part of Reformed people, a fear that emphasis on the love of God will lead to Arminianism. I can well understand that Arminianism is the last thing we want! But in reality the fear is groundless. Why? Because the Arminian conception of the love of God is not a conception of the love of God, but is a distorted, corrupted conception of God's love. Emphasis on the Biblical conception of the love of God (as that is expounded in our Reformed Creeds) does not lead to Arminianism, but is the death-blow to Arminianism. At the same time it is the sure, abiding comfort of God's people. Therefore the church must emphasize the love of God. It must, in order that the truth may be known and defended, in order that God's people may be comforted, and in order that God's name might be glorified!
Consider this subject with me under the topic:
God's Sovereign Love, Our Comfort
1) What It Is
2) Its Characteristics
3) Its Comfort for God's people
What It Is
Before anything else we must understand that love, all love, is of God. This means that love is not what the world calls love. The world speaks of love: parental love, marital love, love among friends, etc. The world talks about love in many senses. In fact the world speaks of love as the cure for all of its problems. All the world needs, so it is said, is a little bit of love. That is not love. At best it is only a certain natural affection or attraction. For the rest it is only earthly, sensual, and devilish; it belongs to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The world's love, in fact, is the very opposite of God's love. The world's love is hatred against God and His Christ and against His people. That is all it ever can be. No matter how sweetly the world may talk about love, the world, when it comes right down to it, hates God and His cause. This is not merely my opinion; it is God's Word. The Bible teaches that 'the carnal mind (literally, the mind of the flesh) is enmity (hatred) against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be' (Romans 8:7).
Positively, love is of God. God is the only source of all love. There can be no love outside of God. This means that the only love there is, is God's love. Love is an attribute of God, a characteristic of His divine being, along with other characteristics such as holiness, grace, mercy, etc. And if we may indeed make comparisons, love is the chief characteristic of God's being. In I John 4:8 we read the utterly amazing statement: 'God is love.' God is love. We do not read that of the other virtues of God, to the best of my knowledge. We read that God is the God of all grace, that He is merciful, holy, full of lovingkindness, etc. But in I John we read that God is love. That means that, whatever else God may be, He is pre-eminently love. Love belongs to the very essence of God's being. In all that He is and in all that God thinks, wills, determines, and does, He is love. God as God, the Almighty, sovereign Creator, Sustainer of all things, and the Redeemer of His elect in Christ—in all that, God is love.
What is that love? In Colossians 3:14 we read that: Charity (love) is the bond of perfectness.' Love is a bond. It unites or makes one. In love, two become one. They are united in a bond with one mind, one will, and one desire. Love is a unity in fellowship. What is more, love is the bond of perfectness—that is, moral perfectness. It is what the Bible calls holiness. That is the kind of bond love is. This, by the way, is precisely why love cannot exist in the world of sin and unbelief. Love unites in a bond of righteousness and of moral goodness. And again, let it be emphasized, love is first of all in God. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in an intimate bond of fellowship, a bond based upon the perfection of God's own righteousness and holiness. God loves Himself and has no need of any being outside of Himself. God lives in the bond of perfectness.
The wonder is that God loved and still loves us! He loved us in eternity. Before the foundation of the world God in His love predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Ephesians 1). God, Who has no need of us, determined to set His love upon us and take us into His covenant fellowship. This love of God is of course especially manifest in Christ and His cross. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). 'But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us' (Romans 5:8). God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to the cross, to the agonies of hell, to death and the grave for us. Looking at that amazing love of God and considering our worthlessness as depraved, filthy sinners we can only exclaim with the inspired Apostle: 'Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God ...' (I John 3:1). That is the love of God! Behold that love of God! Marvel at it and be thankful for it.
The question is, how do we receive the love of God? The answer is: from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, poured out by the ascended Christ, sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts. The Bible says, 'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance ...' (Galatians 5:22-23). Note that the text does not say the fruits of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit. Hence, there are not many fruits but only one fruit. That one fruit of the Spirit is the love of God. And that love-fruit of the Spirit is composed of many virtues and blessings. Joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, etc., all belong to the love of God which is the fruit of the Spirit. It is indeed a rich fruit!
That love of God which we receive from the Holy Spirit is seen in us. We manifest that love of God exactly in loving the brother, our fellow saints. This means that we never hurt them or speak evil of them. Always we seek their welfare. We are willing even to lay down our lives for the brethren. This is emphasized very strongly in Scripture. I John chapters three and four make the point that we cannot love God if we love not the brother. Jesus said, 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love for one another' (John 13:35).
The Characteristics of Love
That love of God has two main or chief characteristics. It is first of all a sovereign love. That is written on almost every page of Scripture. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8 we find Moses addressing Israel: 'The Lord 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 people: But because the Lord loved you.' God's love did not depend upon anything in Israel. As a matter of fact, Israel was repeatedly manifest as a rebellious and a stiff- necked people. There was nothing in them which made them worthy of God's love. The Bible teaches that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and predestinated unto the adoption of children by Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3-11). And God did all of this in love, in His sovereign love. There is no other reason, therefore, for our election into Jesus Christ than the sovereign love of God. According to this same passage of Scripture, that love of God is according to the good pleasure of His will! God freely determined to love us in Christ. Then there is the classic passage, I John 4:10: 'Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.' Literally the text reads, 'In this is love ...' all love: God's love to us and our love to God and our fellow saints. All love consists in this, not that we loved God, but that He loved us. God's love is always first. Apart from that there could be no love.
That is the sovereign character of God's love. Negatively this means that God's love does not depend upon anything outside of God Himself. God set His love upon Israel and chose them to be His people, not because of Israel's worth or love, but simply because God loved them. In love God chose His elect in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. That was not because of anything in the elect. In order to love us God does not need our love. His love is sovereign. He loved us according to the good pleasure of His will, His own sovereign determination. Positively this means that God's love is always first. It is always the fountain of all our love both to God and the neighbour. In fact the love that is in us is not ours but God's.
This is the death-blow to all Arminianism. Arminianism makes God's love second. God loves all men, according to the Arminian, but He cannot save unless man loves Him. Hence, according to Arminianism, man's love must be first and then God can love him. God's love according to this does not sovereignly produce man's love, but is dependent, bound and limited by man, a response to man's love. That is the opposite of the Bible's dear teaching and it makes all comfort for the child of God impossible.
The second main characteristic of God's love is that it is particular. This too is written on nearly every page of Scripture. The classic is Romans 9:13: 'Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.' Some, many in fact, have tried to explain that away by saying it means, 'Esau have I loved less.' That is sheer nonsense. The word is hate. God hated Esau, while His love was for Jacob. This became very obvious in the history of the two nations which came out of Jacob and Esau. Israel was God's chosen and precious, while Edom appeared as the reprobate enemy of God's cause. Jesus taught the same truth repeatedly. In John chapters six and ten our Lord tells us that He comes and lays down His life for those whom the Father loved and gave to Him: His sheep. He tells the unbelievers that they are not of His sheep and, therefore, they do not hear Him and follow Him. In John 17, Jesus prays for and loves those whom the Father has given Him out of the world and He does not pray for the world.
All this means that God's love is particular. It is for His elect in Christ Jesus. God's wrath abides upon the rest who are vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction (Romans 9). One can trace that, too, throughout the history of the Bible. According to Genesis 3:15 God puts enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That seed of the woman is Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem (with Japheth dwelling in his tents), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, David, Christ. Galatians 3 teaches that that one seed is Christ and all who are in Him by faith. That one seed is the beloved of the Lord.
The Comfort for God's People
This precious truth of God's sovereign and particular love affords a marvellous comfort for God's people. Let us return to our question for a moment. Does emphasis on the love of God lead to Arminianism, or to comfort for God's people? To Arminianism? Never! God's love is sovereign and particular. Arminianism cannot stand that! To comfort for God's people? Most assuredly. This is all of our comfort. Knowing that God's love is sovereign and particular I am assured of my election into Christ; God's love does not depend upon me. Looking at that love of God as manifest in the cross of Jesus Christ, I am assured of my redemption. Considering that that love is always the same and never changes I am assured of my preservation unto glory. That is my comfort. It is a comfort grounded in the Almighty Sovereign God.
This is precisely the thrust of that victory song of Romans 8. After speaking of eternal predestination, the Apostle issues the challenge: who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus? The answer is this: nothing! In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! That same apostle has this prayer recorded in II Thessalonians 2:16-17: 'Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.'
That is the love of God. It must he emphasized because Scripture emphasizes it. Only, the love of God must he emphasized, not some distorted, corrupted notion of it. And that is, indeed, all our comfort.
Strange to say, some suppose that the relationship between the Reformed Faith and evangelism is uneasy and uncomfortable. Stranger still, some charge that the Reformed Faith and evangelism are incompatible. Many outside of the Reformed Churches contend that the Reformed Faith makes evangelism (or 'soul-winning,' as they like to call it) impossible. Many who profess to be Reformed are now echoing this charge. What is worse, they are radically revising the Reformed Faith in the interests (they say) of evangelism. Read the studies that set forth the foundations, the messages, and the methods of missions: universal love; universal atonement; salvation dependent upon the free, sovereign choice of the sinner. Listen to the evangelists: 'God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life'; Christ died for you'; 'You can have this wonderful salvation and be born again, if only you will accept Jesus.'
Then, there is the danger that those who love the Reformed Faith as God's own truth become suspicious of evangelism; openly or secretly grant the validity of the charge that the Reformed Faith and evangelism are incompatible; and decline to engage in the work of evangelism.
It is the duty of those to whom God has given the inheritance and responsibility of the Reformed Faith to show the perfect harmony of this Faith and evangelism. To do this, we must ourselves see clearly that they are compatible.
What Evangelism Is
Over the years, a certain, definite idea of evangelism has developed. It is necessary, first of all, to subject this idea to the test of Scripture. Speak of evangelism, and one probably thinks of an elaborate, expensive campaign to gather many people to a meeting that will be conducted by a specialist, the 'evangelist.' One thinks of a specific kind of religious meeting one in which the music, the message, and the other elements are carefully geared to get men to make a decision for Christ. One thinks of a religious work which concludes by reporting, how many hundreds, or thousands, 'got saved,' or 'came forward.'
This is evangelism in the popular mind. To do evangelism is to do something like this; and to oppose this is to run the risk of being criticized as unevangelistic, not mission-minded.
This whole great structure, fondly regarded as evangelism, imposing and impressive as it appears, needs to be tested by Scripture. Take, for example, the element so important to modern evangelism, and so prominent: the invitation, or altar call. The altar call is thoroughly unbiblical, apart now from the perverse theology which underlies it - the theology of the goodness and freedom of the will of the sinner and the sovereignty of his will in salvation, what Paul repudiates in Romans 9:16 as the teaching that salvation is of him that willeth. It is unbiblical to demand, in Christ's Name, that someone express the spiritual activity of repentance and faith by walking to the altar. It is unbiblical to equate coming to the front with these spiritual activities and, thus, with salvation. It is unbiblical. grievously so, to obtain this result by the psychological, emotional pressures that are exerted. The Christian Church never knew of such a thing before the early 1800's, when Charles Finney introduced it.
For the answer to our question, ''What is evangelism?,' we do not look to popular notions, but to Holy Scripture.
In reality, evangelism is the preaching of the gospel. This is the meaning of the word, evangelism - a Biblical word in the Greek of the New Testament. Evangelism is the activity of publishing, or announcing, the 'evangel,' the gospel, i.e., the glad tidings of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen.
This answers the question, whether a Reformed Church believes in evangelism and whether Reformed saints are to be zealous for evangelism. The gospel must be preached! This must be done within the established church, among the saints already called out of the world; for their constant comfort and edification, they are continually to hear the good news. This is why we come to church every Lord's Day.
But the gospel must also be preached outside of the church already established in the truth; this is necessary for the saving of the as yet unconverted and the straying. This is what we mean when we speak of evangelism: the activity of proclaiming the good news to those outside the congregation. Evangelism, then, is the same as missions.
We may take our definition from the 'Form of Ordination of Missionaries' of the Reformed Churches. It distinguishes between ministers who labour in the congregations already established and those called and sent to preach the gospel to those without, in order to bring them to Christ: '. . . it is necessary that some labour in the congregations already established, while others are called and sent to preach the Gospel to those without, in order to bring them to Christ' (The Psalter, pp. 74, 75). Evangelism, therefore, is the activity of preaching the gospel to those outside the congregation already established in the truth, in order to bring them to Christ.
Evangelism is not limited to work done with heathen, to work done with those who make no profession of faith in Jesus the Savior. On the contrary, it includes the work of the Church with those who profess Christianity and belong to a church, but who are either ignorant of the truth of the gospel or have departed from it. To bring the gospel to such is not 'sheep-stealing,' but sheep-gathering; it is not 'fishing in troubled waters,' but fishing for men.
When Jesus in Matthew 9:37, 38 instructed His disciples that the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers few, and that they, therefore, must pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest, His reference was not, primarily, to the heathen, but to the multitudes of fainting, scattered Israelites, the Old Testament people of God, under the care of the priests and scribes. By false doctrine, apostasy, and simple lack of the Word of God, these people were spiritually sore distressed and, therefore, proper objects of evangelism.
Paul's ministry shows that the work of evangelism is not exclusively with admitted unbelievers. He brought the Word to the Jews first; and when confessing Christians strayed, as they did in Galatia, the apostle urgently evangelised them.
John Murray, the Presbyterian theologian, contended that evangelism must not be limited to work among the unsaved. The word 'evangelism' has generally been understood to apply to the propagation of the gospel among the unsaved. In dealing. however, with the obligation that rests upon the church of Christ to witness to the gospel it does not appear that the various activities of the church that may properly be embraced in the work of evangelism have exclusive reference to those who are reckoned, in the judgment of the church, as without God and without hope in the world. Particularly is this true when it is remembered that many believers in Christ have so inadequate a knowledge of the gospel, and so impoverished a conception of the Christian life, that a considerable part of the work of the church, properly regarded as evangelism, must needs have as its aim the instruction and edification of such believers. The evangelism that the true church of Christ undertakes must therefore contemplate the bringing of the gospel in its full import and demands to those who, though believers, are nevertheless the victims of ignorance, unfaithfulness and compromising associations' ('The Message of Evangelism,' in Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, p. 124, published by The Banner of Truth Trust).
This is why the Reformation was an evangelistic enterprise, a missionary activity. Some have dared to criticize the Reformers for a lack of interest in missions. Defenders of the Reformers, seemingly stung by the charge, have responded that the Reformers were too busy for missions, but that Calvin once sent several missionaries to Brazil. The truth of the matter is that the Reformation itself was missions - a gigantic, energetic, world-wide mission work, with abundant and enduring fruits. The gospel was proclaimed to multitudes in many nations who were fainting and scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd, perishing in the ignorance and lie of Roman Catholicism.
What the Reformed Faith Is
Why, then, is it charged upon the Reformed Faith, and sometimes feared, that it is incompatible with evangelism? This is because of what the Reformed Faith is. It is the teaching that salvation is the free gift and sovereign work of God in Jesus Christ, wholly without the slightest merit or work of man. The message of the Reformed Faith is, 'Salvation by Grace Alone.'
This message consists of several outstanding truths. God has eternally loved and predestinated unto eternal life some persons out of the human race, in distinction from others whom, in the same decree, He predestinated unto perdition. This is the gracious source and foundation of all salvation.
God gave His only begotten Son to die for all those, and those only, whom He had given to Christ as His people, effectually to redeem them, by atoning for their sins. This is the gracious ground of all our salvation.
God now efficaciously calls, by the gospel and the Holy Spirit, into saving fellowship with Jesus, all those, but only those, whom He chose and redeemed. This is the gracious accomplishment of salvation. This work continues, as preservation, until all the elect, redeemed, and renewed people of God are perfected in glory.
With these doctrines, the Reformed Faith holds that all men alike are, by the fall of Adam, dead in sin and slaves to Satan, having wills that are not free, so as to be able to choose Christ and salvation, but bound, so as to be incapable of doing ought else, save to reject the Christ presented in the gospel.
The Reformed Faith preaches an almighty, gracious God and a powerless, totally depraved mankind. Such a faith, men charge, cannot evangelise. Indeed, such a faith must be unevangelistic in its very spirit. It cannot be motivated to be zealous in evangelism. Even if it were so motivated, it would have no message to bring.
Note well, however, that this charge, or fear, as the case may be, arises from certain preconceived notions about evangelism - notions that are unbiblical. There is the notion that the motivation of evangelism is God's love for all men and desire to save all men. There is the notion that the message of evangelism is a universal love of God, a universal atonement, and a universal grace in the preaching, all dependent upon the free will of sinners, who, it is thought, are able to choose for Christ. There is the notion that the efficacy of evangelism is the persuasiveness of the evangelist and the decision of the sinner's wooed will.
Raving these notions of evangelism, men proceed to corrupt the Reformed Faith in the interests of evangelism. Double predestination hinders missions; and, therefore, reprobation is denied, and men proclaim a universal saving love of God - the evangelist preaches to all and sundry, 'God loves you.' Limited atonement hampers missions; and, therefore, men preach a universal atonement - the evangelist assures all and sundry, 'Christ died for you.' An efficacious call of the gospel to some only restricts mission work; and, therefore, men teach that God is gracious to all men in the preaching - the evangelist announces to all his hearers, 'God desires your salvation and is now sincerely offering salvation to you.' Total depravity does not square with such evangelism (for what good is all this love, atonement, and grace, if the sinner cannot avail himself of it?); and, therefore, it is suggested to the sinner that he has the ability to open up his heart to let Jesus in, or he is told outright that the new birth depends upon his believing.
With this kind of evangelism, the Reformed Faith is incompatible; of such an evangelism, it is the sworn foe. A Reformed preacher would not dare to engage in evangelism of this kind. He would not, because he fears to stand in the Judgment, having preached a message that robbed God of His glory in the salvation of sinners and that taught sinners to trust for salvation in their own ability and activity. The worst evolutionist, a veritable Charles Darwin, will not be so culpable of despoiling the wonderful works of God as such an evangelist.
But this is not Biblical evangelism. With Biblical evangelism, the Reformed Faith is perfectly compatible. It is false, it is absurd to suppose that the Reformed Faith cannot do evangelism, because of the doctrines of grace that it espouses. These truths, assailed as detrimental to evangelism, are truths that set forth salvation as God's gracious gift. They constitute the gospel, the 'evangel', the good news. How foolish of men, whether within Reformed churches or without, to deny the gospel, in order that they may better evangelise, i.e., proclaim the gospel. Men are really saying that God's gospel is unpreachable, or that it is not serviceable for saving sinners and gathering the Church.
Let us see that the Reformed Faith can engage in evangelism, and how it does so. We will examine, in turn, its message, its method, and its motivation.
The Message of Reformed Evangelism
The message of the Reformed Faith in evangelism will be the whole counsel of God, as was the message of Paul, according to Acts 20:27. The Reformed preacher knows the entire Scripture; and he knows it as the inspired Word of God. He comes with Scripture, not with a little list of spiritual laws or some gospel on a thumbnail. Essentially, the message is always the same, but the preacher applies it differently to different audiences. Christ's evangelism of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) differed from His evangelism of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Paul's approach to the Jews of the synagogue differed from his approach to the Greek philosophers of Mars' Hill (cp. Acts 17:1-3 with Acts 17:16-34). That thorough doctrinal instruction is required in evangelism, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 plainly shows, for it calls the Church to baptize the converts in the Name of the Triune God, implying that the missionary has taught the converts the doctrine of the Trinity. In order to do this, the preacher must himself have thorough knowledge of the Word of God and must possess the wisdom to address the Word to every audience. He must be called and qualified by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We must not have uncalled and unqualified 'evangelists,' no matter how well-intentioned.
Although our message is the whole counsel of God, there are certain crucial elements in the message of evangelism. What they are, our Lord pointed out in His mandate to the apostles, and to the Church, in Luke 24:47. Immediately upon His resurrection from the dead, Christ opened the understanding of the disciples 'that they might understand the scriptures. And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day' (vss. 45, 46). Then, He commissioned them (and in them the Church down through the ages): 'that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.' Similar was the later commission of the apostle born out of due time, Paul, in Acts 26:18: 'To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.' This commission, Paul carried out by showing to all men 'that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance' (Acts 26:20).
Evangelism must preach the sin of the people, the sin of the people as guilt—liability to the punishment of the offended God. Therefore, it is to proclaim the holy and righteous God, Whom the sinner has offended. This implies the preaching of God's Law, which the sinner has transgressed and which he cannot keep. The Reformed Faith does this sharply, pointedly, concretely! In contrast, much present-day evangelism says little or nothing about a holy God, His righteous Law, sin, guilt, and punishment. If sin comes up at all, it is only the aspect of sin that consists of the sinner's temporal troubles because of his wickedness. How different was the evangelism of Christ and of His apostles! Think of Jesus' deliberate exposure of the adultery of the Samaritan woman at the well. Think of Peter's searing condemnation of the Jews in Acts 3:14: 'But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.
Evangelism proclaims the remission, or forgiveness, of sins for every sinner who repents. This is the removal of the sinner's guilt and the imputation to him of the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith alone. The forgiveness of sins is the blessing of salvation that is to be preached in evangelism. This was the great, glorious concern of the Reformation: justification by faith only. Where is this even to be found in much of modern evangelism? The great concern is that the sinner go to heaven and be happy, or that he be happy and successful here on earth. Not long ago, I heard a 'convert' give a testimony on behalf of the famous evangelist who saved him, that accepting Jesus made him a better pass-catching end for his southern university football team.
If remission of sins is preached, the cross is preached; and the cross is preached as substitutionary atonement, as satisfaction made to the righteous God, as effectual redemption of all for whom Jesus died, so that those who trust in the cross enjoy its real benefit. But the cross is not preached apart from the Crucified. Jesus Christ Himself is preached as the message of evangelism; He is preached as the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, so that His blood was precious blood, blotting out sins.
If this is Who Jesus is and if this is what His cross is, the love of God is preached when remission of sins is preached. For it was God Who gave His Son on behalf of sinners - not all sinners, but sinners, just the same. 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . .' (John 3:16).
Yet another crucial element of the message of evangelism is repentance: heartfelt, godly sorrow over one's sins. In Luke 24:47, Jesus charges that 'repentance and remission of sins should be preached.' In obedience to the Lord's mandate to him, Paul showed all men 'that they should repent.' Then, he called them to 'do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20). Repentance is the way, the only way, in which sinners receive and enjoy forgiveness. This is exactly Jesus' meaning in Luke 24:47: the apostles are to preach repentance as the way to have forgiveness.
Here, someone will say, the Reformed Faith is unable to do what is necessary for evangelism. Obviously, Jesus intended that the disciples call men to repent and that they proclaim the promise that everyone who does repent will have remission and, thus, salvation. But the Reformed Faith cannot give the call of the gospel; nor can it promiscuously proclaim the promise. So says the critic of the Reformed Faith. At the critical point, the Reformed Faith proves to be impotent.
The charge, or fear, as the case may be, is groundless. There is not a shred of truth to it. It is true that the Reformed Faith cannot and will not extend a well-meant offer to all hearers, i.e., an offer of salvation supposedly made by God to all hearers in love for them, with a sincere desire to save them, and on the acceptance of which by the sinner salvation depends. For the well-meant offer is nothing but a variation of the Pelagian-Arminian 'whosoever will gospel.' Long ago, the stalwart Presbyterian theologian, B. B. Warfield devastated this pretender-gospel: It is useless to talk of salvation being for 'whosoever will' in a world of universal 'won't.' Here is the real point of difficulty: how, where, can we obtain the will? Let others rejoice in a 'whosoever will gospel': for the sinner who knows himself to be a sinner, and knows what it is to be a sinner, only a 'God will' gospel will suffice. If the gospel is to be committed to the dead wills of sinful men, and there is nothing above and beyond, who then can be saved? (The Plan of Salvation, Eerdmans, 1966, p.49).
But the Reformed Faith can and does call, with authority and urgency, in the Name of Jesus the Christ, all who hear, to repent and believe; and it can and does proclaim that everyone who does repent and believe shall be forgiven and saved eternally. It preaches repentance.
The repentance which it preaches includes a life of godliness. Repentance, on the Reformed view, is a radical change of mind about sin and, therefore, a radical change of life - a spiritual turning, a conversion. Reformed preaching outside the congregation does not hide from the hearers that the gospel-call is a call to discipleship, to cross-bearing, to self-denial, to Jesus as Lord, as well as Saviour. It is sometimes overlooked that in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus told the apostles to disciple the nations and that conversion and baptism are followed by instruction 'to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.' Evangelism does not end with 'getting someone saved,' but continues in their being taught to confess the truth in the true church; to love one another; to honour marriage; to submit to civil government; to live in separation from the world and its works; and to keep all the commandments of King Jesus. Reformed evangelism will do this. Much of non-Reformed evangelism leaves this completely out of sight. For this reason, it is also essential in the work of evangelism that those brought to the saving knowledge of the truth be directed to join a true church, a soundly Reformed church. No Reformed missionary could say to a convert, 'Now join the church of your choice.'
These are essentials of Biblical evangelism. The Reformed Faith, so far from being embarrassed by any of them, proclaims all of them as no other faith can.
But what of the distinctive truths of the Reformed Faith, the 'doctrines of Calvinism,' on account of which men charge that the Reformed Faith is unable to evangelise? Granted that the Reformed Faith can preach repentance unto remission, does it leave the great doctrines of grace in the pulpit of the established church?
The Reformed Faith preaches the misery of men to be sin; and it preaches the extent of that misery to be total depravity. It passes upon every sinner the judgment of the gospel, that he is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), incapable of any good (Romans 3:9-18), and guilty before God (Romans 3:19). Specifically, it judges the sinner to be unable to repent, believe, and come to Christ, as the gospel commands him to do. The Reformed Faith preaches this in evangelism. To the man who objects to this as poor evangelism, it responds by pointing out to him that this was the evangelistic message of the Chief Evangelist Himself. In John 6:44, Jesus cries out to His audience, 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.' Thus, the sinner is made to know his great need and utter helplessness.
The Reformed Faith preaches that the coming to Christ required in the gospel-call, as the only way of salvation, is God's drawing of a man. We come, but our coming is the work of God in us to draw us efficaciously. Repentance and faith are Divine gifts, not human works. The grace of God is irresistible by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Reformed Faith proclaims this in evangelism. To the man who objects to this as poor evangelism, it responds by pointing out to him that this was the evangelistic message of the Chief Evangelist Himself. In John 6:44, Jesus declared, ''No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.'
In addition, the Reformed Faith preaches, in evangelism, that all such coming is grounded in the eternal, gracious election of God. That one comes to Christ is due to God's gracious election of him in eternity. Election is preached on the mission field, election involving and accompanied by reprobation - the only election that Scripture knows. Sinners being drawn to Christ are not left in doubt whence all this springs. Penitent and believing hearts must be assured of the eternal purpose of God's love for them and must glorify God with the confession that salvation, their salvation, is of the Lord. This was the evangelistic preaching of Jesus. As He preached Himself to the Jewish multitudes and called them to come to Him, He exclaims, 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out' (John 6:37).
The Reformed Faith can do evangelism, because it has the gospel to preach. A message of the mere possibility of salvation is no gospel. A message of a Jesus Who likes to save, but cannot save, is no gospel. A message of salvation dependent on man's running or willing is no gospel. As Warfield wrote, in The Plan of Salvation, this is merely another form of 'autosoterism'—the gloomy news that man must save himself:
It is only in almighty grace that a sinner can hope; for it is only almighty grace that can raise the dead. What boots it to send the trumpeter crying amid the serried ranks of the dead: 'The gates of heaven stand open: whosoever will may enter in'? The real question which presses is, Who will make these dry bones live? As over against all teaching that would tempt man to trust in himself for any, even the smallest part, of his salvation, Christianity casts him utterly on God. It is God alone who saves, and that in every element of the saving process.
Our objection to the free-will preachers is not so much that they offer salvation, as it is that they have no salvation to offer. All who believe their message are themselves proper objects of genuine evangelism. We call them to turn from the dead idols of their own works and will, and to trust in the living God.
We have a message, the like of which there is not in all the world: not a new requirement for man to do something for his salvation, but the announcement of God's gift of salvation. True, we call men to repent and believe; but this repentance and faith are not works of man that accomplish salvation, but the way of receiving salvation. They are not human effort, but the renunciation of all human effort. They are not man's contribution to salvation, but the gift of God to men. True, we call repentant sinners to a life of good works, a life on a 'narrow way'; but this life, the life of holiness, is itself part of God's deliverance of us from sin, His work of sanctification. Besides, our holy life is not meritorious, but thankfulness.
The message of the Reformed Faith is the message of grace. It is good news, the 'evangel.'
The Method of Reformed Evangelism
Just as it has its own message of evangelism, the Reformed Faith has its own method of evangelism: the Biblical method of preaching and teaching. The proper, effective method of evangelism is prescribed by Holy Scripture. No more than the Church may invent her own message may she invent her own method. She is bound by the commandment of the Bible. Christ determined the method in Luke 24:47, when He told the disciples, '... repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.' According to Mark 16:15, the Lord charged His church in these words, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. To this method, and this method only, is attached the promise that there will be the fruit of those who believe and are saved (v.16). This is the pattern of the ministry of the apostles, set forth by Paul in the first verse of I Corinthians 2: 'And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.'
The method of evangelism is not stirring music; puppet-shows; testimonies by worldly celebrities; performances by worldly artists; or dramatic productions. Nor is it the eloquence, charisma, dynamic personality, flamboyance, persuasiveness, or enticing words of the evangelist. Jesus Christ is disgraced today by the gospel-rock (sic!), immodest Hollywood starlets, and Sabbath-desecrating athletes that are used to promote the gospel. Jesus Christ is all but lost sight of behind the big-name ecclesiastical showmen who claim to preach Him. It surprises us not at all that it is continually being disclosed that these evangelistic enterprises are money-making schemes for the personal enrichment of the evangelists and their families. These are the gospel-hucksters (II Cor. 2:17), those who make merchandise of the Church through covetousness (II Pet. 2:3).
It has pleased God to call His people to salvation by the foolishness of preaching (I Cor. 1:21). Preaching is the announcing of the gospel by a man (I use the masculine gender deliberately, here) called and sent by Christ through the Church; it is official, authoritative proclamation. In Luke 24, Jesus sends the apostles out; and He sends them 'in his name' (v.47). Romans 10:15 lays down the rule when it asks, 'And how shall they preach, except they be sent?' There are no longer evangelists in the New Testament sense. That office was temporary, like the apostolic office. Evangelism is done today by ordained ministers set apart for the work of going with the gospel to those outside the established Church: our missionaries. The reason for this is that Christ Himself gathers the Church. He has revealed in Scripture that He does His work through the preaching of God's Word, which preaching belongs to the office in the Church.
Evangelism, or missions, therefore, is the work of the Church. It is the Church, the instituted Church, that preaches the Word. This is the Biblical pattern: the congregation at Antioch, Syria sent out Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and supervised their work (cf. Acts 13:4; Acts 14:26,27). Evangelism is not to be done by societies and para-ecclesiastical organizations. They have no authority. They have no power—they lack the office of preaching.
But does not every saint have the duty to evangelise? Is not every child of God a missionary? Emphatically not! It is unbiblical to hold that every believer may and must evangelise. This is to maintain that every saint can and must preach the gospel. Where in Scripture is this authority given to every believer? Where in the practical parts of the New Testament epistles is this made the responsibility of every Christian? The notion that every member of the church is a missionary destroys the fundamental truth of the office in the church. Most pernicious of all is the utterly reckless act of putting this awesome burden on the shoulders of our teen age children who, altogether apart from the matter of office, ought not to be teaching, but learning the Word of God.
This is not to say that the believer should not witness to the truth as he has opportunity; he should—this belongs to the office of believer (I Pet. 3:15). Let us not forget, however, that we witness, not only with our mouths, but also—and very powerfully—with our behaviour. By our godly conduct, others may be gained to Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 86).
Nor do we intend, by denying that every believer is an evangelist, to exclude the saints from the great work of evangelism. How could this be? Evangelism is the work of the Church; and the saints are the Church. Although the instrument of evangelism is the man called to be missionary, it is the Church, the body of believers and their children instituted in the offices of elder and deacon, that is doing the work through him. Just as the body speaks by means of its tongue (you do not say, 'My tongue is speaking,' but you say, 'I am speaking'), so does the congregation of saints evangelise through the missionary. Missions is not the work of the missionary; it is the work of the people of God.
The saints are active in this labour of the Church. They pray for the work of missions. This is the co-operation Paul asked of the believers: '. . . brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified' (II Thess. 3:1). They support the work financially. Paul praises the Philippians for helping him in his material need: 'Ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction' (Phil. 4:14).
Not least, the people of God are to live with each other in the church in such a way that the Spirit will bless their witness outside the church. It is striking, in the book of Acts, that the Church grew as it lived in faithfulness to the doctrine of the apostles; in zealous worship of God; and in peace among themselves. Where there is heresy, disinterest in spiritual things, carnality, worldliness, immorality, hatred, strife, and division, evangelism cannot be expected to prosper. For the Holy Spirit cannot be expected to bless our labour; and evangelism depends wholly upon the Spirit of Christ.
The Power of evangelism is the Holy Spirit. He sends forth the labourers into the harvest; He opens doors; He opens the hearts of men and women to receive the Word; He unites the elect to Christ; He places men in the body of the Church as it pleases Him. There is great concern today over methods of evangelism. Men try to discover what will make evangelism effective. The danger is, not only that they resort to unbiblical methods, but also that they fall back, in the matter of missions, upon their own resources - their own wisdom, their own strength, their own inventions. Themethod of evangelism is preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and that which makes this effective is the Holy Spirit. This is the profound, gripping doctrine of Paul in I Corinthians 2. 'The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned' (v.14). 'But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit' (v.10).
Christ pointed out the indispensable place of the Holy Spirit in missions when, immediately after He had charged the apostles with the duty of going out to preach in His Name, He instructed them: 'And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high' (Luke 24:49).
We must beware lest we suppose that for effective evangelism we need millions of dollars; far-flung radio networks; catchy radio formats; professional television productions; and handsome, eloquent speakers. Once, two men set out on foot into countries of unbelief and immorality, with nothing but the gospel of Christ - and turned the world upside down. Once, an obscure monk in the hinterlands of barbarous Germany spoke out for the truth - and let loose the Word of God over the whole world. The Holy Spirit is the power of missions. We must depend upon Him. We must always be beseeching Him to make our work fruitful. We must consciously be labouring in His might.
The Motivation of Reformed Evangelism
The motivation of the Reformed Faith in evangelism, generally, is that God, by His eternal election of grace, has a Church to be gathered at all times and among all peoples; and He wills to gather this Church by the gospel.
Specifically, our motivation is obedience, obedience to the command of our Lord, Jesus. He has said to us 'that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations'; and this settles the matter. Is there any obedience like the obedience of the Reformed Faith with its knowledge of the sovereignty of Christ?
Second, we have the fervent desire that God be glorified in all His creation. We are grieved and angry that the Name of God is hidden and profaned everywhere. We share something of the spirit of Paul in Athens, whose spirit was stirred within him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry, so that he could not but speak on behalf of the one, true God, the Father of Jesus (Acts 17:16ff.). In love for God, we bring His Name everywhere and labour for the establishing of churches that will be light in the darkness. Should any outstrip the love of the Reformed Faith for God?
Third, we love the people of God who are to be restored, or converted. Jesus had compassion on the fainting, scattered sheep who, without the Word, were as sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36-38). Do we? Should we not? Should any love be stronger than that of the Reformed Faith which knows the people of God to be eternally loved of God, redeemed by the precious blood of God's own Son, and destined for the bliss of glory?
Besides, there is the purpose of God with missions that the wicked be rendered without excuse and that the Day of Christ may come quickly.
The Reformed Faith can engage in this work with the confidence of victory. The difficulties and enemies are many and great. There are materialism and pleasure-madness. There are communism and humanism. There are the heathen religions and the cults. There is dreadful apostasy in the Christian churches. At bottom, there is the spiritual death of every human heart, the blindness of every mind, and the bondage of every will - and the energetic work of Satan to keep it so.
But the Reformed Church is not discouraged, is not pessimistic. For the Son of God has come, has died, has risen again, has been seated on the right hand of God. All power in heaven and on earth is His. We preach in His Name. He shall certainly gather His Church.
The term 'Calvinism' is not the name by which we Calvinists prefer to have our faith called; nor do we prefer to call ourselves 'Calvinists.' Calvin was the name of a man, a great servant of God, John Calvin. He was one of the Reformers by whom the Holy Spirit reformed the Church in the 16th century. To call ourselves 'Calvinists' and our faith 'Calvinism' leaves the impression that we follow a man and that these beliefs are the invention of a man. In fact, these terms originally were terms of derision used by our enemies, as were also the names 'Christian' and 'Protestant.' Therefore, from the very beginning, Calvinists called themselves 'Reformed' or 'Presbyterian.' Thus, they deliberately distinguished themselves from the other great branch of the Protestant Reformation, the Lutheran Church, which did call itself by the name of a man (contrary to the wishes of Luther himself).
Nevertheless, 'Calvinism' and 'Calvinist' are useful terms, today. They are widely known, even though that be, in part, through the attack upon, and reproach of, Calvinism by its enemies. Also, the name 'Calvinist' is embraced by persons and churches who are not Reformed or Presbyterian but who confess those tenets of Calvinism which they call 'the doctrines of grace.' 'Calvinism' has come to stand for certain doctrines, a certain system of truth. We have no objection to calling these doctrines 'Calvinism' as long as two things are clearly understood. First, it must be understood that not the man, John Calvin, but Holy Scripture is the source of them. Second, it must be understood that we who embrace these truths are not disciples of a man, Calvin, but are concerned exclusively to follow God's eternal Son in our flesh, Jesus Christ, exactly by confessing these doctrines.
There are different ways of viewing Calvinism. Some have discovered political implications in Calvinism, e.g., strong opposition to every form of tyranny. Others have found Calvinism important for economics. Max Weber thought to trace the spirit of capitalism to Calvinism, indeed, to Calvinism's doctrine of double predestination. We could examine Calvinism as a total world-and-life-view. It is more, much more, than a set of doctrines, and certainly much more than five points of doctrine. Like humanism or Marxism, Calvinism is a world-and-life-view with which a man takes a stand in every area of human life. Also, Calvinism involves one with the Church, the instituted Church, and is not only the personal beliefs of the individual; it is through and through ecclesiastical. With the early Church, Calvinism fervently holds that 'outside the Church is no salvation.'
At its heart, however, Calvinism is theology, true religion; and this means doctrine. This is how we will be viewing Calvinism, here. We limit ourselves to a consideration of Calvinism as the Gospel.
Calvinism is the Gospel. Its outstanding doctrines are simply the truths that make up the Gospel. Departure from Calvinism, therefore, is apostasy from the Gospel of God's grace in Christ. Our defence of Calvinism, then, will proceed as follows. First, we will show that Calvinism is the Gospel. This is necessary because of its detractors, who criticize it as a perversion of the Gospel. Second, we will defend it as the Gospel. In doing this, we carry out the calling that every believer has from God. Paul wrote that he was 'set for the defence of the Gospel' (Philippians 1:17). I Peter 3:15 calls every believer to give an answer, an 'apology' or defence, to everyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us. As the name indicates, Calvinism is a certain teaching associated with John Calvin; it refers to biblical doctrines that he propounded.
Calvin was a Frenchman, born in 1509 and died at 55 in 1564, who lived during the Reformation of the Church, a contemporary of Martin Luther. He was converted from Roman Catholicism early in his life, 'by a sudden conversion,' he tells us in his preface to his commentary on the Psalms, 'since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire,' and laboured on behalf of the Protestant Faith all the rest of his life. He lived and worked in Geneva, Switzerland as a pastor and theologian. His labour was prodigious. He preached almost daily; did an immense pastoral work; carried on a massive correspondence; and wrote commentaries, tracts, and other theological works. He is remembered especially for his great work on Christian theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion (which still exercises great influence, which every professing Protestant could profitably read and which every critic of Calvinism ought to have studied, if he wishes to be taken seriously), and for his commentaries on almost every book of the Bible. Calvin's Protestant contemporaries recognized his outstanding gifts, especially in theology and exposition of Scripture. They referred to him simply as 'the Theologian.'
Calvin's influence in all the world, already during his lifetime and ever afterwards, was tremendous. Luther, of course, stands alone, as the founder of the Protestant Reformation. But Calvin, benefiting from Luther, outstripped even Luther in influencing the Church of Christ in all the world.
In the history of the Church, Calvinism is the name for the faith of the Reformed and Presbyterian branch of the Protestant Reformation. These Churches were called 'Reformed' in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In England, Scotland and the north of Ireland, they were called 'Presbyterian.' This faith was early expressed in written confessions, or creeds. Among the confessions of the Reformed Churches are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dordt. The great Presbyterian creeds are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Catechisms. All of these confessions are in essential agreement.
The Reformed and Presbyterian Churches insisted that the teaching embodied in these creeds, that which is now called Calvinism, was the revelation of God in Holy Scripture. Calvinism bases itself on Scripture. It holds fully the Protestant principle of sola scriptura (Scripture alone). The doctrine of Scripture is the very foundation of Calvinism. It is a mistake, therefore, to define Calvinism apart from its belief concerning Scripture.
The Bible is the only authority in and over the Church. It is this because it is the inspired Word of God, as II Timothy 3:16 claims: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.' As such, Scripture is the 'infallible rule' (Belgic Confession 7). It may not be ignored, questioned or subjected to criticism, but must be received, believed and obeyed. This is vital for Calvinism because Calvinism teaches many things about which man complains, 'These are hard sayings, who can hear them?' For Calvinism, the question is not, 'will men in the 20th century like these things?' But the question is, 'Does the Word of God say so?'
Calvinism is concerned to proclaim the Scriptures. The preaching of Scripture, both within the Church and outside the Church, is the central interest of Calvinism. It is false to conceive of Calvinism as a theoretical, abstruse science carried on by heady intellectuals in ivory towers. With the entire Reformation, it wanted, and wants today, to preach the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.
Calvinism, then, can rightly be viewed as certain basic doctrines, the so-called 'five points of Calvinism.' But even here, a word of caution is in order. Historically, it is something of a misnomer to call these doctrines 'Calvinism.' On these doctrines, there was no difference between Luther and Calvin. These two leading Reformers were in agreement in their teaching on the doctrines of predestination, the depravity of the fallen man and justification by faith alone. Indeed, almost without exception, all of the Reformers embraced what we now call 'Calvinism.' Besides, the 'five points of Calvinism,' as five particular doctrines that distinguish Calvinism, originated after Calvin's death. They were formulated by a Synod of Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, in 1618-l619, the Synod of Dordt, in response to an attack on these five doctrines by a group within the Reformed Churches that were known as the Remonstrants or Arminians. This Synod set forth, confessed, explained and defended these five truths in the Canons of the Synod of Dordt. But it was Calvin who developed these truths, systematically and fully; and therefore, they came to be called by his name.
Total depravity is one of the five points of Calvinism. This doctrine teaches that man, every man, is by nature sinful and evil—only and completely sinful and evil. There is in man, apart from God's grace in Christ, no good and no ability for good. By 'good' is meant that which pleases God, namely, a deed that has its origin in the faith of Jesus, its standard in the Law of God and its goal in God's glory. From conception and birth, every man is guilty before God and worthy of everlasting damnation. This is man's plight because of the fall of the entire human race m Adam, as Romans 5:12-21 teaches: 'Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned ...' Not only is every man guilty from conception and birth, but he is also corrupt or depraved. This depravity is total. One aspect of this misery of man is the bondage, or slavery, of man's will. The will of every man, apart from the liberating grace of the Spirit of Christ, is enslaved to the Devil and to sin. It is willingly enslaved but it is enslaved. It is unable to will, desire or choose God, Christ, salvation or the good. It is not free to choose good.
It is not Calvinism, that God forces men to sin or that men sin unwillingly, but that the natural man's spiritual condition is such that he cannot think, will or do anything good. On this doctrine, Luther and Calvin were in perfect agreement. Luther, in fact, wrote a book called The Bondage of the Will in which he asserted that the fundamental issue of the Reformation, the basic difference between genuine Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, is this issue, whether the will of the natural man is bound or free. Calvinism shows itself as pure Protestantism by its confession concerning the will in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good ... (9:3-4).
Another of the five points of Calvinism is the truth of limited atonement. There is deliverance for fallen men only in Jesus Christ, God's eternal Son in our flesh. This deliverance occurred in the death of Christ on the cross. His death was atonement for sins, inasmuch as He satisfied the righteousness of God, suffering the penalty of God's wrath in our stead who deserved that wrath because of our sins. Jesus' death was efficacious; it saved! It saved everyone for whom He died. It removed, in full, the punishment of everyone in whose stead Jesus died. He atoned for some, particular men, not for all without exception His atonement was limited as regards the number of men for whom He died and whom He redeemed. They are 'His people' (Matthew 1:21); His 'sheep' (John 10:15: 'I lay down my life for the sheep'); and 'as many as (the Father) hast given (Jesus)' (John 17:2).
It is not Calvinism, that any, even one, who seeks salvation will be denied, but that the death of Jesus saved, that it was efficacious, that it was not in vain.
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 ... (Westminster Confession 8:5, 8)
Irresistible grace or efficacious grace is a third of the five points of Calvinism. This doctrine refers to the actual saving of fallen men by the Holy Spirit, in applying to them the redemption accomplished on the cross. This work of salvation is wholly the work of God; it takes place by grace alone. Negatively, this means two things. First, the salvation of a man is not something that any man deserves, or makes himself worthy of, in any way. Second, salvation is not a work that man accomplishes, in whole or in part. Man does not co-operate with God in bringing about his salvation. Positively, that salvation takes place by grace alone means that salvation is freely given to men by God, merely out of His love and goodness. Also, it means that this salvation is accomplished by God's power, the Holy Spirit. He regenerates; He calls; He gives faith; He sanctifies; He glorifies. This work of saving and the power of grace by which the Holy Spirit performs this work are efficacious. In carrying out this work, the Spirit and His grace do not make a man's salvation possible, but effectually save him. It is not on the order of a mere attempt by God that depends, ultimately, on the man whom God tries to save and that may, therefore, be frustrated and come to naught; but it is on the order of a work of creation that sovereignly and unfailingly makes the man whom God is pleased to save a new creature in Jesus Christ.
It is not Calvinism, that God forces men, kicking and screaming, into heaven, but that God makes a man willing, who before was unwilling. In the Canons of Dordt, the Reformed believer describes the saving work of irresistible grace this way:
... it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead ... so that all in whose heart God works in this marvellous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectively regenerated, and do actually believe ... (III/IV:12)
The doctrine of the perseverance of saints, or 'eternal security,' as some call it, follows from the truth of irresistible grace. Not one person to whom God gives the grace of the Holy Spirit will perish, because that grace and Spirit preserve him unto the perfect salvation of the day of Christ.
It is not Calvinism, that one may do as he pleases and still be saved or that a saint can never fall into sin. Against the charge that the doctrine of perseverance implies that one may do as he pleases and still go to heaven, Calvinism replies that the Holy Spirit preserves us by sanctifying us, by strengthening our faith and by giving us the gift of endurance. As for the 'melancholy falls' of Christians, the saints can, and sometimes do, fall into sin, even 'great and heinous sins,' but the indwelling Spirit, never wholly withdrawn from them, brings them to repentance. Calvinism imparts to all true believers the inestimably precious comfort of the 'certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life' (Canons of Dordt V:9).
All of the salvation described above has its source in God's eternal election. The truth of election is another of the characteristic Calvinistic doctrines. God has from eternity elected or chosen in Christ, some of the fallen human race—a certain, definite number of persons—unto salvation. This choice was unconditional, gracious, and free; it was not due to anything foreseen in those who were chosen. Reprobation is implied. God did not choose all men; but He rejected some men, in the eternal decree. It makes no essential difference whether one views reprobation as God's passing by some men with His decree of election in eternity (which is, in fact, a divine decision about their eternal destiny), or whether one views it as a positive decree that some men perish in their sin, their unbelief and disobedience. Election and reprobation make up predestination, the doctrine that God has determined the destiny of all men from eternity. This truth is regarded, not inaccurately, as the hallmark of Calvinism. The very heart of the Reformed Church is election, God's gracious choice of us sinners, guilty and depraved, worthy only of damnation, unto salvation.
Election is the fountain of all salvation! As such, it is the ultimate, decisive, convincing proof and guarantee that salvation is gracious—that salvation does not depend upon man, but upon God; that salvation is not man's idea, but God's; that salvation is not man's work, but God's; that salvation is not due to man's decision for God, but to God's eternal decision for man.
This is how Calvin himself viewed predestination—as the final, conclusive, incontrovertible testimony to, and guarantee of, gracious salvation. Therefore, in his definitive edition of the Institutes (1559), Calvin treated predestination at the end of Book III, after his treatment of redemption in Christ and his treatment of the application of redemption by the Holy Spirit. Calvin wrote,
We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with His eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz, that he does not adopt promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others' (3.21.1).
This is Calvinism!
This is the Gospel!
The Gospel proclaims man's misery as total depravity, including the bondage of his will. Ephesians 2:1 diagnoses the spiritual condition of the sinner, prior to the quickening of the Spirit of Christ, thus: 'dead in trespasses and sins.' Spiritually dead, the sinner is lacking all good, any ability for good, and both the power and the inclination to effect a change in this condition. Himself is helpless and his condition, hopeless—the helplessness and hopelessness of death. Romans 8:7-8 passes the same judgment upon fallen man: 'Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.' The 'carnal mind' is human nature as it is by virtue of natural birth. Its condition is such that it is incapable of being in subjection to God's law. Those who are in the flesh are those who are not born again by the Spirit of Christ, those who are outside of Christ. Their spiritual condition is such that they are incapable of pleasing God; all that they are able to do is sin. For a sinner to will and to do of God's good pleasure, God must work in him both the willing and the doing, by the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:13).
The Gospel proclaims the death of Christ as a death that effectively redeems some men, rather than as a death that merely makes salvation possible for all men. Scripture teaches limited atonement. Jesus Himself taught this about His own death in John 10:15: '... and I lay down my life for the sheep.' A little further in the same chapter, the Lord specifically states that some men are not included among 'the sheep': 'But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you' (v. 26). He died for some men, 'the sheep,' in distinction from other men, who are not of His sheep. Jesus described His death similarly in Matthew 20:28: 'Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for [Greek: 'in the stead of'] many.' The important point is not so much that He spoke of those for whom He died as 'many,' not as 'all,' as it is that he spoke of His death as the ransom given in the stead of others. By dying, He paid the ransom-price to God on behalf of many sinners. He did this by taking their place, giving up his own life where theirs was forfeit. The effect of this death is that everyone for whom He died is freed from sin, death and hell. Not one for whom He died will perish. None may perish, for the ransom is paid. This Gospel (and there is no other) was preached already by the evangelistic prophet, Isaiah, in Isaiah 53: the suffering Christ bears away the iniquities of God's people by being smitten of God as their substitute.
The Gospel proclaims an irresistible grace, as the power that saves elect sinners. It cannot be otherwise, if the sinner is 'dead in trespasses and sins.' Having taught this in Ephesians 2:1, the apostle goes on to teach irresistible grace in verses 4-5: 'But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).' The saving of the sinner, in every case, is God's raising him from the dead, comparable to Jesus' wonders of raising the physically dead. Now two things are true about resurrection: it is the act of God alone, in which the one who is raised does not cooperate; and it is effectual—God never fails to accomplish the resurrection of any whom He purposes to raise. In verse 10 of this chapter, Paul likens the work by which we were saved to the work of creation, thus making dear that this work is exclusively the work of God the Creator, and not at all the work of the creature that is created: 'For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works ...' Jesus explained that salvation takes place by the sovereign drawing-power of Almighty God, in John 6:44: 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.'
The Gospel proclaims the perseverance of the saints. Jesus said, 'My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one' (John 10:27-30). Jesus gives eternal life to every one of His sheep; and not one of those saints shall ever perish. It is impossible that anyone could pluck a saint out of God's hand, that is, cause a regenerated child to fall away to perdition. The reason is not the strength of the saints, but the power of the grace of God ('my Father ... is greater than all'). These words of Jesus make plain that the comforting truth of perseverance depends upon election and irresistible grace. The saints persevere, because the Father gave them to Jesus and because Jesus gives (not: tries to give, but: gives) them eternal life.
As the source and foundation of salvation, the Gospel proclaims divine election. This truth is on the very face of the entire Old Testament Bible: God chose Israel unto salvation, rejecting the other nations. The mediator of the old covenant tells Israel, 'the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD 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 people: But because the LORD loved you ...' (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
In perfect harmony with this obvious truth of the old covenant, the mediator of the new covenant traces every aspect of His salvation back to divine election. His life-giving death stems from election: 'that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him' (John 17:2). His priestly pity and intercessory prayer are regulated by election: 'I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine' (John 17:9). His saving revelation of the truth to men depends upon election: 'I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world ...' (John 17:6). The coming of men to Him in true faith is effected by election: 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me ...' (John 6:37). His preservation of men in faith and His resurrection of these men in glory are due to election: '... that of all which he bath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day' (John 6:39).
Election has a prominent place in the Gospel preached by the apostles. It is the cause of the salvation of every one who is saved, and the source of every blessing of salvation: '... the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ... hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings ... according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world' (Ephesians 1:3-4). Upon eternal predestination was forged the golden (and unbreakable) chain of salvation: 'Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified' (Romans 8:30). The entire river of the mercy of God in Jesus flows out of His will of election; and the sovereign graciousness of this will is illustrated by this, that God hardens some men according to His eternal decree of reprobation: 'Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth' (Romans 9:18).
There can be no ignoring of these doctrines, called 'Calvinism'; if they are not preached and confessed, they are denied. Every preacher, every Church, every member of every Church must take a stand regarding them, and does take a stand. It is impossible not to. For they are writ large on the pages of Scripture, as essential elements of the gospel. Whoever rejects Calvinism embraces the only alternative to Calvinism—a system of doctrine that is opposed to Calvinism in every point.
Does a man reject total depravity? Then he believes that fallen, natural man yet retains some good and some ability for good, specifically a will that is able to make a decision for Christ; that man outside of Christ is not dead in sins, but merely sick, that is, not dead, but alive.
Does a man reject limited atonement? Then he believes that Jesus died for each and every human being without exception. Because both Scripture and the hard facts of life teach that some men do perish in hell, this advocate of universal atonement believes that the death of Jesus did not actually atone for sins at all, but merely made atonement possible; that the cross was not the payment of the ransom in the stead of every one for whom Christ died, but merely an example of love; that the suffering of the Son of God did not effectually satisfy the justice of God by bearing sins away, but merely...? Did what? Anything at all? And if not, was He really the eternal Son of God in the flesh?
Does a man reject irresistible grace? Then he believes that God's call to salvation and the grace of the Holy Spirit depend upon the acceptance of the sinner by the exercise of his 'free will,' so that God's grace can be defeated and fail. Further, he believes that, whenever a sinner does come to Jesus in true faith and receives salvation, this is not due to the grace of God, but to the good will of the sinner.
Does a man reject the perseverance of saints? Then he believes that every believer can fall away and perish at any time, including himself.
Does a man reject predestination? Then he believes that the ultimate source and foundation of salvation is man's choice, decision and will.
In the end, there are two, and only two, possible faiths. The one maintains that all mankind lies in death; that God in free and sovereign grace eternally chose some; that God gave Christ to die for those whom He chose; that the Holy Spirit regenerates them and calls them efficaciously to faith; and that the Spirit preserves these elect, redeemed and reborn sinners unto everlasting glory. This is Calvinism.
The other faith maintains that fallen man retains some spiritual ability for good, some life; that God's choice of men depends upon their exercise of the ability for good that is in them; that Christ's death depends upon that good in man; and that the attainment of final glory depends upon that good in man. This is the enemy of Calvinism. This is the enemy of the Gospel! For Calvinism proclaims salvation by grace; the other faith preaches salvation by man's will and works and worth.
Calvinism is the Gospel! God's Gospel is the message of wholly gracious salvation. This does not mean that Calvinism is inoffensive. On the contrary! Calvin himself took note, long ago, of the offensiveness of the truth that he taught, with reference specifically to total depravity:
I am not unaware how much more plausible the view is, which invites us rather to ponder on our good qualities than to contemplate what must overwhelm us with shame—our miserable destitution and ignominy. There is nothing more acceptable to the human mind than flattery ... if a discourse is pronounced which flatters the pride spontaneously springing up in man's inmost heart, nothing seems more delightful. Accordingly, in every age, he who is most forward in extolling the excellence of human nature, is received with the loudest applause (Institutes 2.1.2).
But the offensiveness of Calvinism to men is nothing other than the offence of the cross of Christ. In Galatians 5:11, Paul speaks of 'the offence of the cross,' an offence that ceases only in the preaching of a cross-denying heresy. The cross of Christ, which is the very heart of the Gospel, is not pleasing to man, or acceptable to him. 'But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness' (I Corinthians 1:23). The cross, as the cross of the eternal Son of God in our flesh, shows the extent of fallen man's misery: he can be saved only by the death of the Son of God. Words finally fail to do justice to the greatness of the misery of the sinner, brought out by the cross: utterly lost, completely ruined, totally depraved. The cross shows that salvation is of the Lord, wholly of divine grace, and not at all of man. As the cross of the Prince of life, the cross is powerful to save. Nothing and no one can nullify or defeat the blood and Spirit of Christ crucified. The Gospel of the cross is this message: 'So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy' (Romans 9:16).
Just because this is the message of Calvinism, Calvinism is offensive to men. It is offensive to proud man to hear that he is spiritually dead, totally devoid of anything pleasing to God, unable at all to save himself, nothing more than a child of wrath. But this is the judgment passed upon him in Calvinism—and in the Gospel. It is offensive to proud man to hear that salvation is exclusively God's free gift and sovereign, gracious work. But this is what Calvinism—and the Gospel—proclaim.
Just because of this, Calvinism is good news! It is Gospel, glad tidings! As the message of grace, it comforts us and all those who, by the grace of the Spirit, believe in Christ. Only this message provides hope for lost, sinful, and otherwise hopeless men. There is salvation, only because salvation is gracious.
Defending Calvinism is simply a matter of defending the Gospel. Therefore, we do not defend it apologetically, or defensively, or even as if its fortunes were doubtful, dependent on our defence. As the truth of God, Calvinism stands, and will stand—victorious, invincible. God Himself maintains it; and God Himself sends it forth on an irresistible course of conquest throughout the world.
Calvinism is the Gospel for every age. It is the truth for which and by which the Reformation of the Church of Jesus Christ took place in the 16th century. The Gospel has not changed since that time; Jesus Christ in His truth is the same yesterday and today and for ever. But the truth of the Gospel is largely lost and buried in the Protestant Churches in our day, including many who pride themselves on being 'fundamental' and 'evangelical.' The Gospel is perverted by a message that is essentially the same as that message against which the Reformation fought and which on its part bitterly opposed the Reformation. In those days, Rome preached a salvation that had to be earned by man's own works, as indeed it still preaches today; Rome taught that men were righteous before God, in part, by their own works, as indeed it still teaches today. In our day, the Protestant Churches teach and preach that salvation depends upon man's own will; they proclaim that the sinner must achieve his own salvation by willing. This 'gospel' of much of Protestantism and the 'gospel' of Rome are one and the same. Essentially, there is no difference between them. This is the reason why many Protestant Churches, preachers, evangelists and people find it possible to co-operate closely with the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the work of evangelism; and this is the reason why a great reunion with Rome on the part of many Protestants is in the offing. Rome says, 'Salvation depends upon man working;' modern Protestantism says, 'Salvation depends upon man willing.' Both are saying the same thing: 'Salvation depends upon man.' The apostle lumps both of these variations of the same basic doctrine together in Romans 9:16, and condemns them: 'So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.'
Having condemned these heresies, Paul declares that the source of our salvation is God showing mercy—only God showing mercy; he proclaims that salvation depends upon God showing mercy—only upon God showing mercy. This is the message of Calvinism; and because it is, our defence of Calvinism is a bold, uncompromisingly, unashamed defence. We say of Calvinism what B. B. Warfield once said of it: 'the future of Christianity—as its past has done—lies in its hands.'
We repudiate the false accusations made against Calvinism, and the caricatures made of it. Men say of Calvinism that it is destructive of good works and of the law of God, that it produces careless Christians. Men say that it is destructive of zeal for preaching and missions. Men say that it is terrifying to poor consciences, that it is cold and hard, and that Calvinists are all head and no heart. These are old charges, hoary with age. You will find them, almost word-for-word, lodged against the apostle, Paul, and the Gospel that he preached (cf. Romans 3:8, 31; 6:1f.; 9:19ff.).
Would that men were not so ready to accept the caricature of Calvinism contrived by its enemies, but rather let Calvinism speak for itself, in its confessions. Read the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Catechisms and see for yourself whether Calvinism is hard and cold and cruel or whether it is warm and comforting. Read the Belgic Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith and see whether Calvinism goes lightly over the law of God and over the good works of the Christian man or whether it trembles before the law, stresses sanctification and insists on the necessity of good works. Read the Canons of Dordt, the Reformed creed that is unsurpassed in its statement of predestination and in its defence of salvation by grace alone, and see whether Calvinism cuts the nerve of a lively preaching of the Gospel, including the serious call of the Gospel to all who come under the preaching. See also the tenderness of the Reformed Faith towards penitent sinners and its deep pastoral concern for afflicted consciences.
At the same time, we Reformed people and churches must refute the caricatures of Calvinism by our life and deeds. This also belongs to an 'apology for Calvinism.' We do well to take heed to ourselves, as well as to our doctrine. Are we zealous for good works? Are we ready to preach the Gospel to every creature and to give an answer to every man that asks us a reason for the hope that is in us? Do we manifest ourselves as joyful, hopeful, confident saints? This we will do, by God's grace, if we live out of the truth of Calvinism, that is, the Gospel.
We have a powerful motive for defending Calvinism. For one thing, as the Gospel it is the only hope for sinful men—the only power of God unto salvation, the only means of the gathering and preserving of the Church.
Even more compelling, Calvinism glorifies God. The glory of God is the heartbeat of Calvinism, and the heart of hearts of every Calvinist. Calvin's enemies have always seen this and have sneered at him as 'that God-intoxicated man.' Calvinism gives the magnificent answer to the question, 'What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever' (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 1). But the glory of God is the goal of the Gospel, that is, the goal of God Himself through the Gospel: '... to the praise of the glory of his grace' (Ephesians 1:6). His glory He will not give to another (Isaiah 42:8). 'Of him, and through him, and to him are all things;' to Him, therefore, be glory for ever (Romans 11:36).