15
Sep
15

Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Nine–God’s Purpose in Creating the World

“God Has Made All Things for Himself”

 

There is no biblical truth that is more fundamentally important for all of life than the proposition that God has made all things for himself. This is a controlling theme in the Scriptures. In Paul’s glorious doxology at the end of Romans eleven, we read the following: “. . . for of him [the Lord], and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever, Amen” (Romans 11:36). Jonathan Edwards wrote, “. . .as all things are from God, as their first cause and fountain, so all things tend to him, and in their progress come nearer and nearer to him through all eternity: which argues, that he who is their first cause is their last end” (Edwards, 102). In the immediately preceding verse, Paul has written, “For who has first given to him that it might be repaid to him.” Of course, the answer is clear. No one has first given anything to him.  If we give him anything it is but the return of that which he has given us “for of [or from] him . . .are all things.” And his purpose in thus giving to us all things is that he might enjoy us enjoying him, thus he and the manifestation of his glory is the end for which he created all things. God has made all things for himself. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” That is, what is the purpose or goal that our existence on earth is intended to accomplish? The answer is meaningful and profound— “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It should not escape our notice that human enjoyment is a significant part of this answer, though it is not the sort of enjoyment sinful people usually seek. One reason God has chosen to reveal himself as he has is so that his creatures might enjoy him as he enjoys himself.

In Hebrews chapter two, verse ten, the writer describes God as the one “for whom are all things and by whom are all things.” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:6 “. . .for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.” In his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Made the World in the first volume of his works, Jonathan Edward has compiled an impressive number of Scriptures that show that in all God’s works of creation and providence, his ultimate end has been expressed in such phrases as the following: “that he might be glorified,” “to make a name for himself,” “to make his glory known,” “to make his name known in the earth,” and “that his name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” I will not take the time here to reproduce all the many verses that teach this truth. I would simply refer the reader either to Edward’s dissertation or to the use of a good concordance. It is impossible to read the Bible carefully without being impacted by the truth that God’s purpose in creating the world was to make his glory known.

This truth has profound implications for evangelism, no less than for every other area of the believer’s life. There are at least three areas of our thinking that should be governed by understanding this point of divine revelation: 1. It is the reason we proclaim God’s message, 2. It helps us understand the true nature and purpose of God’s redemptive work, 3. It helps us understand the sense in which God sincerely desires the sinner’s salvation. Let’s consider those points one by one.

Why Preach the Gospel?

I would be a wealthy man today if I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone respond to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the sinner’s salvation with the question, “If that is true, why should we preach the gospel?” One would think these folks would find new objections. The question really implies that unless we are able to retain some measure of control in the matter of the sinner’s salvation, there is no reason to be involved. It immediately betrays the fact that they have no idea about the true purpose of gospel proclamation.

I have even heard people say, “If I believed that were true, I wouldn’t waste my time witnessing to anyone.” I tend to see such people as playground brats who announce that if their playmates don’t do things their way, they are going to take their ball and go home. How audacious can a person be to announce before God and everyone that unless everything is exactly as they would like to imagine it to be, they are simply going to refuse to cooperate. After reminding them it isn’t their time, just as it isn’t their breath, their money, their life etc., I proceed to speak to their issue.

God’s Command

The first answer should be obvious to anyone who understands the relationship of a slave to his master. It is an answer that every parent has uttered and every child has heard. We should proclaim God’s message because he told us to. It is not ours to question what he intends to accomplish through our preaching. It may be his intention use us to harden and condemn an entire generation. If he does so, it is his prerogative to do so and we have no right to question him for doing it. Think of Isaiah’s commission in Isaiah chapter six. I have sat in on many missionary conferences over the years, and have found that in almost every one of them someone preached a missionary appeal based on Isaiah 6:1-8 ending with Isaiah’s words, “Here am I, send me.”  Yet, in all my years I have never heard a missionary challenge that included verses nine through thirteen. Consider Jehovah’s purpose for Isaiah’s ministry as stated in those verses.  He said to Isaiah,

Go tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of the people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed. Then I said, ‘For how long O lord?’ And he answered: ‘Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. . .. (Isa. 6:9-12).  John tells that these words were fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry (see—John 12:37-41).

This describes a message of judgment on an unbelieving people and lays the responsibility for their rebellion and unbelief squarely at their feet. It describes God’s withdrawal of his common, restraining mercy from them as a result of their rebellion. Can you imagine Isaiah replying to Jehovah and saying, “Well, if that is what you have planned, I just not going to waste my time?” Such a response would be inconceivable. He fulfilled his commission because God had sent him, and he understood that the results of his ministry were God’s business and not his. We spread God’s message of proffered pardon because he has commanded us to do so. We truly need no other reason.

The Necessary Means

There is a second reason for proclaiming God’s message of pardon. It is that God has ordained to use means to accomplish his saving purpose. Though he is able to work above means, in means and contrary to means, he usually works through means to accomplish his plans. Isaiah 46:9-11 instructs us that the LORD who knows the end from the beginning and from ancient time the things that are not yet done and who has determined to accomplish all his purpose and pleasure, “summons a bird of prey from he east and a man to fulfill his purpose from a far-off land” (see verse 11).

Paul asks in Romans 10:14-15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” His questions simply point up the reality that God does not intend to accomplish his purpose apart from the use of means.

Being Aligned with God’s Purpose in Creating the World

Although the two answers I have given to this objection are legitimate and true, they do not truly touch the root of the matter. Though it is true we have a duty to perform and that God intends to realize his purpose through the use of means, there is clearly a higher reason that we make God’s message known. It is that in doing so, we are brought into alignment with the goal for which God created the world. This divine purpose is no less evident in God redemptive design than it was in his creative purpose. In Ephesians one, the apostle Paul continues to hammer home the same thought concerning the ultimate end of God’s great work of salvation. In relation to God’s predestined plan he wrote, “In love, he predestined us to be adopted as sons, through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace. . .” (vv. 5-6). In verse twelve he states God’s purpose in choosing us and granting us an inheritance in Christ. It is “that we might be for the praise of his glory.” Then he writes about God’s crowning work in the redemption of the purchased possession at the last day and the granting of our full inheritance and states that it is all “to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).

The answer to the question, “Why should we preach the gospel?” is clear. We preach the gospel because it is in line with God’s great purpose—that is, to make his glory known in the earth.  The Westminster divines understood this well. In writing about God’s decree concerning the salvation of his elect people they began with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” (Chapter Three, “Of God’s Eternal Decree,” #3).

This understanding can help us remain faithful to our task of proclaiming God’s message even when it seems no one is heeding the message. One of the early missionaries in the modern missionary movement, William Carey, labored seven long years before he saw anyone converted to Christ. He was able to remain faithful because his primary purpose in proclaiming the gospel was not the conversion of sinners but a manifestation of God’s glory in the proclamation of his message. I am not suggesting that the conversion of sinners is not important but that it is not our preeminent concern. Paul wrote in his second epistle to the Corinthians that he was always successful in his proclamation of the gospel whether his hearers heeded his message or not. He wrote,

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor. 2: 14-16).

Paul’s meaning here is that he is always triumphant because Christ has triumphed over him by the power of almighty grace and leads him in a triumphal procession for all to see. He ministers not as a conquering hero but as a conquered bondservant. Everywhere Christ leads him, he diffuses his Savior’s aroma. It is immaterial whether those who experience this fragrance of Christ react positively or negatively to it since the apostle’s goal is not to be pleasing to men but to be pleasing to God [“the aroma of Christ to God”] (see Galatians 1:10). It is as he considers the manifestation God’s glory and the diffusion of Christ’s fragrance in the gospel that Paul rejoices that he is Christ’s captive who is led in triumphal procession.

We must always keep the following words in mind as we are involved in any aspect of ministry. Peter wrote,

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).

The Nature and Purpose of God’s Redemptive Work

One of the many persistent controversies that threatens the purity of the gospel concerns the nature of conversion. According to some, conversion amounts to nothing more than the sinner’s decision to let Jesus be his Savior. Once he his made his decision, the new believer perhaps should become a disciple and follow Jesus, but if he does not, there is no reason to question the reality of his “faith.” Those who hold this view claim those who take a high view of conversion teach that salvation is by works because they insist that genuine faith will give evidence of itself in works of obedience to Christ.

I will examine this issue in greater detail when I write about what we mean when we speak about salvation, but for now, I want to focus on salvation as a revelation of God’s glory. Once we understand God’s end in creating the world, the nature and purpose of his redemptive work become clear since his purpose in creation and his purpose in redemption are the same. It is interesting that the apostle Paul sets these two great works of God side by side as he speaks about God’s work of conversion. He wrote, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). The very God who, by the fiat of his will, spoke the universe into existence and commanded the light to chase away the darkness, has spoken a word of spiritual creation and caused his light to dispel our spiritual darkness. The purpose of this act of spiritual creation that theologically we call “regeneration” was the revelation of God’s glory in the face of Christ. The point of our conversion is that moment at which God removes the veil of unbelief from our darkened hearts and causes the resplendent light of his glory to flood our souls. Even Charles Wesley described conversion this way. He wrote,

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—

I woke; the dungeon flamed with light.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

This verse is found in a context in which the apostle is contrasting the New Covenant with the Old Covenant and the inability of the Old Covenant to fully reveal God’s glory. He describes the universal Christian experience as follows: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is in contrast to Moses who veiled his face because God’s glory that was reflected on his face was fading. Instead of the ever fading glory of the Law as covenant, the New Covenant believer is being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory.

It is God’s purpose in the redemption of his people to bring many sons to glory, and the ultimate goal in redemption as in creation is the manifestation of his glory. Remember what Jesus prayed for believers in John seventeen, twenty-four, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory. . .” The manifestation of his glory is God’s ultimate purpose in his great work of salvation just as it was his ultimate end in creating the universe.

All these expressions are a far cry from the cheap and tawdry jargon of modern evangelicalism that promises people a home in heaven when they die but leaves them in their self-gratifying, self-centered, course of life in which their sinful delights are the chief objects of their worship. James Packer was certainly right when he wrote concerning the “new gospel,” “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.” Then, speaking of the old gospel he wrote, “. . .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 whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God.  (Packer’s Introduction).

We proclaim the good news of redemption because when we do so, we make God’s glory known, and in doing so we are in harmony with God’s primary goal in creation, providence and redemption. The gospel is about more than forgiveness; its goal is nothing short of the full restoration of believers to the image and glory of God.

In What Sense Does God Desire that All Repent?

 

The Bible knows nothing of the sloppy sentimentalism that characterizes so much of modern evangelism. Our God is not a well-meaning but doddering old grand-father in the sky who would save sinners if he could but is unable to get the job done. Neither is he one who is bound to be fair to sinners by acting toward all in the same way. He does what he wills, when he wills, and in whatever way he wills, and not one of his creatures has the right to call him into question for anything he has done. There is not a shred of biblical evidence that he has sovereignly decreed that he will not violate the sanctity of the sinner’s libertarian free will. We must reject once and for all the notion that God has in any way linked his eternal happiness with the salvation of sinners. The divine felicity does not in any sense depend on the sinner’s willingness to comply with the demands of the gospel. God’s pleasure is not dependent on his creatures.

The pitiful and powerless Jesus of modern evangelism who stands helplessly outside the sinner’s heart’s door is both impotent and ignorant. Not only is such a “Savior” powerless to save; he must wait to see if the sinner is willing to open to him. Listen to the blasphemy of this Arminian anthem,

Time after time he has waited before,

And now he is waiting again

To see if you’re willing to open the door.

Oh, how he wants to come in.

Even the evangelical Arminians of days gone by understood that God has at least foreseen the faith of all who will believe. This Jesus does not have a clue. Such a representation rather evokes our pity than our praise. Instead of exhibiting the Savior’s glory, it extols the sinner’s sovereignty and autonomy. Not only should such words never pass our lips, but they should never even enter our minds.

Having said that, I want to suggest that there is a sense in which we can genuinely say that God desires the sinner’s repentance. This sense is also related to God’s chief design in the works of creation, providence and redemption. This desire concerns the manifestation of his glory and is directly related to his nature. Since God is holy, he cannot but delight in holiness and be grieved by wickedness wherever he finds it. Because he is good, he delights in mercy and has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He delights in the manifestation of his own glorious image and rejoices when that image begins to be restored in those who repent. For this reason, he stretches out his arms all day long to a disobedient and rebellious people. For this reason, he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Jonathan Edwards wrote,

And as God delights in his own beauty, he must necessarily delight in the creature’s holiness; [emphasis mine] which is a conformity to and participation of it, as truly as a brightness of a jewel, held in the sun’s beams, is a participation or derivation of the sun’s brightness, though immensely less in degree. And then it must be considered wherein this holiness in the creature consists, viz. in love, which is the comprehension of all true virtue; and primarily in love to God, which is exercised in a high esteem of God, admiration of his perfections, complacency in them, and praise of them. All which things are nothing else but the heart exalting, magnifying, or glorifying God; which, as I showed before, God necessarily approves of, and is pleased with, as he loves himself, and values the glory of his own nature (Edwards, Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Made the World).

 

We must not interpret this delight in the manifestation of his own glory as a wistful and frustrated desire in the divine being. This desire will not be thwarted by the sinfulness and treachery of his creatures. By his decree he has assured that there will always be a people for his own possession who will live to the praise of the glory of his grace. The rest he leaves to their well deserved condemnation for their rebellion and hostility against him, all to the praise of his glorious justice.

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