The Idea of the Organic in Scripture (8)
In the last issue of the News, I was dealing with the question of the difference between God loving all men absolutely and “offering” salvation to all men on the one hand, and His commanding all men to believe in Christ on the other hand. One can consult that article for the details. The defenders of the gospel as a loving offer to everybody head for head confuse the command of the gospel with a mere offer. This is inexcusable exegesis. Even in every-day speech, who confuses an offer with a command?
The appeal of the questioner we were answering in our last article is based on II Corinthians 5:20. In this text, Paul says that, as an ambassador of the gospel of Christ, he “beseeches” the Corinthians to be “reconciled to God” through faith in Jesus. The offer defenders appeal to the word “beseech.” On that word and similar words in Scripture, they hang their doctrinal error of God’s universal love and tender plea to absolutely everyone to believe in Christ.
I pointed out in the last article that words similar to the word “beseech” indicate the seriousness of God’s command that comes to all men to believe in Christ. God means what He says when He commands all men to forsake sin and believe in the gospel. He does not play games. Several remarks must be added to this.
Historically, the Reformed churches have always made a distinction between the will of God’s command and the will of God’s decree. The doctrine of election and reprobation belongs to the will of God’s decree; the will of God’s command is that all men forsake their sin and believe in Christ. Yet the will of God’s command is related to the will of His decree, for the will of His command is the means God uses to execute the will of His decree of reprobation so that reprobation is accomplished by God in the way of wicked man’s rejection of the gospel. The doctrine of a well-meant offer to all, rooted in an alleged divine desire to save everybody, has crowded out the doctrine of sovereign double predestination. This refusal to believe the truth of divine predestination is not only rooted in its inherent conflict with the idea of a well-meant offer, but historically those who hold tenaciously to a well-meant offer of the gospel have denied, or ended up denying, double predestination.
Such has been the nature of the preaching of the gospel throughout history—even in the Old Testament times. Even then, the gospel always came with the command to forsake sin and believe the promise of God that He would send the Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ.
And so God has worked through the ages. The gospel was preached to the organism of the nation of Israel, including elect and reprobate. The gospel was always the same: it included an urgent command to all who heard it to repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—in the old dispensation to believe in the promise of the coming of Christ as the Seed of the woman. But that command, preached to the organism of the nation, came to the elect as well as the reprobate, for the elect had to repent and believe the promise of Christ, as well as the reprobate. That was the command of God that came to all.
But along with that command came also the promise that whoever believed in Christ would receive eternal life in Him. That promise too came to all who heard the gospel. Those who rejected God’s command and scorned His promise were damned; those who believed the promise, forsook their sin and repented were saved.
So it is also in the new dispensation. In the organism of the church, this is always the command of the gospel: repent and believe! Never is that gospel to be reduced to a mere loving offer to all men absolutely, for that is a caricature of the gospel, and does terrible despite to the only true and sovereign God.
From God‘s point of view, the true preaching of the gospel that I have described is the means He uses to accomplish His purpose of election and reprobation, for the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” to all who believe (Rom. 1:16). God gives the gift of faith to His elect whom He knows eternally as His own (John 17:9). Whereas, He hardens the reprobate who reject the gospel and mock His command to repent.
God works in this way because He does not treat men as robots, so that the elect believe because God pushes the right button. My minister used to say that God does not take the elect to heaven in the top bunk of a Pullman sleeper. He works in them so that they actually do believe. Nor does God work in the reprobate in such a way that they reject the gospel because God compels them to reject it. Adam was created capable of doing all the things that God commanded him, but he rebelled and now his descendants show their wicked rebellion by turning their backs on Jehovah and remaining in the slime of sin.
The figure that Scripture uses to explain this truth is found in Isaiah 55:10-11 and Hebrews 6:7-8. It is the figure of rain that falls on the earth, and waters both herbs and weeds. The rain is responsible for the herbs bearing food and it is responsible for the growth of the weeds so that they manifest themselves as weeds. The same is true of our Lord’s teaching in the parable of the four kinds of soil, and the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:3-30, 36-43).
Yet it must also be remembered that the gospel is preached to an organism, whether a nation, a church or a family. Hence, in John 15:1-8, Jesus compares the nation of Israel to branches. Christ Himself is the vine and God is the husbandman. There are branches in the vine that bear fruit and there are branches that do not bear fruit. The latter are those who do not turn from their wicked way (in Jesus’ day, particularly worshipping God in outward and formal law-keeping to gain salvation by the works of the law). The former are those who confess that only by faith in Christ can they be saved (in Jesus’ day, Nicodemus, the Marys, the disciples, the thief on the cross, etc.). Prof. Hanko