19 February, 2017

Chapter 1

What is the Call of the Gospel?

Before His ascension, Christ commanded His church to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations. None should doubt the importance of the accuracy of the message which we must bring and of the knowledge of its effect in this world. Heppe tells us of the three important ingredients of the gospel:

This word is of three kinds: (1) witness or proclamation, that God in Christ has given the world new salvation and life; (2) the command that those who hear this proclamation believe it with remorseful and penitent hearts; and (3) the promise that those who believe this proclamation with upright hearts really attain to the salvation prepared in Christ.3

A. What is the Gospel?

1. It is the good news of salvation through the Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

The bad news of the Fall.

The Fall of man into sin in the Garden of Eden is bad news for mankind, notwithstanding the fact that God did turn that evil around even for the good of His people. Before the Fall, God saw that everything that He had created was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Every change was good news, but not the good news of salvation, as there was no Fall as yet to make salvation necessary. So the gospel presupposes the Fall—the “bad news” in the history of mankind.

It was good that man was created “in our image, after our likeness” according to God’s own Word. Without the understanding of this original goodness in the human race, there would be no proper understanding of the Fall of man. The concept of the Fall implies a standing position from which the Fall took place. This standing position is obviously the original rectitude of man. Without this original righteousness, holiness, and true knowledge of man, there would be no Fall to talk about.

The story of the Fall in Genesis 3 is the Bible’s bad news of what happened to our first parents. The Belgic Confession confesses,

But being in honor he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life which he had received he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death.4

It is obvious that the bad news is very bad. Death has come upon this creation, with man in the forefront to experience both corporal and spiritual death. Death is not a natural phenomenon, but the judgment and curse of God upon man and this creation because of the Fall. Man by nature does not like this truth about himself, as it is truly humbling to his sinful pride. By all means he would rather think of himself otherwise than in terms of the Fall. Yet, he must explain the obvious imperfection of man. Hence, he came up with the theory of evolution.

All theories of evolution are the devil’s wiles to rob man of any idea of the Fall in man. In evolution, the lower forms of life evolve to more complex and better forms of life, culminating in the nature of man. Therefore, any weaknesses and failures (and sinfulness) in man is attributed to parts of the evolutionary process. There is, therefore, no Fall at all, but only the process of evolution to a better being. This is the lie of the devil.

Without the bad news of the Fall there is not good news of redemption.

The good news of redemption.

Redemption speaks of a price paid to bring man back to fellowship with God again. That indeed is good news to man, for there is nothing more glorious to him than to be in communion with His God, in whose image he was first created. But ...

They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.5

Good news can never arise from man himself. Adam and Eve tried to bring good news with their “fig leaves” to cover up the shame of their sins. Later their firstborn, Cain, tried with his fruits and other produce of the ground, but to no avail. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. God alone can bring the good news to man, as He alone can create that good news. The protevangel (“mother-promise”) is found here:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.6

These were words of curse upon the devil pronounced by God in the presence of our fallen parents. As such it was also a promise to them that God will fight for them the fierce battle against the devil and defeat him. This victory (according to this prophecy) will come through the “seed” of the woman, who should bruise the head of the devil and destroy him. In the course of the battle, the heel of the woman’s seed would be bruised. This is the prophecy concerning the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

From the protevangel to the first advent of Christ, there were many more prophecies through the types and shadows of the Old Testament, giving greater details concerning the coming of the Messiah. All these were and still are good news of His work of redemption. They are the gospel, and are still relevant today when carefully and faithfully preached.

Now in the New Testament era, we know that this promised Messiah is none other than the Second Person of the Godhead, who became flesh and dwelt among men in order to save a people whom His Father had given Him to represent legally and spiritually. For them He had paid the penalty of all their sins on the cross of Calvary and fulfilled all righteousness according to the Law of God. His resurrection from the dead was because of their justification. So the good news of Jesus Christ is that He did it all to save a people that is represented by the church today.

The good news of conversion.

The good news (or gospel) goes beyond announcing what God the Father had planned to do, and what God the Son had executed in His work of redemption, into what God the Holy Spirit is presently doing in applying this salvation to mankind.

The good news is that out of all the sons and daughters of Adam, dead and totally helpless in trespasses and sins, God the Holy Spirit would raise to spiritual life a people whom God had chosen in His love to save and for whom Christ had died and rose again. All that is necessary for their salvation is found in the redemptive work of Christ. The Holy Spirit applies these benefits to the chosen of God in time, so that they come to the conscious knowledge of their salvation, and thus live the remaining days of their lives in joy and thankfulness under the lordship of Christ. The good news is incomplete without this promise of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Westminster Larger Catechism is clear on this:

Q. 59:
Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

A. 59:
Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.

Notice that the enabling work of the Holy Ghost is something “according to the gospel,” and that it is very particular in its effectual communication of redemption. The first sign of life as the Holy Spirit regenerates is conversion. It is good news that God should promise conversion among the children of men.

2. The gospel is the authoritative announcement of this good news.

This good news must be published throughout the whole world.

This good news of the gracious work of the triune God must be published throughout the whole world. That this is the purpose of God was already hinted at in the time of the Old Testament, and also during the earthly ministry of the Lord.

Though not in a big way like the time of the New Testament, there was already an indication that God did gather His children from nations other than the Jewish nation. Before there was the Jewish nation, we read of Melchisedek, the priest of the Most High God and king of Salem, to whom even father Abraham gave tithe. Then we read of the conversion of Ruth of Moab, Rahab of Jericho, and the inhabitants of Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah. During the time of Moses we also read of initiatory rites for non-Jews to join the Passover:

And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.7

In the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, He went to bear witness of the truth to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). He also ministered to the Syrophenician woman (Mark 7:25-30). The clearest indication of this purpose of God was in the great commission given to His church at the time of His ascension (Matt. 28:29ff.). The Book of the Acts of the Apostles records such activities of the church. All the New Testament books were the result of these activities.

Our Canons, in the Second Head and Article 5, state:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

The importance of the authoritative announcement of this news.

The gospel must be published with the authority from heaven above. In giving the great commission, Jesus gave the following preamble: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). ξουσία (exousia) is used here to refer to “authority.” The one with authority in heaven and earth had commissioned this world-evangelism program. Peter’s message to Cornelius, a Gentile, is a point in hand:

The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.8

When we hear of important news which would affect our very lives, we immediately and naturally want to know how authentic that news is. The gospel is no trivial news, as it involves our eternity. God never treated its announcement in this world lightly, but with great care has ensured that it is authoritatively announced in this world.

The apostle Paul spoke of this authoritative preaching of the gospel in Romans 10:

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!9

The word for “preach” in our text is κηρύσσω (kérussó) which speaks the official activity of a monarch’s herald. Such a herald goes in the name and authority of the king. The king shall not hold the herald guiltless if he should meddle with the message which He wants His citizens to receive with all clarity, confidence, and authority. It is not an overstatement to say that the unity, health, and strength of the nation or people depend on how reliable the heralds are, and how well the citizens receive their words. Where there is no authority there can be no trust, and where there is no trust there can be no good news of salvation.

3. The church alone is called to do that.

It was the church which the Lord Jesus commissioned to preach the gospel to all nations. This is obvious from the fact that the apostles themselves, who received that commission, were not able to live long enough to carry it out to completion. Only the church which continues to this day, to the end of time, is able to do that.

The apostle Paul called the church the “pillar and ground of truth,” as he understood the church to be the place where the truth of God’s Word is set forth and defended in its preaching and living.
Without a faithful community, the Word of God cannot be set forth in a living way in this world. The church is not a regular gathering of people of the same interest to encourage one another in that interest. It is a society of people which may be properly called a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (I Pet. 2:9). The church has its own life and peculiar character, which can grow and develop as she serves her Lord in this world.

The Lord calls and sends preachers through the church. Besides the apostles, no one receives direct commission from the Lord. This order must be respected to maintain authority in the preaching today. The self-proclaimed preachers today do not have the authority from Christ, and they are bringing confusion to Christianity with their messages unauthenticated and non-illustrated in any community of God’s people. They must be clearly denounced by faithful churches for the sake and interest of the authority of the Word.

The officebearers, whom the Lord does give to the church, should be faithful to uphold the gospel in her preaching, discipline, and encouragement. In this way the gospel will go to the ends of the world for the gathering of the chosen ones of God out of every nation, tongue, and tribe.

B. Wherein Lies the Call of the Gospel?

1. The nature of a call.

A call is a communication of thoughts which demands a direct response.

Not all communications of thoughts constitute a call. Often we communicate just for the sake of passing information. At other times thoughts are communicated just for sheer delight. But when a communication demands a direct response, then such communication is a call.

A call consists of the following three essential elements: the identity of the caller (directly or implied) made known to the called, the identity of the called directly or implied in the call, a set of instructions (however simple) given and expected to be followed.

The different types of calls and their respective implications.

There are many different types of calls, depending on the who and what of the above three essential elements that constitute the call. For example, you can have a call of duty in cases where the caller and called stand in a permanent relationship of supervision. You can also have the call of filial piety, a business call, a social call, et cetera.

Our interest here in this paper is only on the call of the gospel as it is controverted with regards to the call as a well-meant offer. It must be noted here that we are not talking about the internal effectual call, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, whereby only the elect are called to regeneration and spiritual life. Here we are interested in the external, general call, whereby all men are called “promiscuously” (to use the term used in the Canons) to God and His fellowship. Heppe made this sharp distinction thus:

This calling is imparted only to the elect; God not only has His word proclaimed to them through man (vocatio externa), but also introduces it by the H. Spirit into their hearts and there sets up living communion with Christ (vocatio interna).—HEIDEGGER (XXI, 8): “Calling is of those elect and redeemed through Christ. These alone are so called that they are also attracted and created new and begotten. They alone are those for whom God not only strikes their ears by His word preached through men, but also attacks their hearts, opening them, writing His law in them, changing them and inflaming them to love him.”10

2. What is the call in relation to the gospel?

It is the present, authoritative call of the coming Judge, in saving the world, before the final Day of Judgment.

Jesus is the coming Judge as appointed by God. There will be a day of final judgment in which this present world shall come to an end and all men, both great and small, shall stand before him to be judged according to their works and the grace of God (Rev. 20:11-15).

But before that great and glorious day, Jesus is also the Savior of the world. He, therefore, at present, issues the call of the gospel for the purpose of saving this world. At Mars’ hill, to the men of Athens, the apostle Paul reveals as much in his preaching:

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.11

The essential elements in this call.

The essential elements in the call of the gospel are set forth in Paul’s description of his own ministry:

And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.12

(a) It is a call to repentance of sins.

This sets forth the proper relationship between God who calls and men who receive the call. It is a relationship of the Creator and creatures who were created rational and moral. As such, when man falls into sin, the demand to repent is legitimate. It is therefore a call to the proper duty of man. Here it must be emphasized that actual sins must be dealt with to bring about genuine conversion.

This is what Heppe called “the vocatio universalis and naturalis,” in contrast with “vocatio specialis, supernaturalis and evangelica.”13 The latter is a call addressing the chosen of God, while the former, men in general.

(b) It is a call to faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to fellowship with God except by Him (John 14:6). Coming to Christ is a proper duty of fallen man, whether or not he has a personal interest in Him. Arminius challenged the propriety of calling all men after the Fall to faith in Christ. He wrote:

I say and affirm, asseverate, profess and teach that Adam before his fall had not power to believe in Christ because there was no need of faith in Christ; and therefore that God could not have demanded this faith from him after his fall (to wit, by this right) because Adam had criminally lost that power to believe (“Apology or Defence ... Against Certain Theological Articles,” 19 in The Writings of James Arminius [1956], 1:333).14

Turretin answered Arminius’ question very well that, indeed, Adam had that power to believe in Christ even before the Fall, should God have been pleased then to reveal the coming Fall and redemption plan in Christ to him.15 The Fall made not only Adam but all his posterity unable to obey God’s commandment as well as to believe in Christ. This inability is no reason for the gospel call not to include calling men to their bounden duty. This controversy in Arminius’ day also demonstrates that the serious call of the gospel is a matter of the command anchored upon original rectitude of man and not a matter of the offer.

In this connection, it is improper, in the external, general call, to call all men to believe that Christ died for all men, head for head. The simple reason why this may not be done is that God would not require people to believe in something which is not true. It is simply not true that Christ died for all men head for head. If that be true, then all men would be saved, given the substitutionary nature of Christ’s Atonement.

Cunningham says:

This revelation [that the gospel be preached to every creature LCK] does not warrant us in telling them that Christ died for all and each of the human race—a mode of preaching the gospel never adopted by our Lord and His apostles.16

Turretin rightly says:

Christ is not revealed in the Gospel as having died for me in particular; but only as having died in general for those who believe and repent. Hence I reason from that faith and repentance which I find actually to exist in my heart, that Christ has, indeed, died for me in particular. I know that he died for all who fly to him; hence I can and should infer that he died for me. That the faith commanded in the Gospel is not a direct and immediate belief that Christ died for me, appears from this consideration: that when it is enjoined either by Christ or his apostles, no mention is made of its being applied to this or that man, in particular. It is set forth only in a general relation to duty, or to blessings promised to those who believe; as in Matt.xvi.16. Peter, in his celebrated declaration of faith, professes no more than this: that he believes Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. John vi.69: “We believe and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” Paul demands no more of those who believe unto salvation, than “to confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, and to believe with the heart that God raised him from the dead.”—Rom.x.9. Thus, when the saints are commanded to believe in the Son of God, they are bound indeed to believe that Christ is the true Messiah, and to fly to him as the only author of salvation, to those who, through faith and repentance, betake themselves to him; and these acts must take place before they are bound to believe that Christ died for them.17

John Murray said the same thing concerning faith:

The faith of which we are now speaking is not the belief that we have been saved but trust in Christ in order that we may be saved. And it is of paramount concern to know that Christ is presented to all without distinction to the end that they may entrust themselves to him for salvation. The gospel offer is not restricted to the elect or even to those for whom Christ died. And the warrant of faith is not the conviction that we are elect or that we are among those for whom, strictly speaking, Christ died, but the fact that Christ, in the glory of his person, in the perfection of his finished work, and in the efficacy of his exalted activity as King and Saviour, is presented to us in the full, free, and unrestricted overture of the gospel. It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved.18

While it is improper to call all men to believe that Christ died for all of them, it is certainly proper to call all men to believe that salvation of mankind is totally the work of God through Christ alone, and He saves whom He will. Everyone is under obligation to believe that, whether or not he or she has an interest in Christ. Having an obligation does not mean that one has the ability to do so. In fact, none has the ability to do that without the grace of God. Faith here is the gift of God. This faith necessarily manifested in this way at this stage of its development will blossom into a confession that Christ died for one personally in time.

This call has no objective indication of God’s grace and desire to save all to whom the call comes.

Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 20:16). It is only the few chosen ones who are effectually called by the Holy Spirit in their hearts to salvation (Rom. 8:30). The many who are called are called by the general call of the gospel.

In the general call of the gospel, men are called to seek salvation from God. This is their proper duty to do as creatures created by God after His image and likeness and who had grievously fallen into sin and miseries. This call is not without the setting forth of the gospel as we have earlier described in this paper—a gospel of salvation by the triune God according to His own sovereign, particular grace.

As to whether God would save everyone who hears this gospel call, there is no indication. However, there is the particular, unconditional promise of the gospel, whereby God promised to save all those who truly repent and trust in His Son Jesus Christ, which must accompany the preaching of the gospel as well. This promise is peculiarly designed for those who have shown signs of God’s grace in their lives.


3. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, Ruskin House, Museum Street, 1950), p. 515.

4. Belgic Confession, Art. 14.

5. Psalm 49:6-9.

6. Genesis 3:15.

7. Exodus 12:48.

8. Acts 10:36-42.

9. Romans 10:13-15.

10. Heinrich Heppe. Reformed Dogmatics, p. 512.

11. Acts 17:30-31.

12. Acts 20:20-21.

13. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 510.

14. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992), p. 571.

15. Ibid., pp. 571-573.

16. William Cunningham, Historical Theology: A Review of the Principal Doctrinal Discussions in the Christian Church Since the Apostolic Age, vol. II (Banner of Truth Trust, 1969), p. 345.

17. Francis Turretin, The Atonement of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), pp. 179-181.

18. John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), pp. 134-135. It is interesting to note that Murray used both the terms “gospel offer” and “presented” here.

No comments:

Post a Comment