Calvinistic Evangelism-The Apostolic Pattern–the Message–Chapter Five:The Gracious Commitment

Our message includes the proclamation of the good news that God has promised to save every guilty sinner who calls on him. We must never forget that such a promise is a gracious commitment on God’s part. It is a promise he makes to guilt rebels who richly deserve to perish under his wrath and curse. He has every right to summon us to his regal throne and summarily execute us on the spot. We have despised his gifts, broken his laws, and scorned and crucified his Son, yet he extends to us his mercy and grace.

Not only is this proffer gracious and merciful; it is also a divine commitment. God’s promises are indissolubly linked with his honor and the glory of his great name. God could no more break his promise than he could cease to exist. It is the strong consolation of every believer that God cannot lie or change his mind.

Fulfillment of Old Testament Promises

One major theme in apostolic preaching is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. This was particularly true when they proclaimed the good news to a Jewish audience. Peter began his message on the day of Pentecost with the words “. . .this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:” (Acts 2:16). He continued by referring his hearers to David’s prophecy in Psalms 16 then concluded by quoting Psalms 110:1.

This is not an isolated theme. Consider the following:

“ But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. . . .” (Acts 3:18).

“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, . . .” (Acts 13:32).

“And, Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead. . . .” Acts 17:2-3).

“And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers. . . .” (Acts 26:6).

“. . .so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that , by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26: 22-23).

This last verse is particularly significant in that it includes God’s promise that he would enlighten the Gentiles and include them in his redemptive purpose.

This theme is not confined to the book of Acts. We also find it in Paul’s articulation of his gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. He does not merely talk about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He states, that Jesus died and rose again “in accordance with the Scriptures.” See also Romans 1:2; 3: 21; 16: 26.

This theme is important on the practical level for more than one reason. First, it stands as verification that this message was no novelty dreamed up by Jesus’ disciples. It was “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” Second, it reminds us that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophesy. “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’”(Luke 24:44). Third, it speaks to us of God’s faithfulness. It reminds us that God is faithful to fulfill his promises. Since he has been faithful to accomplish everything he promised in the Old Testament Scriptures, we can trust him to fulfill his gospel promises.

A Universal Offer and Commitment

Jesus told his disciples that forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. It is with this in mind that the theologians who composed the Canons of Dort wrote,

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 distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel. (Second Head, Art. 5).

There is nothing about the gospel that suggests it should be offered any more freely to one sinner than to another. James P. Boyce wrote,

No difference of nation, or class, or condition; no question as to election, or non-election, nor as to the purpose to make it effectual, enters into this call. It is made to everyone. Nothing is known to those who are to proclaim the gospel which can make its offer to one any more sincere than to another (Boyce, 1887, p. 369).

It is to show the universality of this offer of pardon that the New Testament writers used such words as “world” and “all” or “all peoples.” Jesus came first for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but in accord with Old Testament prophecy and as a result of Jesus’ redemptive work, he now draws people from every nation to embrace him by faith. When Joel the prophet foretold the outpouring of God’s Spirit and prophesied that he would be poured out on “all flesh,” he did not mean that every human being would receive the Spirit. Instead, he meant that people of every nation would be partaker of this glorious blessing. The promise is not for the Jews only but for “all those who are afar off,” i.e., the Gentiles whom God would call.

J. C. Ryle made an insightful comment concerning the phrase “beginning at Jerusalem,” in the Luke 24 text. He wrote,

This expression taught . . . that the Apostles and first preachers of the Gospel should not shrink from offering salvation to the worst and greatest sinners. They were not to regard even the city where their Master was crucified as hopelessly wicked and too bad to be benefited by the Gospel (Ryle, 1875, p. 522).

We do not proclaim the gospel to elect sinners or to awakened sinners but to sinners as sinners. The warrant of faith is not some direct revelation that we have been chosen by God or that Jesus died for us in particular. Instead, it is that God has committed himself to pardon repenting sinners who believe his promise. Joseph Alleine has left behind an excellent example of Calvinistic preaching in his book, An Alarm to the Unconverted. In it, he makes it clear that the warrant of faith is not election or God’s secret purposes, but God’s promises. He wrote,

You begin at the wrong end if you first dispute about your election. Prove your conversion, and then never doubt your election. If you cannot yet prove it, set upon a present and thorough turning. Whatever God’s purposes be, which are secret, I am sure His promises are plain. How desperately do rebels argue! ‘If I am elected I shall be saved, do what I will. If not, I shall be damned, do what I can.’ Perverse sinner, will you begin where you should end? Is not the word before you? What says it? ‘Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.’ ‘If you mortify the deeds of the body you shall live.’ ‘Believe and be saved’ (Acts 3:19; Rom 8:13; Acts 16:31). What can be plainer? Do not stand still disputing about your election—but set to repenting and believing. Cry to God for converting grace. Revealed things belong to you; in these busy yourself. It is just, as one well said, that they who will not feed on the plain food of the Word should be choked with the bones. Whatever God’s purposes may be, I am sure His promises are true. Whatever the decrees of heaven may be, I am sure that if I repent and believe, I shall be saved; and that if I do not repent, I shall be damned. Is not this plain ground for you; and will you yet run upon the rocks (Alleine, p. 12)?

We understand that there is not a single sinner on earth who is a good candidate for salvation. Every sinner is hostile toward God. Like the deaf adder that stops its ears, they will not harken to the voice of the gospel however eloquently it may be proclaimed. At the same time, we understand that every sinner is a good candidate for salvation since the same God who sent us to proclaim the message is mighty to save the most hardened rebel.

A Sincere Offer and Commitment

I am aware that there has not been universal agreement among Calvinists on the issue of the gospel call. There have been those who have insisted that we cannot sincerely offer the gospel and the pardon it promises to anyone but the elect since we know that only they will respond positively to the call. Others have taken the position that since God has published his desire that sinners escape damnation through repentance, we are warranted in announcing his sincere desire that sinner’s turn from sin and bow before his holy throne. As an example of this published desire, consider this. “. . .I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ezek. 33:11)? In Romans 10:21, the apostle Paul has represented God as one who has “all day long held out his hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, (Luke 19:41), are we to suppose his tears were insincere or, if sincere, were not an accurate expression of the Father’s desires for the cities inhabitants whose hearts had remained impenitent?

In considering the gospel call, especially in terms of its sincerity, it is essential that we keep in mind the distinction between God’s will of decree and his will of precept. Since many have written quite ably about this subject, I will not attempt to re-invent the wheel by commenting at length on this issue. Instead, I would refer you to “Are There Two Wills in God?” by John Piper. This article that appears on Dr. Piper’s webpage, “Desiring God” is a chapter taken from a book titled, Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge and Grace. In it he argues that what God has decreed is often seen to run counter to what he has prescribed in his Word. Both Calvinists and Arminians who are honest with the Scriptures acknowledge this to be the case but see different reasons why God does not always cause his sincere desires to become reality. If God’s revealed desire that none perish is sincere, why does he not decree the salvation of all? Piper argues, I think rightly, that the reason is that God has a higher purpose. For the Arminian, this higher purpose is the preservation of human self-determination, what some call “libertarian free will.” They argue that our choices would not be meaningful if God had decreed to bring us to faith through sovereign, efficacious grace. For the Calvinist, the reason is different. Piper wrote, “The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29)” (Piper, 2000).

Perhaps I could illustrate the matter this way. Would we question the sincerity of a father’s pity and compassion for his erring son because he had determined that he would not withhold discipline for some serious misdeed the son had committed? He could have chosen to withhold the rod of discipline if he wished and spare his son present pain, but he has a higher purpose in view. His desires to uphold the order of discipline he has established and to build character in his son define the greater purpose that determines his actions. Still, his heart is nonetheless broken in the administration of discipline.

Our announcement of God’s good news must never minimize the reality of God’s pity and compassion for helpless sinners. On the other hand, we must not represent God as full of pity and compassion but helpless to remedy the sinner’s predicament in sin. Hyper-Calvinism tends to emphasize God’s power to the exclusion of his pity for sinners. Arminians tend to emphasize God’s pity to the exclusion of his power to deliver sinners from their plight.

True Calvinists affirm both God’s sovereign decree to secure the salvation of his chosen people and his published desire that sinners turn from the evil of their ways and live. What we do not believe is that his desire to save sinners is an ineffectual wish that sinners by their libertarian free-will, will somehow make the right decision. One of my favorite hymns is an invitation to sinners to come to Christ. It begins,

Come ye sinners poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded sick and sore.
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able; he is willing, doubt no more.

Joseph Hart

I believe this hymn expresses the proper biblical balance between Arminianism on the one hand and Calvinism on the other. The Arminian proclaims a Savior who is full of pity but one who, if he has the power to save, would never exert that power lest he violate the sinner’s autonomy. The Hyper-Calvinist proclaims a Savior who has copious power to save but precious little compassion and pity for sinners. The Calvinists proclaims a Savior who is “full of pity” that is “joined with power.” He is both able and willing to save. Hallelujah! What a Savior!


3 Responses to “Calvinistic Evangelism-The Apostolic Pattern–the Message–Chapter Five:The Gracious Commitment”

  1. March 17, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Good work, my brother. Your last paragraph is an excellent, concise, comparison between those three systems of theology. So many Arminians (though most deny they are such) lump all Calvinists into the hyper-Calvinist bucket. I pray all is well with you and yours – blessings in Christ.

    • March 17, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Thank-you for your kind comment. You are right. I have been called a Hyper-Calvinist many times. Of course, the old joke is that a “Hyper-Calvinist” is someone who is more Calvinistic than I am. Historically, I think the issue has revolved around the free offer of the gospel.

      All is well here, our little Spanish Bible study has begun to grow in number and those who attend show a lot of interest in learning about God’s great salvation.

      We hope all is well with you, your family and your new church.

      • March 17, 2015 at 2:57 pm

        I’ve also been called a hyper-Calvinist by several folks. Ignorance seems to be a main-stay in many places and people who call themselves Christian; neglecting the instructions from Peter (who was NOT the first pope!) to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

        Glad to hear things are going well with your Bible study and the Holy God calling His people!

        We just returned from Seattle, the Lord provided a wonderful godly young lady to be our son’s wife. It was a very good Christ-focused wedding at his church, where they met. I was blessed to speak at the reception.

        I gave the pastor of our new church a copy of my digital library, a few other good books that teach historical particular Baptist doctrines. He is a dispensationalist but not dogmatic about it. Claims to disagree with all 5 points of Calvinism but it is based on misinformation about them. I am trying to get with him on a regular basis – to understand where he is, to encourage him to keep reforming to the Scriptures, and to not grow weary.

        All things for the glory of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: