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