What to Preach
It is difficult to be convincing when speaking to someone personally about the Lord if, in the interest of truth, it is improper to speak with assurance about the love of God for him as an individual. What precisely does one say? Congregational evangelism presents fewer problems, for there is an element of remoteness vis-à-vis the individual that resolves the difficulty. Yet even here it seems more telling to be able to preach the Gospel without consciously having to avoid such phrases as "Christ died for you." And what does one do when the situation is intensified by personal confrontation in a question period afterwards, or when talking privately to a friend?
It is noteworthy, I think, that among all the records of sermons or fragments of sermons in the New Testament (exclusive of the Lord's), such personal statements as "God loves you" or "Christ died for you" are not to be found. These sermons were never impersonal; neither were they ever so formulated as to compromise the absolute truth. The New Testament will be found to contain sermon materials in the following places: Peter's sermons - Acts 2:14-15.; 3:12-26; 4:9-12; 5:29-32; and 10:34-43; Paul's sermons - Acts 13:16-42; 17:22-32, and 22:1-21; and Stephen's sermon - Acts 7:2-53.
It has been argued that we do not find expressions like "God loves you" because such a personal way of speaking as we currently employ in evangelism was not then in vogue. This is not strictly true, however. In the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus said, "This is my body which is given for you," and "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:19, 20). It is true that the "you" in both these passages is in the plural not the singular form, but it is equally certain that the Lord Jesus was directing his words to each one of the individuals present when He spoke. It is important to remember that Judas had already left the circle of those thus addressed (John 13:30), for it was not until after supper was over that the memorial was instituted (1 Cor. 11:25). Were it not for Paul's inspired statement in his letter to the Corinthians which tells us that these words were spoken after and not before supper, we could not be sure that Judas was excluded. If Judas had still been present, the Lord's inclusive address to his disciples (when He spoke of his sacrifice as being applicable to them all without discrimination) would have been inappropriate. Here Scripture has thus been marvelously hedged about. Jesus was able to say "which is shed for you [plural]" because all who were then present to whom He addressed his words were chosen vessels of his grace. The distinction between the disciples and Judas is underscored with the characteristic precision of Scripture when we are told that during the first part of the meal Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples, including Judas, whom He however set apart by himself, though He did not identify him when He said (John 13:10): "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet but is every whit clean: and ye are clean but not all." And John makes this comment (v. 11): "For He knew who should betray Him, on which account He said, Ye are not all clean."
The details of the Last Supper are elucidated by Alfred Edersheim in his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, where will be found reconciliation of the details given in the Gospels which at times appear to be in conflict. (1) A.T. Robertson in his Harmony of the Gospels orders the various portions of the biblical text in the four Gospels and in 1 Corinthians in a way that very nicely dovetails with Edersheim's commentary. (2) Certainly there is no justification here for arguing that the Lord Jesus addressed those who were elect to salvation and one who was not in the same direct and personal way. He did not say to Judas, "which is shed for you"; for Judas was not present when He made this statement.
One of the most common criticisms of those who hold the Augustinian-Calvinist position is that their theology of Limited Atonement tends to weaken the incentive to evangelism. I believe it would be better to say that the cause of any lack of zeal we may have lies more deeply than in our theology. The fact is that many of us lack courage when it comes to personal evangelism, and we find it convenient to cover our timidity by pleading a certain confusion as to the form of our message when we are brought face to face with the individual. But if we cannot sincerely say to an unsaved friend, "Jesus died for you," because we cannot know that it is true, are we then left without any message at all that could honestly be termed "Good News!"--that is, the Gospel?
Manifestly the answer is, No! We are not left without any message for the individual. The message for the individual is both a general one and a particular one. First, that "this is a true saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15): this is the general truth. And secondly, the particular truth is: "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17); "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him" (Rev. 3:20). Such open invitations to the individual are characteristic of God's Word to man in both the Old Testament and the New: "Ho! Everyone that thirsteth! Come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye.." (Isa. 55:1). It is a personal invitation (Luke 14:17). This invitation is to come. "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). The message that we are to take to the individual is personal, addressed to him who hears and not merely them who hear: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word and believes on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life" (John 5:24).
In Reformed theological circles there has been considerable discussion about the difficulty of knowing precisely what is to be offered when the Gospel is preached. In the Canons of Dort (III-IV. 14) it is stated that "faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him..." What then is it that we are offering when we preach the Gospel? Herman Hoeksema proposes that according to the Canons it is not grace, but Christ that is offered. (3) And in order to separate these two clearly, he points out that in the Latin text of the Canons it is not said that we offer Christ but that we "present" Christ. That is to say, Christ is presented, displayed in the Gospel. This presentation is held by Hoeksema to be objective and descriptive in character. It cannot mean that God is giving an invitation, for He gives a true invitation only to the elect. The command to believe and be converted is proper, but it is general, addressed to all men. In a word, preaching appears in a slightly different light. It is no longer invitation but declaration.
The justification for presenting such a declaration is that if the hearer is among the elect he will receive the message as a personal invitation, and will respond in a God-ordained way. Because this is God's ordained way of leaving the non-elect without excuse and of saving the elect, it will not be necessary to preach "with the enticing words of man's wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:4). Here the word enticing in the Greek means, literally, "persuasiveness." Paul in this passage also underscores the fact that in order to be fruitful the Word of God cannot merely be parroted but must be presented "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." So two things are required: (1) that we remain very close to the words of Scripture, presenting them "in the Spirit" and (2) that God be pleased to germinate the seed thus sown. If, on the other hand, the hearer is not among the elect, he will not be deceived, for he will not even hear the message with his inner ear, no matter how persuasive we are. He will neither receive nor understand. He gains nothing by the encounter, but in the Judgment the Judge may justly say, "You were invited, but you did not hear the invitation because you did not want to hear it." Hereby is the justice of God exhibited. The grace of God in electing and bringing to salvation does not conflict with the wonderful truth that whosoever will may come, for it is the hearing of the truth that makes the Election of God effectual. It is the hearing of the truth that guarantees that whosoever may, will come. And in the hearing of this we may play a part by being allowed of God to proclaim the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4).
But there is no doubt that if persuasiveness is left in our hands we are likely to try to reinforce persuasion by polishing our techniques. And so the emphasis inevitably comes to rest upon the method rather than upon the message itself. By contrast, if persuasion is entirely in God's hands through the Holy Spirit alone, then we are more apt to be driven to our knees in preparation for a fruitful ministry of evangelism whether congregational or personal. But having adopted the more appropriate emphasis of being on our knees, we ought not to hold back from engagement within the world by retreating behind the all too familiar excuse for inaction, "We must pray about it." There is a time for prayer, but there is a time when prayer is no longer an appropriate exercise if it becomes a substitute for confrontation. The Lord once said to Moses, "Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward" (Exod. 14:15).
It must always be borne in mind that there is no difference between the Gospel preached to those who are not among the elect and those who are--assuming that both are yet unsaved. The message is precisely the same for both parties. We are commanded to proclaim the message, not to attempt an assessment of the suitability of the individual to whom we address it. Nor are we to neglect anyone simply because he seems an unlikely prospect, for God often delights to confound our best judgments. The most hostile and antagonistic individuals (like Paul before his conversion) are often chosen vessels. And remember that the gestation period with some is much longer than with others.
I have friends whom I have worked with for years, who never fail to attend any seminars I hold or lecture series I give, who are ready and willing at any time to talk freely about their need of salvation without hostility or brashness, and yet who admit frankly, "I am not a Christian." They seem no nearer to the Lord today than after our first serious discussion some eighteen years ago. Such people seem to be "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). If ever there was proof of the fact that the time of coming to birth is in the Lord's hands and not ours, it is in such cases as these. On the other hand, others, upon a very first meeting, may turn seriously at some point in the conversation and say simply and openly, "Help me in." And they mean it; and they are wonderfully saved.
I remember being in a room with about sixty young people from seventeen to twenty-one years of age. I had been talking with one of them who was already a child of God, and I quoted Revelation 3:20 at one point in the conversation as an illustration of how simple the passage from death unto life can sometimes be. Being born again requires almost no explicit theological understanding. About ten minutes later, a young girl who had a beautiful singing voice came up to me and said very quietly, "You know when you said just now, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will open I will come in,' well, I overheard that and I did--and He did!" And her face showed that marvelous glow of the newborn in Christ. Later that afternoon when it was time to close our meeting, I asked her to pray. She prayed for the first time but without hesitation, and I shall never forget the atmosphere created by that short prayer. What a miracle this is! And how can one possibly account for the immediacy of some conversions when others seem to be postponed for years and years? It cannot be our earnestness, nor even the skill with which we handle the Word of God. It is plainly and simply a matter of the sovereignty of God's grace. Only God can germinate the seed, but we are invited to be busy sowing it.
Why then do we have so much difficulty knowing how to approach our unsaved friends? Perhaps if we had followed faithfully the exhortation of Paul's Epistles and left the matter of germination entirely in God's hands, while we trained ourselves rather as successful sowers of the seed, the problem would never have arisen. But when we depart from Calvinism with its emphasis upon the sovereignty of God's grace and the total helplessness of man, we tend to constitute ourselves not merely sowers but germinators, with the power to give life. And this we simply cannot do.
We are merely to make sure that we are in the Lord's way and that our seed is pure and good, unmixed with other seed (Lev. 19:19) that will be incompatible with it--even though these other seeds may appear to make the sowing easier. To be saved, a man does not need to know the theology of salvation, only the facts of its possibility through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some men are curious and like to have a measure of understanding in order to clear away supposed difficulties, but there is no need to attempt the clearing away of difficulties that have not been raised. A man has only to recognize his own personal need and to be assured that that need can be met in the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed if a man does recognize his need of a Savior, there is a sense in which he is already among the elect, for no man discovers he is dead unless God has first germinated life within him. Yet the gestation period may be distressingly prolonged and great patience is required.
The "formula" for salvation is not set forth in Scripture in a single pattern. In some cases we are told that it is enough that a man simply call upon the Lord (Rom. 10:13). There is surely a minimum of theology here! I was talking with one friend about four years ago, sitting quietly beside an open fire. He was not a Christian but the Lord was certainly dealing with him. A few days later he told me that as he sat there that evening he suddenly said in his heart, "Lord, save me!" And the Lord did indeed, that very night--though we did not know it at the time. A few weeks later he was involved in a terrible car accident and totally paralyzed from the neck down. He still is. But his witness since that accident has been truly remarkable, as his hospital nurses and friends testify unhesitatingly. There is no bitterness and no looking back. Though his old way of life was totally destroyed, a new life has replaced it. It is wonderful what the Lord can do!
The Calvinist, acknowledging the true spiritual deadness of the unsaved individual, knows only too well that no man can come unto the Lord unless the Father draws him. No man will believe unto salvation unless he is resurrected from his spiritual deadness and made alive and granted saving faith. It is not our concern to ask, "Is this man elected to be a member of God's blameless family?" It is rather our privilege to tell him what is possible because of what the Lord has done to save sinners, and, as far as we are able, to do this using the words of Scripture. Thus a seed may be planted. Whether it germinates or not is beyond our responsibility. But if it does germinate by the power of God, then indeed our responsibility is enormously extended. It becomes our privilege and duty to water it, cultivate it, nourish it, and protect it until it has developed to a point where the fellowship of others in a more general way will ensure its continued growth. So much then for our responsibility in the matter.
But the question may still be asked, How can God command men to do things, to repent, for example, knowing that obedience is quite impossible for man in his fallen state? Is it reasonable that God should make such demands and then condemn the individual for not meeting them? It is a perfectly proper question, and there is a perfectly satisfactory answer to it. God's commands are an expression of his expectations not of his requirements. As Thomas Boston in his justly famous book, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (p. 164), has rightly put it, it is man's duty to repent of his sins because God has commanded him to do so. And God's command, not man's ability, is the measure of man's duty.
Of this important truth Scripture supplies innumerable illustrations. Just the simple command to "repent," repeated again and again in Scripture (cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17, Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; Rev. 2:5; and so forth), is given with a full realization that man as a fallen creature cannot obey this command unless God in his mercy first of all undoes some of the spiritual damage of the Fall. Where salvation is the end in view, repentance is a divine gift, not a natural capacity of man (cf. Ps. 80:3,19; Jer. 24:7; 31:18, 19; Lam. 5:21; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). As Romans 2:4 assures us, it is the goodness of God, not the goodness of man, that leads to repentance. In spite of his command to do so, we do not turn ourselves to God unless He first turns us. Even in such a basic thing as repentance, God's command is not predicated on man's assumed capability of obedience but is an expression of what God requires of man.
Many such commands are set forth in Scripture. Declared to be God's requirement rather than his expectation, these commands are then followed by an assurance to the effect that He Himself will make the obedience possible. Without such enabling there is never any fulfillment of the command. Thus in Ezekiel 18:31 God's command is set forth: "Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit." But the fulfillment of this requirement was to be realized only when God Himself acted sovereignly and without waiting for man's cooperation, as set forth in Ezekiel 36:25, 26: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean...A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." Similarly, Israel was commanded: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart" (Deut. 10:16); but this was never achieved by anyone until the Lord Himself stepped in and performed it for him. "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart...that thou mayest live" (Deut. 30:6).
Isaiah 45:22 records the familiar words, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved." But how can the blind look unto Him until they have first received their sight! We turn to the Lord only when we are turned by the Lord. Psalm 80:3 reads: "Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." So also we are commanded to love God (Matt. 22:37) but we love only after He has first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are told that if we will only open our hearts to his knocking, He will come in and fulfill both Himself and us (Rev. 3:20); but we learn from the example of Lydia "whose heart the Lord had opened" (Acts 16:14) that such opening is made possible only by the Lord. The fact is that we simply do not hear his knocking any more than a corpse in a coffin hears the mourners who bewail his passing. We are told that if we but call upon his name we shall be saved (Rom. 10:13), but Psalm 80:18, 19 makes it clear that we shall never call unless we are first made alive by his grace: "Quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." A man must be alive before he can exercise saving faith (John 11:26: "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die"--liveth and believeth, in that order).
The Lord Jesus Christ graciously gave the invitation, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor" (Matt. 11:28); and yet the same Lord said, "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me...No man cometh unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (John 6:37, 44). Consequently, so long as the Father does not open a man's ears to hear the call he simply cannot respond. How can any man respond to a call which by nature he is not attuned to hear? As Jesus said, ''Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). And why not? "Ye therefore hear not, because ye are not of God" (John 8:47). We thus see that many invitations to salvation are set forth in Scripture in such a way as to express a command that simply states God's requirement of man, if he is to be saved. But such commands manifestly do not represent his expectations, for in every case Scripture goes on to say that God Himself must intervene in order to make obedience to the command possible.
One reason why we view this as unfair is that we fail to realize that man unsaved is truly spiritually dead, and the dead are both unseeing and unhearing. It is a mistake to suppose that men actually do hear the voice of the Lord and honestly desire to respond affirmatively but are somehow unable to do so, as though they were actually willing but not allowed. No man is ever denied what he wishes in this respect, Whosoever will, may. But the natural man, like the wholly untuned radio, "receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God...neither can he..." (1 Cor. 2:14). This is a total impossibility until his ear is opened by the Lord, an opening which is an act of pure grace. God must tune him before he will receive the message.
Men hear sounds but do not recognize the significance of them. The message of the Gospel is a noise, not a communication, until God tunes the set of man's heart. The distinction between noise and message--or more scripturally, between sound and voice--is illustrated quite often in the Word of God. God speaks to a child of his but all the bystanders hear only a sound like thunder. What is a message to one is strange and disturbing and unintelligible to the rest. This happened when the Father spoke to his Son (John 12:29) and those who stood by said, "It thundered," while others supposed an angel had spoken to Him. For the words were not addressed to them personally. At the time of Paul's conversion a similar thing happened (Acts 9:7), though the King James Version has masked the circumstances somewhat by rendering the Greek word for sound (phone) as "voice." Acts 22:9 and 26:14 show that what his companions really heard was only the sound: they did not hear the message. Only to Saul did the sound appear as a voice articulating words which brought conviction to his soul.
I think the Gospel which when clearly presented is to the believer so meaningful, is virtually meaningless to the unbeliever unless communicated to him by the Holy Spirit. People who have been spoken to plainly and clearly on many occasions, without apparently being influenced in any way, often say later on, when they have been born anew, "Why didn't you tell me before?" I have one friend of keen intelligence and mature mind who was shown the way of salvation in a manner so plain and straightforward that it is impossible to believe the message did not get through to his mind. Yet after he was very beautifully saved some months later, he explained that on the previous occasion the truth, which he now grasped perfectly, had not penetrated his thinking at all and had made no sense to him whatever. He himself marveled that he had not been able to see it or understand it when it was first presented to him. Experience constantly reaffirms that natural man is simply not tuned in to receive spiritual truth, no matter how clearly it is stated. To the child of God rejoicing in his salvation, the meaning of the command to repent and believe seems self-evident To the unbeliever it has no meaning whatever. Yet it is God's requirement, and it must be obeyed, if man is to be saved. And when it is obeyed man is saved. The crucial factor in this equation is obedience. There is no unfairness on God's part in giving the command--because there is no other appointed way.
When the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) asked the Lord what he must do to earn eternal life, the Lord in complete fairness told him that if he would earn eternal life he must keep the commandments. The principle is well established in Scripture. It is stated categorically in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:5; Ezek. 20:11) and repeated several times in the New (Luke 10:27, 28; Rom. 10:5; and Gal. 3:12). If a man does indeed keep the Ten Commandments he will indeed earn eternal life: "The man that doeth them shall live."
This had to be true. Any man who never once broke any of the commandments of God, who was never disobedient in any smallest way who always and without fail did only those things which pleased the Father in heaven (John 8:29), would be worthy of eternal life and would always enjoy it. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ. having throughout his human life preserved his faultlessness in the sight of God, thereby became free to surrender that blameless life as a substitute for sinners. But the catch for all natural-born men is that partial fulfillment is not good enough. Only 100 percent fulfillment will do; for as James 2:10 has put it, Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. It is indeed a case of all or nothing. And the Lord, in dealing with the young man to whom He was especially drawn by his earnestness, had to send him away saddened. For he had suddenly recognized that eternal life was quite unattainable to him on the terms he had supposed. Yet the promise itself of eternal life earned by good works was a perfectly genuine one, and so is the promise of eternal life to all who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, or who will call upon the name of the Lord, or will take of the water of life freely or will open the heart's door to the Lord, or will simply come to Him for refuge and rest. All of these are genuine offers, yet equally impossible of attainment, apart from the grace of God.
However the offer is presented, it is perfectly genuine. We can without hesitation make such invitations in just such clear and simple form: Christ died for sinners. We need not use such a misleading appeal as "Christ died for you"; but if we wish to be entirely personal it is quite proper to say, "If you will call upon the name of the Lord," or, "If you will open your heart to the Lord," or, "If you will accept Him as your Savior." For an affirmative response to any of these will bring assurance of salvation. But we ought not to use such a misleading appeal as "Christ died for you" because we cannot apply this to any man indiscriminately unless we know he is to be counted among the elect, a knowledge which we surely cannot have with certainty. But presented in any other way, the invitation itself is open. Whosoever will may come. And we have every assurance that whosoever is enabled of God will indeed come. In the meantime we have many alternative forms of invitation which are entirely scriptural and in no way compromise the truth.
Thomas Boston stated the case effectively when he wrote:
Upon very good grounds may we, at the command of God who raiseth the dead, go to their graves and cry in his name, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 514). And seeing that the elect are not to be known and distinguished from others before conversion, as the sun shines on the blind man's face and rain falls on the rocks as well as on the fruitful plains, so we preach Christ to all and shoot the arrow at a venture, which God Himself directs as He sees fit. (4)But there still remains one aspect of the presentation of the Gospel which troubles many people. This is the apparent exclusiveness of the love God. If God does not love everyone indiscriminately, what then is his attitude towards those who are not the objects of his love? Does He hate them? Even to ask the question seems improper and out of harmony altogether with our concept of the nature of God. Yet we have a few passages of Scripture which seem to state in no uncertain terms that God does hate some of his creatures.
One of these passages is Hosea 9:15, which reads: "All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them. For the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of my house, I will love them no more." There seems to be justification here for the complete turnabout in God's attitude towards his people. But even so, the idea of hatred seems repugnant. The classic passage which has caused no end of discussion is to be found in Malachi 1:2, 3, where the crucial words, which have been quoted in Paul's Epistle to the Romans (9:13), are these: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."
To say that the word hate (miseo) does not mean in this instance what we mean by the word hate is an evasion which will not do, for both the word hate and the word for love in this verse are the routine words used for human and divine love and hate elsewhere in Scripture. Indeed, the word love in this passage is the strongest of the Greek words for love in certain respects, and one must assume from its apposition in this sentence that the word hate must signify an attitude of equal intensity. The word hate is the word used in John 15:25, "They hated Me without a cause," a hate which was strong enough, when humanly expressed, to lead to murder. The word love is the word which appears in John 3:16.
All attempts to soften such a passage must inevitably appear, to those who seek to attribute gross injustice to God, as being no explanation at all but merely an effort to "explain away." Nevertheless, we cannot but struggle with the problem and try to find some temporary resting place for our thoughts until a better understanding emerges in God's own time.
I have personally come to wonder whether perhaps there might be a clue in the fact that God is declared in Scripture not merely to love but to be love itself, whereas, even more importantly in the present context, while He is declared to hate, He is never said to be hate. The difference may appear at first to be inconsequential but it seems to indicate that hatred is not simply the antithesis of love. In some mystical way love emanates out of God, originates with Him. He is the source of it. He does not just express love, but He is love. By contrast none of this can be applied to hate. It will be helpful perhaps to think for a moment of love and hate analogously as light and darkness, two terms which are used in Scripture in a remarkably parallel way.
Scripture tells us that God is not only love, but that He is also light. This affirmation is reinforced by telling us also that "in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Now darkness is not simply the antithesis of light. It is rather the absence of light. It is not something that is "there" but the result of something which is not there. Light emanates from God but darkness does not, for there is no darkness in Him. In the very nature of the case light and darkness cannot coexist. Where there is light darkness is banished; where there is darkness there is no light.
Would it be true, then, to say that hate is not something which emanates from God, but something which is the consequence of the withholding of love? If we wish to understand how God could love Jacob and hate Esau, perhaps we first have to ask whether the explanation lies not in God at all but in Jacob and Esau themselves, and of course in every man for whom Jacob and Esau stand in this situation.
When we speak of God's love for ourselves as something which we experience in our daily lives, is the reality of which we speak evidence of some kind of response in our own souls rather than something which exists in the heart of God? Perhaps we could return to the analogy of light for a moment. When the power flows freely through a light bulb, the glow itself is proof of a vital connection with the power source, though the glow is not in the power source but in the lamp. If the switch is turned off, the glow is no longer apparent; but the power may still be as available at the source as it ever was. The darkness of the lamp results from a disconnection, a broken relationship, not a power failure.
Analogously, the love of God, would then be a true expression of his power, even as the glow of the lamp is proof of the reality of the power source. If there is another lamp in the room that for some reason is not alight, the darkness of that lamp does not originate from the source of the light in the other lamp. The darkness is inherent so long as the lamp is disconnected from the source of power. The difference in the relationship between the two lamps and the source of power is what makes the one experience light and warmth and the other darkness and cold. The power source itself is the same in both cases.
Now all men without exception at some point in their lives switch off the connection and leave themselves in darkness. But in the matter of salvation, the One who is the source of power Himself, for reasons known only to Himself, undertakes to turn on the switch of some but not of others. The result is the sudden creation of light in some and the continuance of darkness in others. The love which flows through to the elect and lightens them does not reach the others but permits them to continue in darkness. Perhaps the only way to describe the relationship of the latter is by saying it is opposite to that of the former. If love characterizes the first relationship, hate must characterize the second. Since in both cases the situation is an all-or-nothing situation, we must speak of light or darkness, life or death, love or hate. The three alternatives (darkness, death, hate) are not positive emanations but withdrawals, fatal disconnections.
So when we read in Scripture of divine hatred it seems necessary that we not$consider it as an active principle, vindictive in its nature and destructive in its expression. It is simply that no light goes on, no life results, no love is experienced. Darkness overwhelms the soul, and death--and hatred. As the love of God is without the sentimental element of human mercy, so the hatred of God is without the vindictive quality of human hostility.
However, we would not make the mistake of saying that the power of God and the love of God are to be equated. What we are suggesting is that God's power is expressed most completely in the form of love. In a real sense the power of God which is witnessed in the creation (Rom. 1:20) will always be, to the child of God, an expression of his love, and accordingly, the absence of his power in the life of any man must be an expression of his hate.
The analogy we have proposed is oddly appropriate in certain ways to those passages of Scripture which speak of men's hearts being darkened (Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:18). We are told that at one point in the earth's history God commanded the light to shine to dispel darkness (2 Cor. 4:6). The same principle is to be observed in 1 Peter 2:9. Light brings with it life and warmth; darkness entails cold and death. Moreover, here and there in the New Testament are sentences in the original Greek which, if they are construed literally, have an extraordinarily modern ring to them apropos of this analogy. For example, Ephesians 3:7 has the phrase, "by the effectual working of his power," which in the most literal translation could very properly read as "by the energy of his dynamo." This is almost a transliteration of the original.
The light of the lamp, our lamp, is what we experience as love; the darkness of the other lamp is what that lamp experiences as hate. The power at the source remains unchanged, and is actually capable of producing only light. The difference in the end result for the two lamps stems from the connection or disconnection with the power source. The man in fellowship with God experiences God's love; the man who is cut off experiences God's hate. Jacob and Esau represent the two kinds of people who experience God in two opposite ways. Of the first, everything in his own life tends to reinforce his view that God loves him, whereas, of the other, everything in life supports the view that God hates him. The actual attitude of God to the latter must surely be one of pity or anger, both of which reactions are possible without any hatred; but effectively it must appear to him as the opposite of love.
We are tending increasingly to ignore the other side of God's love towards his creatures. Sermons more and more emphasize the love of God to the exclusion of his justice, and to speak of God's hate is completely unacceptable to our sensitive ears. Yet there is one passage of Scripture which ought to be introduced before we leave this subject.
In 2 Chronicles 19:2 we have a revealing statement made by a godly prophet named Jehu. Under divine guidance this prophet was called upon to rebuke a misguided king, Jehoshaphat, for not hating a wicked king, Ahab. "Jehu, the son of Hanani, the seer, went to meet Jehoshaphat, and said to the king, 'Shouldest thou help the ungodly and love them that hate the Lord?' Therefore is wrath upon thee from the Lord."
Here we have a man not merely rebuked but condemned for loving one of his fellow men. Would he thus be condemned if he were doing that which by popular fancy it is believed the Lord Himself always does? If God rebuked Jehoshaphat and held him accountable for loving a wicked man like Ahab, can we suppose that God loved this wicked man Ahab? Is it not more likely that with God neutrality is impossible? When the Lord said, "I wish that thou wert either hot or cold. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am disgusted with you" (Rev. 3:15, 16), was He not saying in effect just this, that neutrality is impossible?
The solution I am offering is not wholly satisfactory by any means but it might help towards a satisfactory solution by the further questions it poses.
As Lord Wardour put it in speaking of one of his own tentative ideas over a century ago: "It may yet, by opening out fresh views, contribute light to minds of greater precision who may thus be enabled to hit upon the exact truth."
Our Gospel is tending increasingly to be "another Gospel" and not the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have presumed to improve upon revelation by modifying it to suit our enlightened sense of what is proper for man's new self-esteem. The supposed inherent kindness of the human heart is not to be offended by any reference to God's anger and hatred of man's sinful nature. We take care not to outrage our listeners by drawing attention to man's bondage and Total Depravity. We picture God as even more sentimental than man now is. After years of subjection to an increasingly unreal tinsel civilization man has almost wholly destroyed his ability to distinguish between sentiment and sentimentality. We present a God whose lack of discrimination is even greater than our own, whose willingness to compromise is broader than ours, and whose indifference to justice is similar to fallen man's.
But what does it do to man's inner being when he re-creates his God in a form even less admirable than himself! Such worship cannot but debase him. He learns to worship something less than himself and destroys the very thing which makes him human--the power to exercise righteous indignation and the ability to make moral judgments, even about his own behavior.
The message we have is indeed good news, but it is good news to the penitent, to the lost, to the defeated and fearful, to the poor in spirit. The message is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to save his people from their sins, to save the lost, to heal the broken in spirit, and to satisfy those who long after righteousness. The message is not for the healthy but for the sick, not for the righteous but for the unrighteous. That there is not one righteous man alive is an undeniable truth, but until a man admits his need he might just as well be counted among the healthy, the righteous, the strong in spirit--for whom Christ's offer of mercy and forgiveness and healing and grace is simply irrelevant. Men must be made aware of their sinfulness; men must be awakened to their need of a personal savior and then presented with that Savior in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is evangelism, whether personal or congregational. The theology of it all is not always a necessary or even an appropriate part of evangelism. Just when and where and how the wonderful truth which underlies the Gospel, the rationale of the plan of salvation, is to be presented is the third problem to which we now turn.
1. Vol. 11, pp. 504-509.
2. Pages 193-96 (sections 147, 148).
3. Quoted in G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Divine Election. p. 222.
4. Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, p. 164.