The Greatest Introduction to a Theology Book Ever Written!

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Here is what my favorite modern-day theologian has to say about John Owen’s Death of Death in The Death of Christ: “If you have never read John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, I strongly commend it to you. It is a magnificent treatment of the grace of God, and it is rich in biblical exposition and deals in great detail and with great brilliance with some of the difficult passages that we encounter in the New Testament.” ~ Dr. R.C. Sproul

Below is perhaps one of the greatest introductions to a book of theology ever written by another great theologian – J.I. Packer. I know of no doctrine that is more mis-understood and yet so repudiated as what’s known as Limited or Definite Atonement. You owe it to yourself to read this amazing introduction by J.I. Packer and then hopefully it will motivate you to read the greatest book ever written on the atonement of Jesus Christ (keep in mind that J.I, Packer is British and thus all the spelling in the essay below is in the KIng’s English). ~ Dr. David P. Craig

Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ 

by J. I. Packer

  1. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a polemical work, designed to show, among other things, that the doctrine of universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive of the gospel. There are many, therefore, to whom it is not likely to be of interest. Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called Evangelicals may well regret its reappearance. Some may find the very sound of Owen’s thesis so shocking that they will refuse to read his book at all; so passionate a thing is prejudice, and so proud are we of our theological shibboleths. But it is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today—the recovery of the gospel.

This last remark may cause some raising of eyebrows, but it seems to be warranted by the facts.

There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centred in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

II. “But wait a minute,” says someone, “it’s all very well to talk like this about the gospel; but surely what Owen is doing is defending limited atonement—one of the five points of Calvinism? When you speak of recovering the gospel, don’t you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?”

These questions are worth considering, for they will no doubt occur to many. At the same time, however, they are questions that reflect a great deal of prejudice and ignorance. “Defending limited atonement”—as if this was all that a Reformed theologian expounding the heart of the gospel could ever really want to do! “You just want us all to become Calvinists”—as if Reformed theologians had no interest beyond recruiting for their party, and as if becoming a Calvinist was the last stage of theological depravity, and had nothing to do with the gospel at all. Before we answer these questions directly, we must try to remove the prejudices which underlie them by making clear what Calvinism really is; and therefore we would ask the reader to take note of the following facts, historical and theological, about Calvinism in general and the “five points” in particular.

First, it should be observed that the “five points of Calvinism,” so-called, are simply the Calvinistic answer to a five-point manifesto (the Remonstrance) put out by certain “Belgic semi-Pelagians” in the early seventeenth century. The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. (The charge of semi-Pelagianism was thus fully justified.) From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible human act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions: (1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor (2.) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it. (3.) God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe. (4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe. (5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.

The Synod of Dort was convened in 1618 to pronounce on this theology, and the “five points of Calvinism” represent its counter-affirmations. They stem from a very different principle—the biblical principle that “salvation is of the Lord”; and they may be summarized thus: (1.) Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him. (2.) God’s election is a free, sovereign, unconditional choice of sinners, as sinners, to be redeemed by Christ, given faith and brought to glory. (3.) The redeeming work of Christ had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect. (4.) The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men to faith never fails to achieve its object. (5.) Believers are kept in faith and grace by the unconquerable power of God till they come to glory. These five points are conveniently denoted by the mnemonic TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Preservation of the saints.

Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.

However. it would not be correct simply to equate Calvinism with the “five points.” Five points of our own will make this clear.

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the “five points” indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavour to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of His will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own Word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible—the God-centred outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of His great preordained plan for His creatures and His church. The five points assert no more than that God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that He is sovereign everywhere.

Then, in the second place, the “five points” present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive Evangelical values. The negative cast of the “five points” is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel—that Christ is a Redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible, are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God Who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations in order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

Thirdly, the very act of setting out Calvinistic soteriology in the form of five distinct points (a number due, as we saw, merely to the fact that there were five Arminian points for the Synod of Dort to answer) tends to obscure the organic character of Calvinistic thought on this subject. For the five points, though separately stated, are really inseparable. They hang together; you cannot reject one without rejecting them all, at least in the sense in which the Synod meant them. For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man’s own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner’s inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen.

This leads to our fourth remark, which is this: the five-point formula obscures the depth of the difference between Calvinistic and Arminian soteriology. There seems no doubt that it seriously misleads many here. In the formula, the stress falls on the adjectives, and this naturally gives the impression that in regard to the three great saving acts of God the debate concerns the adjectives merely—that both sides agree as to what election, redemption, and the gift of internal grace are, and differ only as to the position of man in relation to them: whether the first is conditional upon faith being foreseen or not; whether the second intends the salvation of every man or not; whether the third always proves invincible or not. But this is a complete misconception. The change of adjective in each case involves changing the meaning of the noun. An election that is conditional, a redemption that is universal, an internal grace that is resistible, is not the same kind of election, redemption, internal grace, as Calvinism asserts. The real issue concerns, not the appropriateness of adjectives, but the definition of nouns. Both sides saw this clearly when the controversy first began, and it is important that we should see it too, for otherwise we cannot discuss the Calvinist-Arminian debate to any purpose at all. It is worth setting out the different definitions side by side.

(i.) God’s act of election was defined by the Arminians as a resolve to receive sonship and glory a duly qualified class of people: believers in Christ. This becomes a resolve to receive individual persons only in virtue of God’s foreseeing the contingent fact that they will of their own accord believe. There is nothing in the decree of election to ensure that the class of believers will ever have any members; God does not determine to make any man believe. But Calvinists define election as a choice of particular undeserving persons to be saved from sin and brought to glory, and to that end to be redeemed by the death of Christ and given faith by the Spirit’s effectual calling. Where the Arminian says: “I owe my election to my faith,” the Calvinist says: “I owe my faith to my election.” Clearly, these two concepts of election are very far apart.

(ii.) Christ’s work of redemption was defined by the Arminians as the removing of an obstacle (the unsatisfied claims of justice) which stood in the way of God’s offering pardon to sinners, as He desired to do, on condition that they believe. Redemption, according to Arminianism, secured for God a right to make this offer, but did not of itself ensure that anyone would ever accept it; for faith, being a work of man’s own, is not a gift that comes to him from Calvary. Christ’s death created an opportunity for the exercise of saving faith, but that is all it did. Calvinists, however, define redemption as Christ’s actual substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners, through which God was reconciled to them, their liability to punishment was for ever destroyed, and a title to eternal life was secured for them. In consequence of this, they now have in God’s sight a right to the gift of faith, as the means of entry into the enjoyment of their inheritance. Calvary, in other words, not merely made possible the salvation of those for whom Christ died; it ensured that they would be brought to faith and their salvation made actual. The Cross saves. Where the Arminian will only say: “I could not have gained my salvation without Calvary,” the Calvinist will say: “Christ gained my salvation for me at Calvary.” The former makes the Cross the sine qua non of salvation, the latter sees it as the actual procuring cause of salvation, and traces the source of every spiritual blessing, faith included, back to the great transaction between God and His Son carried through on Calvary’s hill. Clearly, these two concepts of redemption are quite at variance.

(iii.) The Spirit’s gift of internal grace was defined by the Arminians as “moral suasion,” the bare bestowal of an understanding of God’s truth. This, they granted—indeed, insisted—does not of itself ensure that anyone will ever make the response of faith. But Calvinists define this gift as not merely an enlightening, but also a regenerating work of God in men, “taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.” Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist. Where the Arminian, therefore, will be content to say: “I decided for Christ,” “I made up my mind to be a Christian,” the Calvinist will wish to speak of his conversion in more theological fashion, to make plain whose work it really was:

“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.”

Clearly, these two notions of internal grace are sharply opposed to each other.

Now, the Calvinist contends that the Arminian idea of election, redemption and calling as acts of God which do not save cuts at the very heart of their biblical meaning; that to say in the Arminian sense that God elects believers, and Christ died for all men, and the Spirit quickens those who receive the word, is really to say that in the biblical sense God elects nobody, and Christ died for nobody, and the Spirit quickens nobody. The matter at issue in this controversy, therefore, is the meaning to be given to these biblical terms, and to some others which are also soteriologically significant, such as the love of God, the covenant of grace, and the verb “save” itself, with its synonyms. Arminians gloss them all in terms of the principle that salvation does not directly depend on any decree or act of God, but on man’s independent activity in believing. Calvinists maintain that this principle is itself unscriptural and irreligious, and that such glossing demonstrably perverts the sense of Scripture and undermines the gospel at every point where it is practised. This, and nothing less than this, is what the Arminian controversy is about.

There is a fifth way in which the five-point formula is deficient. Its very form (a series of denials of Arminian assertions) lends colour to the impression that Calvinism is a modification of Arminianism; that Arminianism has a certain primacy in order of nature, and developed Calvinism is an offshoot from it. Even when one shows this to be false as a matter of history, the suspicion remains in many minds that it is a true account of the relation of the two views themselves. For it is widely supposed that Arminianism (which, as we now see, corresponds pretty closely to the new gospel of our own day) is the result of reading the Scriptures in a “natural,” unbiased, unsophisticated way, and that Calvinism is an unnatural growth, the product less of the texts themselves than of unhallowed logic working on the texts, wresting their plain sense and upsetting their balance by forcing them into a systematic framework which they do not themselves provide. Whatever may have been true of individual Calvinists, as a generalisation about Calvinism nothing could be further from the truth than this. Certainly, Arminianism is “natural” in one sense, in that it represents a characteristic perversion of biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man, who even in salvation cannot bear to renounce the delusion of being master of his fate and captain of his soul. This perversion appeared before in the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism of the Patristic period and the later Scholasticism, and has recurred since the seventeenth century both in Roman theology and, among Protestants, in various types of rationalistic liberalism and modern Evangelical teaching; and no doubt it will always be with us. As long as the fallen human mind is what it is, the Arminian way of thinking will continue to be a natural type of mistake. But it is not natural in any other sense. In fact, it is Calvinism that understands the Scriptures in their natural, one would have thought, inescapable meaning; Calvinism that keeps to what they actually say; Calvinism that insists on taking seriously the biblical assertions that God saves, and that He saves those whom He has chosen to save, and that He saves them by grace without works, so that no man may boast, and that Christ is given to them as a perfect Saviour, and that their whole salvation flows to them from the Cross, and that the work of redeeming them was finished on the Cross. It is Calvinism that gives due honour to the Cross. When the Calvinist sings:

“There is a green hill far away,

Without a city wall,

Where the dear Lord was crucified,

Who died to save us all;

He died the we might be forgiven,

He died to make us good;

That we might go at last to Heaven,

Saved by His precious blood.”

—he means it. He will not gloss the italicised statements by saying that God’s saving purpose in the death of His Son was a mere ineffectual wish, depending for its fulfilment on man’s willingness to believe, so that for all God could do Christ might have died and none been saved at all. He insists that the Bible sees the Cross as revealing God’s power to save, not His impotence. Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people. His precious blood really does “save us all”; the intended effects of His self-offering do in fact follow, just because the Cross was what it was. Its saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it. The Cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died. “God forbid,” therefore, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now the real nature of Calvinistic soteriology becomes plain. It is no artificial oddity, nor a product of over-bold logic. Its central confession, that God saves sinners, that Christ redeemed us by His blood, is the witness both of the Bible and of the believing heart. The Calvinist is the Christian who confesses before men in his theology just what he believes in his heart before God when he prays. He thinks and speaks at all times of the sovereign grace of God in the way that every Christian does when he pleads for the souls of others, or when he obeys the impulse of worship which rises unbidden within him, prompting him to deny himself all praise and to give all the glory of his salvation to his Saviour. Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ, whereas Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate. Calvinistic thinking is the Christian being himself on the intellectual level; Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh. Calvinism is what the Christian church has always held and taught when its mind has not been distracted by controversy and false traditions from attending to what Scripture actually says; that is the significance of the Patristic testimonies to the teaching of the “five points,” which can be quoted in abundance. (Owen appends a few on redemption; a much larger collection may be seen in John Gill’s The Cause of God and Truth.) So that really it is most misleading to call this soteriology “Calvinism” at all, for it is not a peculiarity of John Calvin and the divines of Dort, but a part of the revealed truth of God and the catholic Christian faith. “Calvinism” is one of the “odious names” by which down the centuries prejudice has been raised against it. But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel. In the light of these facts, we can now give a direct answer to the questions with which we began.

“Surely all that Owen is doing is defending limited atonement?” Not really. He is doing much more than that. Strictly speaking, the aim of Owen’s book is not defensive at all, but constructive. It is a biblical and theological enquiry; its purpose is simply to make clear what Scripture actually teaches about the central subject of the gospel—the achievement of the Saviour. As its title proclaims, it is “a treatise of the redemption and reconciliation that is in the blood of Christ: with the merit thereof, and the satisfaction wrought thereby.” The question which Owen, like the Dort divines before him, is really concerned to answer is just this: what is the gospel? All agree that it is a proclamation of Christ as Redeemer, but there is a dispute as to the nature and extent of His redeeming work: well, what saith the Scripture? what aim and accomplishment does the Bible assign to the work of Christ? This is what Owen is concerned to elucidate. It is true that he tackles the subject in a directly controversial way, and shapes his book as a polemic against the “spreading persuasion…of a general ransom, to be paid by Christ for all; that he dies to redeem all and every one.” But his work is a systematic expository treatise, not a mere episodic wrangle. Owen treats the controversy as providing the occasion for a full display of the relevant biblical teaching in its own proper order and connection. As in Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the polemics themselves are incidental and of secondary interest; their chief value lies in the way that the author uses them to further his own design and carry forward his own argument.

That argument is essentially very simple. Owen sees that the question which has occasioned his writing—the extent of the atonement—involves the further question of its nature, since if it was offered to save some who will finally perish, then it cannot have been a transaction securing the actual salvation of all for whom it was designed. But, says Owen, this is precisely the kind of transaction that the Bible says it was. The first two books of his treatise are a massive demonstration of the fact that according to Scripture the Redeemer’s death actually saves His people, as it was meant to do. The third book consists of a series of sixteen arguments against the hypothesis of universal redemption, all aimed to show, on the one hand, that Scripture speaks of Christ’s redeeming work as effective, which precludes its having been intended for any who perish, and, on the other, that if its intended extent had been universal, then either all will be saved (which Scripture denies, and the advocates of the “general ransom” do not affirm), or else the Father and the Son have failed to do what they set out to do—“which to assert,” says Owen, “seems to us blasphemously injurious to the wisdom, power and perfection of God, as likewise derogatory to the worth and value of the death of Christ.”

Owen’s arguments ring a series of changes on this dilemma. Finally, in the fourth book, Owen shows with great cogency that the three classes of texts alleged to prove that Christ died for persons who will not be saved (those saying that He died for “the world,” for “all,” and those thought to envisage the perishing of those for whom He died), cannot on sound principles of exegesis be held to teach any such thing; and, further, that the theological inferences by which universal redemption is supposed to be established are really quite fallacious. The true evangelical evaluation of the claim that Christ died for every man, even those who perish, comes through at point after point in Owen’s book. So far from magnifying the love and grace of God, this claim dishonours both it and Him, for it reduces God’s love to an impotent wish and turns the whole economy of “saving” grace, so-called (“saving” is really a misnomer on this view), into a monumental divine failure. Also, so far from magnifying the merit and worth of Christ’s death, it cheapens it, for it makes Christ die in vain. Lastly, so far from affording faith additional encouragement, it destroys the Scriptural ground of assurance altogether, for it denies that the knowledge that Christ died for me (or did or does anything else for me) is a sufficient ground for inferring my eternal salvation; my salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself. Thus this view takes from God’s love and Christ’s redemption the glory that Scripture gives them, and introduces the anti-scriptural principle of self-salvation at the point where the Bible explicitly says: “not of works, lest any man should boast.” You cannot have it both ways: an atonement of universal extent is a depreciated atonement. It has lost its saving power; it leaves us to save ourselves. The doctrine of the general ransom must accordingly be rejected, as Owen rejects it, as a grievous mistake. By contrast, however, the doctrine which Owen sets out, as he himself shows, is both biblical and God-honouring. It exalts Christ, for it teaches Christians to glory in His Cross alone, and to draw their hope and assurance only from the death and intercession of their Saviour. It is, in other words, genuinely Evangelical. It is, indeed, the gospel of God and the catholic faith.

It is safe to say that no comparable exposition of the work of redemption as planned and executed by the Triune Jehovah has ever been done since Owen published his. None has been needed. Discussing this work, Andrew Thomson notes how Owen “makes you feel when he has reached the end of his subject, that he has also exhausted it.” That is demonstrably the case here. His interpretation of the texts is sure; his power of theological construction is superb; nothing that needs discussing is omitted, and (so far as the writer can discover) no arguments for or against his position have been used since his day which he has not himself noted and dealt with. One searches his book in vain for the leaps and flights of logic by which Reformed theologians are supposed to establish their positions; all that one finds is solid, painstaking exegesis and a careful following through of biblical ways of thinking. Owen’s work is a constructive, broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the gospel, and must be taken seriously as such. It may not be written off as a piece of special pleading for a traditional shibboleth, for nobody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness of atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet.

“You talked about recovering the gospel,” said our questioner; “don’t you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?”

This question presumably concerns, not the word, but the thing. Whether we call ourselves Calvinists hardly matters; what matters is that we should understand the gospel biblically. But that, we think, does in fact mean understanding it as historic Calvinism does. The alternative is to misunderstand and distort it. We said earlier that modern Evangelicalism, by and large, has ceased to preach the gospel in the old way, and we frankly admit that the new gospel, insofar as it deviates from the old, seems to us a distortion of the biblical message. And we can now see what has gone wrong. Our theological currency has been debased. Our minds have been conditioned to think of the Cross as a redemption which does less than redeem, and of Christ as a Saviour who does less than save, and of God’s love as a weak affection which cannot keep anyone from hell without help, and of faith as the human help which God needs for this purpose. As a result, we are no longer free either to believe the biblical gospel or to preach it. We cannot believe it, because our thoughts are caught in the toils of synergism. We are haunted by the Arminian idea that if faith and unbelief are to be responsible acts, they must be independent acts; hence we are not free to believe that we are saved entirely by divine grace through a faith which is itself God’s gift and flows to us from Calvary. Instead, we involve ourselves in a bewildering kind of double-think about salvation, telling ourselves one moment that it all depends on God and next moment that it all depends on us. The resultant mental muddle deprives God of much of the glory that we should give Him as author and finisher of salvation, and ourselves of much of the comfort we might draw from knowing that God is for us.

And when we come to preach the gospel, our false preconceptions make us say just the opposite of what we intend. We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Saviour; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has left us to become our own saviours. It comes about in this way. We want to magnify the saving grace of God and the saving power of Christ. So we declare that God’s redeeming love extends to every man, and that Christ has died to save every man, and we proclaim that the glory of divine mercy is to be measured by these facts. And then, in order to avoid universalism, we have to depreciate all that we were previously extolling, and to explain that, after all, nothing that God and Christ have done can save us unless we add something to it; the decisive factor which actually saves us is our own believing. What we say comes to this—that Christ saves us with our help; and what that means, when one thinks it out, is this—that we save ourselves with Christ’s help. This is a hollow anticlimax. But if we start by affirming that God has a saving love for all, and Christ died a saving death for all, and yet balk at becoming universalists, there is nothing else that we can say. And let us be clear on what we have done when we have put the matter in this fashion. We have not exalted grace and the Cross; we have cheapened them. We have limited the atonement far more drastically than Calvinism does, for whereas Calvinism asserts that Christ’s death, as such, saves all whom it was meant to save, we have denied that Christ’s death, as such, is sufficient to save any of them. We have flattered impenitent sinners by assuring them that it is in their power to repent and believe, though God cannot make them do it. Perhaps we have also trivialised faith and repentance in order to make this assurance plausible (“it’s very simple—just open your heart to the Lord…”). Certainly, we have effectively denied God’s sovereignty, and undermined the basic conviction of religion—that man is always in God’s hands. In truth, we have lost a great deal. And it is, perhaps, no wonder that our preaching begets so little reverence and humility, and that our professed converts are so self-confident and so deficient in self-knowledge, and in the good works which Scripture regards as the fruit of true repentance.

It is from degenerate faith and preaching of this kind that Owen’s book could set us free. If we listen to him, he will teach us both how to believe the Scripture gospel and how to preach it. For the first: he will lead us to bow down before a sovereign Saviour Who really saves, and to praise Him for a redeeming death which made it certain that all for whom He died will come to glory. It cannot be over-emphasised that we have not seen the full meaning of the Cross till we have seen it as the divines of Dort display it—as the centre of the gospel, flanked on the one hand by total inability and unconditional election, and on the other by irresistible grace and final preservation. For the full meaning of the Cross only appears when the atonement is defined in terms of these four truths. Christ died to save a certain company of helpless sinners upon whom God had set His free saving love. Christ’s death ensured the calling and keeping—the present and final salvation—of all whose sins He bore. That is what Calvary meant, and means. The Cross saved; the Cross saves. This is the heart of true Evangelical faith; as Cowper sang—

“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood

Shall never lose its power,

Till all the ransomed church of God

Be saved to sin no more.”

This is the triumphant conviction which underlay the old gospel, as it does the whole New Testament. And this is what Owen will teach us unequivocally to believe.

Then, secondly, Owen could set us free, if we would hear him, to preach the biblical gospel. This assertion may sound paradoxical, for it is often imagined that those who will not preach that Christ died to save every man are left with no gospel at all. On the contrary, however, what they are left with is just the gospel of the New Testament. What does it mean to preach “the gospel of the grace of God”? Owen only touches on this briefly and incidentally, but his comments are full of light. Preaching the gospel, he tells us, is not a matter of telling the congregation that God has set His love on each of them and Christ has died to save each of them, for these assertions, biblically understood, would imply that they will all infallibly be saved, and this cannot be known to be true. The knowledge of being the object of God’s eternal love and Christ’s redeeming death belongs to the individual’s assurance, which in the nature of the case cannot precede faith’s saving exercise; it is to be inferred from the fact that one has believed, not proposed as a reason why one should believe. According to Scripture, preaching the gospel is entirely a matter of proclaiming to men, as truth from God which all are bound to believe and act on, the following four facts:

(1.) that all men are sinners, and cannot do anything to save themselves;

(2.) that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is a perfect Saviour for sinners, even the worst;

(3.) that the Father and the Son have promised that all who know themselves to be sinners and put faith in Christ as Saviour shall be received into favour, and none cast out (which promise is “a certain infallible truth, grounded upon the superabundant sufficiency of the oblation of Christ in itself, for whomsoever [few or more] it be intended”);

(4.) that God has made repentance and faith a duty, requiring of every man who hears the gospel “a serious full recumbency and rolling of the soul upon Christ in the promise of the gospel, as an all-sufficient Saviour, able to deliver and save to the utmost them that come to God by him; ready, able and willing, through the preciousness of his blood and sufficiency of his ransom, to save every soul that shall freely give up themselves unto him for that end.”

The preacher’s task, in other words, is to display Christ: to explain man’s need of Him, His sufficiency to save, and His offer of Himself in the promises as Saviour to all who truly turn to Him; and to show as fully and plainly as he can how these truths apply to the congregation before him. It is not for him to say, nor for his hearers to ask, for whom Christ died in particular. “There is none called on by the gospel once to enquire after the purpose and intention of God concerning the particular object of the death of Christ, every one being fully assured that his death shall be profitable to them that believe in him and obey him.” After saving faith has been exercised, “it lies on a believer to assure his soul, according as he find the fruit of the death of Christ in him and towards him, of the good-will and eternal love of God to him in sending his Son to die for him in particular”; but not before. The task to which the gospel calls him is simply to exercise faith, which he is both warranted and obliged to do by God’s command and promise.

Some comments on this conception of what preaching the gospel means are in order.

First, we should observe that the old gospel of Owen contains no less full and free an offer of salvation than its modern counterpart. It presents ample grounds of faith (the sufficiency of Christ, and the promise of God), and cogent motives to faith (the sinner’s need, and the Creator’s command, which is also the Redeemer’s invitation). The new gospel gains nothing here by asserting universal redemption. The old gospel, certainly, has no room for the cheap sentimentalising which turns God’s free mercy to sinners into a constitutional soft-heartedness on His part which we can take for granted; nor will it countenance the degrading presentation of Christ as the baffled Saviour, balked in what He hoped to do by human unbelief; nor will it indulge in maudlin appeals to the unconverted to let Christ save them out of pity for His disappointment. The pitiable Saviour and the pathetic God of modern pulpits are unknown to the old gospel. The old gospel tells men that they need God, but not that God needs them (a modern falsehood); it does not exhort them to pity Christ, but announces that Christ has pitied them, though pity was the last thing they deserved. It never loses sight of the Divine majesty and sovereign power of the Christ whom it proclaims, but rejects flatly all representations of Him which would obscure His free omnipotence. Does this mean, however, that the preacher of the old gospel is inhibited or confined in offering Christ to men and inviting them to receive Him? Not at all. In actual fact, just because he recognises that Divine mercy is sovereign and free, he is in a position to make far more of the offer of Christ in his preaching than is the expositor of the new gospel; for this offer is itself a far more wonderful thing on his principles than it can ever be in the eyes of those who regard love to all sinners as a necessity of God’s nature, and therefore a matter of course. To think that the holy Creator, who never needed man for His happiness and might justly have banished our fallen race for ever without mercy, should actually have chosen to redeem some of them! and that His own Son was willing to undergo death and descend into hell to save them! and that now from His throne He should speak to ungodly men as He does in the words of the gospel, urging upon them the command to repent and believe in the form of a compassionate invitation to pity themselves and choose life! These thoughts are the focal points round which the preaching of the old gospel revolves. It is all wonderful, just because none of it can be taken for granted. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all—the holiest spot in all the holy ground of gospel truth—is the free invitation which “the Lord Christ” (as Owen loves to call Him) issues repeatedly to guilty sinners to come to Him and find rest for their souls. It is the glory of these invitations that it is an omnipotent King who gives them, just as it is a chief part of the glory of the enthroned Christ that He condescends still to utter them. And it is the glory of the gospel ministry that the preacher goes to men as Christ’s ambassador, charged to deliver the King’s invitation personally to every sinner present and to summon them all to turn and live. Owen himself enlarges on this in a passage addressed to the unconverted.

“Consider the infinite condescension and love of Christ, in his invitations and calls of you to come unto him for life, deliverance, mercy, grace, peace and eternal salvation. Multitudes of these invitations and calls are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements which divine wisdom knows to be suited unto lost, convinced sinners…. In the declaration and preaching of them, Jesus Christ yet stands before sinners, calling, inviting, encouraging them to come unto him.

“This is somewhat of the word which he now speaks unto you: Why will ye die? why will ye perish? why will ye not have compassion on your own souls? Can your hearts endure, or can your hands be strong, in the day of wrath that is approaching?… Look unto me, and be saved; come unto me, and I will ease you of all sins, sorrows, fears, burdens, and give rest unto your souls. Come, I entreat you; lay aside all procrastinations, all delays; put me off no more; eternity lies at the door…do not so hate me as that you will rather perish than accept of deliverance by me.

“These and the like things doth the Lord Christ continually declare, proclaim, plead and urge upon the souls of sinners…. He doth it in the preaching of the word, as if he were present with you, stood amongst you, and spake personally to every one of you…. He hath appointed the ministers of the gospel to appear before you, and to deal with you in his stead, avowing as his own the invitations which are given you in his name, 2 Cor. v. 19, 20.”

These invitations are universal; Christ addresses them to sinners, as such, and every man, as he believes God to be true, is bound to treat them as God’s words to him personally and to accept the universal assurance which accompanies them, that all who come to Christ will be received. Again, these invitations are real; Christ genuinely offers Himself to all who hear the gospel, and is in truth a perfect Saviour to all who trust Him. The question of the extent of the atonement does not arise in evangelistic preaching; the message to be delivered is simply this—that Christ Jesus, the sovereign Lord, who died for sinners, now invites sinners freely to Himself. God commands all to repent and believe; Christ promises life and peace to all who do so. Furthermore, these invitations are marvellously gracious; men despise and reject them, and are never in any case worthy of them, and yet Christ still issues them. He need not, but He does. “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” remains His word to the world, never cancelled, always to be preached. He whose death has ensured the salvation of all His people is to be proclaimed everywhere as a perfect Saviour, and all men invited and urged to believe on Him, whoever they are, whatever they have been. Upon these three insights the evangelism of the old gospel is based.

It is a very ill-informed supposition that evangelistic preaching which proceeds on these principles must be anaemic and half-hearted by comparison with what Arminians can do. Those who study the printed sermons of worthy expositors of the old gospel, such as Bunyan (whose preaching Owen himself much admired), or Whitefield, or Spurgeon, will find that in fact they hold forth the Saviour and summon sinners to Him with a fulness, warmth, intensity and moving force unmatched in Protestant pulpit literature. And it will be found on analysis that the very thing which gave their preaching its unique power to overwhelm their audiences with broken-hearted joy at the riches of God’s grace-and still gives it that power, let it be said, even with hard-boiled modern readers—was their insistence on the fact that grace is free. They knew that the dimensions of Divine love are not half understood till one realises that God need not have chosen to save nor given his Son to die; nor need Christ have taken upon him vicarious damnation to redeem men, nor need He invite sinners indiscriminately to Himself as He does; but that all God’s gracious dealings spring entirely from His own free purpose. Knowing this, they stressed it, and it is this stress that sets their evangelistic preaching in a class by itself. Other Evangelicals, possessed of a more superficial and less adequate theology of grace, have laid the main emphasis in their gospel preaching on the sinner’s need of forgiveness, or peace, or power, and of the way to get them by “deciding for Christ.” It is not to be denied that their preaching has done good (for God will use His truth, even when imperfectly held and mixed with error), although this type of evangelism is always open to the criticism of being too man-centred and pietistic; but it has been left (necessarily) to Calvinists and those who, like the Wesleys, fall into Calvinistic ways of thought as soon as they begin a sermon to the unconverted, to preach the gospel in a way which highlights above everything else the free love, willing condescension, patient long-suffering and infinite kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, without doubt, this is the most Scriptural and edifying way to preach it; for gospel invitations to sinners never honour God and exalt Christ more, nor are more powerful to awaken and confirm faith, than when full weight is laid on the free omnipotence of the mercy from which they flow. It looks, indeed, as if the preachers of the old gospel are the only people whose position allows them to do justice to the revelation of Divine goodness in the free offer of Christ to sinners.

Then, in the second place, the old gospel safeguards values which the new gospel loses. We saw before that the new gospel, by asserting universal redemption and a universal Divine saving purpose, compels itself to cheapen grace and the Cross by denying that the Father and the Son are sovereign in salvation; for it assures us that, after God and Christ have done all that they can, or will, it depends finally on each man’s own choice whether God’s purpose to save him is realised or not. This position has two unhappy results. The first is that it compels us to misunderstand the significance of the gracious invitations of Christ in the gospel of which we have been speaking; for we now have to read them, not as expressions of the tender patience of a mighty sovereign, but as the pathetic pleadings of impotent desire; and so the enthroned Lord is suddenly metamorphosed into a weak, futile figure tapping forlornly at the door of the human heart, which He is powerless to open. This is a shameful dishonour to the Christ of the New Testament. The second implication is equally serious: for this view in effect denies our dependence on God when it comes to vital decisions, takes us out of His hand, tells us that we are, after all, what sin taught us to think we were—masters of our fate, captain of our souls—and so undermines the very foundation of man’s religious relationship with his Maker. It can hardly be wondered at that the converts of the new gospel are so often both irreverent and irreligious, for such is the natural tendency of this teaching. The old gospel, however, speaks very differently and has a very different tendency. On the one hand, in expounding man’s need of Christ, it stresses something which the new gospel effectively ignores—that sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart. On the other hand, in declaring Christ’s power to save, it proclaims Him as the author and chief agent of conversion, coming by His Spirit as the gospel goes forth to renew men’s hearts and draw them to Himself. Accordingly, in applying the message, the old gospel, while stressing that faith is man’s duty, stresses also that faith is not in man’s power, but that God must give what He commands. It announces, not merely that men must come to Christ for salvation, but also that they cannot come unless Christ Himself draws them. Thus it labours to overthrow self-confidence, to convince sinners that their salvation is altogether out of their hands, and to shut them up to a self-despairing dependence on the glorious grace of a sovereign Saviour, not only for their righteousness but for their faith too.

It is not likely, therefore, that a preacher of the old gospel will be happy to express the application of it in the form of a demand to “decide for Christ,” as the current phrase is. For, on the one hand, this phrase carries the wrong associations. It suggests voting a person into office—an act in which the candidate plays no part beyond offering himself for election, and everything then being settled by the voter’s independent choice. But we do not vote God’s Son into office as our Saviour, nor does He remain passive while preachers campaign on His behalf, whipping up support for His cause. We ought not to think of evangelism as a kind of electioneering. And then, on the other hand, this phrase obscures the very thing that is essential in repentance and faith—the denying of self in a personal approach to Christ. It is not at all obvious that deciding for Christ is the same as coming to Him and resting on Him and turning from sin and self-effort; it sounds like something much less, and is accordingly calculated to instil defective notions of what the gospel really requires of sinners. It is not a very apt phrase from any point of view.

To the question: what must I do to be saved? the old gospel replies: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To the further question: what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? its reply is: it means knowing oneself to be a sinner, and Christ to have died for sinners; abandoning all self-righteousness and self-confidence, and casting oneself wholly upon Him for pardon and peace; and exchanging one’s natural enmity and rebellion against God for a spirit of grateful submission to the will of Christ through the renewing of one’s heart by the Holy Ghost. And to the further question still: how am I to go about believing on Christ and repenting, if I have no natural ability to do these things? it answers: look to Christ, speak to Christ, cry to Christ, just as you are; confess your sin, your impenitence, your unbelief, and cast yourself on His mercy; ask Him to give you a new heart, working in you true repentance and firm faith; ask Him to take away your evil heart of unbelief and to write His law within you, that you may never henceforth stray from Him. Turn to Him and trust Him as best you can, and pray for grace to turn and trust more thoroughly; use the means of grace expectantly, looking to Christ to draw near to you as you seek to draw near to Him; watch, pray, read and hear God’s Word, worship and commune with God’s people, and so continue till you know in yourself beyond doubt that you are indeed a changed being, a penitent believer, and the new heart which you desired has been put within you. The emphasis in this advice is on the need to call upon Christ directly, as the very first step.

“Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness He requireth

Is to feel your need of Him”

—so do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better; and wait on Him till His light rises in your soul, as Scripture promises that it shall do. Anything less than this direct dealing with Christ is disobedience of the gospel. Such is the exercise of spirit to which the old evangel summons its hearers. “I believe—help thou mine unbelief”: this must become their cry.

And the old gospel is proclaimed in the sure confidence that the Christ of whom it testifies, the Christ who is the real speaker when the Scriptural invitations to trust Him are expounded and applied, is not passively waiting for man’s decision as the word goes forth, but is omnipotently active, working with and through the word to bring His people to faith in Himself. The preaching of the new gospel is often described as the task of “bringing men to Christ” if only men move, while Christ stands still. But the task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to men, for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before men’s eyes, the mighty Saviour whom they proclaim is busy doing His work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to Himself.

It is this older gospel which Owen will teach us to preach: the gospel of the sovereign grace of God in Christ as the author and finisher of faith and salvation. It is the only gospel which can be preached on Owen’s principles, but those who have tasted its sweetness will not in any case be found looking for another. In the matter of believing and preaching the gospel, as in other things, Jeremiah’s words still have their application: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” To find ourselves debarred, as Owen would debar us, from taking up with the fashionable modern substitute gospel may not, after all, be a bad thing, either for us, or for the Church.

More might be said, but to go further would be to exceed the limits of an introductory essay. The foregoing remarks are made simply to show how important it is at the present time that we should attend most carefully to Owen’s analysis of what the Bible says about the saving work of Christ.

III. It only remains to add a few remarks about this treatise itself. It was Owen’s second major work, and his first masterpiece. (Its predecessor, A Display of Arminianism, published in 1642, when Owen was twenty-six, was a competent piece of prentice-work, rather of the nature of a research thesis.)

The Death of Death is a solid book, made up of detailed exposition and close argument, and requires hard study, as Owen fully realised; a cursory glance will not yield much. (“READER…. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again—thou has had thy entertainment; farewell!”) Owen felt, however, that he had a right to ask for hard study, for his book was a product of hard work (“a more than seven-years’ serious inquiry…into the mind of God about these things, with a serious perusal of all which I could attain that the wit of man, in former or latter days, hath published in opposition to the truth”), and he was sure in his own mind that a certain finality attached to what he had written. (“Altogether hopeless of success I am not; but fully resolved that I shall not live to see a solid answer given unto it.”) Time has justified his optimism.

Something should be said about his opponents. He is writing against three variations on the theme of universal redemption: that of classical Arminianism, noted earlier; that of the theological faculty at Saumur (the position known as Amyraldism, after its leading exponent); and that of Thomas More, a lay theologian of East Anglia. The second of these views originated with a Scots professor at Saumur, John Cameron; it was taken up and developed by two of his pupils, Amyraut (Amyraldus) and Testard, and became the occasion of a prolonged controversy in which Amyraut, Daillé and Blondel were opposed by Rivet, Spanheim and Des Marets (Maresius). The Saumur position won some support among Reformed divines in Britain, being held in modified form by (among others) Bishops Usher and Davenant, and Richard Baxter. None of these, however, had advocated it in print at the time when Owen wrote.

Goold’s summary of the Saumur position may be quoted. “Admitting that, by the purpose of God, and through the death of Christ, the elect are infallibly secured in the enjoyment of salvation, they contended for an antecedent decree, by which God is free to give salvation to all men through Christ, on the condition that they believe on him. Hence their system was termed hypothetic[al] universalism. The vital difference between it and the strict Arminian theory lies in the absolute security asserted in the former for the spiritual recovery of the elect. They agree, however, in attributing some kind of universality to the atonement, and in maintaining that, on a certain condition, within the reach of fulfilment by all men…all men have access to the benefits of Christ’s death.” From this, Goold continues, “the readers of Owen will understand…why he dwells with peculiar keenness and reiteration of statement upon a refutation of the conditional system…. It was plausible; it had many learned men for its advocates; it had obtained currency in the foreign churches; and it seems to have been embraced by More.”

More is described by Thomas Edwards as “a great Sectary, that did much hurt in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire; who was famous also in Boston, (King’s) Lynn, and even in Holland, and was followed from place to place by many.” Baxter’s description is kinder: “a Weaver of Wisbitch and Lyn, of excellent Parts.” (More’s doctrine of redemption, of course, was substantially Baxter’s own.) Owen, however, has a poor view of his abilities, and makes no secret of the fact. More’s book, The Universality of God’s Free Grace in Christ to Mankind, appeared in 1646 (not, as Goold says, 1643), and must have exercised a considerable influence, for within three years it had evoked four weighty works which were in whole or part polemics against it: A Refutation…of Thomas More, by Thomas Whitfield, 1646; Vindiciae Redemptionis, by John Stalham, 1647; The Universalist Examined and Convicted, by Obadiah Howe, 1648; and Owen’s own book, published in the same year.

More’s exposition seems to be of little intrinsic importance; Owen, however, selects it as the fullest statement of the case for universal redemption that had yet appeared in English and uses it unmercifully as a chopping-block. The modern reader, however, will probably find it convenient to skip the sections devoted to refuting More (I. viii., the closing pages of II. iii. and IV. vi.) on his first passage through Owen’s treatise.

Finally, a word about the style of this work. There is no denying that Owen is heavy and hard to read. This is not so much due to obscure arrangement as to two other factors. The first is his lumbering literary gait. “Owen travels through it (his subject) with the elephant’s grace and solid step, if sometimes also with his ungainly motion.” says Thomson. That puts it kindly. Much of Owen’s prose reads like a roughly-dashed-off translation of a piece of thinking done in Ciceronian Latin. It has, no doubt, a certain clumsy dignity; so has Stonehenge; but it is trying to the reader to have to go over sentences two or three times to see their meaning, and this necessity makes it much harder to follow an argument. The present writer, however, has found that the hard places in Owen usually come out as soon as one reads them aloud. The second obscuring factor is Owen’s austerity as an expositor. He has a lordly disdain for broad introductions which ease the mind gently into a subject, and for comprehensive summaries which gather up scattered points into a small space. He obviously carries the whole of his design in his head, and expects his readers to do the same. Nor are his chapter divisions reliable pointers to the structure of his discourse, for though a change of subject is usually marked by a chapter division, Owen often starts a new chapter where there is no break in the thought at all. Nor is he concerned about literary proportions; the space given to a topic is determined by its intrinsic complexity rather than its relative importance, and the reader is left to work out what is basic and what is secondary by noting how things link together. The reader will probably find it helpful to use a pencil and paper in his study of the book and jot down the progress of the exposition; and it is hoped that the subjoined Analysis will also be of service in helping him keep his bearings.

We would conclude by repeating that the reward to be reaped from studying Owen is worth all the labour involved, and by making the following observations for the student’s guidance. (1.) It is important to start with the epistle “To the Reader,” for there Owen indicates in short compass what he is trying to do, and why. (2.) It is important to read the treatise as a whole, in the order in which it stands, and not to jump into parts III. and IV. before mastering the contents of Parts I. and II., where the biblical foundations of Owen’s whole position are laid. (3.) It is hardly possible to grasp the strength and cogency of this massive statement on a first reading. The work must be read and re-read to be appreciated.

J. I. PACKER.

Book Review on David S. Steele’s “A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin”

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An Exhortation to God-Centered Living

By David P. Craig

It was such a joy and delight to read this new offering from my good friend David S. Steele. I highly recommend this book four five primary reasons:

  1. It’s brevity. It’s only 68 pages long. However, upon starting and completing the book in about an hour and a half – I was refreshed, renewed and rejuvenated in my passion for our Awesome God.
  2. It’s content. It’s a tour de force theologically. In it Steele brilliantly weaves the authority of the Scriptures, the gospel, and personal sanctification in a way that my heart, mind, and affections were stirred to continue to be faithful in my calling as a Christian Pastor.
  3. It’s snapshot of John Calvin. John Calvin – may be one of the least understood theologians in Church History; and yet perhaps the one theologian-pastor that should be most admired, studied, and emulated. Steele’s brief snippets from the life and pen of Calvin – will spur on the desire of those who read this book to go to the primary sources for more of Calvin – and that’s a good thing!
  4. It’s biblically saturated. Steele bleeds bibline. Every page “oosiates” Scripture. There is an authoritative ring of truth throughout the book. Therefore, one senses the presence of and the counsel of the Holy Spirit throughout the book.
  5. It’s convicting. The subject of the entire book is based on Isaiah 66:1-2. The themes of repentance, contrition, humility, and a love for God and His Word are hammered home throughout. As convicting as I was by the Spirit, I was also exhorted by the same Holy Spirit to be renewed in my joy in Christ and His gospel through repentance and faith in following the practical steps articulated in this excellent book to help me get back on track in my God-centered gaze.

Will Everyone Go To Heaven?

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Varieties of Universalism

(1) Universal Reconciliation (The View of some Barthians – followers of Karl Barth): Maintains that Christ’s death accomplished its purpose of reconciling all mankind to God. Whatever separation exists between man and the benefits of God’s grace is subjective in nature, existing only in man’s mind. Reconciliation is an accomplished fact.

(2) Universal Pardon (The View of C.H. Dodd): Maintains that God, being loving, will not hold unswervingly to the conditions he has laid down. Though threatening eternal punishment he will in the end relent and forgive everyone. God will treat all persons as if they had believed.

(3) Universal Restoration (The View of Origen): At some point in the future all things will be restored to their original and intended state. Full salvation may be preceded by cycles of reincarnation or by some purgatorial period at the beginning of the life hereafter.

(4) The Doctrine of a Second Chance: The work of Christ is sufficient to secure the salvation of the elect, but salvation is effectually secured by the means of faith (Romans 10:10-13, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”). All people, even those who have heard and rejected, will be confronted with the claims of Christ in the life to come. Everyone given such an opportunity will of course accept it.

(5) Universal Temporal Blessings: The natural benefits of the world are also enjoyed by everyone. These benefits include sunshine, rain, good health, etc., and are a result of God’s common grace. These things are given from God because of his character.

Arguments For and Against Universalism

(1a. For) It is ridiculous to think that a living, all-powerful, and sovereign God could create a system whereby a portion of mankind (the epitome of his creation) would be condemned to everlasting punishment.

(1b. Against) God will not do anything that contradicts any of his attributes. hence in order to harmonize his perfect love and perfect justice, he devised the biblically explained system of redemption. We must accept the biblical record, not our own finite reasoning.

(2a. For) To condemn the unsaved to everlasting punishment as a result of a relatively short life span on earth is unjust.

(2b. Against) God is the final standard of justice, not man.

(3a. For) If an all-powerful sovereign God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” and 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”), then surely all are saved.

(3b. Against) The Timothy and Peter passages in their context refer to all kinds of people and to “all” the elect in their contexts. Although God desires salvation for all mankind (specifically the elect) a person must respond to God’s offer of salvation and many do not (John 5:40, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” & Matthew 7:14, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

(4a. For) Christ’s death has acquitted all mankind of their condemnation before God, just as Adam brought the entire human race into sin (Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” & 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

(4b. Against) The context of both of these passages clearly shows that the benefits of Christ’s death are for those “in Christ,” just as the penalties of Adam’s sin are for those “in Adam.”

(5a. For) The theme of the New Testament is the of God’s sovereign love. If his love is sovereign, it must be completely victorious. To say that God’s love is not adequate to secure the salvation of all mankind in the end presumes a finite God.

(5b. Against) Agreed, God has infinite love, but he also has justice and holiness. He has already devised a plan consistent with all his infinite attributes. It is up to man to accept God’s plan, instead of devising his own plan and calling God unjust if he does not accept it.

(6a. For) Christ paid the penalty of sin on behalf of all mankind (Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”), and legally, if such as adequate substitution is made and accepted, it is unjust for the creditor to require the original payment also.

(6b. Against) The substitutionary death of Christ was sufficient for the salvation of all (efficient only for the elect); however, each person must believe in order for it to be effectual on his behalf (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”).

(7a. For) God’s all-encompassing attribute is love. His judgment is only a temporary measure to reform unrepentant persons, and hence is itself motivated by love. Ultimately all people will be reformed, whether in this life or in the after-life, and hence ultimately all will be saved.

(7b. Against) Scripture never refers to the abode of unbelievers after death as a place of reformation. It is always referred to as a place of destruction and punishment (Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” & John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”). The only reference to any encounter of Christ with unbelievers after their death is 1 Peter 3:19, and this passage is applicable only to unbelievers in Noah’s day.

(8a. For) Ultimately all mankind will believe, whether in this life or the hereafter (Philippians 2:10-11, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” & 1 Peter 3:19-20, “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”).

(8b. Against) Contextually both of these passages do not prove the point from the context. The words of Jesus indicate clearly that some go to eternal life and others go to eternal punishment. Matthew 7:21-23,“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ &  John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” & Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” In this passage from Matthew the word for eternal is aionos, meaning “relating to the final order of things which will not pass away.”

(9a. For) Many will not believe in this life, but the after-life offers a second chance.

(9b. Against) The constant scriptural references to “saving faith” clearly indicate that some will NOT believe (John 1:11-12, “[Jesus] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”;  & John 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

(10a. For) Warnings of lostness are merely hypothetical and constitute one of the ways in which God secures the universal salvation of all mankind.

(10b. Against) Christ and the apostles were constantly warning people of God’s wrath and judgment on sin and urgently calling them to repentance. Hence, if universalism is true, Christ and the apostles were either ignorant or grossly deceptive. Other Scriptures points to the punishment of the non-elect (Romans 9:22, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” & 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” & Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Some of the material above adapted from H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Why The Gospel is The Key To Bringing Real Change to Your Life

THE GOSPEL: KEY TO CHANGE

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By Tim Keller

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel. And it is good news in three important ways.

1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4-10);

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21);

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul justus et pecator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this: 1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay, 3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and 4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.

The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

Conclusion

All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent on one another.

If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

Christianity is About a Relationship with Jesus

Receiving The Resurrected Redeemer

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Every single person who has ever lived on Planet Earth will be resurrected—some to eternal life and some to eternal torment. In the Lord’s own words, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). Everyone reading these words is in one of these two categories.

Relationship

The distinction between religion and relationship makes all the difference in the world. Religion is merely man’s attempt to reach up and become acceptable to God through his own efforts—living a good life, attempting to obey the Ten Commandments, or following the golden rule. Some religions even teach that this cannot be accomplished in one lifetime. Thus, you are reincarnated over and over again until you become one with nirvana or one with the universe.

The problem with the answer provided by religion is that the Bible says that if we are ever to become acceptable to God, we must be absolutely perfect! As Jesus put it in His Sermon on the Mount—one of the most famous literary masterpieces in the history of humanity—“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Obviously no one is perfect; therefore, if we are ever going to know the resurrected Redeemer here and now, as well as rule and reign with Him throughout the eons of time, there has to be another way. And that way is found in a relationship.

Relationship is what the Christian faith is all about. It is not primarily a set of dos and don’ts. It’s a personal relationship with God. That relationship does not depend on our ability to reach up and touch God through our own good works, but rather on God’s willingness to reach down and touch us through His love.

By way of illustration, if I wanted to have a relationship with an ant, the only way I could do so is to become one. Obviously I can’t become an ant, but God did become a man. The Bible says that God in the person of Jesus Christ “became flesh” and lived for a while “among us” (John 1:14). He came into time and space to restore a relationship with man that was severed by sin.

It is crucial that you understand the problem of sin. If you do not recognize that you are a sinner, you will also not realize your need for a Savior.

Sin

Sin is not just murder, rape, or robbery. Sin is failing to do the things we should and doing those things we should not. In short, sin is a word that describes anything that fails to meet God’s standard of perfection.

Thus, sin is the barrier between you and a satisfying relationship with God. As Scripture puts it, “Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).

Just as light and dark cannot exist together, neither can God and sin. And each day we are further separated from God as we are further separated from God as we add to the account of our sin. But that’s not the only problem. Sin also separates us from others. You need only read the newspaper or listen to a news report to see how true this really is. Locally, we read of murder, robbery, and fraud. Nationally, we hear of corruption in politics, racial tension, and an escalating rate of suicide. Internationally, we constantly see wars and hear rumors of war. We live in a time when terrorism abounds and when the world as we know it can be instantly obliterated by nuclear aggression.

All of these things are symbolic of sin. The Bible says that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are no accept ions to the rule. The problem is further compounded when we begin to understand who God is. Virtually every heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God.

God

On one hand, God is the perfect Father. We all have had earthly fathers, but no matter how good—or bad, as the case may be—none are perfect. God, however, is the perfect Father. And as the perfect Father, he desires an intimate relationship with us. In His Word, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Yet the same Bible that tells us that God loves us and wants a relationship with us as our heavenly Father also tells us that He is the perfect Judge. As the perfect Judge, God is absolutely just, righteous, and holy. The Bible says of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Herein lies the dilemma. On the one hand, we see that God is the perfect Father. He loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. On the other hand, He is the perfect Judge, whose very nature is too pure to tolerate our sin. The dilemma is brought into sharper focus by a story I heard many years ago.

A young man was caught driving under the influence of alcohol after having committed several crimes. He was brought before a judge nicknamed the “hanging judge.” Although the judge’s integrity was beyond question, he always handed out the stiffest penalty allowable by law (to wit the nickname, “hanging judge”). It turns out that the judge was the young man’s father. As you can imagine, everyone in there courthouse that day waited with bated breath to see how the judge would treat his own son. Would he show him favoritism as a father, or would he, as always, hand out the stiffest penalty allowable by law?

As the spellbound courtroom full of spectators looked on, the judge, without hesitation, issued the maximum financial penalty allowable by law. Then he took off his judicial robes, walked over to where his son stood, and paid the penalty his son could not pay. In that one act, he satisfied the justice of the law and yet demonstrated extraordinary love.

That, however, is but a faint glimpse of what God the Father did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus Christ—God Himself—came to earth to be our Savior and to be our Lord.

Through His resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Buddha, Mohammed, or any other founders of world religions. They died and are still dead, but Christ had the power to lay down His life and take it up again.

Jesus Christ

As our Savior, Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot live. Earlier I pointed out that Scripture says in order to be acceptable to God we need to be perfect. Well, Jesus Christ came into time and space to be perfection for us. As the Bible puts it, “God made Him [Jesus Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

This is the great exchange over which all of the Bible was written. God took our sins and placed them on Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay the debt we could not pay. Then, wonder of wonders, He gave us the perfect life of Jesus Christ. He took our sins and gave us His perfection as an absolutely free gift. We cannot earn it or deserve it; we can only live a life of gratitude for this gift that God freely offers us. But that’s not all. Jesus not only died to be our Savior; He also lives to be our Lord.

As our Lord, Jesus Christ gives our lives meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. This is a particularly exciting thought when you stop to realize that the one who wants to be your Lord is the very one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence. He not only made this universe and everything in it, but He made you. He knows all about you, He loves you, and He wants you to have a satisfying life here and now and an eternity of joy with Him in heaven forever.

The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The resurrection of Jesus is an undeniable fact of history. Through the immutable fact of the resurrection, God the Father vindicated Christ’s claims to deity, thus demonstrating that Jesus was God in human flesh. To receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, one need only take two steps. The one step is repent, the other is receive.

Two Steps

The first step involves repentance. Repentance is an old English word that describes a willingness to turn from sin toward Jesus Christ. It literally means a complete U-turn on the road of life—a change of heart and a change of mind. It means a willingness to follow Jesus Christ and receive Him as Savior and Lord. In the words of Christ, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

The second step is to receive. To demonstrate true belief means to be willing to receive God’s free gift. To truly receive God’s gift is to trust in and depend on Jesus Christ alone to be the Lord of our lives here and now and our Savior for all eternity.

Receiving God’s free gift takes more than knowledge. (The devil knows about Jesus and trembles.) It takes more than agreeing that the knowledge is accurate. (The devil knows that Jesus is Lord.) True saving faith entails not only knowledge and agreement, but trust. By way of illustration, when you are sick you can know a particular medicine can cure you. You can even agree that it’s cured thousands of others. But until you trust it enough to take it, it cannot cure you. It like manner, you can know about Jesus Christ, and you can agree that He has saved others, but until you personally place your trust in Him, you will not be saved.

The requirements for eternal life are nit based on what you can do but on what Jesus Christ has done. He stands ready to exchange His perfection for your imperfection.

To those who have never received Him as Savior and Lord, Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus knocks on the door of the human heart, and the question He asks is, Are you ready now to receive me as Savior and Lord?

According to Jesus Christ, those who repent and receive Him as Savior and Lord are “born again” (John 3:3)—not physically, but spiritually. And with this birth must come spiritual growth.

Growth

First, no relationship can flourish without constant, heartfelt communication. This is true not only in human relationships, but also in our relationship with God. If we are to nurture a strong relationship with our Savior, we must be in constant communication with Him. The way to do that is through prayer.

Prayer is the way we talk to God. You do not need a special vocabulary to pray. You can simply speak to God as you would to your best friend. The more time you spend with God in prayer, the more intimate your relationship will be. And remember, there is no problem great or small that God cannot handle. If it’s important to you, it’s important to Him.

Furthermore, in addition to prayer, it is crucial that new believers spend time reading God’s written revelation of Himself—the Bible. The Bible not only forms the foundation of an effective prayer life, but it is foundational to every other aspect of Christian living. While prayer is our primary way of communicating with God, the Bible is God’s primary way of communicating with us. Nothing should take precedence over getting into the Word and getting the Word into us.

If we fail to eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis, we will eventually suffer the physical consequences. What is true of the outer man is also true of the inner man. If we do not regularly feed on the Word of God, we will starve spiritually.

I generally recommend that new believers by reading one chapter from the Gospel of John each day. As you do, you will experience the joy of having God speak to you directly through His Word. As Jesus put it, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Finally, it is crucial for new believers to become active participants in a healthy, weal-balanced church. In Scripture, the church is referred to as the body of Christ. Just as our body is one and yet has many parts, so the body of Christ is one but is composed of many members. Those who receive Christ as the Savior and Lord of their lives are already a part of the church universal. It is crucial, however, that all Christians become vital, reproducing members of a local body of believers as well.

Scripture exhorts us not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together, as is the custom of some (see Hebrews 10:25). It is is the local church where God is worshiped through prayer, praise, and proclamation; where believers experience fellowship with one another; and where they are equipped to reach others through the testimony of their love, their lips, and their lives.

Application

I began by pointing out that Christianity is not merely a religion; rather, it is a relationship with the resurrected Redeemer. You can know of Him through historical evidences, but you can know Him only by the Spirit of God. Even now, if God’s Spirit is moving upon your heart, you can receive the resurrected Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. Simply pray thus prayer—and remember, there is no magic in the words; God is looking at the intent of your heart.

Prayer to Pray

Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have provided a way for me to have a relationship with You; I realize that I am a sinner; I thank You that You are my perfect Father; I thank You for sending Jesus to be my Savior and Lord; I repent and receive His perfection in exchange for my sin; In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Assurance

The assurance of eternal life is found in these words from the resurrected Redeemer: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff (Appendix A) – Resurrection The Capstone in the Arch of Christianity. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2000.

ON “FREE WILL” BY DR. R.C. SPROUL

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The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 9: Of Free Will

Sec. 1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.

Sec. 2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

Sec. 3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

Sec. 4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

Sec. 5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

We come now in our study of the confession to a separate treatment of the subject of free will. Every time Reformed theology is presented in open discussion, it seems inevitable that the subject of free will arises. For many, the idea of God’s sovereignty is antithetical to one of the most precious and axiomatic principles of human understanding—the idea of free will.

When we examine the question of free will from the viewpoint of biblical theology, we are pressured by the massive impact that secular views of free will have had on our thinking. If there is any place where secular humanism has undermined a biblical view of human nature, it’s with respect to the idea of free will. The prevailing view of free will in the secular culture is that human beings are able to make choices without being encumbered by sin. On this view, our wills have no predisposition either toward evil or toward righteousness, but remain in a neutral state from birth.

This view of human freedom is on a collision course with the biblical doctrine of the fall, which speaks of the radical corruption of our human condition. The whole person is caught up in the fall, including the mind, the soul, the will, and the body. The ravages of sin have affected us profoundly and deeply. Nonetheless, we are still able to think. Similarly, although the will has been tragically marred by the fall, we have not lost our ability to make moral choices. We still have wills, which are able to make choices without being coerced by God. The fact remains, however, that when the Bible speaks of our condition, it speaks of bondage or slavery to sin, which the confession addresses.

Sec. 1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.

Here the confession speaks of natural liberty, a liberty that is part and parcel of our nature as human beings. We were given a will that is not coerced or forced to make any decision by any absolute necessity of nature. Here the confession distances itself from every form of moral determinism, which would subject human choices to fixed, mechanical, or physical forces, or even to the arbitrary influences of fate. In a word, Reformed theology categorically rejects fatalism and any determinism based upon the forces of nature. We are not coerced or forced by natural causes, or by our environment, either to do good or to do evil.

Section 2, however, goes on to make an important distinction be- tween the state of the human will as it was created and its state after the fall.

Sec. 2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

Here the confession asserts and affirms that in creation the human will had freedom and power to do what is good, to do what is well pleasing to God. Before the fall, human beings had the moral capacity or the moral ability to choose righteousness and obedience before God. But this endowment from God was mutable. Man was capable of change and falling away from his original disposition.

Saint Augustine stated that in creation we had both the posse peccare (the ability to sin) and the posse non peccare (the ability not to sin). After the fall, we continued to have the ability to sin, the posse peccare, but we lost the power or ability not to sin, the posse non peccare. We were left in what Augustine called a state of moral inability. This truth can be illustrated from a rational perspective and from an analytical perspective. According to Jonathan Edwards, free will is our freedom to choose what we want—our ability to choose according to our own inclinations. Not only are we able to choose according to our strongest inclinations, but, in a very real sense, we must choose according to our strongest inclination in order to be free.

This is the essence of freedom: to be able to choose what you want, rather than what somebody else wants for you. We also recognize that we are creatures who have multitudes of conflicting desires. We are torn in more than one direction, and the intensity with which we want things changes and vacillates.

If we desired only to obey God, we would never sin. As Christians, we have some desire in our heart to please Christ. Unfortunately, we still desire to please ourselves, to gratify our own lusts, and to do what we want to do, rather than what Christ wants us to do. Now we are confronted with a choice between obeying Christ and disobeying Christ. If our desire to please Christ is greater than our desire to please ourselves at this point, what will we do? Whenever our desire for obedience is greater than our desire for sin, we will obey Christ. However, whenever our desire for sin exceeds our desire to please God, we will sin. In a real sense, we are slaves to our own freedom. We not only can be free, but must be free. We are volitional creatures, and to be volitional means that we choose according to our will. We make choices according to what seems best or most pleasing to us at the moment of decision.

What does that say for our sanctification? Is there any way that we can fool ourselves? This is important for our realization of how we function as sinners, having conflicting desires in our soul. We want to grow in grace, we want to please God, we want to obey Christ, and yet we still have desires for self-fulfillment that are sinful. We are told in the New Testament to feed the new man and starve the old man. Put the old man to death and seek the renewal of the new man, the strengthening of the inward man.

What can we do to strengthen our sanctification? The level of our desire to obey Christ has to increase, and the level of our desire for the things of this world has to diminish. Because we are always going to follow our strongest inclinations or desires, the only way to grow in grace is to feed and strengthen our positive desires for God and to starve our negative desires.

What are some things that we can do to strengthen the inner man? It certainly helps to spend time in the Word of God. Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). When we read Scripture and hear the Word of God reinforced, we begin to understand that certain behavioral patterns that are acceptable in the culture in which we live are totally unacceptable to God. When we sin, we know that we are sinning, but we trivialize our sin. We say, “I know I am not supposed to do that, but it’s not a big deal.” As we come under the scrutiny of the Word of God, we begin to see that things that we do not regard as a big deal are indeed very important to God. We get a deeper understanding of righteousness and of evil.

The Scriptures also encourage us to obey God and discourage us from sin. So the Word of God is what we call a means of grace. When we spend time in the Bible, something happens to the inward man. Our mind gets changed. We start to think differently, and we approach decisions in a different way, all because our minds are saturated with the truth of God.

Have you read the whole Bible at least once all the way through? I have asked this question all over the world, and the overwhelming majority of professing Christians have never read the whole Bible. We all know that we should read the whole Bible, and we all know that spending time in the Word will have an impact on our souls and on our decisions. Many times we resolve to spend time in Scripture, but we do not, because something else comes up that we want to do more than we want to read Scripture. The desire is not compelling enough to cause us to act in a diligent and disciplined manner to feed the new man in Christ on the Word of God.

What can we do about that? What do we do about dieting? When we are really struggling at the table and can’t lose weight, even with the best resolve, we go to Weight Watchers, spend money, make a commitment, and enter a group. We become part of a group that is going to root for us every week and cheer when we succeed.

This is not a promotion for Weight Watchers, but in many ways it is an image of the church. We come to church partly to lose the excess baggage that we brought into the kingdom of God with our conversion. We come to church for help in killing the old man. We come to church so that our souls can be nurtured, and so that we can be instructed in the things of God in a way that is going to change our life. It changes our life by strengthening our resolve to do one thing rather than another. If you want to learn the Bible, and you are not doing it on your own, get into a Bible study group. If you want to learn the things of God and you do not have the discipline to start, get into a Sunday school class, not just for one hour a week, but to study and work on assignments for the rest of the week. The whole Christian battle is a battle of the will. It is a battle to overcome a will that by nature is bent in the wrong direction.

I am amazed when I hear people say the will is free, as if our will were indifferent to good or evil, with no inclination to go to the left or the right. I wonder if these people have spent any time in the Christian life or have struggled in the inward man to overcome the appetites, desires, and inclinations that drive our choices all our life. No, the will is not neutral.

Sec. 3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

The Reformers believed that the will, although in a fallen state, could still achieve civic virtue or civic righteousness. Fallen man can still obey the traffic lights and so on, but he cannot incline himself to the things of God.

Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65). “No one can” means “nobody can.” Remember your third-grade teacher? You raised your hand and asked, “Mrs. So-and-So, can I go to the pencil sharpener and sharpen my pen- cil?” She replied, “I’m sure that you can, but the question is not whether you can, but whether you may.” May has to do with permission; can has to do with ability. “No one can” means that no one is able.

We argue and discuss the doctrine of sola gratia, “of grace alone.” Does fallen man have the ability to turn to Christ and to choose him before he is born of the Holy Spirit? Most professing evangelical Christians today believe that faith comes first and then rebirth. This presupposes that the unconverted person has the ability to incline himself, or to choose to come, to Jesus Christ. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards said that no one is able to do that. I don’t care if you disagree with them, but you should not stand in defiance of the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you continue to think that in your fallen state you have the moral ability to come to Christ apart from the grace of God, you do so at your own peril. In John 6:65, our Lord clearly says that no one is able to come to him unless the ability to do so is given to him by the Father (“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”).

Fortunately for us, Jesus puts the word “unless” in that statement. That word points to what we call a necessary condition, a sine qua non. A necessary condition has to be met before a desired result can occur. The desired result is coming to Christ; the necessary condition is that the ability to come must be given to the person by the Father. Only God gives that ability. Nobody can come to Christ on his own; we are just not able to, unless God gives us the moral ability to do it.

Now, even Arminius agreed with that. How could he not, when he read the same Bible that we do? God, he agreed, has to do something to make it possible for a person to come to Christ. In a narrow sense, even Arminius would say that the Spirit must work in a person before he can choose Christ. However, his understanding of what the Holy Spirit does here differs radically from the Augustinian tradition. Arminius says that God makes people able. However, in his view, even when God gives you the grace to come to Christ, you still have the ability to refuse that grace. Some people accept that grace, that assistance to come to Christ; other people reject the help. Those who cooperate with the offer of grace are saved, and those who refuse the offer perish. So, in the final analysis, the reason why one person perishes and another person is saved is that one person cooperates with grace and is saved, while another per- son refuses to cooperate with grace and perishes. Once again, it all comes down to a person’s choice. One person makes the righteous choice, and another makes the unrighteous choice.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that in the end you must say that you are saved, while your neighbor isn’t, because you are more righteous. You have done the right thing to get saved, while your neighbor has not—and now you have something to boast about. But the Bible says that you may not boast before God, because it is God and God alone who enabled you to choose Christ. He actually worked faith in your heart, not only giving you release from prison, but giving you the positive inclination by which you then willingly came to Christ. Since the fall, the human will has been in bondage to sin, until liberated by God. He gives you what you lack, a positive desire for Christ.

The next chapter of the confession is on effectual calling. When the Holy Spirit gives you the grace of regeneration, its purpose is to bring you to Christ. God does not just give you the ability to come to Christ (John 6:65), but also draws you to him: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (6:44). Many evangelicals look at that text and say, “That means they will never come on their own initiative unless they are enticed or lured or encouraged or wooed. The Holy Spirit comes and woos people, encouraging them and drawing them like the flame draws the moth. But all of that enticing and drawing is merely the external influence of the Holy Spirit. He will not invade your soul or shape your will. He will just try to encourage you, saying, ‘Come on now; it’s a beautiful thing. Come to Christ.’ Some will be persuaded, and some will not.”

I was asked to debate this question at an Arminian school several years ago with the head of the New Testament department. When he quoted John 6:44, I mentioned to him that the Greek verb translated “draw” in this verse is the same verb that is used in the book of Acts when some men in Philippi dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities for casting an evil spirit out of their slave girl (Acts 16:19). Those men did not try to entice them to come before the magistrates; they compelled them to come. The professor interrupted: “But there are references in the Greek poet Euripides (or somebody) where this same verb refers to drawing water out of a well.” Smiling to the audience, he asked, “And Dr. Sproul, does anybody compel water to come out of a well?” Everybody laughed, and I responded, “How do you get water from a well? Do you stand at the top of the well and call, ‘Here, water, water, water’? Or is that water dead in the pit and absolutely inert unless you lower the bucket into the water and you drag it up to the surface?”

Jesus’ point in John 6:44 is that people cannot come to him unless they are compelled to come by the Father—unless God drags them. If you are in Christ, that is exactly how you came to Christ. The Holy Spirit dragged you there. He did not drag you kicking and screaming against your will, because he had changed your will before you came. Had he not changed the disposition of your heart, had he not put into your heart a desire for Christ, you would still be a stranger and an alien to the kingdom of God, because your will, while free from coercion, is still in bondage to sin. That will that you think is so free is, in fact, a slave imprisoned to yourself. You are your own slaveholder. Your will is enslaved to your dispositions, to your desires, which, the Bible says, are wicked continually, prior to conversion.

That sounds like determinism. B.F. Skinner, in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, argued that human decisions are the result of materialistic determinism. He claimed that people have no control over their destiny and no real freedom, because their decisions are determined by the physical forces around and within. I am saying that you do have freedom in the sense that you have the capacity to do what you want to do, but that you are also subject to a kind of determinism, which we call self-determination.

Self-determination is virtually synonymous with freedom or liberty. To be self-determined means that you are not forced or coerced to do something against your will; you are able to do what you want to do; you determine your destiny and make your choices, so it is the self that determines the will. But the problem is that the self is fallen and spiritually dead. It gives us desires and inclinations that are sinful. If we accordingly make sinful decisions, they may be made freely (from coercion), but they are still made in bondage to sin. Therefore, the capacity to make our own decisions does not give us the liberty we need.

Sec. 4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

Sec. 5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

Before conversion, we are free to sin; after conversion, we are free to sin or to obey God. In heaven, when we are in glory, we are free only to obey. That is what we call royal freedom, the most wonderful freedom, where our choices will only be good. We will have no inclination whatsoever to do anything wicked or evil. The humanistic view, that true freedom means that we have an equal ability to go to the left or to the right, to do what is sinful or what is righteous, is a myth. It is not only unbiblical, but irrational. We must rid our minds of that notion and realize that at the heart of this matter is original sin. Prior to our conversion, we are enslaved to wicked impulses. But when the Spirit sets us free from bondage to sin, then we are truly free.

Adapted from Dr. R.C. Sproul. Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Volume Two: Salvation and the Christian Life. P&R: Philippsburg, N.J., 2007.

R.C. SPROUL ON MAN’S MORAL ABILITY TO BE SAVED

Radical Corruption

Sin separates us from God

In God’s work of creation, the crowning act, the pinnacle of that divine work, was the creation of human beings. It was to humans that God assigned and stamped His divine image. That we are created in the image of God gives to us the highest place among earthly beings. That image provides human beings with a unique ability to mirror and reflect the very character of God.

However, since the tragic fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, that image has been subject to serious change and corruption. As a result, we speak of the “shattering of the image.” The term shatter may go too far, however, because it could suggest the idea that the image is now destroyed and that no vestige of it is left in our humanity. Such is not the case. Though the image has been radically blurred and corrupted, there remains some aspect of that image left in our humanity, which remaining vestige is the basis for human dignity. Human dignity is not inherent, it is derived. It is not intrinsic, it is extrinsic. Human beings have dignity because God, who has dignity inherently and intrinsically, has assigned such dignity to us.

When we speak of the fall and of original sin, we are not speaking of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, we are speaking of the radical consequences of that sin, which followed to all future generations of mankind. In Reformed circles, the doctrine of original sin has often been described by the phrase “total depravity.” That it’s called “total depravity” is explained in one sense because the letter “T” fits so neatly into the historic acrostic TULIP, which defines the so-called “five points of Calvinism.”

Nevertheless, the word total with respect to our depravity may seriously mislead. It could suggest that our fallen natures are as corrupt and depraved as possible. But that would be a state of utter depravity. I prefer to use the phrase “radical corruption,” perhaps because the first initial of each word suits my own name and nature, R.C., but more so because it avoids the misunderstanding that results from the phrase “total depravity.” Radical corruption means that the fall from our original state has affected us not simply at the periphery of our existence. It is not something that merely taints an otherwise good personality; rather, it is that the corruption goes to the radix, to the root or core of our humanity, and it affects every part of our character and being. The effect of this corruption reaches our minds, our hearts, our souls, our bodies — indeed, the whole person. This is what lies behind the word total in “total depravity.”

What is most significant about the consequences of the fall is what it has done to our ability to obey God. The issue of our moral capability after the fall is one of the most persistently debated issues within the Christian community. Virtually every branch of Christendom has articulated some doctrine of original sin because the Bible is absolutely clear that we are fallen from our created condition.

However, the degree of that fall and corruption remains hotly disputed among Christians. Historically, that dispute was given fuel by the debate between the British monk Pelagius and the greatest theologian of the first millennium, Saint Augustine of Hippo. In defining the state of corruption into which mankind has fallen, Augustine set up some parallels and contrasts between man’s estate before the fall and his condition after the fall. Before the fall, Augustine said that man was posse peccare and posse non peccare, that is, man had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. Not sinning was a possibility that Adam had in the Garden.

In addition to this, Augustine distinguished between our original estate, which involved both the posse mori and the posse non mori. This distinction refers to our mortality. Adam was made in such a way that it was possible for him to die. At the same time, he had the possibility before him of living forever had he not fallen into sin. So both the possibility of sinning and not sinning and the possibility of dying or not dying existed as options for Adam before the fall, according to Augustine.

He further argued that the consequence of the fall upon the human race can be defined this way: since the fall, man no longer has the posse non peccare or the posse non mori. All human beings now have lost the natural ability to keep from sinning and thus to keep from dying. We are all born in the state of sin and as mortal creatures, destined to death. After the fall, Augustine defines our condition as having the posse peccare. We retain the ability to sin, but now we have the dreadful condition of the non posse non peccare. This double negative means that we no longer have the ability to not sin. Likewise, we have now the non posse non mori. It is not possible for us not to die. It is appointed to all of us once to die and then the judgment. The only exceptions to this would be those who remain alive at the coming of Christ.

When we get to heaven, things will change again. There we will no longer have the posse peccare and the non posse non peccare. There we will only have non posse peccare. We will no longer be able to sin or to die. It all comes down to this, to the issue of moral ability. Augustine was saying that apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that God performs in the souls of the elect, no person in His own power is able to choose godliness, to choose Christ, or to choose the things of God. That ability to come to Christ, as our Lord Himself declared in John chapter 6, is an ability that can only be the result of the regenerating power of God the Holy Spirit. That position spelled out by Augustine remains the orthodox position of historic Reformed theology.

© Tabletalk magazine http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/radical-corruption/

What’s Christmas REALLY all About?

Why God Became Man

Jesus titles of picture

By Dr. Lehman Strauss

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

The word incarnation does not occur in the Bible. It is derived from the Latin in and caro (flesh), meaning clothed in flesh, the act of assuming flesh. Its only use in theology is in reference to that gracious, voluntary act of the Son of God in which He assumed a human body. In Christian doctrine the Incarnation, briefly stated, is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man. It is one of the greatest events to occur in the history of the universe. It is without parallel.

The Apostle Paul wrote, ”And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh . . . “ (I Timothy 3:16). Confessedly, by common consent the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is outside the range of human natural comprehension and apprehension. It can be made known only by Divine revelation in the Holy Scriptures, and to those only who are illumined by the Holy Spirit. It is a truth of the greatest magnitude that God in the Person of His Son should identify Himself completely with the human race. And yet He did, for reasons He set forth clearly in His Word.

Before we examine those reasons, it would be well at the outset to distinguish between the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth of our Lord, two truths sometimes confused by students of Scripture. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the fact of God becoming Man; the Virgin Birth is the method by which God the Son became Man.

These two truths, while distinct and different, are closely related to each other and stand in support of each other. If Jesus Christ was not virgin born, then He was not God in the flesh and was therefore only a man possessing the same sinful nature that every fallen child of Adam possesses. The fact of the Incarnation lies in the ever-existing One putting aside His eternal glory to become a man. The method of the Incarnation is the manner by which He chose to come, namely, the miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin.

A noteworthy passage pertinent to the Divine purpose in the Incarnation is recorded in the Gospel according to John– ”And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory. the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth’‘ (John 1 :14).

Cerinthus, a representative of the system which arose in the early church under the name of Docetism, claimed that our Lord had only an apparent human body. But the statement, ”the Word became flesh,” indicates that He had a real body.

John 1:14 cannot be fully appreciated apart from verse one: ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh.” He who was one with the Father from all eternity became Man, taking upon Him a human body. He ”was with God” (vs. 1); He ”became flesh (vs. 14). He “was with God”’ (vs. 1); He ”dwelt among us” (vs. 14). From the infinite position of eternal Godhood to the finite limitations of manhood! Unthinkable but true!

Paul gives another significant passage on the Incarnation in his Galatian Epistle: ”But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). In these verses Paul establishes the fact of the Incarnation– “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”

God sending His Son presupposes that God had a Son. Christ was the Son in His eternal relationship with the Father, not because He was born of Mary. Since a son shares the nature of his father, so our Lord shares the Godhead coequally with His Father. Yes, “God sent forth His Son,” from His throne on high, from His position of heavenly glory. God did not send one forth who, in His birth, became His Son, but He sent One who, through all eternity, was His Son. Centuries before Christ was born, the Prophet Isaiah wrote of Him, ”For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . ” (Isaiah 9:6). The Son was given in eternity past before we knew Him. His human birth was merely the method of coming to us.

Again, Paul records the following noteworthy statement in the Epistle to the Philippians: ”Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Before His Incarnation Jesus Christ was ‘in the form of God” (vs. 6). From the beginning He had the nature of God, He existed (or subsisted) as God, and that essential Deity which He once was could never cease to be. If He seems Divine, it is only because He is Divine. He is God.

He ”thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (vs. 6). The eternal Son did not consider it a thing to be seized unlawfully to be equal with the Father. Equality with God was not something He retained by force or by farce. He possessed it in eternity past and no power could take it from Him. But in the Incarnation He laid aside, not His possession of Deity, but His position in and expression of the heavenly glory.

One of the purposes of the Philippian epistle was to check the rising tide of dissension and strife growing out of Christians thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Being a general letter, it exposes no false doctrines but does enunciate our Lord Jesus Christ as the believer’s pattern in humiliation, self-denial, and loving service for others. This is evident in the seven downward steps of the Saviour’s renunciation of Himself.

(1) ”He made Himself of no reputation.” God emptied Himself! He did not lose His Deity when He became Man, for God is immutable and therefore cannot cease to be God. He always was God the Son; He continued to be God the Son in His earthly sojourn as Man; He is God the Son in heaven today as He will remain throughout eternity. He is ”Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

(2) ”He took upon Him the form of a servant.” His was a voluntary act of amazing grace, the almighty Sovereign stooping to become earth’s lowly Servant. Instead of expressing Himself as one deserving to be served, He revealed Himself as one desiring to serve others. He did not boast His eternal glory and right to be ministered to, but instead evinced His humility and desire to minister. ”The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

(3) “He was made in the likeness of men.” This phrase expresses the full reality of His humanity. He participated in the same flesh and blood as man (Hebrews 2:14). Although He entered into a new state of being, His becoming Man did not exclude His possession of Deity, for He was and is today a Person who is both God and Man, Divine and human, perfect in His Deity and perfect in His humanity.

(4) ”And being found in fashion as a man.” When He came into the world, Christ associated with His contemporaries and did not hold Himself aloof. Thus He manifested to all that He was a real Man. One obvious distinction marked our Lord’s humanity; His perfection and sinlessness. As a Man He was made under the law, yet He never violated the law. As a Man He was tempted in all three points in which we are tempted (I John 2:16), yet His temptation was apart from any thought, word, or act of sin.

(5) “He humbled Himself.” The world has never witnessed a more genuine act of self-humbling. So completely did our Lord humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His Father in heaven. His desire was to do the will of the Father, therefore He could testify, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29). It was humiliation for the eternal Son of God to become flesh in a stable, and then to dwell in a humble home in subjection to a human parent. God was ”sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin” (Romans 8:30). Only eternity will reveal the depth of meaning for Him and for us found in those words, “He humbled Himself.”

(6) “He became obedient unto death.” Remarkable indeed! Here the God-man dies. Did He die as God, or did He die as Man? He died as the God-Man. The first Adam’s obedience would have been unto life, but because he disobeyed unto death, the last Adam must now obey unto death in order that He might deliver the first Adam’s posterity ”out of death into life” (John 5:24R.V.). ”For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). To subject Himself to the cruel death of a criminal on the cross was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation for men, and to such a death our Lord voluntarily submitted. Implicit obedience!

(7) ” . . . even the death of the cross.” Our Lord died as no other person died or ever will die. Other men had died on crosses, but this Man, the eternal Son of God, voluntarily and willingly died the kind of death meted out to criminals, even the death upon a cross. His own countrymen considered crucifixion the worst kind of disgrace. In their law it was written, “For he that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23; cf. Galatians 3:13). Not only did our Lord die, but He died bearing the burden of the worst of criminals and the guiltiest of sinners. Down He came from heaven’s glory to earth’s sin and shame through His Incarnation.

The purposes underlying this phenomenal occurrence can be summed up in seven points.

(1) HE CAME TO REVEAL GOD TO MAN

The Incarnation of the Son of God unites earth to heaven. God’s greatest revelation of Himself to man is in Jesus Christ. Revelation is the disclosure of truth previously unknown. Before the coming of the Son of God to earth many varied forms of revelation existed. Belief in the existence of God is innate. Since man is a rational, moral being, his very nature provides him with intuitive knowledge. As the mind of a child begins to unfold, it instinctively and intuitively recognizes a Being above and beyond the world that he experiences.

Man is so constituted that he recognizes the fact and the power of God by the things that are made. Many of the ancient philosophers marveled at the starry heavens above them and the moral law about them. We live in a world of order and harmony conducive to our happiness and well being, and we, too, recognize a revelation of God in nature.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19, 20). Men may hinder or suppress the truth by their unrighteous living, but there is that which may be known of God which ”is manifest in them.” The existence and power of God are discernible to us all by the things we observe in the external world. Those only who have abnormal, distorted, or biased minds can possibly deny God’s existence.

Job realized that the nature of God in its different characteristics and qualities was not all revealed to man, yet he knew, as all men know, that the omnipotence and unchangeableness of God are exhibited in creation (Job 6:10; 23:12). The savage and the scientist can know two things about God; He is a Being and He is supreme. These are the two things God has been pleased to reveal about Himself.

Do not plead innocence for the man who does not possess a copy of God’s Word. All men have a Bible bound with the covers of the day and the night whose print is the stars and the planets. What is knowable about God has been displayed openly, and any man who suppresses the truth does it “without excuse.” Nature reveals the supernatural, and creation reveals the Creator. Read Psalm 19:1-6 and you will see that the heavens are personified to proclaim the glory of their Creator. Day and night pass on their testimonies giving clear evidence of the existence of the One who made them.

There are other evidences of primeval revelations of God to man, such as to Adam (Genesis 3:8) and to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 26:3-5). The writer to the Hebrews quotes the Son speaking to the Father, in which reference is made to an early primitive and temporary revelation through a book which God allowed to pass out of existence (Hebrews 10:5-7). Doubtless there were other books which likewise have passed out of existence, as the Book of Enoch of which Jude made mention (Jude 14).

We know, further, that God often revealed Himself in dreams as when He spoke to Jacob (Genesis 28), to the patriarch Joseph (Genesis 37), to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2-4), to Joseph (Matthew 1:20), and to others. Through Moses and the prophets God revealed Himself (Exodus 3:4 and chapter 20). Over thirty-five authors, writing over a period of fifteen hundred years, wrote consistently and coherently, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of one historically accurate plan of salvation. The Bible in its entirety is a progressive revelation of God.

But of all the amazing revelations of almighty God, none was set forth more clearly and fully than God’s final revelation of Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since God is an infinite Being, no man could understand Him fully save the Son who is One in equality with the Father. Jesus said, ”. . . neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). Here, then, is one reason for the Incarnation—to reveal God to man. The fact of God’s existence may be seen through test tubes and laboratory experiments, detected through microscope and telescope, and stated in the discussions of the seminar. But the glorious attributes of a loving God manifested in behalf of sinners can be found in no place or person apart from Jesus Christ.

Philip said to the Lord Jesus, ‘‘Lord, shew us the Father . . . ” and our Lord answered, ”. . . He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father . . . “ (John 14:8, 9). When the Word became flesh He brought to man an adequate revelation of God. Whatever the ancient seers and saints knew about God before Jesus came, we have a more adequate revelation. Since God remains an abstraction until we see Him in terms of personality, so the Son became Incarnate that we might see and know God. ‘‘No man hath seen God at anytime; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him’‘ (John 1:1,8,9).

The dictionary definition of the word ”light” means nothing to a blind man, but one glimpse of a glowworm would be worth more for the understanding of light than all the definitions in the world. One glimpse of Jesus Christ will bring God closer to the human mind and heart than all the theological definitions of Him. No man could perceive the grace of God until the almighty Sovereign of the universe stooped to the level of His own creatures, suffering cruel treatment and dying the death of shame for them. No man understood fully the patience and longsuffering of the Father until Jesus Christ who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and when He suffered, threatened not (I Peter 2:23). No man can comprehend just how perfect and holy God is until He comes face to face with the sinless Son of God. God has revealed Himself anew to the intelligence of man through the Incarnation.

(2) HE CAME TO REVEAL MAN TO HIMSELF

Through His Incarnation Jesus Christ reveals man to himself. He shows us what we are and what we may become. As we study the purposes of God in Christ, the fact impresses us that man is grossly ignorant of his real self, and that the mission of the Son’s coming included a plan that would enable man to see and know himself as God sees and knows him. We are not the least bit impressed with man’s vain philosophical views of himself, but rather with the accurate historical account of man as it is recorded in the Bible.

The primary fact that man needs to know about himself is his origin. Men are divided in their theories concerning this. We are not strangers to the evolutionary idea which attempts to explain man’s place in the earth. In 1871 Darwin published his book, The Descent of Man, but he said very little that had not been said before. The idea of evolution might be here to stay, but not because Darwin said so. Evolution was taught by Roman and Greek philosophers and even by ancient Egyptians. But the evolutionary idea that man must swallow his pride and be content with the fact that he has oozed from the slime along with the snails is contrary to the revelation in Scripture.

The Bible teaches clearly that the human race had its origin by the immediate creation of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and that man is the grand consummation of all creation. We are forced to accept this view as against the theory of evolution because of the immeasurable gulf which separates man, even in his barest savage condition, from the nearest order of creation below him. Moreover, history corroborates Scripture in that man was destined to rule over all other animal life. God took special care in the creation of man, for “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). Actually it was not the body of man that was created, for the body was merely ”formed” of those elements necessary for man’s body and which were created long before man (Genesis 1:1). What was new in man’s creation was a form of life which only God and man possess (Genesis 2:7). Created in the image and likeness of God, man differs from every other form of animal. Man, in his lowest estate, seeks an object of worship and has been known to bow before gods that he cannot see, but animals never!

However, man did not retain God’s image and likeness. When God placed our first parents in Eden He set before them one simple restriction, namely, not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for, said God, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Genesis 3 is a record of the fall of man. He disobeyed God and immediately the life-cord was severed. Adam died both physically and spiritually. Physical death began to do its work, and the grave for Adam was but a matter of time. Then, too, his spirit was separated from God, so that he was dead spiritually while alive physically.

Now all men, from Adam down, are born into this world spiritually dead in sin, possessing a sin-nature capable of every trespass against God (Ephesians 2:1). The sin-nature of Adam and the guilt of his sin were imputed to the whole human race, so that Adam’s corrupted nature is of necessity a part of all his posterity. The highest self in man is altogether unprofitable to God. All men are not equally corrupt in word and deed, but all are equally dead, and unless the function of death is brought to a halt, it will destroy not only the body but also the soul in hell. Because of the solidarity of the human race, sin and death have passed upon all men (Romans 5:12). When Adam defaced the Divine image and lost the Divine likeness, he begat sons ”in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). Yes, “by man came death” and ”in Adam all die” (I Corinthians 15:21, 22).

While all of this is clearly stated in the Bible, man still thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think. There were many who had no Scriptures at all in Christ’s day, and they needed this revelation. In order that man should see himself, not in the light of his own goodness, but beside the perfect standard of God’s holy Son, the Son of God became Incarnate. Our Lord said, ”If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin” (John 15:22).

Responsibility increases with knowledge, and so Christ’s coming showed man how far short he came of God’s standard of a righteous man. The Lord Jesus said, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin . . . “ (John 15:24). Our Lord did not mean by this statement that man would have been without sin if He had not come. There had been sin all along, as God’s dealings with the human race through its four thousand years of earlier history prove. But the coming of Christ to the earth revealed the heart of man in cruel hatred for Divine holiness. The Son of God Incarnate was sinless in every respect, yet man, Jew and Gentile alike, crucified Him. Alongside Christ’s perfect life and works, man can see the sin and guilt of his own heart.

When man sinned against the Son of God, he sinned against the clearest possible light, “the Light of the world” (John 8:12). He came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and then Gentiles joined hands with ”His own” to put Him to death. How sinful is the heart of man? Look at that spectacle on Calvary’s hill and you will see human hearts and hands at their worst.

Time has not improved human nature. Today men still trample under food the precious blood of Christ, and if our blessed Lord were to appear in person today as He did nineteen centuries ago, the world would crucify him again. The world, having seen the light, has turned from the light, for “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Romans 1:18 to 3:20 enunciates the most searching and conclusive arraignment of the human race found anywhere, and the birth and death of Jesus Christ attest to the truth of this awful indictment.

(3) He Came to Redeem Man

The Apostle Paul states clearly the purpose of the Incarnation in the following words– ”But when the fulness of the was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Galatians 4:4, 5). The Old Testament contains the accurate record of some four thousand years of sin, human failure, and consequent Divine judgment. The one bright hope was the coming of the promised Seed, the Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). With each succeeding revelation from God, the promise grew clearer and the hope brighter. The prophets spoke of the Messiah who would come to deliver the people from their sins. Perhaps the classic prophecy is Isaiah 53. Since the people needed a deliverer from the guilt and penalty of sin, the intent of the Incarnation was to provide that Deliverer. Moreover, all of history and prophecy moved toward that goal even as all subsequent movements have proceeded from it.

Jesus Christ is man’s Redeemer, his Saviour. This truth is implied in His name. Said the angel, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS (meaning Saviour), for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). At His birth the angel testified again, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Even the Lord Jesus Himself voiced emphatically the purpose of His Incarnation when He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

The awful state of the world of mankind necessitated the coming of the Redeemer since there could be no hope of deliverance apart from Him. The character of God, which is righteousness, absolute and uncompromising, demands that every sin be dealt with. While God is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger, forgiving iniquities and transgressions, ”that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7)., While God is love, God is also holy and righteous, so holy that He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and [canst] not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13). His righteousness demands that every sin must be dealt with impartially. In order to be true to Himself, God had to deal with the problem of sin. In order to deal justly and, at the same time, mercifully, someone had to suffer the death penalty for the sin of the world.

In the Person of Jesus Christ God solved the problem of the eternal well-being of the sinner. He sent His Son to die as the sinner’s perfect Substitute, and thereby redeemed the sinner. Man was lost to God and heaven, and God’s purpose in redemption could be realized only through the Incarnate Son of God, for the Son of God Incarnate is the connecting link bringing together God and sinful man. The sinner’s relation to Jesus Christ is vital. Christ became a man “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). The Word, who is the eternal Son of God, became flesh and was obliged to be made in the likeness of man in order to redeem him.

Christ defined the purpose of His Incarnation and earthly ministry when He said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). There is no implication in these words that there is a sinful class of men who need repentance and another righteous class who do not. Nor is there a suggestion that there are “righteous ones,” for in Romans 3:10 it is said, “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

Consider the conditions under which Christ stated this purpose. Scribes and Pharisees were upbraiding Him because He had gone into the house of Levi to eat with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:14-16). His critics exalted themselves above sinners, priding themselves in an unpossessed righteousness which thereby excluded them from any realization or acknowledgement of their own sin.

In Levi’s house, however, there were those who recognized their sinful state. It was for this reason that the Lord Jesus went to that group, namely, to bring salvation to them. Physicians go into sick rooms, not because of the pleasantness of disease and suffering, but because of a desire to relieve and cure the sick. So sinners are the special objects of the Saviour’s love and power. He came into the world to save sinners.

Although all men are unrighteous, those scribes and Pharisees called themselves ”righteous,” for they were possessed of self-righteousness that is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, as they went about seeking to establish their own righteousness, they failed to see the purpose of His coming. Hence they never heeded the Saviour’s call to salvation. Their kind seldom do!

Had there been righteousness in the human heart, there would have been no need for the Incarnation of the Son of God. And only in the self-righteous heart of the religious, moral man, satisfied with himself, do we find the careless indifference to the Gospel of redemption. When a man assumes a righteousness all his own, he is outside the reach of the Great Physician. The man who excludes his own need of Christ misses the purpose of the Saviour’s coming and will not be saved. Each of us must say with the Apostle Paul, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15).

(4) HE CAME TO RESTRAIN SATAN

The purpose of the Incarnation is further revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Three verses, linked together, assert that the coming of Jesus Christ was to destroy the devil. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man . . . Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same [flesh and blood]; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:9, 14,15).

In these three verses in Hebrews, we are reminded that the subject of death is dealt with in each of them, and the fact of the Incarnation is substantiated in the clause, “who was made a little lower than the angels.” Furthermore, the purpose of the Incarnation appears in the words, “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” From this verse, as well as verse 14, it is evident that the eternal Son became flesh in order to die.

Christ’s crucifixion by wicked hands was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Our Lord Jesus Christ testified, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus Christ willed to die, not a sudden and unexpected death but a lingering, anticipated death that He would taste every day of His earthly sojourn. He became man to suffer death.

But why should it be so? We considered the purpose of the Incarnation relative to the sin question. Referring to the matter of death, the Word affirms that the Son of God became incarnate that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Of all the works of Satan, among the worst is that of destroying life. Our Lord testified, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Satan is the spoiler of humanity, his malignant purpose being to bring both physical and spiritual death to mankind.

God placed our first parents in the Garden of Eden and surrounded them with every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Two of these trees are mentioned; ”the tree of life . . . and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” Genesis 2:9). Eating the fruit of the latter tree would bring sin and death, for, said God, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Satan knew this, therefore we are not surprised when we read that it was of the fruit of this very tree of death that he enticed Eve to eat. He chose the tree of death because he is a murderer. He knew that the death sentence was already pronounced upon all who would eat of it. He delighted in the fall of Adam and Eve, for he knew that physical and spiritual death had struck.

But thanks be to God for the Incarnation of His Son. By the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, through His death and resurrection, He wrested from Satan the power of death. Death no more holds its lethal grip upon the believer. Although death has held sinners in bondage ever since the severing of the life-cord between God and man, the appearing of the Lord Jesus has broken its grip. “According to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began . . . the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (II Timothy 1:9-10).

Before sin was indulged in and death struck, the inclusive salvation plan provided death’s abolition. Since the death and resurrection of our Lord dealt comprehensively with sin, it of necessity affected death. The coming of the Saviour rendered death harmless, and the “sting” of it is gone (I Corinthians 15:55). Oh, the blessedness of an accomplished redemption! How wonderful to know Him who said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). Death once held man in the vise of hopeless doom, but now Satan is defeated.

The shadow of the cross hung over the manger in Bethlehem, assuring the world that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). As Adam yielded himself to Satan, Satan held him in death; but by His dying, Christ entered into our death and wrested from Satan that power which he held over us. At Calvary Satan was brought to naught, and now “death is swallowed up in victory. . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54, 57). “The prince of this world is judged” (John 16:1 1). The Seed of the woman traversed the realms of death but was not captured by the enemy. Instead, He conquered the enemy. Thank God the Saviour came.

(5) HE CAME TO RESCUE THE WHOLE CREATION

The Incarnation of the eternal Son is part of the divine plan. That plan comprehends a goal, and God assures the accomplishment of it. Though the salvation of man was God’s chief concern, His plan was never limited to the world of mankind. It is written of the eternal Son, who was with God and who is God, that “all things were made by Him” (John 1:3). Paul writes, ”For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth” (Colossians 1:28). Man was higher than all other created beings in the earth, and other creatures were subject to him. However, after the fall this condition changed. Now if man is to have dominion over the beasts, he must first capture them at the risk of his own life, and then imprison them until they are tamed. All of this resulted from the fall.

But the question is, Will God restore again to man the dominion which he lost through the fall? The prophet said, ”The wolf also shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cocatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). Indeed, it appears that the prophet here is looking beyond to a time of rescue and restoration of the earth and all of its creatures.

The cruelty of beasts was not the order before sin entered. Such discord among God’s creatures has sprung from the sinfulness of man and is a necessary part of the curse. To remove this curse and rescue God’s creation is one of the purposes of the Incarnation. When Christ comes back to reign and “the government shall be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6), then the sons of God will be manifested and will share with Him in a restored creation. If it were not so, then all of animated nature would remain spoiled by Satan. But God has said, “In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground” (Hosea 2:18). Yes, God will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” (Ephesians 1:10). At that day our blessed Lord will “reconcile all things unto Himself’ (Colossians 1:20).

Many Christians fail to see that this redemptive work, wrought through the Incarnation of the Son of God, is wider than the salvation of human beings and that it affects the whole creation. The Apostle Paul writes, “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:19-23). Here we are told that the deliverance of the whole creation will be revealed at the manifestation of the sons of God.

All creation lies in hope (expectancy) of a rescue from present corruption and of deliverance to that place God gave it in the beginning. Nature is now under the curse of sin, groaning and travailing in pain. It is not what it was at first. Nor is it now what it will be when the incarnate Son returns to “put all things in subjection under His feet” (see Hebrews 2:5-9). Before Adam sinned, no savage beasts, no desert wastes, no thorns and thistles existed; but when he fell, all creation fell with him. Now that the Son of God has come and purchased redemption by His death at Calvary, the whole creation must be rescued from the curse, and restored to its original state.

(6) HE CAME TO RESTORE ISRAEL

Any reader of the Old Testament cannot escape the clear teaching that the Messiah was promised to Israel. Of this the prophets spoke and wrote. The Jew had great advantages. “Unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Theirs was “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). None can deny that from the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1) to the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar (606 B.C.), authority in the earth and divine representation was vested in the Jew. It is common information that since the overthrow of Jerusalem and the transfer of dominion in the earth to the Gentiles, Israel, as a nation, has not held authority in the earth.

When Jesus Christ, the Word, “was made flesh,” “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11, 14). ”His citizens hated Him, and sent a message after Him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). In blind unbelief the children of Abraham, refusing to recognize or receive Him, drove Him from their midst and crucified Him. After His resurrection and ascension He revealed to the apostles this mystery. No longer did Israel have priority on the truth, but the message was to be spread abroad to every creature and, during the present dispensation of grace, God would visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name (Acts 15:14).

When Christ came the first time He traversed Palestine proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He opened the door into the kingdom, but only the regenerated could enter. Were the people ready to receive the kingdom, the King would establish it. However, the offer of the kingdom met with an ever-increasing opposition, and our Lord withdrew the offer for that time. He said to the Jews, ”Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43). There was no mistaking what the Lord Jesus meant, for the chief priests and Pharisees “perceived that He spake of them” (vs. 45).

Israel is still set aside, but only temporarily. The Apostle Paul writes, ”I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid . . . God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew . . . For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:1,2,25).

Anti-Semitism, raging throughout the world today, might lead one to question the future restoration of the Jew. Yet we know that both national restoration and national regeneration for the Jew are a definite part of the plan of God. Israel is not beyond recovery; she is not irretrievably lost. By her fall the whole world was blessed with the message of salvation. A national tragedy resulted in an international triumph. ”And so all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 10:26). The Jew lives in a dark present with a bright future before him. When our Lord said in Matthew 21:43, that “the kingdom shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” He was not referring to any Gentile nation but to regenerated Israel.

God gave Palestine to the Jews unconditionally as a possession and a dwelling place (Genesis 12: 1-3). He wants them there. That the Jews would be scattered is plainly taught in the Word of God, but coupled with such teaching are the assertions that they will also be regathered. Study Hosea 3:4,5 and see plainly the scattering and the gathering with the period between. (See also Ezekiel 36: 19,24). The Word became flesh and tabernacled among them once (John 1:14). That same holy One, the incarnate Christ, will come again to tabernacle with Israel. Study, for example, such passages as Isaiah 12:1-6Joel 2:26, 27Zephaniah 3:14-17Zechariah 8:3-8. Already modern inventions have revolutionized Palestine and its surrounding territory. This fact, coupled with the thought of the vast area granted by God to Abraham (Genesis 15: 18), will assure any interested person that there is ample room in the Holy Land to hold all Jews.

While the Jews continue to return to the Land, all signs point to the return of the incarnate Son, the One who is both human and Divine, and the One in whom God’s purposes for Israel are to be fulfilled. According to prophecy, the incarnate One, Immanuel, the virgin’s Son, is to occupy David’s throne. ”For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6, 7). Let us rejoice to see that day approaching.

(7) HE CAME TO REIGN

When the Incarnation had been announced, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1,2). They were wise men indeed, for they were followers of the truth of God. When the Old Testament prophets wrote of Messiah’s offices, they included that of King. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). David wrote of Christ and His kingdom when he recorded the words of God, “Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). Our Lord is not only Prophet, and Priest, but also Potentate.

In studying the purposes of the Incarnation we are forced to the scriptural observation that the eternal Son became Man in order that He might be King of the earth. Paul wrote that “God hath highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9). We dare not limit the exaltation of Christ as some try to do. We acquiesce with those who teach that the steps in Christ’s exaltation were His resurrection, ascension, and His sitting at the right hand of God. But such teaching does not go far enough. Study carefully Philippians 2:5-11, and you will see that the steps in our Lord’s humiliation were temporary steps leading to a permanent exaltation, culminating with the bowing of every knee and the confessing of every tongue in heaven and in earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The incarnate Son is to appear in His resurrection body and is to sit on the throne of His glory. Jesus Himself spoke of the day “when the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him; then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory” (Matthew 25:31). John writes, ”Every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7). The prophetic utterance spoken by God to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 concerning David’s seed having an everlasting throne and kingdom, has a double fulfillment. Primarily it referred to Solomon’s temple. Ultimately and finally it speaks of Christ’s earthly reign as Zechariah 6:12 shows. The day must come when all things will be subjected unto Him (I Corinthians 15:28).

The Psalmist spoke of His throne as an enduring throne (Psalm 89:4, 29, 36). God promises that this earthly throne and kingdom are to continue forever, and that the One to occupy it shall be David’s seed, his rightful Son (I Chronicles 17:11). The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 will support the relationship of Jesus Christ to David. During our Lord’s earthly ministry, those who sought His help called Him “the son of David” (see Matthew 9:27Mark 10:47Luke 18:38).

Christ’s kingdom is literal, therefore it cannot be realized apart from the Incarnation. Such a kingdom men have been trying to establish for centuries, but nations are farther from realizing it today than ever before. A perfect kingdom demands a perfect King. At the end of the conflict of the ages, Jesus Christ, the God-Man will return to earth to establish His righteous kingdom which will never be destroyed. His kingdom of glory, and His throne in the midst, was God’s first promise through the mouth of the angel Gabriel to Mary, and it links together the Incarnation and reign of the Son of God, ”And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

When the King comes, then will His perfect will be done in earth as it is in heaven. This is a blessed truth not without history or hope. The day will surely come when all men will see the revelation of the glory of holiness and joy in the earth. But His reign awaits His return to carry away His Bride, the Church. Everything has been deferred until He gathers her unto Himself. It may be at any moment that the last soul will be added to the Church, and then He will come.

This meditation in no wise exhausts the divine purposes of the Incarnation. Others have written at greater length and, doubtless, we could do likewise. But one thing more must be said. The supreme purpose in the eternal Son’s coming into the world was to glorify the Father. In His great intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4). God had been glorified in creation, in the remarkable deliverances of His people, and in the exercise of His power over His enemies, but at no time had He been glorified like this. God could never have been glorified if the Son would have failed in His earthly mission in the smallest degree. But the Lord Jesus could say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” Nothing was left undone, and in everything He did, the Son had the Father’s glory in view. He glorified the Father; His earthly mission was complete.

And now to all of us who have been redeemed by His precious blood, the Apostle Paul writes: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:20).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Lehman Strauss taught Old Testament history for eight years at Philadelphia Bible Institute, and served as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, Bristol, Pennsylvania, from 1939 to 1957. He was pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church (Highland Park, Michigan) until the end of 1963 when he resigned to devote full time to an itinerant Bible conference and evangelistic ministry both in the States and abroad. Dr. Strauss was residing in Florida and writing his 19th book at age 86 when the Lord called him home in June 1997. His written materials are used by permission…article originally appeared @ https://bible.org/article/why-god-became-man

Dr. J.I. Packer: What Are The Essential Ingredients of The Gospel?

Dr. J.I. Packer: What Is The Gospel Message? 

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4 Essential Ingredients of the Gospel

In a word, the evangelistic message is the gospel of Christ and Him crucified, the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a message made up of four essential ingredients.

1. The gospel is a message about God. It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures. It tells us that we owe our very existence to Him; that for good or ill, we are always in His hands and under His eye; and that He made us to worship and serve Him, to show forth His praise and to live for His glory. These truths are the foundation of theistic religion; and until they are grasped, the rest of the gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his Creator that the Christian story starts.

We can learn again from Paul at this point. When preaching to Jews, as at Pisidian Antioch, he did not need to mention the fact that men were God’s creatures. He could take this knowledge for granted, for his hearers had the Old Testament faith behind them. He could begin at once to declare Christ to them as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes. But when preaching to Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Old Testament, Paul had to go further back and start from the beginning. And the beginning from which Paul started in such cases was the doctrine of God’s Creatorship and man’s creaturehood. So, when the Athenians asked him to explain what his talk of Jesus and the resurrection was all about, he spoke to them first of God the Creator and what He made man for. “God…made the world…seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made…all nations…that they should seek the Lord” (Act 17:24-27). This was not, as some have supposed, a piece of philosophical apologetic of a kind that Paul afterwards renounced, but the first and basic lesson in theistic faith. The gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us. Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is, and only when we see what sin is can we understand the good news of salvation from sin. We must know what it means to call God Creator before we can grasp what it means to speak of Him as Redeemer. Nothing can be achieved by talking about sin and salvation where this preliminary lesson has not in some measure been learned.

2. The gospel is a message about sin. It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. It tells us that the reason why we sin continually is that we are sinners by nature, and that nothing we do or try to do for ourselves can put us right or bring us back into God’s favor. It shows us ourselves as God sees us and teaches us to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Thus, it leads us to self-despair. And this also is a necessary step. Not until we have learned our need to get right with God and our inability to do so by any effort of our own can we come to know the Christ Who saves from sin.

There is a pitfall here. Everybody’s life includes things that cause dissatisfaction and shame. Everyone has a bad conscience about some things in his past, matters in which he has fallen short of the standard that he set for himself or that was expected of him by others. The danger is that in our evangelism we should content ourselves with evoking thoughts of these things and making people feel uncomfortable about them, and then depicting Christ as the One who saves us from these elements of ourselves, without even raising the question of our relationship with God. But this is just the question that has to be raised when we speak about sin. For the very idea of sin in the Bible is of an offence against God that disrupts a man’s relationship with God. Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives.

What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself, your failures, and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again. Nor should we be preaching the gospel (though we might imagine we were) if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants: “Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need”—as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother or a super-psychiatrist…To be convicted of sin means not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One Who through His cross sets men right with God again…

It is indeed true that the real Christ, the Christ of the Bible, Who [reveals] Himself to us as a Savior from sin and an Advocate with God, does in fact give peace, and joy, and moral strength, and the privilege of His own friendship to those who trust Him. But the Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ—in effect, an imaginary Christ. And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation. We must be on our guard, therefore, against equating a natural bad conscience and sense of wretchedness with spiritual conviction of sin and so omitting in our evangelism to impress upon sinners the basic truth about their condition—namely, that their sin has alienated them from God and exposed them to His condemnation, and hostility, and wrath, so that their first need is for a restored relationship with Him…

3. The gospel is a message about Christ—Christ, the Son of God incarnate; Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ, the risen Lord; Christ, the perfect Savior.

Two points need to be made about the declaring of this part of the message: (i) We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work. It is sometimes said that it is the presentation of Christ’s Person, rather than of doctrines about Him, that draws sinners to His feet. It is true that it is the living Christ Who saves and that a theory of the atonement, however orthodox, is no substitute. When this remark is made, however, what is usually being suggested is that doctrinal instruction is dispensable in evangelistic preaching, and that all the evangelist need do is paint a vivid word-picture of the man of Galilee who went about doing good, and then assure his hearers that this Jesus is still alive to help them in their troubles. But such a message could hardly be called the gospel. It would, in reality, be a mere conundrum, serving only to mystify…the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus until you know about the Incarnation—that this Jesus was in fact God the Son, made man to save sinners according to His Father’s eternal purpose. Nor can you make sense of His life until you know about the atonement—that He lived as man so that He might die as man for men, and that His passion, His judicial murder was really His saving action of bearing away the world’s sins. Nor can you tell on what terms to approach Him now until you know about the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session—that Jesus has been raised, and enthroned, and made King, and lives to save to the uttermost all who acknowledge His Lordship. These doctrines, to mention no others, are essential to the gospel…In fact, without these doctrines you would have no gospel to preach at all.

(ii) But there is a second and complementary point: we must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: “Believe that Christ died for your sins.” The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical thus to isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself—the placing of our trust in the living Savior Who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Who made atonement. We must not, in presenting the gospel, isolate the cross and its benefits from the Christ Whose cross it was. For the persons to whom the benefits of Christ’s death belong are just those who trust His Person and believe, not upon His saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Savior. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” said Paul (Act 16:31). “Come unto me…and I will give you rest,” said our Lord (Mat 11:28).

This being so, one thing becomes clear straight away: namely, that the question about the extent of the atonement, which is being much agitated in some quarters, has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point. I do not propose to discuss this question now; I have done that elsewhere. I am not at present asking you whether you think it is true to say that Christ died in order to save every single human being, past, present, and future, or not. Nor am I at present inviting you to make up your mind on this question, if you have not done so already. All I want to say here is that even if you think the above assertion is true, your presentation of Christ in evangelism ought not to differ from that of the man who thinks it false.

What I mean is this: it is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement, “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching. You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say or ever has reason to say when preaching the gospel. For preaching the gospel, as we have just seen, means [calling] sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, Who, by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all…The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.

The gospel is not, “Believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” any more than it is, “Believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours”…We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement. Our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him…This brings us to the final ingredient in the gospel message.

4. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance. All who hear the gospel are summoned by God to repent and believe. “God…commandeth all men every where to repent,” Paul told the Athenians (Act 17:30). When asked by His hearers what they should do in order to “work the works of God,” our Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:29). And in 1 John 3:23 we read: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ…”

Repentance and faith are rendered matters of duty by God’s direct command, and hence impenitence and unbelief are singled out in the New Testament as most grievous sins. With these universal commands, as we indicated above, go universal promises of salvation to all who obey them. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Act 10:43). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). These words are promises to which God will stand as long as time shall last.

It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling. Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man…faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ Who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…Two further points need to be made also:

(i) The demand is for faith as well as repentance. It is not enough to resolve to turn from sin, give up evil habits, and try to put Christ’s teaching into practice by being religious and doing all possible good to others. Aspiration, and resolution, and morality, and religiosity,[15] are no substitutes for faith…If there is to be faith, however, there must be a foundation of knowledge: a man must know of Christ, and of His cross, and of His promises before saving faith becomes a possibility for him. In our presentation of the gospel, therefore, we need to stress these things, in order to lead sinners to abandon all confidence in themselves and to trust wholly in Christ and the power of His redeeming blood to give them acceptance with God. For nothing less than this is faith.

(ii) The demand is for repentance as well as faith…If there is to be repentance, however, there must, again, be a foundation of knowledge…More than once, Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mat 16:24-25). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem), he cannot be my disciple…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:26, 33). The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims that He may make on their lives…He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them. In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.

Excerpt From Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God  by J. I. Packer.

John Piper on “What is The Christian Gospel?”

What Is the Christian Gospel?

Piper J famous quote

The gospel is not just a sequence of steps (say, the “Four Laws” of Campus Crusade or the “Six Biblical Truths” of Quest For Joy).Those are essential. But what makes the gospel “good news” is that it connects a person with the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”

There is nothing in itself that makes “forgiveness of sins” good news. Whether being forgiven is good news depends on what it leads to. You could walk out of a courtroom innocent of a crime and get killed on the street. Forgiveness may or may not lead to joy. Even escaping hell is not in itself the good news we long for – not if we find heaven to be massively boring.

Nor is justification in itself good news. Where does it lead? That is the question. Whether justification will be good news, depends on the award we receive because of our imputed righteousness. What do we receive because we are counted righteous in Christ? The answer is fellowship with Jesus.

Forgiveness of sins and justification are good news because they remove obstacles to the only lasting, all-satisfying source of joy: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not merely the means of our rescue from damnation; he is the goal of our salvation. If he is not satisfying to be with, there is no salvation. He is not merely the rope that pulls us from the threatening waves; he is the solid beach under our feet, and the air in our lungs, and the beat of our heart, and the warm sun on our skin, and the song in our ears, and the arms of our beloved.

This is why the New Testament often defines the gospel as, simply, Christ. The gospel is the “gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:191 Corinthians 9:122 Corinthians 2:129:1310:14Galatians 1:7Philippians 1:27; etc.). Or, more specifically, the gospel is “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And even more wonderfully, perhaps, Paul says that the preaching of the gospel is the preaching of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

Therefore to believe the gospel is not only to accept the awesome truths that 1) God is holy, 2) we are hopeless sinners, 3) Christ died and rose again for sinners, and 4) this great salvation is enjoyed by faith in Christ-but believing the gospel is also to treasure Jesus Christ as your unsearchable riches. What makes the gospel Gospel is that it brings a person into the everlasting and ever-increasing joy of Jesus Christ.

The words Jesus will speak when we come to heaven are: “Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21). The prayer he prayed for us ended on this note: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24). The glory he wants us to see is the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” It is “the immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

The superlatives “unsearchable” and “immeasurable” mean that there will be no end to our discovery and enjoyment. There will be no boredom. Every day will bring forth new and stunning things about Christ which will cause yesterday’s wonder to be seen in new light, so that not only will there be new sights of glory everyday, but the accumulated glory will become more glorious with every new revelation.

The gospel is the good news that the everlasting and ever-increasing joy of the never-boring, ever-satisfying Christ is ours freely and eternally by faith in the sin-forgiving death and hope-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ.

May God give you “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Savoring and waiting,

Pastor John

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org