The Amazing Gospel
‘Thus saith the Lord: Behold I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwelling-places; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap.’
The gospel is something which comes from God: ‘Thus saith the Lord’. I shall deal with this principle more in detail later on. What I desire to indicate here and now is that if we fail to realize that the gospel and all it professes is primarily an activity on the part of God and not on the part of man, we have entirely failed to understand it. Of course, man has something, and indeed much, to do in the scheme of salvation but all that is secondary. Man only begins to act after God has first acted and has rendered man capable of action. What is the Bible after all but an account of God’s activity and action in the matter of human salvation. It is not a manual of instructions designed to tell us how to save ourselves, it is a revelation and a proclamation of what God has done in order to bring that salvation to pass. Salvation then is something which is already complete and entire in God’s hands. It is something which he has to give and which he is willing and ready to give. He has done the work, he has taken the action and you and I, if we are Christians, recognize and acknowledge gladly and with thanksgiving that we are what we are and have what we have solely and entirely by ‘the grace of God’.
This comes first. Before you begin with your good deeds, before you begin to prepare your programmes and plans and set out after your high ideals – stop! Have you listened to what God says? Do you understand this, ‘Thus saith the Lord’? Are you planning in accordance with what he announces or are you drawing merely on your own ideas and imaginations? That which starts with man and his attempts to find God, instead of starting with God’s way of finding and saving man, is not the gospel. Had you realized that? The gospel starts with God and comes from him.
And because of that we are able to announce as our second controlling principle that the gospel is essentially supernatural both as regards its nature and also its mode of action. It is a miracle. ‘The city shall be builded upon her own heap.’ Salvation according to the Bible is something large, something vast. And there is no better test which can be applied to anything that professes and offers itself as the gospel as this test of greatness or of scope. It is so great according to New Testament writers that no terms are quite adequate to describe it except such terms as rebirth, renovation, regeneration. It is something which makes all things new. The gospel is not merely meant to make us a little better and to hold out ideals for us. It does not offer itself as a mere veneer on our lives. It is something which completely and entirely changes us. It is face to face with this truth that all the vapid idealisms and moralisings that so frequently pass as the gospel today are seen to be so hopelessly inadequate.
But because the gospel is essentially miraculous and supernatural it follows that it is not only large and vast in its scheme and its action, it must also be something that comes as a surprise to man and which in its essence is incomprehensible to man. It is marvelous, astonishing and invariably moves all who truly see it to a cry of wonder and amazement. Here again we have but to recall one of those great exclamations of a man like Paul as he contemplates the gospel. ‘Great is the mystery of godliness’, he cries (1 Tim. 3:16). Then again, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ (Rom. 11:33). And with him all the saints at all times and everywhere have owned themselves as being ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’ as they contemplate the gospel. But if the gospel is merely something that exhorts us to live a better life and to be good and kind, if it is but a social and ethical scheme, something which primarily asks us to do something rather than an announcement of what God has done, it cannot possibly evoke such a response. It then becomes just one among a number of philosophies and schemes of life which we may affirm, but it definitely ceases to be something which breaks in upon us and overwhelms us with its majesty and its graciousness. But such is always the effect of the gospel which announces God’s action. He amazed Abraham and Jacob and David and the prophets and all the New Testament saints as we have already seen. Does what you have always regarded as the gospel do that to you? Has the word of God come to you and has it filled you with ‘wonder, love and praise’? The apprehension of God’s action always leads to that.
This article first appeared in the February 1995 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.