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The Universal Calls of the Gospel (2) [1]

Category Articles
Date May 4, 2006

Proverbs 8:4,5. Unto you, O men, I call; and My voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom; and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.

The ground on which sinners are thus called, and the warrant they have for instant compliance with that call. Two things are evidently required in order that all may have full warrant to comply with the call: (1) that there should be a Saviour provided and (2) that His salvation should be freely offered to us. Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour – having all that sinners can need. Christ as thus all-sufficient is freely offered to all, and this offer of Christ is conveyed to us upon the testimony of God; it comes to each as “the word of salvation” sent to himself.

The call to come is thus itself the assurance of welcome. As it would have been presumption to come without an invitation, so it is presumption to hesitate when that invitation is sent. As it might have been a question whether we had been meant if only some had been invited, so there is no room for hesitation when the voice is to the “sons of man”. As it would have been a dark thing for us if none but those who had some previous good thing about them had been called, so it is most blessed for us that the call is addressed by the authority of Him who calls to the lost, to the perishing, to the condemned, to sinners, even the chief. And as surely as these words describe our true state and condition, so surely does the call of the gospel reach unto us, unto all of us.

This seems a most full and most blessed provision, meeting exactly the state of those who are utterly lost. But many who would be wise above what is written are not satisfied with this. Those who think that universal commands imply universal power of our own, to comply with these commands, think also that universal offers imply universal atonement as the ground of these offers. Those who think that the call of God cannot be consistently addressed to men, if they cannot of themselves comply, think also that the salvation of Christ cannot be consistently offered to all unless the atonement was made alike for all – alike for those that perish and for those that shall be saved. In a word, they think that God’s calling supposes ability in all, and that God’s offering salvation supposes redemption wrought out for all.

Such men, however, feel that they cannot say this of redemption, viewed as actual deliverance from the punishment and power of sin, without being shut up to universal salvation, and soon cut down the offer of the gospel to the offer of pardon. Feeling that they cannot say of the righteousness of Christ in its glorious fullness – of His active and passive obedience – what they say so boldly of His sufferings and death, they separate these and cut down the ground of the gospel offer to the death of Christ. Feeling that they cannot even say that this is universal in the way of a vicarious sacrifice and real satisfaction, they cut this down next and say that the death of Christ does not secure any saving benefit to any, and is as much endured for the lost as for the saved. And finally, feeling that anything whatever might hamper them, they get quit of all by saying that the atonement is a great fact – a “general something” – equally done for all, but not securing saving blessings, or any blessings, to any; it is as certainly, as fully, wrought out for Judas, who perished, as for Paul, who is saved.

Having thus, with impious hands, parted the seamless robe of Christ’s righteousness and separated what God has joined, and then deprived even that which remained of any definite object – of any special design or saving power – to a troubled soul, it really does not matter much what they say of it or what they do with it. What such a soul needs is not something unconnected with salvation, but something bringing salvation. What such a soul needs is not a death only, but a life; not an atoning sacrifice only, but a perfect righteousness; not a sacrifice on earth only, but a prevailing intercession in heaven also; not a crucified Christ only, but a risen, exalted and reigning Christ also. What such a soul needs is Christ as a Redeemer in all the fullness of His offices; and what he needs to know is whether this Christ is offered to him on the authority of God.

Now we dare not say that Christ died for all in the same sense. We dare not pry into the secret book of God and say that Christ’s death was equally designed, in all that it did, for all. We dare not tear the robe of Christ’s righteousness. We dare not separate between His sacrifice and His intercession. We dare not measure what God has left general or make universal what God has made definite. We dare not say that Christ died as much for Judas and for all who perish as He did for Paul and for all who in heaven are recording for ever His grace in loving them and giving Himself for them. But we dare say that Christ is offered to all – freely, truly and fully. We dare say that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and not imputing to men their trespasses; and, as ambassadors of Christ – yea, as if God did beseech men by us, as in Christ’s stead – we do beseech men to be reconciled to God. We dare say that, as there is nothing between us and hell – absolutely nothing but the mortal breath of this life, which may every moment be stopped – so there is nothing, absolutely nothing, between us and Christ. We dare say that He stands at the door and knocks and that, if any man will open, He will come in and dwell with him.

But here a proud objector will triumphantly say, and a trembling soul will sometimes also anxiously ask, How can you consistently offer what is not really designed to be given? We answer: (1.) If the design of God actually to bestow what He offers, and to put everyone to whom the offer comes into possession, must be previously known, there could be no probation and no moral government of God at all. (2.) This is a difficulty that lies against every system, and equally against every system which acknowledges the certain foreknowledge of God – indeed against every system but the God-denying one of the fool, which says there is no God. (3.) Those who make this objection have no advantage in point of a full, free and direct offer of salvation; even they cannot say that all receive salvation; even they cannot deny that God from all eternity knows who shall be saved; even they cannot say that God designs either the death of Christ or aught else to save those who from all eternity He knew would not be saved. And, being as ignorant of God’s foreknowledge as we are, they can as little assure anyone beforehand as to what is the purpose of God. (4.) Our views of the nature of the atonement and the foreordination of God do not in the least affect our free and full offer of the gospel to all, because we do what God has commanded us to do, knowing that He has commanded it, and that He will do as He has said, and that whosoever believes shall be saved.

But an objector may say, You offer what is not there. There is nothing in your system except an offer; there is nothing behind it; there is no reality. But where is it, we ask, that there is nothing? Is it in the original design and eternal purpose of God? Or is it in the work of Christ that there is nothing? There is glorious sufficiency in it. The atonement is complete; nothing needs to be added to it. “His work is perfect” – the righteousness is perfect; the intercession is all-prevailing, to the very uttermost. Or finally, is it in the offer that there is nothing? There is the most blessed certainty in it – the largest, the fullest extent in it – and what more could there be in any offer?

But proud man returns and asks, How can you sincerely offer what you say it may not be God’s design actually to bestow? And growing bolder, he says, How can God offer to all what is not meant for all? This, instead of an offer of mercy, is but mocking and deceiving man. This is fearful language for man to use, but there is no foundation for it. God neither mocks nor deceives anyone. Where no confidence is placed, no deceit can be experienced. Wherever confidence is placed, there the blessing is received. There is no deceit, and from this God shall stand for ever infinitely clear. No man, surely, would have God fulfil His word of promise to those that do not believe it and do not claim its fulfilment. And whosoever believes it, and claims the fulfilment, to him it shall be made fully and gloriously good for ever.

Putting down then all such contendings against God, and escaping from the unwholesome atmosphere whence they spring, let us return to rejoice in the full warrant which every minister has to offer Christ to all – and the full warrant which everyone has to receive Christ for himself. Christ is set forth to us not only as a Priest, and not only as a Priest offering a sacrifice for sin, but as a Prophet and a Priest and a King; and as such is made known to us to be received and rested on. The benefits of justification, adoption and sanctification are freely offered in Him. This offer is to be made to “every creature under heaven” on the authority of God. Only they who reject this offered grace perish in their sins; they who believe it and receive it live and rejoice – they joy in God, through Jesus Christ, by whom they have received the atonement.

Thus, without seeking to scan the unrevealed mysteries of the book of God’s decrees, without defacing the work of Christ, without blotting out of the Word of God all that is said of God’s sovereign grace and electing love, without destroying the object of faith in order to make it acceptable to those who do not love God, without reducing the blessed Word to a few portions of it and wishing to forget all the rest, a full and blessed warrant comes to each sinner, wherever he is, and says, “Unto you”. The voice of Christ comes: “Turn and live”; “Look unto Me, and be ye saved”. It is the command of God to offer Christ, to go and preach to all nations. It is the command of God to receive Him: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent”. It is the invitation of God to come to Him, and it is the promise of God that whosoever comes shall in no wise be cast out. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come . . . And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely”.

We therefore desire now to do what we are thus fully warranted to do – to preach the gospel to very creature. Unto you, O men, we would call, and our voice is to the children of man. Unto you is the word of this salvation sent as surely, as directly, as if there was no other sinner in all this world to whom the voice of God had come. If your name is not in the invitation of the gospel, neither is it in the condemnation of the law. If your name is not in the call of God, your nature is; and that is more certain than your name. As certainly as you are lost, as certainly as you are condemned and perishing, so certainly are you among those for whom, as such, salvation is provided – and to whom, as such, the invitation of God is sent.

Yes, Christ is God’s gift to mankind sinners. The cross is God’s ordinance for the salvation of man. God calls you by the ten thousand expostulations and entreaties which He sends in His Word. Christ calls you by His suffering, by His death, by His tears of compassion and by His entreaties of grace, the Holy Spirit calls you by every one of those words of mercy and of warning, and by every conviction and impression which they awaken in the heart. Your God has found you out, not with words of condemnation, but with words of mercy. His words are all as fresh and full of love as if first now, and first by you, they had been heard in human language. With these words of gracious compassion does He once more overtake you – beseeching you to turn and live, assuring you that in no wise you shall be cast out. O sons of men, His words mean all that they say; they imply infinitely more than human words can say; they are but drops of that infinite fountain out of which they flow, but they are drops of the compassion of God – who is a God of truth, and with whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning.

O how solemn then, how unspeakably solemn, is the situation of those to whom Christ’s voice comes in the gracious calls of his glorious gospel! How solemn, how unspeakably solemn, our position this very day! We are present here to hear what God the Lord will speak – called of God to lay hold of eternal life. We are stripped of all vain excuses and compelled to acknowledge that God directly, personally and earnestly beseeches us to be reconciled to Him. Eternal life is offered, Christ is offered, everlasting blessedness is offered, and everyone either receives or rejects these offers.

How dreadful is this place! The Lord is in this place and we have not known it. To the eye of man we seem but a congregation of men and women, older and younger, richer and poorer, gathered together in the way to which men have become so accustomed and hastening to depart as if what we were leaving was only a common thing. But God “seeth not as man seeth”. God sees here immortal souls – never-dying creatures, sunk in sin and hanging on the sides of the pit. God reaches into the depth below and measures these awful words, “perish in their sins”. God sets forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, and publishes anew the call, “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world”. God sees everyone either receiving Christ, or rejecting Christ – His Christ. Yes, each one shall go out of these doors, either with the joy of having received Christ and His salvation, or with the sin cleaving to his soul of having refused and rejected Christ.

But what an infinite difference between these two! What a difference now! What a difference at death! What a difference to all eternity! Refuse Christ you may – many, many doubtless will – but know that God is infinitely clear of the blood of your soul. Refuse Christ you may, but know that His word will cling to you: “I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded”. How often “I would, but ye would not”. Refuse Christ you may, but be prepared to meet the deed of this hour – at the judgement seat. What reason can there be for receiving Him afterwards which is not equally powerful now? What reason is there to think that you shall ever afterwards be moved if you can resist Him now? What cause you have to fear lest the Spirit who takes of the things of Christ, and shows them, will stop striving with you if they are now resisted and quenched! And what reason therefore to fear that the awful, God-defying record of hardness and refusal now entered in the register above will be the record read in “that day”, and read as the just ground of your eternal and unchangeable doom!

Haste then, escape, grasp the hand of Christ yet outstretched to save. Do not venture, in the face of revealed mercy, to live another hour as a rebel. And do not rest until you answer the voice of Christ to the sons of men with the words: “I will arise and go to my Father”.

[1] This is the second half of a sermon which is reprinted with slight editing from The Free Church Pulpit, vol 1. The first head of the sermon was the call of the text to spiritual duty, as addressed to all men and was printed here on April 25. It has been reprinted in the May Free Presbyterian magazine and is also found in the reprinted volume of Banner of Truth magazines 1-16.

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