That salvation is all of grace from start to finish no true child of God will deny. As one hymnwriter has well written in a hymn about the eternity of God's love for the elect:
Believer here thy comfort stands,- From first to last salvation's free, And everlasting love demands An everlasting song from thee.
From first to last salvation's free-what comforting words. The whole process of salvation, be it the act of choosing by the Father, Christ's atoning work whereby he justifies his people, the effectual work of the Spirit in manifesting that salvation in the elect, all the way to the raising of the body on the last day, is all of grace-all of grace.
The first part of salvation that is manifested in time is the impartation of life to the dead sinner. We firmly assert that the quickening of a dead sinner is solely the work of the Spirit without the use of means and that the gospel proclamation is neither an offer to all indiscriminately nor a command to dead sinners to come alive. The gospel is food for the living not the dead. Therefore we are said to be "hypercalvinists" who do not care to "win souls for Christ" thereby we are walking in disobedience. We have dealt with many aspects of this topic elsewhere so we will not weary the reader by rehashing some arguments that we or other more able writers have dealt with. But because of these accusations we have found it necessary to deal with this subject as to what we believe the Scripture teaches of the place of gospel preaching in the conversion of a sinner. Lest we be misunderstood we will try to lay some groundwork that will better explain not only what we mean but also why we believe this is important.
Some of our own brethren that agree wholeheartedly with us on most issues, we believe wrongfully apply some biblical truth in relation to this subject. Sometimes we can be doctrinally correct but apply that truth wrong biblically. One such example will suffice. A number of years ago we had a debate with some professed brethren that held to the idea that some elect will never come into the knowledge of Christ in this life but still be saved eternally. When we asked them if they knew anyone that they believed perished as far as they could tell they would not answer. When we were more pointed and said: "suppose you witnessed the execution of a serial killer who died cursing God and the family of the his victims as he was being executed would you acknowledge that he went to hell?" The answer we received was "if he wasn't one of the elect."
Now that is a true statement but it is not a biblical one for the Bible is quite clear that no one that dies in unbelief will enter the pearly gates. What they have done was take a doctrinal truth and apply it wrong biblically.
This also happens regarding the purpose of gospel preaching. We heard a dear brother in the Lord who we deeply love and respect make a similar error in stating a truth. He was rightly pointing out the error of those that push so called "soul winning" as if we can win souls. After all doesn't the Scripture say, "he who wins souls is wise?" He rightly applied that to Christ who is the one that the verse is pointing to for it is He that wins the souls. Then the dear brother said, "God does not need us to help him save souls he can do it any time he pleases." That is a truth no one can deny. And if by that statement he merely means that God does not need the preacher to plead and beg and command the sinner to believe; or for the preacher to offer Christ upon conditions; or to find ways and means to get people to hear the gospel and make a decision, then we say a hearty AMEN to the brother. But if by that he means that because God is able to save any of his elect and bring them to a knowledge of and faith in Christ by direct revelation there should not be any attempt by any of his children to bring the gospel to the lost anywhere for fear preaching conditions for salvation then we say this is a wrong application of a truth.
Is it the revealed will of God that he will bring his elect into faith in Christ independent of human instrumentality? That is the question before us and one that we hope to answer with the light we have. We hope to show in this article that God has revealed to us in his Word that the means by which he has chosen to bring the elect to faith in Christ is via the gospel. We are not saying that the gospel produces that faith or that there is something inherent in the gospel to jump-start that faith but that it is upon hearing of the gospel that faith is put into to exercise. There has to be an object for faith since it does not believe in a vacuum. Since we have biblical evidence that God has chosen to use means to reveal the truth concerning Christ to the quickened children of God we must hold to the belief that it is through the gospel that this knowledge of Christ comes from the heart to the head.
Some may falsely accuse us of denying that salvation is all of grace if we believe that the hearing of the gospel is needed to draw out faith in the regenerate sinner. But nonetheless we must be faithful to the Scripture and proclaim truth even when it appears to contradict other aspects of truth.
What we purpose to do is examine Scripture regarding this subject and with the Lord's help attempt to show why we believe that God has chosen to use the preaching of the gospel to bring the quickened children of God into a experimental knowledge of and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we are calling this the necessity of gospel conversion because we believe it is necessary that all of the elect be converted through the gospel be it through preaching via the ear gate, or reading via the eye gate. We actually can call this article The Necessity and Certainty of Gospel Conversion for the Elect of God since we believe that it is not only necessary but certain the all of the elect of God will experience this gospel conversion.
There will he some that will point to those dying in infancy and without the mental faculties to exercise faith. We most certainly are aware of this argument and will attempt to deal with it with the light we have on the subject.
Let us start by saying what we do not mean by the necessity of gospel conversion. We are not saying that the salvation of any sinner is contingent upon any co-operation of man be it the sinner himself or the preacher etc. or that God is incapable of saving any sinner. But that God has, for reasons known only to himself, chosen to use means that he ordains to accomplish his purpose and some of those means involve human instrumentality. Lets look at the most important part of redeeming work of Christ, his death, burial and resurrection. Could God have killed and buried Jesus without the use of human instrumentality? Did he not kill Nadab and Abihu with no help? Did he not have Korah swallowed up alive into the earth without help? Could he not have abstained from using men to accomplish Christ's death and burial? We are sure the reader will answer in the affirmative. But nonetheless he has chosen to use human instrumentality to accomplish that most important aspect of our redemption. But was this a condition that might not come to pass? Absolutely not! God ordained it and it came to pass.
We believe the same is true regarding the elect coming experimentally into a saving knowledge of Christ and we will give what we believe are some watershed passages that substantiate that.
The first one is in John 17:20. There we are told by Jesus in the high priestly prayer that Jesus did not pray for "these alone but for them also which believe on me through their word." It is clear that all of the elect, besides the apostles who are the direct object of the prayer, are described as those that come to faith in him through their word. What does he mean by that? Is it merely those that get converted under their preaching? If so then no one today is included in that high priestly prayer. I think it is obvious that he was referring to the message that they would preach that would eventually be part of Scripture as the sum and substance of the gospel message. So if there are some that have believed in Him through other means than the gospel message would be have biblical reasons to say they are included in this prayer? It is assumed that all he prayed for would come into faith via the same means- the word of the apostles via the preached word.
The next passage is in Romans 10 where we are told: 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 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! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
We have heard two arguments by those denying gospel instrumentality in conversion. One is that the one sent in verse 15 is the Holy Spirit. This cannot be true because the word is plural "they be sent." One might say that the whole Trinity is sent which would make it plural. But we ask- who sends them? We think this is a poor example of proper biblical interpretation. The other interpretation is taken from the passage in Isaiah where the 15th verse is taken from. It is Isaiah 52:7-8 "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion." That doesn't appear to support their view unless you read the previous verse, verse 6 "Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I." That is clearly saying it is God that speaks. But notice again this phrase in the next 2 verses "that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice." It is clear that the watchmen was going to be the one saying "Thy God reigneth" but God attributes it to himself as the one speaking.
There are many other such passages that say God speaks with authority or that God is the one directly teaching his people. What many have unwittingly done is take away the authority of the one sent by God who is speaking on His behalf. When we read that "they will all be taught of God" do we assume that the only way God teaches is by direct revelation? We know that is not true because we would then have no place in the gospel church for "pastors and teachers... for the perfecting of the saints." Do we not all agree that any effectiveness of a preacher comes because God was in the Word making it effective through His Spirit? If God uses his servants to teach an already converted sinner why would he not use the same means to bring one in to the initial knowledge of Christ. It is strange and inconsistent that those that believe God does not use means to give the initial revelation have not opted for the same means in the "growth in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We have yet to meet anyone other than some cultic fanatic that would even flirt with the idea that continued knowledge of Christ for our growth comes only through direct revelation. We would all agree that God does not need a preacher nor a church to cause one of his saints to grow in grace. But that truth cannot be applied in such a way as to deny the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the place of the ministry in a local church. That would result in one being doctrinally correct but biblically incorrect due to a false application of that biblical truth.
The next Scripture we want to deal with is 2Thessalonians 2:14
13 ¶ But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We see in verse 13 the phrase "and belief in the truth" as part of this choosing to salvation. It is through sanctification of the Spirit and this belief in the truth. But notice the next verse "Whereunto he called you BY OUR GOSPEL." The calling to belief in the truth is through the gospel.
As stated above we are not saying that the gospel creates this faith in the sinner for that was already imparted at regeneration. To better understand this look at Romans 1:16-17. Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel and that in the gospel the "righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." What does it mean "from faith to faith?" In Phil 3:9 we read "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through THE FAITH OF CHRIST, the righteousness which is of God by faith:" We read similar phrases in such passages as Galatians 2:16,20 and Romans 3:20 where we read of the faith OF Chris not merely faith IN Christ. We also read of the obedience and blood of Christ unto what we were called to in sanctification of the Spirit (1Pet 1:2). It is Christ's faith and obedience that is imparted in the heart at regeneration. Another passage that expresses this is in Eph 3:12 "In whom [Christ] we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." Both the initial and all subsequent accesses to the throne of grace are because of the faith and obedience of Christ.
Christ doesn't believe or obey for us but it is these that are the gift of God. It is part of those things which he "free gives us" (Rom 8:32). But his faith does not become our faith until it is exercised by us. But how is that done? Paul said "whereunto you were called BY OUR GOSPEL." There is no conscious belief in the truth until the gospel reveals this righteousness of God in the sinner. God writes his laws upon the heart of the elect sinner at regeneration but it is through the gospel coming in through the eye gate or ear gate that brings the truths of God from the subconscious, the heart, to the conscious, the mind.
One more passage will be sufficient to make the point of gospel conversion using gospel preachers. In 2 Tim 2:10 "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Although the child of God is actually justified legally at the resurrection of Christ, Romans 4:25, he or she does not experience actually deliverance from the bondage of sin until they believe on Christ. That is the meaning of all the texts that speak of the sinner being saved in time although already justified in the court of heaven at the resurrection. The meaning of the word "saved" is actually "to be delivered."
The best way to look at this is to look at what took place some 150 years ago when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all the slaves in all the territory at war with the Union. The federal government had to then send out representatives to "proclaim liberty to the captives." Many that were slaves did not know they were free due to their inability to read and that their evil masters kept if from them. The government representatives' job was to inform them and set them free. They were already legally free but not in actual experience. The gospel preacher's job is actually to proclaim the good news to those for whom Jesus died by preaching the death burial and resurrection of Christ and what he accomplished by that.
So what Paul is saying in that text in 2Tim 2:10 is that he is willing to endure all types of afflictions for the elect's sakes so that they will obtain this deliverance in time. If deliverance could come by direct revelation why would Paul even make that statement for he would not be needed in its accomplishment. Paul understood that God had chosen a means of bringing the knowledge of Christ to the quickened sinner that he might believe and be delivered. And that means was the preaching of the gospel.
So far we have dealt with the Scriptures we believe support the idea that faith in Christ is drawn out of the sinner via the gospel and why we believe many apply verses wrongfully. We trust that we have handled these verses honestly with the light we have. We now want to deal with the subject of those dying in infancy and those not having mental faculties to exercise faith. Are they all non-elect?
Lets start out by saying that we do not have sufficient light from Scripture to say dogmatically that those dying in infancy are elect. We have examined the passages that are commonly used and are not convinced that the subject is a settled matter. But giving the possibility that some are elect we will give our comments as the Lord directs.
Suppose that one aborted in the womb was one of the elect and God brought that child directly into heaven at the point of his or her death. Even if the Lord had not regenerated that child in the womb but just took the child immediately into heaven and regenerated he or she there I do not think anyone would say God was unfair or that God could not do that. Would many also say the same about God had he ordained that one of his elect would die as a murderer with no remorse and choose not to regenerate that sinner in this life? Would that make God unjust? The first reaction most of us would have is that it would. That is because of the inherent Pelagianism of our nature that man by nature is born innocent. But the infant deserved hell as much as the murderer and both would have to enter heaven the same way-through Christ! So we acknowledge that salvation is the same for both. And if God has so chose that some of his elect would not come into the faith in this life he has a right to do that. But he has not given us anything in his revealed will to suggest that so that is not our rule.
But what about infants since we are saying that all of the elect will experience gospel conversion? Can anyone say that God is not able to make an infant understand and believe the gospel? We do have John the Baptist's record of leaping in his mother's womb upon hearing about the Christ; so we do have biblical warrant to say such a thing can happen. We do not know if some dying in infancy or the mentally disabled have believed through a miracle by God. The reason we cannot make a judgment about an infant or someone without the faculties to manifest saving faith is because we cannot tell if they were a believer. But that is not the case where someone is living in open sin and worshipping an idol. If they have not heard and believed the gospel we have every biblical warrant to say they are not numbered among the elect if they die in that condition. Since we know from Scripture that God can and has enabled one in the womb to understand and respond to the testimony of Christ (John the Baptist), we must stand our ground as stated in this matter. We cannot make the exception the rule as many do.
We know of some that make the exception the rule regarding church membership using as an example those that are in isolation such as Christian's in the military or those who are shut-ins due to physical disabilities. Because of these exceptions that can't be helped they think it is okay for any Christian to live a life of isolation from the people of God. Many that would rightfully react to that line of reasoning make the same mistake regarding the salvation of those dying in infancy.
Another area that must be address and one we admit is a little more vague is that of what we like to call the mystery of history. In Ephesians 1:9-10 " Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and shich are on earth." Some may wonder that this has to do with the conversion of sinners via the gospel. God's absolute predestinating of all things must be viewed at in the light of the salvation of the elect. We read in Isa. 43 "For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life." This Old Testament passage shows how God has used the heathen to accomplish his purpose for his people. God moves heaven and earth for his elect with the purpose of bringing them all to Himself. We recall hearing someone once say that had the Vietnam war not broke out there would never have been an opportunity for the gospel to get in there. Can we not look at that as the providence of God in opening a door via the wrath of men to call out his elect there?
In Benjamin Griffin's "History of Mississippi Primitive Baptists" published in 1853 he made this statement when trying to show how the great commission was given only to the apostles:
"We would now ask every intelligent Christian, whether the gospel was sent to the heathen land of America by a Missionary Society, or the providence of God? The truth is, that the Holy Ghost, it seems, has never adopted any other mode than persecution in some shape for sending the gospel from one country to another. This was commenced at Jerusalem, and has been continued ever since. "Wo unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but wo to that man by whom the offence cometh."
There are few if any that would deny that God had a hand in history which brought the gospel to America. When God had elect among the native Americans he moved the hand of man to bring the gospel to this land. If we hold to the notion that God does not use human instrumentality then we have drained the life blood out of the meaning behind history. But if we see history as His-story, the story of God calling the elect using the acts of men then we can better see the hand and purpose of God in history.
What shall we say to these things? Since we believe that the preaching of the gospel is the means of bringing the quickened sinner into the faith in Christ how should we then live? Should we then be out coming up with every man made scheme to "win souls for Christ?" Should we then bind the conscience of the people of God to give more and do more in the energy of the flesh in hopes of saving a soul from perishing? That also is a wrong application of a truth not to mention bringing false doctrine in with it. We need not resort to begging and pleading and offering Christ to sinners because that only implies salvation upon conditions. But what we should be careful of is not prayerfully considering where God would use either other members or us in our own church to reach some of his lost elect.
It is our belief that the those that have been the most faithful in carrying the torch of the truth of salvation all of grace, as have the Old Baptists, have so misapplied these truths that it has resulted in a decline in their own numbers. Not because God was unable to save his elect but because God has used others that have preached the gospel of free grace but have not been as close to the truth in other areas. Nonetheless these newly quickened children of God that have come to the knowledge of Christ via these churches stick with those churches that brought them the good news of Christ. It was not too many generations ago that there were many Old School Baptist churches in our very state that faithfully preached the gospel preaching to large congregations. It is our belief that because of the fear of going the way of the Arminian or Fullerite with their conditional works gospel they have not been as faithful as they could have been in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to the lost sheep. As a result other churches have reaped the fruit of these conversions.
We know that many of our brethren might believe that we have gone the way of the conditional work mongers and are advocating that we need to "stir up the masses to reach the lost of Christ." This we deny since any man made efforts will only produce the works of man. But we are saying that we should desire to "preach Christ crucified" whenever we can get an ear to hear and for more reasons than merely calling out the elect.
We would like to look at one more passage briefly to show why we believe the gospel should be preached whenever and wherever God opens a door and we should pray for opened doors.
In 2Cor 2:12-17 we read:
"Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia. 14 But thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. 15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: 16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."
What we see here in this text are two fruits of gospel preaching not including the calling out of the elect. First we have in verse 14 "the triumph in Christ." What gospel preaching does is cause the Christian to walk in the same victory that Christ walked in triumphing over his enemies. This is by "making manifest the savour of his knowledge...in every place." Who can deny that this is not a motive to preach Christ? To make manifest knowledge of Christ in every place should be the desire of His beloved. Should not the children of Zion desire to have their King be known? Paul did. We may not be able to fit the reasons for Paul desiring this into all of our theology, but nonetheless he desired it and we should as well.
Then there is in very 15 the next reason for preaching the gospel and that is because when we do we are a "sweet savour of Christ" UNTO GOD! The gospel is a sweet fragrance in the nostrils of God. Some try to merely interpret this that we are a sweet savour of life to the elect and death to the reprobate but Paul says we are a sweet savour unto God.
We trust that we have handled these various texts faithfully with the light the Lord has given us. If any of our brethren believe we have not then we most assuredly welcome any correspondence that would shed more light on the subject. May the Lord grant both writer and reader more light and more grace to "buy the truth and sell it not."