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Gospel: the Only Hope for Society

Category Articles
Date December 7, 2018

There is usually an interesting story behind an important word in any language. This is certainly true of our English word ‘gospel’.

The Greek word evangel, which it now translates, at first meant the reward of good tidings given to the messenger who brought it. In process of time this meaning became altered and the term was used to signify a thank-offering made by sacrifice to the pagan gods for the good news received. It was only later that the word evangel appears to have been used in our modern sense of the good news itself and consequently of the glad tidings of salvation brought by Christ to men.

Similarly the Middle English word ‘gospel’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon godspell. ‘Spell’ then meant a story; ‘god’ meant God and therefore in the context of salvation, Christ. The phrase as a whole first referred to the ‘life of Christ’. Only secondarily has it come to mean the theology of salvation. It appears to be a confusion of ideas, therefore, to suppose that ‘gospel’ is precisely equivalent to ‘evangel’ or good news.

The gospel, however, is good news and if the history of the terms involved has led some to draw hasty conclusions about the precise meaning of these two terms in their relation to each other, we may be thankful that a centuries-old Christian instinct led men to see that the life of Christ is the only good news there is.

The Wonder of the Gospel

The wonder of the good news which the gospel brings to us must never be allowed through familiarity to lose its vigour and fullness. The wonder of the gospel’s announcement is good beyond all human calculation. This is so first because of the glory it brings to God who designed and executed it. By and through the gospel God has done what is unique and without parallel in making a revelation of himself to the universe of rational beings. What glory and what wisdom has the Triune God displayed in the way he has dealt with the sin of man! He has made sin the occasion for the appearance of himself in man’s nature. He has glorified his justice in punishing that sin in a divine Person. He has devised a method of remitting guilt which safeguards all the claims of his holy nature and the requirements of moral law. At the same time he has provided a righteousness of infinite worth for sinners which they may put on at no cost to themselves and which they may wear both on earth and in heaven eternally, to the glory of his own grace. In this way God has made sin minister to his own glory in that it affords occasion for the full and marvellous exhibition of his rich and undeserved forgiveness. He had, says Paul, ‘concluded all under sin that he might have mercy upon all’ (Rom. 11:32).

The scheme of gospel salvation is breath-taking from every point of view. Its simplicity is matched by its grandeur. Its undreamed-of wisdom confounds the wisdom of all the wise who ever taught or who ever wrote learned books of philosophy. It gives all the glory to God and makes man a debtor to grace. It attaches us in gratitude to God with an adoration and sense of duty which nothing else could equally do.

The gospel glorifies every attribute of God in one way or another, and especially those moral attributes of God which are at the heart of salvation: grace, mercy, pity, kindness and love.

But in the second place, the gospel is marvellous because of the blessings of favour it confers on all believers. These blessings are referred to in many passages of Scripture and may be briefly summed up in the one word ‘forgiveness’. God has seen fit not to impute sin to those in Christ. He takes away our sin, has made an end of our transgression, has covered our sin, has forgotten our guilt. He has washed us, cleansed us, sprinkled us. He has cast our iniquity behind his back, has concealed it as with a cloud, has buried it in the depths of the sea, pardoning it and blotting it out.
As a consequence we stand in a new relationship to God. As those whom he has mercifully pardoned we have peace with him, are reconciled to him, stand in his grace, enjoy access to his throne by prayer, rejoice in all present providences and have a joyful expectation of the glory of God soon to come-both his and ours.

The gospel makes us friends of God, servants of God, sons of God and heirs of God. It removes the old hatred on our side and the just displeasure on his. It makes us new men, gives us new hearts, introduces us into a new family and compels us with new ambitions towards the eventual full enjoying of God himself in the glory to come.

The wonders of the gospel are inexhaustible. Every fresh gleam of new understanding we get leads on to still further discoveries of ‘the manifold grace’ of the gospel. So the young believer who glories in his new-found Saviour is as fully drawn with a sense of gratitude to Christ as the old saint who looks back to a lifetime of experiences with Christ.

At every stage of the pilgrim life there are new mercies to see and fresh truths to appreciate as the fullness of Christ is explored and enjoyed.

One of the greatest and most valued of our privileges by the gospel is our eternal security. We are already justified in Christ, are now in the process of being made inwardly perfect and are persuaded that God will never leave us till he has brought us into the state of perfection promised in his Word.

Our persuasion of these things is not founded on one text or two of Scripture but upon ten thousand. We have a God who has promised. We have God’s oath as well as his promise. We know that he not only does not lie but cannot lie. He has bound himself by a covenant arrangement to perform every gospel promise to his children. He has given abundant proof of his reliability in the way we see all his promises fulfilled in the past. We also have the Holy Spirit’s inward testimony to confirm every other means of confidence we possess. God will be perfectly true to his Word and will let no syllable fall to the ground of all that he has promised to us in Christ. The Word and the Spirit alike confirm our hope and reinforce our certainty that our faith in Christ is not in vain. Such, in few words, is the wonder of the gospel of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. It is indeed the evangel and deserves in every way to be called good news. Here is a gospel worthy of the name. Whence, it might be asked, ‘comes such another?’

The Gospel Our Society Needs

There are several comments which need to be made on the relation of this glorious gospel to our modern secular society. For one thing it is painfully evident to all lovers of gospel truth that the world around us was never in greater need of this gospel than it is today.

Our politicians seem to be locked into a vicious circle of small and inadequate solutions to society’s real problems. Perhaps that is to be expected. But even more pathetically many leading churchmen are showing themselves to be incapable of thinking about society’s needs in gospel terms.

The modern world with its secular spirit, its violence and its omnivorous sensuality is the product of forces and agencies which are the very contradiction of the gospel of God. The stern voice of heaven is pointing us to see that these are the bitter fruits of our reprobate society. God is proclaiming as with a trumpet: ‘Here is what becomes of your world without the gospel of my Son Jesus Christ. You have wanted to live without God. Now enjoy the consequences and eat the fruits of it if you can!’

The daily report of our social crimes ought to make us blush. The broken homes, the broken hearts, the ruined lives, the wounded spirits of men, women and children all around us are a painful reminder to us that the secular experiment has failed miserably. If Communism has collapsed in the East, so too has the idol of Mammon failed us in the West. The one is as futile as the other and needs to be toppled as vigorously as we have seen the Berlin Wall come down and as triumphantly as we have seen nations of the East dismantle the statues of Lenin and Marx.

Secular humanism has been tried in the West since the First World War. It has now been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It has reduced once great nations like Britain to spiritual deserts. It has brutalised populations, seared men’s consciences as with a hot iron and given to society a heart of stone which pities none and spares none. Mankind is weary of the gods of pleasure who have ruled over it. The cry goes up to the God of heaven to save us from ourselves and to bring in a new day.

Lovers of the truth see very clearly that what is everywhere needed is a return to the old, despised gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is the only hope for our perverse and twisted society. Wretched, tormented souls of men are perishing for want of attention to the message of a free pardon and a new hope by Christ and through his Cross. Nothing but the glorious gospel of the blessed God can sweeten the bitter waters of modern life. Nothing less than a Saviour and his cleansing blood can halt the tide of violent crime and the threatened breakdown of every social institution. No charity, no philanthropy is so great as that which gives the pure gospel of Christ to mankind. We are in danger of forgetting that amidst the many voices which call for humanitarian and social aid. The one, of course, should be accompanied by the other and normally is. But we must not become brain-washed by the triumphalism of the secular aid-giver. Let us give all the financial and material help we can to the needy of our modern world. But when we have done that we have not done as we ought until we have given men the water of life.

Bring Back the Good Old Gospel

It is not only our modern society which is perishing for want of the pure gospel of salvation. Many modern churches are perishing for the same reason. Too many preachers are feeding stones and not bread to their congregations. Whole churches are little more than armies of skeletons. Thousands of worshippers are crippled with spiritual rickets. What is needed is nothing new, nothing clever, nothing smart but simply to return to the good old gospel of salvation. Whether men will hear or whether they will forbear, they must be given more gospel in their services of worship.
Politicians need to get back to solid moral values. The politician ought to defend the innocent and protect the needy, to punish the guilty effectively and to bring the wheel of righteous judgement over the necks of evil doers. That is his calling and his responsibility and he will answer to God for the way he does it.

Preachers need to get back to the gospel. Let sermons be full of gospel, full of truth, full of Christ, full of the glorious provisions of a merciful God to penitent sinners.

Nothing man can do could be of greater value than to advance and promote the gospel in every sphere of society and at every level. When the Samaritan woman heard the gospel she forgot her water-pots. When modern sinners hear of a Saviour’s grace they will forget their flesh-pots.

It is just a century since the golden voice of C. H. Spurgeon fell silent in our land. We thank God that other eminent preachers have been raised up since his day and that the old gospel which he preached is still heard in our dark world-and now, too, heard in lands where in Spurgeon’s day it was unknown. But who can live to look on the state of our modern world and not inwardly bleed to see what need there is everywhere for the gospel of Christ to be made powerfully known?

If our modern society knew what benefits the gospel confers it would move mountains to have it brought back again from its long, sad exile. Our task as believers at this hour is to persuade our generation that every need it faces is supplied by the unfashionable old gospel which it has rejected. Human powers of persuasion certainly will not succeed of themselves. But it may be that even as we speak of these things God is preparing his chariots and will return in the power of the Spirit when men least expect it. He is able from the very stones to raise up a race of preachers whose proclamation of the ancient evangel will prove irresistible.

This article first appeared in the May 1992 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.

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