Calvinistic Distinctives and Evangelism
It might be supposed that the doctrine of election could not properly be incorporated into an evangelistic message, or, at least, could not properly be the topic of an evangelistic message. This is a grievous mistake.
It is true that only believers have any right to regard themselves as elect of God and only they can derive from the truth of election covenant assurance and comfort. But the doctrine of election, when properly conceived and handled, has the closest bearing upon the lost. It may be used in arousing the lost from lethargy and indifference. Election implies non-election. It concerns the ultimate destinies of men and to that question the lost cannot afford to be indifferent. The truth of election may thus be used to bring the unsaved to the most earnest solicitude concerning their salvation, and when thus awakened to concern it provides them with the understanding of the ground upon which they may entertain hope with respect to the grace of salvation as it applies to them.
God’s sovereign election is the one source of the only salvation there is for lost men. It was in pursuance of God’s electing love that God sent his Son into the world. It was in pursuance of electing love that Jesus died upon the cross, was raised from the dead, and sat down at the right hand of God. The nature of the salvation offered to lost men in the gospel can not be abstracted from that purpose of grace in pursuance of which salvation was wrought and in subordination to which it is being constantly applied. Therefore the salvation offered to the lost, the salvation presented to their need and demanding the response of their faith, is salvation determined in its very character by election.
Election is the only source of the salvation presented in the gospel. As such it is calculated to bring hope to the perishing. For in election there is the assurance that God loved sinners from eternity, that he loved sinners with such invincible love that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for them. The evangelist should know this truth to be aglow with hope for those who, under the conviction of sin, are tempted to believe that so grievous are their sins that God could not love them and save them. Election shows the character of God’s love, that it is love for the lost, that it is sovereign love, not determined by the degrees of sinnership but by the mere good pleasure of God and therefore not in the least incompatible with the sinnership and hell-deservedness of those who are its objects. It should be apparent how close a bearing election has upon the most urgent demands of a practical evangelism.
It is often argued that the doctrine of definite or limited atonement is quite foreign and even inimical to the interests of evangelism. For how, it may be plausibly protested, can salvation be freely offered to the lost and its claims pressed upon them if salvation has been procured only for a limited number?
Proper analysis of the salvation offered to lost men will show, however, that only on the basis of a definite atonement can full salvation be offered to lost men. True evangelism must ever bear in mind that it is not the mere possibility of salvation nor simply provision for salvation that is offered freely in the gospel. It is rather salvation full, perfect and free. For it is Christ in all the glory of his person as Saviour and Redeemer and in all the perfection of his finished work who is offered to sinners in the gospel. This glory and this perfection that reside in Christ as Saviour have come to reside in him only by virtue of what he has done in his capacity as the captain of salvation. And what he has done in this capacity is not that he made the salvation of all men possible, nor that he made provision for the salvation of all, but rather that he wrought and purchased redemption. It is salvation with such completeness and perfection that is presented to lost men in the full, free, and unfettered call of the gospel. But only on the basis of a limited atonement could such salvation and redemption be wrought and only on the basis of a limited atonement can such salvation be offered. We should not then be loathe to make known to lost men the real nature of the extent of the atonement. For bound up with a limited extent is the real nature of the salvation and of the Christ offered. If we universalize the extent of the atonement we must limit its efficacy and when we limit its efficacy it is an impoverished and truncated salvation that the ministers of evangelism have to offer. Just as we mutilate the salvation offered so do we empty our message of the irresistible appeal that the proclamation of a full and perfect salvation provides. Evangelism thereby not only proves itself unfaithful to the fulness of the gospel but also robs itself of that which is indispensable to its effectiveness, namely, the recognition on the part of men of the claim, privilege, and opportunity that the full and free offer of Christ entails.
The doctrine of total depravity and inability must not be compromised and avoided in the conduct of evangelism. It is true that any emphasis upon this doctrine appears quite inappropriate in dealing with the unsaved. For the assertion of their inability seems to cut the nerve of any motive to that exercise of faith and repentance which is the demand of the gospel message, and it may very plausibly be contended that evangelism should not prejudice the urgent demand for faith by proclaiming human inability. It is also true that men have oftentimes shielded themselves against the claims and demands of the gospel by pleading the subterfuge of their own inability.
It must be recognized, however, that human inability does not remove responsibility and neither does the abuse of inability, arising from the perversity inherent in human depravity, provide us with any valid reason for deceiving men with respect to the real nature of their moral and spiritual condition or for withholding from them the truth with respect to the consequences of that condition.
But, to speak more positively, it is the self-sufficiency that proceeds from failure to appreciate our complete spiritual bankruptcy and impotence that is the greatest obstacle to that contrition of heart that alone creates the state of mind requisite to the appropriation of the gospel of grace. Evangelism must produce, by God’s grace and the operations of the Spirit, a deep sense of helplessness in the minds of those evangelized. Without conviction of sin there will never be acceptance of the gospel. It is the preaching of man’s total depravity and inability manifested in the overt transgression of God’s law that is calculated to induce this sense of sin, of helplessness, and of need. And so this doctrine of depravity and inability is not only necessary as belonging to the whole counsel of God but is also one of the most fruitful elements of that counsel in promoting the interests of wholesome and effective evangelism.
Taken from Biblical Evangelism Today by a Committee on Christian Education from the O.P.C., 1954.
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