Archive for the 'Doctrines of Grace Forum' Category

28
Mar
18

The Real Issue in Gospel Preaching

 

 

One of the great problems with modern “evangelism” is that it attempts to deal with the wrong issue. The question with which most evangelistic conversations seem to begin is “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” Then, the “mark” is told that Jesus died for everyone without exception, and if they will just believe that he died for them, they can go to heaven when they die.  Aside from the fact that no apostolic preacher ever made such statements in early New Testament evangelism, there are several fatal flaws in this approach.

 

The first problem is that it ignores the sinner’s ignorance of the nature and character of God. This is one reason the “drive by” approach to evangelism is faulty.  True evangelism cannot take place in a theological vacuum. To assure sinners that God loves them when they have no concept of that God’s character and attributes will be a futile exercise. When they learn who God is and what he demands, they may not wish to be with him in heaven for one minute, much less for eternity.

 

Additionally, it ignores the true nature of the sinner’s condition in sin and rebellion against God. I recently heard an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor explain what he called the gospel. When he spoke about the universality of sin, he said this, “You have to know that you are a sinner because you have done bad things like everyone else.”  Such statements glaze over the true problem. The psalmist understood and stated the true problem when he wrote, “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works” (Psalms 14:1). The remedy God’s redemptive work accomplishes reaches beyond the sinner’s abominable works to the sinner’s corrupt nature.  Since all the unregenerate sinner’s actions result from his corrupt nature, it is not merely that he has done wrong things but that everything he has done has been displeasing to God since all his actions have sprung from the heart of a corrupt rebel. The Scriptures tell us the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord and the plowing of the wicked is sin.  God’s redemptive plan intends to remedy not only the sinner’s guilt but his corruption.

 

Paul understood very clearly the commission Jesus had given him.  This is what he said Jesus had sent him to do. Jesus sent him to the Jews and Gentiles “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified through faith in me [Christ]  ( See Acts 26:16-20). Does this not indicate that unless sinners are turned from darkness to light, there will be no forgiveness of sins and no spiritual inheritance?

 

Please understand this does not mean sinners must quit all their sins before Jesus will accept them. What it means is that they must understand they are so corrupt that they will never be able to break the bonds of sin’s dominion by their own efforts. If they are to be saved from their bondage and corruption, only Christ can save them. They must bring their sins to Jesus that he might break those bonds. It is the promise that they will be fully pardoned and justified when they turn to God, that gives them confidence to approach him.

 

There is not the slightest hint in the New Testament Scriptures that it is God’s purpose to exonerate sinners of their guilt but leave them in the  state of sinful corruption out of which those sins have flowed.

 

If you are interested in reading in greater detail about this issue, I would urge you to read my book, “Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit.”  It is available at http://www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver.

Advertisements
24
Mar
18

The Nature of God’s Saving Work

God’s ultimate purpose in the work of salvation as in the works of creation and providence is the manifestation of his own glory but the end of his work of salvation itself  is the restoration of what Adam lost when he sinned in the garden. The reason the apostle Paul was so excited about preaching the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles was that he knew the gospel was God’s prescription for dealing with the problems of the sinful human condition that the fall had caused.
God’s method of putting sinners right with himself is the only one that can adequately deal with the sinner’s deep need. Paul tells us that God’s redemptive work is necessary because God’s wrath is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress his truth in unrighteousness.
When he speaks about God’s wrath, we are not to understand him to be talking about God losing control in a fit of rage but about God’s settled indignation against sin and sinners. It is the only reaction an infinitely holy God can have toward sin and sinners.
There are two basic problems that sin has caused and that God has purposed the gospel to correct. The first is that sinners are ungodly and the second is that sinners are unrighteous. Ungodliness concerns a wrong relationship with God, a failure to obey the first great commandment, and unrighteousness concerns a wrong relationship with other people, a failure to obey the second great commandment. Every problem we encounter in our relationship with other people is a direct reflection of our failure to love God as we ought. Though it is not true that all our human relationship issues will automatically be remedied if we love God as we ought, it is true that we have no basis for repairing human relationships until we are rightly related to God and love him as he has commanded.
It is also important that we notice that the gospel is not only about pardon or even primarily about pardon. Justification is a means to an end. People who sense their guilt do not approach God in worship. People who feel their guilt do not love God. This is why justification must occur at the beginning of a person’s spiritual life and not at the end. God does not declare sinners righteous after a lifetime of learning to obey him, love him and worship him. We would never love him, worship him and obey him as long as we continued under a burden of guilt. The writer of the Book of Hebrews made this point quite well when based his exhortation to come with confidence before the throne of grace on the great truth that we have a Great Priest who has passed through the visible heavens and now appears as intercessor for his believing people in the very presence of God.
Not only is it true that God’s saving work is intended to remedy the breach between both God and our fellow man, but it is also intended to remedy two great problems that sin has caused. Much of modern day evangelism has concentrated exclusively on one of those problems alone. The message is usually couched in terms of God forgiving us so we can go to heaven when we die but says very little about remedying our corruption and restoring our fellowship with God so that we can glorify him, be thankful to him, and worship him supremely.
In Romans chapter one, verses twenty-one through twenty-three, Paul has outlined the problems God intends to correct through his saving work. Although they knew God as he has revealed himself in the creation around them, they did not glorify him as God and they were not thankful to him. Because their foolish hearts were darkened, they opted to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. It is God’s intention in redeeming sinners to restore our ability to reflect his glorious attributes and worship him out of profound gratitude.
We must not forget that in Jesus’ parable about the lost son, the Father received him back into his fellowship both safe and sound (Luke 15:27). A message that concentrates only on the sinner’s safety if a half gospel. August Toplady expressed this idea well when he wrote, “Let the water and the blood/From your wounded side which flowed/Be of sin the double cure/Save from wrath and make me pure.”
J. C. Ryle wrote,
He who supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonoring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Savior. The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by his atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their “righteousness” but their “sanctification.” (I Cor. 1:30).
08
Feb
18

Loved to the Uttermost

Have you ever noticed that the same chapter in which Jesus told Peter he was going to betray him before the night was over, begins by telling us that Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end or to the uttermost? [see Jn. 13:1] As we continue to read the Fourth Gospel, we find that Peter’s actions were very similar to the actions of Judas. John wrote regarding both these men that they stood with Jesus’ enemies [see Jn. 18:5, 18]. The reality is that every time we sin, we stand with Jesus’ enemies and demonstrate our remaining hostility toward God.
The difference in these two men is seen not in their sin [Sin has the same character in the regenerate that it does in the unregenerate]. The difference is seen in their response to their sin [Judas went out and hanged himself; Peter went out and wept bitterly] and in Peter’s restoration].
The point we must understand is that Jesus did not love Peter because of the latter’s steadfastness or because he foresaw his repentance. He did not love him any more because he saw what he would become [by grace] or any less because he knew of his miserable failures. In fact, he did not love Peter because of Peter at all. He could love Peter, and the rest of us faltering and failing sinners, because the cause of his love is not anything in us, but everything in himself.
Charles Hodge wrote,
If he [God] loved us because we loved him, he would love us only so long as we love him, and on that condition; and then our salvation would depend on the constancy of our treacherous hearts. But as God loved us as sinners, as Christ died for us as ungodly, our salvation depends, as the apostle argues, not on our loveliness, but on the constancy of the love of God.
12
Jan
18

Reason’s Obituary

I just listened to a few minutes of a Youtube video in which the speaker was arguing against the idea that God has chosen a people for himself and predestined those people and those alone to inherit everlasting life. After listening to what this man had to say, I concluded that the ability to reason must have died. If a person could stand behind a pulpit and  teach such bilge and no one listening to his absolutely erroneous arguments called him to account, there is little hope.  
 
His “argument” was that God has predestined everyone to everlasting life but only who choose to be saved are actually saved. His contention, based on Romans 8:30, was that if we can discover who is called, then we will know who has been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. He then read several verses that made reference to the universal call of the gospel. I saw several problems with his argument that were so obvious that anyone thinking person should recognize immediately. Let me just list a few of his errors:
 
1. He has ignored the fact that the “calling” Paul speaks of in this verse is according to God’s purpose and that being called according to that purpose is his description of believers alone. It is true of those who love God, but of them alone (Romans 8:28).
 
2. He has ignored the fact that “called” is used in two distinct ways in the New Testament. It is used of the sincere, universal call of the gospel and it is used of that internal call by which God unites his chosen people to Christ (1 Cor. 1:9). Paul wrote, “but to those who are called, Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). One need only ask himself if everyone who is invited by the gospel message (“called” in that sense) regards Christ as God’s wisdom and God’s power.
 
3. He argues that if we can show who are the called, we will know who has been predestined, but he has ignored the fact that he would, in that way, limit God’s predestinating decree to those alone who have heard or will hear the gospel.
 
4. He argues that if we can show who are the called, we will know who has been predestined, but he has ignored the other side of that link in the chain. There is an inseparable link between all the links in this golden chain, so that Paul’s argument boils down to this—God will glorify all those he has purposed to save. The chain spans God’s entire work of redemption from his purpose in eternity past to glorification to his act of glorifying his people in eternity future. Everyone who is predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ will be glorified. What this gentleman has overlooked is that not only can we show who has been predestined by learning who has been called, but we can show who has been called by showing who has been justified. Paul wrote, “those he called, he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). According to this man’s argument, everyone who is called [invited] by the gospel will be justified. I suspect that is not a conclusion he would wish his hearers to draw.R
11
Nov
17

Dohse/Seiver debate on Justification

See my opening statement in two parts at:

 

As soon as Paul makes his opening statement, I will post a link to it.

15
Oct
17

I Will Draw All To Me–John 12:32

 

 

It seems that anytime a person begins to expound John 6:36-45, those who believe the sinner’s free will is the final arbiter in determining who will be the recipients of salvation attempt to blunt the force of that passage by citing John 12:32.  In that verse, Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me.” Their purpose in citing this verse is to show that everyone is “drawn”, but not in such a way that anyone is effectively united to Christ by the “drawing.” For them, this drawing is no more than a gentle persuasion that enables sinners to make a “free will” decision.

 

Usually, one is left to wonder what those who propound this view mean by “free will” since they are seldom willing or able to define the term. If by the term “free will” they mean that sinners have the ability to choose whatever they desire most at any given time, we would agree that sinners have free will, but that would raise another question.  Do not sinners have that ability apart from anything Jesus accomplished on the cross?

When Monergists deny that sinners have free will, what we are denying is that the will is self-governing and unaffected by the sinner’s nature. Our contention is that a person cannot choose that for which he has no desire and to which his entire being is totally averse.  Could he choose what he does not want if he wanted it? Of course he could, but his will cannot decide what his desires are going to be. It is the function of the will to choose what is most desired, not to determine what is most desired.

 

For me, their understanding of this verse would raise the following questions to which they seem to be unwilling or unable to provide satisfactory answers. I would ask you to consider these questions as we attempt to understand what Jesus was saying:

 

  1. What means does Jesus use to draw sinners to himself or does he draw sinners apart from any means whatsoever? Will Jesus draw any apart from exposure to the gospel in some form?
  2. If sinners cannot call on the Lord’s name without hearing “a word of Christ” (the gospel), would it not stand to reason that they cannot be drawn without “a word of Christ?”
  3. Are you willing to posit that every person without exception since the day of Jesus’ crucifixion will at some time in his or her life have been exposed to the gospel? Has there ever been any person in some remote tribe or nation who has died without hearing Jesus’ name even once?
  4. If sinners are drawn to Jesus only through the preaching of the gospel, and all without exception have not heard the gospel, how is it possible that Jesus has “drawn” all without exception to himself?
  5. Why would Jesus have used the word “draw,” a word that is used consistently in the Scriptures to describe an effectual action, (E,g., drawing a sword from its scabbard, drawing water from a well, dragging a net full of fish to the shore) to describe a sincere, gentle, but ineffectual action? Could he not have used another word that would have expressed that concept if that had been what he intended?
  6. How can a person who has never heard of Jesus and feels no inclination whatsoever to come to him in repentance and faith be considered “drawn” to him?
  7. Why did John introduce the account of “certain Greeks” who desired an audience with Jesus in this context and then never mention them again? What, if anything, does their request have to do with Jesus’ discourse that followed?
  8. Was it Jesus’ intention to “draw” to himself those Jews on whom he was about to pronounce final judgment by walking away and hiding himself (see vv. 36-40)?

 

The Context

 

There are several issues I would like you to consider regarding the context of the verse we are considering. First, I would like you to consider at what point in Jesus ministry he spoke these words. Second, I would like you to consider John’s account of the Greeks who were seeking an audience with Jesus and why he introduced that account here. Third, I would like you to consider Jesus’ discourse triggered by this request. All these factors are very important in gaining a proper understanding of John 12:32.

 

The Timing of This Statement

 

It is always important that we remember that John and the other evangelists were not merely historians reciting the facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They were reciting those facts in such a way as to make a theological point. Early on in his Gospel he wrote, “He came to his own creation and his own people did not receive him” (1:11). To this point John has been showing how Jesus had revealed himself to ever-widening circles of his own people who by and large had rejected him. He had spoken to them these condemning words in chapter six, verse thirty-six, “. . .you have seen me and still do not believe.” It is not as if they had not seen and known the truth, but that having known the truth, the light, they continued to prefer the darkness.

 

We find similar statements throughout the fourth Gospel.  The Jews had surrounded him in the temple complex at the Feast of the Dedication and said to him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” He replied, “I told you and you didn’t believe me. The works I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me, but you do not believe because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you” (10:25-26). It seems the more light they received, the more recalcitrant they became in their rejection of this one who had given more than abundant evidence that he was the promised Anointed One.

 

His act of raising Lazarus from the dead had brought the issue to a fevered pitch. The principal concern of the Jewish leadership was not their need to repent in light of the clear evidence Jesus had given but their political situation. John wrote,

 

Then the chief priests and Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him [Incidentally, does anyone really believe they expected that even they would believe in him? Yet, the text says “everyone will believe.”], and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’ And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish?’ (John 11:47-50).

 

John’s editorial comment in verses 51-52 is a clear pointer to Jesus’ teaching in the passage we are considering. In that comment, he has provided for his readers perhaps the best definition of what he has intended by his use of the word “world” that we have anywhere in the Scriptures. Suggesting that Caiaphas has spoken better than he knew, he wrote, “Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that he would gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.”

 

It seems John is playing out those words that he wrote in his prologue to this Gospel, “. . .His own people did not receive him, but to as many as received him. . .” (1:11-12). He introduces this narrative at a crucial point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus is about to pronounce judgement on the nation of Israel as a whole and illustrate that judgment by walking away and hiding himself from them (see 12:36). In many ways, what was occurring in this passage reflects what we read in Romans nine through eleven regarding the breaking off of the natural branches of the good olive tree and grafting Gentile believers into the tree contrary to nature.

 

Additionally, since John makes reference to Isaiah’s prophesy concerning that act of judgment (cf. John 12:37-40, Isaiah 53:1), we should focus on that entire context not only in regard to the elect remnant of Israel that is in view in chapter fifty-three, but also in regard to the expansion of God’s kingdom to the Gentile nations that is prophesied in chapter fifty-four. In many ways, Jesus’ words in this passage are parallel to what John has recorded in chapter six of his Gospel regarding God’s purpose for kingdom expansion prophesied in Isaiah 54.

 

Finally, it should not escape our notice that immediately prior to introducing the account of those Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, John has given us another pointer. In fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy [9:9], Jesus had presented himself as Israel’s King, lowly and riding on a donkey, and the common people hailed his coming. Immediately following that prophesy, the prophet had written, “He shall speak peace to the nations, His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10). Can it be merely coincidental that John has recorded the response of the Pharisees? This is what they said, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19).  [Again, one wonders if anyone truly believes the Pharisees thought they had gone after him as well. Would that not have to be the case if κόσμος  [world] means every person on the planet without exception?]. In the very next line, John wrote, “Now there were certain Greeks. . .saying sir, we wish to see Jesus” (vv. 20-21).

 

The Account of Greeks Seeking Jesus

 

Would not this narrative about Greeks seeking Jesus seem a bit abrupt if John has introduced it seemingly without reason and without resolution? If Jesus’ response in verses twenty-three through thirty-two, was not in response to that request, then that is clearly the case. Verses twenty through twenty-two would be nothing but filler that has no purpose at all. Jesus did not even appear to answer their request directly if there is no relationship between their request and his discourse that followed that request.

 

In reality, it would be impossible to understand the discourse that followed (vv 23ff) apart from the introduction of this account. Any understanding of John 12:32 that fails to take the introduction of this narrative into account must necessarily be flawed

 

It was the coincidence of the Jews’ rejection of the clear evidence and their consequent impending judgment and the Greeks’ desire to have an audience with Jesus that prompted his words in the passage we are considering.

 

Concerning this incident, D. A. Carson has written,

 

Whether or not their request was granted is not recorded. . .because even if they met with Jesus at this point, there is a sense in which they could not yet ‘see’ him, they could not yet belong to him, until the ‘hour’ is over and Jesus has been ‘lifted up from the earth’ (v. 32). That is what is necessary for the gospel to be fully operative, the gospel that encompasses Jew and Gentile alike and draws together a new covenant community whose locus is no longer constrained by the parameters of Sinai (Carson, 1991,438).

 

 

The Preceding Discourse

 

John 12:32 is not a stand-alone verse that can be understood apart from its context. It forms a part of a larger discourse in which Jesus is explaining certain redemptive accomplishments that must be realized before the request of these Greeks can be granted in the fullest sense of the word. The establishment of an assembly of redeemed sinners from every nation is not an afterthought; it is not God’s “plan B.” One almost shudders at the suggestion. But, God’s predestined and prophesied purpose to extend his saving activity to the Gentiles will not and cannot be realized apart from four conditions that must be fulfilled. It is these conditions about which Jesus speaks in this discourse. They are as follows:

 

  1. Jesus must die as the sacrifice for his people, and by means of the cross be enthroned [“lifted up”] in glory (vv. 24, 32).
  2. The Father must be glorified (v. 28)
  3. This world must be judged (v. 31).
  4. Satan, the prince of this world, must be cast out (v. 31).

 

Jesus must be lifted up

 

The request of these Greeks who desired an audience with Jesus had triggered in his mind the fact that his hour had now come, and had provoked in him a profound emotional response. He said, “Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (v. 27). Given his true humanity, his natural and normal response was to recoil from the pain, suffering and shame that his impending crucifixion would bring and this understanding provoked within him a deep conflict, a conflict that would only be resolved by his overwhelming desire to fulfill his mission by glorifying his Father [“Father, glorify your name” (verse 28)].

 

Jesus [or John depending on who the speaker was in John 3:14] has already stated the absolute necessity of his death by crucifixion, “Even so, must the Son of Man be lifted up.” We must not overlook the connection between this verse and verse sixteen. If one understands the proper usage of the word “world” in John’s gospel, i.e., sinners from every nation, it will be easy for him to see the connection between this passage and the John twelve narrative. Jesus cannot and will not draw the world, apart from being “lifted up.” This is why he answers the request these Greeks had made by saying, “. . .unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much grain” (v. 24).

 

Additionally, we must not ignore John’s use of deliberate ambiguity throughout his Gospel. For him, the term “lifted up” not only refers to the manner in which Jesus would die but also to the result of his being lifted on the cross, i.e, his exaltation [being lifted up] to the throne. Once we understand this, it becomes clear that Jesus’ words in verse thirty-two began to be fulfilled at the first feast of Pentecost following his resurrection and ascension. Peter’s overall argument in his Pentecost proclamation was that since the Spirit has been given, Jesus must have been glorified, and one of the prophesied results of his exaltation was the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh (see Acts 2:17 cf. 39). It should be clear to any thoughtful reader that “all flesh” does not refer to every human being without exception. Instead, it refers to people from every nation, to all who are far off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call. Having been lifted up, Jesus now draws all peoples to himself.

 

Lest anyone imagine that my interpretation of this passage has resulted from some unwarranted Calvinistic theological bias, please consider the following comment from the Arminian, Adam Clarke, on this verse. He wrote,

Verse 32. “I-will draw all men unto me.” – After I shall have died and risen again, by the preaching of my word and the influence of my Spirit, I shall attract and illuminate both Jews and Gentiles. It was one of the peculiar characteristics of the Messiah, that unto him should the gathering of the people be, Genesis xlix. 10. And probably our Lord refers to the prophesy, Isaiah xi. 10, which peculiarly belonged to the Gentiles: “There shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ENSIGN of the people, to it shall the GENTILES  seek, and his rest shall be glorious.”

The Father Must Be Glorified

This and the other conditions that needed to be met before the Gentiles could be included in the outworking of God’s redemptive purposes, is subsumed under the first head. In being “lifted up” Jesus glorified the Father in the most resplendent manner possible. In the cross, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10). We must never forget that not only was Jesus’ redemptive work a glorious manifestation of redemptive love, mercy and grace but it was also an unrivaled manifestation of his holiness and righteousness.

We must not forget that Jesus’ primary mission was not to bring about the happiness of his elect people or even to procure our eternal salvation; his primary mission was to glorify his Father on the earth (see John 17:1-5). Apart from the completion of this mission, there could never have been an inclusion of Gentile believers in the gospel kingdom. Jesus’ glorification is clearly linked to his refusal to seek his own glory. Instead, he, as the spiritual seed of his people, was willing to “fall into the ground and die” so that he might produce an abundant spiritual harvest. Isaiah prophesied, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5).

This World Must Be Judged

It is true that final judgment is reserved for the end of the age, but there is a sense in which “the world” sealed its doom in rejecting and crucifying the Lord’s Anointed One.  John had written, “this is the condemnation (κρίσις) that light has come into the world but men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The proud “world,” sinful society in insurrection against its Creator, imagined that it was passing judgment on Jesus, but in reality, in crucifying him, it was condemning itself.

There could be no greater or clearer display of the world’s antipathy toward God than the expression of its hostility toward his appointed agent. Their actions demonstrated that had they been able, they would have dragged God from his throne and trampled him under foot.

We see that judgment displayed against the unbelieving Jews in this very chapter. Jesus is about to shut the door and leave them outside forever. Having spoken to them about their responsibility to react properly to the light, “he departed and was hidden from them (v. 36). In what appears to have been an acted parable, Jesus passed judgment on them for their persistent unbelief.

There seems to be a clear sense in which Israel and its reaction to God’s self-revelation stood as a representative sample of the entire race.  In The Fullness of Time: A biblical-theological study of Galatians, I wrote,

 

It is obvious that Israel enjoyed privileges that the nations of the world knew nothing about. But, along with these privileges came great responsibility. Israel as the servant of Jehovah had as her task to reflect the light and glory of the Lord to the pagan nations around them. One of the ways in which Israel was to function in this witness bearing capacity was to be dealt with by God as a representative sample, a sort of microcosm, of the entire race. Thus, Israel’s failure under the covenant of Sinai mirrors the failure of all. Because of this failure, every mouth is stopped and all the world becomes guilty before God.

Douglas Moo seems to be sounding the same note when he writes, “Perhaps it is best to view Israel’s experience with the law as paradigmatic of all nations (Moo, 213, 1988).

 

Paul wrote, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Whenever we find the phrase translated “under the law” in the New Testament Scriptures, it always refers to Israel’s covenant relationship to God. The Gentiles nations were never “under the law” in that sense. For that reason, we should understand him to mean that their rebellious reaction to the law is a reflection of what our reaction would have been had we been under the same law. Thus, in judging and condemning Israel for their unbelief, Jesus was truly condemning the world as a whole

 

Satan, the Prince of This World Must Be Cast Out

 

During the entire Old Testament period, the nations of the world had been under the domination and deception of the wicked one. The prophet described them as “the people who walked in darkness . . . and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death” (Isa. 9:2). They had deliberately yielded to his power and deception and acknowledged him as their ruler.

 

Though Jesus’ crucifixion might have seemed like a triumph for Satan, in reality it demolished his kingdom. When Jesus was exalted to the throne by means of the cross, Satan was decisively dethroned. As a result, Jesus now freely draws his people from among all nations. He has visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name (see Acts 15:14).

 

Conclusion

 

Given the fact that the drawing Jesus was talking about does not occur apart from the proclamation of the gospel, unless it can be demonstrated that every individual who has ever lived has heard the gospel message, it is impossible that he could have been referring to drawing every person without exception.

 

Additionally, “drawing” is an effectual act that accomplishes its purpose. Does it not seem strange that if everyone is “drawn,” many feel absolutely no inclination to come to Jesus at all?

 

Immediately before the verse in question, Jesus had said, “Now is the judgment [condemnation] of this world.”  Are we to believe he intended to draw to himself those on whom he was about to pronounce a condemning sentence?

 

In light of the context in which John 12:32 occurs, it seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus intended his hearers to understand that once he had fulfilled certain necessary conditions, he would effectually draw sinners from every kindred, tribe, tongue and nation to himself through the preaching of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26
Aug
17

An Appeal to Closet Calvinists

This appeal is addressed to those evangelical pastors and Christian teachers who admit to a belief in God’s sovereign grace but, for reasons which we shall discuss in this booklet, never preach or teach this truth. For the lack of a better designation, we will refer to such pastors and teachers as ‘closet Calvinists.’

A Description of a Closet Calvinist

Like many of his contemporaries in the Lord’s work, the closet Calvinist is quite bold when he expounds those truths that he knows his hearers already believe. Notice how courageous he is when he proclaims popular evangelical opinions that are calculated to please the ears of those who have gathered to fulfill their religious obligation for another week. Yet, there are some biblical truths that cause him to cower in the cloistered safety of his ‘study’ where, if cornered, he might own up to believing some of the ‘deeper truths’ of Scripture. On these rare occasions, he will quickly explain that the ‘meat of the Word’ is not for everyone. Meat is only intended for the mature to masticate in the seclusion of their closets. It is surely not good for the sheep.

Devastating Effects

The truth is, the closet Calvinist knows that, to fleshly minds, some biblical truths are more palatable than others. His loud proclamation can be heard for miles when he declares some of these more tasty truths. He is often heard by thousands of people who will marvel at the great work that he is doing. The tragedy is that his ministry is having a devastating effect on the Church. Closet Calvinists are guilty of allowing fleshly hearers to persist in the delusion that they love the truth of God and the God of truth. The reality is that if he were honest in his teaching about God’s attributes and His discriminating decrees, many of his hearers would go back and walk no more with him (see John 6: 65-6). A more serious effect of the closet Calvinist’s sinful silence is that he is robbing Christ’s sheep of the very truths that God intended for their spiritual growth and edification.

In his classic book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, written over a century and a half ago, Octavius Winslow warned of the devastating effects of holding back God’s revealed truth. He wrote,

Is there not in the present day a criminal keeping back by some, and a painful undervaluing by others, of the scriptural and holy doctrines of grace [italics his]?-The doctrines which unfold the eternity of God’s love to His people-the sovereignty of his grace in their election-the effectual power of the Spirit in their calling-the free justification of their persons through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the entire putting away of their sins by his atoning blood-the solemn obligation to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world,’ and the certainty of their final glorification in the world to come,-are not these Divinely-revealed truths, at the present moment, and by the great mass of Christian professors and preachers, excluded from our pulpits and exiled from our land” are they not considered mean and unfashionable? and, having lost their savor with many, are they not cast out and trodden under foot of men? We verily and solemnly believe that it is so. By some they are professedly received, but criminally held back; by others they are professedly preached, but with such timidity and obscurity, as to render them of none effect: and by the many they are disbelieved altogether, and therefore openly and boldly denied! And yet, these are the doctrines which shine so luminously in every page of the apostle’s writings-these are the doctrines which formed the grand themes of Christ’s ministration,-and these are the doctrines, to the preaching of which by the reformers, we owe all the civil and religious liberty which, as a nation, we now possess. We hesitate not, then, to say that, along ‘with the denial or the undervaluing of these doctrines of grace, there will go forth an influence that will wither the spirituality and obstruct the prosperity of the churches of our land. It is true, an outward appearance of fruitfulness may follow the exhibition of opposite and conflicting doctrines,-crowds may flock to their standard, and multitudes seem converted by their influence,-but soon these delusive appearances are seen to pass away. The time of trial and sifting comes’, and then it is found-when, alas! too late to close the floodgate against the overwhelming evils which the preaching of error has produced-that the truth, and the truth only in the hands of the Eternal Spirit of God, can really enlighten the dark mind, regenerate the lifeless soul, and subdue and sanctify the rebellious heart: it is then discovered, that the true prosperity of a church, its stability, its spirituality, its vigor. and its holy influences, are essentially, and therefore inseparably, connected with a fearless and holy maintenance of the doctrines of grace; that where they are denied, or held back, or in any way obscured, there may indeed exist the form of godliness, but the power-the glorious, Divine, and sanctifying power-is wanting.1

Knowing Concealment of the Truth

Now, let’s be clear that we are not talking about those who are ignorant of these precious truths that God has revealed in His Word, the Bible. They have another reason for which they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead, we are talking about those who profess to know the truth, but willingly conceal it for expedience sake.

For example, there are many pastors who will tell you, behind closed doors, that they believe that, before the world began, God unconditionally chose those whom He intended to save. They will even admit that He determined beforehand to bring these chosen people to faith in His Son. Yet, they will tell you that these truths constitute the ‘meat of the Word’ and are not intended for everyone. The sad reality is that such preachers seldom, if ever, teach these truths to anyone.

Hard Questions

There are several questions that I would like to ask the closet Calvinist and his companions. I would be very grateful if they would give me a straight and satisfying answer.

First, what criterion do you use to distinguish the “meat of the Word’ from the ‘”Milk of the Word?”

I suggest that the distinction between “milk” and “meat” prevalent in evangelicalism today is one that was foreign to the mind of the Apostle Paul. When he distinguished between the milk and meat of the Word, e.g., Cor 3:2, he referred not to two different classes of teaching but to two different ways of presenting the same teaching.This was the view of Charles Hodge, among others. Commenting on I Cor 3:2, he wrote,

What is the distinction which the apostle here makes between milk and meat? It is evidently not the distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God’ Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians. Neither does he sanction anything of the nature of theDisciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing believers from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the doctrine of reserve, as it is called. which the Romish church has so extensively practiced and taught, inculcating a blind faith, and keeping the people in ignorance [Does this sound familiar?] . . . The import of the figure leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather inthe mode of instruction, than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk , in another form strong meat. “Christ,” says Calvin, “is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians, is taught to children. . . . The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorized to keep back from the people [emphases mine].2

God plainly revealed the teaching of free, sovereign and distinguishing grace in the Epistles of the New Testament Scriptures. Are we to assume that there were no new or weak believers in the churches to which the apostles published these truths so clearly. How can we explain the fact that they did not conceal these teachings, if they are only suitable for mature Christians?

Second, what right do you have to conceal the truth that God has revealed?

At times, closet Calvinists resort to Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God. . . . ” in an effort to excuse their lack of faithfulness in proclaiming God’s truth. It is true that God has concealed the answers to some of our questions. These matters belong to Him, and we have no right to pry into them.This is a truth that should stand without controversy. Yet, this is not the only truth that is disclosed in Deut 29:29. The verse continues, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Just as we have no ability to reveal or pry into what God has concealed, so we do not have the right to conceal what God has revealed.

Tell me, you who love to quote the well-known Spurgeon, have you not heard Spurgeon? He was no closet Calvinist who exulted in the truth of unconditional election in the solitude of his study. No! He loved to preach on these grand old themes. He said in one of his many sermons on election,

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage to the past. and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic, of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren. I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church [emphases mine].3

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul reminded them of his faithfulness in declaring all the revealed wiII of God. He wrote,

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:20-25).

The reason for such boldness is that Paul unequivocally believed these truths. For him, they were not mere academic propositions with which he might entertain himself in his more private moments. He perceived their value, as God’s revealed truth, for abasing the sinner’s arrogance and for training believers in practical godliness. Since he valued God’s truth, he could not conceal it. In his second epistle to the Corinthians he wrote, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE’ we also believe, therefore also we speak,”. . . (2 Cor 4:13). If God’s truth is burning in our hearts, “. . .we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20). See also Jeremiah 20:9.

Paul tells us in the second chapter of I Corinthians that God’s purpose in revelation is ‘that we might know the things freely given to us by God’ (I Cor 2:12).

If God has plainly revealed the truth of His sovereign grace, what right do you have to conceal it from those to whom it belongs?

Third, if your hearers remain fleshly after hearing all those teachings that your call ‘the milk of the Word,’ what do you now plan to do for them to bring them to maturity?

Such a situation existed among the addressees of the Epistle to the Hebrews.The writer of that treatise had many truths to teach his readers about Melchizedek, but they were dull of hearing. He told them that they needed milk and not solid food (meat).

Concerning him [Christ, a priest after the order of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness’, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14)

What did he propose to do in that situation. Did he plan to leave them in their state of stupor and continue to feed them nothing but the ‘milk of the Word?’ Did he intend to conceal this important truth from them until they came to maturity? No! He understood that if they continued in this state, they would do so because they had never become Christians at all. It would profit nothing to continue to teach them those doctrines that belonged to the infant state of God’s family. Pursuant to that purpose, he pressed on, in Hebrews seven, with the meaty doctrine of Melchizedek.The lesson this teaches is that we can never hope to mature God’s people as long as we continue to conceal from them those truths that God has revealed for their growth and development.

Fourth, if it is not yet time to teach your people the truth of God’s distinguishing grace, how will you know when that time has come?

What evidence do God’s people give that they have become ready to hear the truth of God’s distinguishing grace? Will they tell you that they have now become disenchanted with your “free will” approach to preaching and ministry and wish to delve into the”meat of the Word?” How do you expect them to become ready to hear the “deeper truths” of God’s Word if you continue to steer them away from such truths? If some of your sheep began to mature through their personal study of the Scriptures, would you continue to starve them in your public teaching and preaching? Would you rob them of God’s revealed truth because there might be some weak believers in your audience whom you fear would be offended by a plain description of their Father’s character and work? If you do not intend to teach the truth now, when do you plan to start?

Finally, I ask you in all candor, is it not true that you have concealed these truths because you have undervalued them?

Is having a large and “successful” church more valuable to you than being faithful to God’s truth? Have you counted the cost of standing up with those who have suffered for the faith and judged it to be to high? Is the approval of your peers more important to you than the smile of God? If so, it is time for you to get your priorities right.

In his excellent, little book, Warnings to the Churches, J. C. Ryle reminds us of an occasion when Bishop Latimer was called on to preach before King Henry VIII. He cites, from memory, the manner in which Latimer began his sermon.

‘Latimer! Latimer! dost thou remember that thou art speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII. before him who has the power to command thee to be sent to prison; before him who can have thy head struck off if it please him” Wilt thou not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears” Then after a pause, he went on: ‘Latimer! Latimer! Dost thou not remember that thou art speaking before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; before Him, at whose bar Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day thou wilt give an account of thyself’ ‘Latimer! Latimer! be faithful to thy Master and declare all God’s Word.’4

I leave you with two words of exhortation from Paul’s Epistles. In his closing words to the Corinthians he wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). Never has there been a time when there was a greater need for pastors and other Christian teachers to act like men and be strong. In his final exhortation to Timothy, Paul identified the area in which lies our greatest need for manly strength when he wrote,

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship. do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).


1 Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of religion in the Soul, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust reprint ed. 1962), pp. 121-2.

2 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1969), pp. 48-9.

3 Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.) pp. 69-70.

4 J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust. reprint ed. 1967) pp. 34-5.