From Studies in the Scriptures, May 1936, (Vol. XV, No. 5), Pages 156-159
It is the bounden duty of all who hear the Gospel to savingly trust in Christ, otherwise their rejection of Him would be no sin. Many of our readers will be surprised to hear that this self-evident truth is denied by some who are, otherwise, sound in the Faith. They reason that it is “inconsistent” to call upon the spiritually dead to perform spiritual duties. A certain denomination in England have the following among their Articles of Faith:
We deny duty-faith and duty-repentance—these terms signifying that it is every man’s duty to spiritually and savingly repent and believe (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Matt. 15:19; Jer. 17:9; John 6:44, 65). We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God (John 12:29, 40; Eph. 2:8; Rom. 8:7, 8; 1 Cor. 4:7). Therefore, that for ministers in the present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Spirit, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and, on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption.
As some of our readers have imbibed this error, we are anxious to be of help to them. We have therefore decided to follow the article by John Newton on “Ministerial Address to the Unconverted” in the March issue by first giving brief quotations from the writings of the Reformers and Puritans, to show how the framers of those [Gospel Standard] Articles of Faith departed from the path and policy followed by so many eminent saints of God who preceded them.
“The mercy of God is offered equally to those who believe and to those who believe not, so that those who are not Divinely taught within are rendered inexcusable” (John Calvin—1552—The Eternal Predestination of God p. 95). “A slight acquaintance with Paul will enable anyone to understand, without tedious argument, how easily he reconciled things which they pretend to be repugnant to each other. Christ commands men to believe in Him, yet His limitation is neither false nor contrary to His command when He says ‘No man can come to Me except it were given him of My Father.’ Let preaching therefore have its force to bring men to faith” (Calvin’s Institutes Book 3, chap. 18, par. 13).
“The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance, and the knowledge of ourselves… A man, therefore, is made a Christian not by working but by hearing; wherefore, he that will exercise himself to righteousness must first exercise himself in hearing the Gospel. Now, when he hath heard and received the Gospel, let him give himself to God with a joyful heart, and afterwards let him exercise himself in those good works which are commanded in the law” (Martin Luther—1540—on Galatians, pp. 104 and 185).
“When we meet with a precept, we should simply endeavour to obey it, without enquiring into God’s hidden purpose…. Notwithstanding God’s predestination is most certain and unalterable, so that no elect person can perish, nor any reprobate be saved, yet it does not follow from thence that all reproofs and exhortations on the part of God, or prayers on the part of men, are useless” (J. Zanchius—1562—The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination, pp. 49 and 120).
“With the promises there is joined an exhortation or command to believe, which is more general than the promise; because the promise is only made to believers; but the commandment is given to believers and unbelievers also. For the elect are mingled with the wicked in the same assemblies, and therefore the ministers of the Gospel ought indiscriminately to exhort all and every one to repent.” “In very truth, if thou goest forth of this world being no repentant sinner, thou goest damned to Hell: wherefore delay not one minute of an hour longer, but with all speed repent and turn unto God” (W. Perkins—1595—Vol. 1, p. 379; Vol. 2, p. 692).
“Let us be stirred up to repent immediately. Doth not God now warn you? Is it not dangerous living one hour in a state that we would not die in? May God justly strike us on the sudden? Do but purpose to live in sin one quarter of an hour; may we not be taken away in that quarter?” (R. Sibbes—1620—Vol. 6, p. 212).
“We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises, and under the greatest penalties. This command is that which makes believing formally a duty. Faith is a grace as it is freely wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, the root of all obedience and duties, as it is radically fixed in the heart. But as it is commanded it is a duty; and these commands, you know, are several ways expressed, by invitations, exhortations, propositions” (John Owen—1650—Vol. 14, p. 223).
“I say there is no simulation at all of God in this: that which He proposeth is but this; ‘Whosoever believeth shall be saved, and whosoever believeth not shall be damned.’ He sends His ministers to preach this, and to beseech them to believe, and to be reconciled unto God, yea, all they meet with.” “He commands them to preach promiscuously unto all, persuade all, exhort all, unto faith and repentance” (W. Twisse—1653—The Riches of God’s Love pp. 73 and 169).
“My counsel (to his unsaved hearers) is this: Stir up your souls to lay hold on the Lord Jesus and look up to Him, wait on Him from whom every good and perfect gift comes, and give Him no rest till He hath given thee that jewel faith” (Thomas Brooks—1653—Vol. 1, p. 144).
“This condition of faith and repentance is suited to the consciences of men. The law of nature teaches us that we are bound to believe every revelation from God when it is made known to us; and not only to assent to it as true, but embrace it as good.” “Our rejection of Christ, and the way of His appointing, is a high contempt of God…. It is a ‘making light’ of a rich feast of God’s providing” (S. Charnock—1660—Vol. 3, pp. 68 and 469).
John Bunyan (1675) in his “The Heavenly Footman”; or a “Description of the man that gets to Heaven,” which is addressed to “All the slothful and careless people,” being an exposition and application of “So run that ye may obtain” (1 Cor. 9:24), closes with, “If thou dost not know the way, inquire at the Word of God; if thou wantest company, cry for God’s Spirit; if thou wantest encouragement, entertain the promises. But be sure thou beginnest betimes; get into the way, run apace, and hold out to the end, and the Lord give thee a prosperous journey.”
“Preach the Gospel to every creature: yet this is not the Gospel to be preached—that God hath promised to save every creature; though upon promulgation of them, it becomes the duty of every one to come to Christ, and a command is laid upon men to do it” (T. Goodwin—1680—Vol. 8, p. 245).
“Fire burneth where it meeteth with matter combustible, but a reasonable creature needeth to be exhorted to perform acts agreeable to his principles” (T. Manton—1670—Vol. 19, p. 247).
“It is our duty to endeavour what is impossible by our own endeavours to attain—so sin has made it; to avoid all sin, to perform perfect obedience, to love with all the heart” (David Clarkson, associate pastor with John Owen—1682—Vol. 2, p. 131).
“But you will say, if unregenerate men be dead men, to what purpose is it to persuade them to arise and stand up? This difficulty is solved in this very text (Eph. 5:14): though the duty is ours, yet the power is God’s” (J. Flavell—1680—Vol. 2, p. 423).
“It is the known duty of a sinner under the Gospel to turn to God through Christ; and it is also declared in the same Gospel that none can of themselves turn to God and believe in His Son without the help of special efficacious grace; it must hereupon be a man’s duty also to pray for that grace which may enable him thereto” (J. Howe—1690—Vol. 2, p. 346).
“This (Gospel) call contains the command of faith by which all men without exception, to whom God vouchsafes the same, are enjoined to believe in Christ, in that way and manner which is revealed in the Gospel: ‘look unto Me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth’: Isaiah 45:22” (H. Witsius—1690—Vol. 3, p. 353).
“Neither will this assertion make it a vain thing to preach the Gospel to natural people, and to exhort them to true repentance and faith in Christ for their conversion and salvation” (W. Marshall—1692—The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, so highly commended by James Hervey, p. 121).
“And even not coming to Christ, and believing in Him in this spiritual manner, when He is revealed in the external ministry of the Word, as God’s way of salvation, is criminal and blameworthy, notwithstanding men’s want of both will and power” (John Gill—1735—The Cause of God and Truth, p. 87).
We could add quotations from others, but the above are from well known, representative, sound, Calvinistic divines; several of them high Calvinists. Yet their holding firmly to the spiritual inability of the natural man, to unconditional election, particular redemption, and the effectual call of the Spirit, did not tie their hands in preaching the Gospel freely, pressing upon their hearers their responsibility, and calling upon them to repent and believe.—A.W.P.
The following comes from Studies in the Scriptures, August 1936, (Vol. XVI. No. 7), Pages 253-255
“We believe that it would be unsafe, from the brief records we have, of the way in which the Apostles, under the immediate direction of our Lord, addressed their hearers in certain special cases and circumstances, to derive absolute and universal rules for ministerial addresses in the present day under widely different circumstances. And we further believe that an assumption that others have been inspired as the Apostles were, has led to the grossest errors among both Romanists and Protestants. Therefore, that for ministers in this present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Ghost, is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and on the other to deny the doctrine of special redemption.”
The above are two of the “articles of faith” (quoted by us in full) of an English denomination which still has considerable membership and influence. With almost all their other Articles of Faith we are in hearty accord, as with their marked separation from the world, and the simplicity of their worship. Nor have we one particle of sympathy with the delusive errors of creature ability or general redemption, rather do we unhesitatingly brand them both as lies of the Devil. In his unregenerate state, fallen and depraved man is so completely the slave of sin and the captive of Satan, that he is altogether unable to deliver himself or take one step toward that deliverance; yea, his heart is so corrupt and his mind so at enmity against God, that he has no desire to be brought out of darkness into His marvelous light. Not until the Holy Spirit performs a miracle of grace upon the soul, does its possessor have any spiritual appetite or aspirations; and that miracle He performs only in those for whom Christ died—God’s elect.
Now if we resort to human reasoning it will logically follow that it is quite useless to exhort the unregenerate to turn unto God or come unto Christ; yea, to exhort those who are utterly incompetent to respond, will appear to be most inconsistent and the height of absurdity. But, my reader, the things of God cannot be encompassed by human reason, and the moment we attempt to measure them by the line of our “logic,” we open the door for Satan to deceive by his subtleties. He will tell us that if the Lord our God be one Lord then He cannot be a plurality of Persons, and that if we hold to three Divine Persons we are most “inconsistent” in affirming the unity of God. Satan will tell us that if God be Love then He will never banish any of His creatures to everlasting woe, and that if we hold to eternal punishment of the wicked we are altogether “inconsistent” in believing in the Divine benevolence.
What, then are we to do? This: repudiate all reasoning upon spiritual things as utterly worthless, and believe with the simplicity of a child whatever God’s Word teaches. The Apostles held firmly the revealed truth of a glorious and victorious Messiah, and they could not “harmonize” with that fact a humiliated Messiah that would be crucified: the two things appeared to be altogether “inconsistent” and contradictory. But to them Christ said, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). That, my reader, should be a lasting warning to us of the utter inadequacy of human logic and philosophizing upon Divine things! We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Unitarian, and while holding fast to the Unity of the Divine nature, we must also believe there are three co-equal Persons in the Godhead. We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Universalist, and while holding fast to the love of God, we must also believe in the eternal punishment of His enemies. And why? Because Holy Scripture teaches both!
In like manner, we must turn from the vain reasonings (as in the above Articles of Faith) of the hyper-Calvinist, and while holding fast to the total depravity and the spiritual inability of the natural man, we must also believe in his moral responsibility and accountability to God. It is the bounden duty of God’s servants to tell the unregenerate that the reason why they cannot repent evangelically is because their hearts are so wedded to their lusts; that the reason why they cannot come to Christ is because their sins have fettered and chained them; that the reason why they hate the Light is because they love the darkness. But so far from this excusing them, it only adds to their guilt; that so far from rendering them objects of pity it exposes them as doubly deserving of damnation. It is the preacher’s business to show wherein spiritual inability consists: not in the lack of soul faculties, but in the absence of any love for Him who is infinitely lovely. Far be it from us to extenuate the wicked unbelief of the unregenerate!
The compilers of the above Articles of Faith were very largely influenced by a piece written by William Huntington in 1791, “Excommunication: and the Duty of all men to believe weighed in the balance.” We have space to quote only one paragraph: “When Peter said, ‘Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19), He that is exalted to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins, sent His Spirit and Grace with the Word to work repentance and conversion in His own elect. And though they spoke the Word, promiscuously to all, yet He only spake it to His own. It was sent with the power of the Spirit. It never was sent with the Spirit of Faith to any but His own: ‘When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the Word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:48). This is the life-giving commandment of the everlasting God, in the mouth of Zion’s King. But what effect has it, or what power attends it, from the mouth of Mr. Ryland or the mouth of Mr. Fuller, when they make it the rule of a dead man’s duty? Just as much as the adjuration of the sons of Sceva the Jew, when they abused the name of the Lord Jesus in commanding the spirit, who left the man and mastered them; and so these labour for the unconverted till they get into the gall of bitterness themselves. . . . Ye might just as well go to the gates of the grave and tell the sleeping dust it is their duty to come forth as Lazarus did. Mr. Ryland may just as well do the one as the other.”
What a confused jumble is that! Confounding the Word of Power (Heb. 1:3) on the lips of Christ, with the Word of Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, 19) in the mouths of His servants. What the Lord does, is none of our business. The commission He has given His servants is to preach the Gospel to every creature, and they certainly have not fully obeyed until they bid their hearers “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Whom God quickens, is His own affair; ours is to faithfully warn the unsaved, to show wherein their sins consists (enmity against God), to bid them to throw down the weapons of their warfare against Him, to call upon them to repent (Acts 17:30), to proclaim the One who receives all who come to Him in faith. In allowing that Peter “spoke the Word promiscuously to all” Mr. Huntington pulled down what he laboured so hard to build up.
To affirm that the ministry of the Apostles (recorded in the Acts) furnishes no precedent for God’s servants today, is as foolish, as “inconsistent,” and unwarrantable, as it would be to say that Acts 6 supplies no present rule for deacons to be governed by! The physical condition of those in the cemetery is vastly different from the moral state of the unregenerate still upon the earth. The former cannot sin, cannot reject Christ; the latter can and do. The former cannot read their Bibles or call upon God for mercy; the latter should! It is because the natural man possesses the same faculties of soul as does the regenerate that he is an accountable creature, responsible to use them for God instead of against Him.—A.W.P.