by Mike Ratliff
1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4 NASB)
About 7 years ago or so we were dealing with the Emergent or Emerging “Church” replacing Christian liberalism or at least morphing into the same role. That means that it assumed a Gospel stance of universalism. At the same time, we were hearing of a certain group of Christian leaders who called themselves “New Calvinists.” For many years, it was assumed that if one was reformed in his theology, like me, that it was a sure deal that that Christian was not going to fall into the cesspool of liberalism. However, the New Calvinists appear to lean towards mysticism and heavily toward compromise. I am one who simply cannot wrap my mind around how one who confesses to believe that God is Sovereign over all things and that man is incapable of saving Himself can seek to make the compromises in their ministry that would line themselves up with the Emergents. Universalism and Calvinism are polar opposites in my understanding of things and that means that Calvinists should have a proper understanding of what it means that Jesus Christ is Lord. It means that we do not call the shots. We do not design new and more popular ways to serve and worship Him. No, we must worship and serve as directed by Him.
The dividing line between a genuine preaching of the Gospel and anything else that is only pretending to do so should be easy to define. For this I got out one of my older books written by a man who lived in the 17th Century, John Owen. The book is The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. From this book, we are told that there is a proper way to preach the Gospel and then there are many other ways that are only poor facsimiles of it. These man-made ways to preach the Gospel get it wrong and anyone “converted” by them enter their post-conversion with little to no reverence for the cost Christ paid to buy them and are therefore, not humbled by that. They are deficient in their knowledge of the utter hopelessness of being spiritually dead before regeneration. They also are ignorant of the fruit of true repentance, which the Word calls our good works.
I know of what I speak. This is why I floundered around in my Christian walk for nearly 20 years before God was gracious to me and opened my eyes to the truth. I did nothing to save myself. God did it all by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). This awakening changed everything for me. My mindset had been that I was saved because I had made the right decision and had done x,y, & z. This revelation that that was not so hit me like a sledgehammer. I was shattered. I repented of my arrogance. My concept of Jesus being Lord went from some sort of fuzzy logic and a hopefulness that He was also forgiving me for doing things my own way to a humbling reassessment that revealed God to be Sovereign and the Lordship of Christ was Him being my Lord over everything, no exceptions. I realized the arrogance of my former mindset of my salvation. I also came to realize that the preaching of the Gospel that I had been listening to since I was saved actually limited it, watering it down to being totally dependant upon the hearer.
The following is from C.H Spurgeon about this:
We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say “No. Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg you pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot be ay any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you my keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.” – C.H. Spurgeon
My brethren, when this realization hit me I did a life reassessment. I looked back at my walk since God saved me and was blown away. My inconsistencies, my failures, my sins, et cetera were all because of my concept that I had been saved because I had followed certain SBC conditions of salvation. When I saw the utter bankruptcy of such a concept, it changed everything. I had been living as me as Lord of my life and Christ as Lord over my religiosity. Oh, I had revivals all through that time, but they always eventually degenerated back into that old concept when things got tough. Yes, I was saved, but it was me that made it all work. At least that is how I obviously conceived of it by the way I had lived. However, as I said above, God graciously hit me with the sledgehammer blow that shattered this arrogant, prideful, and self-consumed heart. The realization of what it truly meant to be the slave of the Lord of all was utterly life changing. I did not learn this from the men who were supposedly preaching the Word in the churches I attended during that time. That is the tragedy because who knows how many others are sitting in those churches each and every Sunday hearing this crippled gospel that produces only mediocre Christians at best.
The following is an excerpt from the introductory essay that J.I. Packer wrote for Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
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-emphasized 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 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.
My brethren, this is what it means to preach the gospel, the Word, to those God has brought to us to hear it. We err badly if all we concentrate on is not offending anyone or if we are mostly concerned with relational, social, societal, or environmental things. The souls of men must be our primary concern. All who exit this life with Jesus not their Lord are doomed to an eternity separated from Him. I for one do not want to have to give an account to my Lord about how I neglected the gospel because I was more concerned about not offending them with the truth. Who is Lord? If He is truly our Lord then we will obey Him and that means all these stupid distractions in Churchianity all around us are acts of rebellion against His Lordship and an affront to Him personally who went to the Cross to save His people. Preach the Word, not what people want to hear, but what God commands us to preach.
Soli Deo Gloria!