Throughout Christian history there have been issues that have divided the people of God. Some of those issues concerned questions that had little impact on the integrity of the gospel or the practical life of the Church. Others have been issues of such grave importance that even a seemingly insignificant departure from Apostolic instruction has led to a radical departure from the biblical gospel.
One issue about which we cannot afford the slightest error is the design and extent of the redeeming work of Christ. Sadly, in many if not most of our modern, evangelical pulpits the biblical idea of substitution, in the sense that Jesus actually took the place of and bore God’s wrath for certain favored sinners so that he actually “sealed their pardon” on the cross, is never heard. In place of that message, well-meaning but misguided preachers feel constrained to inform their hearers indiscriminately that Jesus died for their sins on the cross. Now, if they will only open their hearts and let Jesus come in, God will save them. The sad tragedy is that such a message is not the biblical gospel. One will search the New Testament Scriptures in vain looking for such language in the proclamations of gospel preachers. Never is a crowd of sinners told “Jesus died for you.” Why should we forsake the biblical pattern for gospel preaching? Additionally, we never find them saying to anyone they need to open their hearts and let Jesus come in. Instead, these biblical evangelists told their hearers Jesus died for sinners. He actually took the place of and bore the penalty that was due to vile, guilty sinners who would believe and repent.
I have often heard the charge that Calvinists would rather fly across the country to debate an Arminian than to walk across the street to witness the gospel to the unconverted. Though I am sure there are some Calvinists, just as there are some Arminians, who are only theoretical and academic in their approach biblical truth, the great majority of Calvinists are, as they have been throughout Christian history, deeply concerned about spreading the gospel. Our overwhelming concern as we engage in this debate is to guard and preserve the purity of the gospel. It makes no difference whether we walk across the street or travel around the world to witness to the lost, the message we give them must be God’s message, not ours. If we should give the impression the sinner’s decision to receive Jesus Christ forms any part of the basis for his right standing before God, we have mutilated the gospel and changed it into another gospel that is not God’s good news at all.

Years ago I read a passage in Robert Haldane’s Commentary that I found very helpful. I have modernized it slightly and present it here for your edification. Haldane wrote,

Many seem to believe if they are going to proclaim the gospel they must tell every sinner Christ died for him. Additionally, they believe that if Jesus did not die to take away the sins of every individual, they cannot preach the gospel. This is very erroneous. The gospel declared that Christ died for the guilty and that the most guilty who believe shall be saved.. ‘It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ even the chief of sinners. The gospel does not tell every individual to whom we addressed it that Christ died for him. Instead, it simply tells him that if he believes, he will be saved. On this basis, we can proclaim the gospel to every sinner. It is only after a person has believed the gospel that he can know Christ died for him individually. Since the Bible reveals that whoever believes shall be saved, it is quite consistent to proclaim the gospel to all sinners and declare that they will be saved if they believe. If the most guilt person in the human race should believe, it is an absolute certainty that he would be saved. If anyone feels he cannot proclaim the gospel freely and has difficulty calling everyone to faith unless he can say, “Jesus died for every member of the human race,” he does not clearly understand what the gospel is. It is the good news that Christ died for the most guilty who believe, not that he died for every individual whether he should believe or not. To the truth that every person who believes shall be saved there is no exception. The only sins that will not find God’s forgiveness are those that belong to sinners who refuse to believe the gospel; if they believe, they will be saved. . . .
Some would have a problem calling sinners to believe in Christ if His redeeming work was not intended for every sinner. This is no different from the difficulty some experience when they feel restrained in calling on sinners indiscriminately to believe the gospel because they know God will never save those he has not chosen for eternal life. Here is where they go wrong. According to the commandment of the everlasting God, we are to make the gospel known to all nations for the obedience of faith. It is certain those whom God has not graciously chosen and for whom Christ did not die will never believe. These are secret things that belong to God alone. They will be made known at the proper time. . . .We are not to inquire first, either for ourselves or others, about the identity of the chosen ones or the redeemed before we determine to whom we should preach the gospel. We must preach it to all, assured that whoever believes it shall receive forgiveness. When we believe the gospel, we come to understand for ourselves that Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree. We learn that, from the beginning, God has chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
The work of Christ is of unlimited value. The reason all are not saved by it has nothing to do with insufficient value but simply because it was not intended to redeem all. In itself it was valuable enough to take away all the sins of mankind, had that been God’s intention. If Christ’s sacrifice had not been sufficient for all, it would not have been sufficient for anyone. Every sinner who will be saved needed a redemptive act of unlimited value; no more could be required to redeem every individual. We proclaim the all-sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work to all who hear the gospel. We invite all to rely on it for pardon and acceptance. We address them as freely as if we knew God had designed it for them from all eternity. All who rely on it in saving faith shall surely experience its power and unlimited value.


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