Pristine Grace

Say it with Flowers
by Peter L. Meney

'I don't believe in election'.

'But its in the Bible.' 'What do you mean you don't believe in it?'

'I don't believe in it the way you do.'

'Well, how do you believe in it?'

'Certainly not that God chose only some people for salvation so that whatever they did they would be saved and everyone else lost. That's horrible and unfair. I prefer to think of it as God looking into the future and seeing how people would react when they hear the gospel, then conditionally electing them to heaven or hell based on that response. Anyway, doesn't Paul speak somewhere of foreknowledge?'

For many people the logic expressed above is copper-bottomed. It satisfies their idea of fairness and equitableness. After all, God would not do something that was unfair, and, they feel, people being damned without having a chance to be saved is just about as unfair as can be imagined.

Answer this...

Alright, let's press the logic a little. What about those who never hear the gospel? Are their 'chances' of salvation diminished by never hearing Jesus' name? What about those who died before Christ came into the world, or those who lived and died before the gospel ever reached their country? What about unevangelised lands today? Where do infants, imbeciles and aborted foetuses show up?

A different basis?

It is popular to imagine that people who never hear the gospel are judged on a different basis and under different criteria than those who hear and reject the Christian message. But if this is so why do we take the gospel to them at all? Such people could legitimately claim that we are simply jeopardising the blissful ignorance from which they might secure some merciful dispensation from God on the basis they never heard the gospel and had no opportunity to accept Christ?

What of people steeped in Islam or Buddhism? Do such people have the same chance of salvation by Christ as those who live under freedom of religion? Is it 'fair' that one person is a child of the manse and another a child of the public house? What of those who have been born into squalor and degradation, who revert to crime in the absence of an alternative. Do they really have the same chance as your children?

Crusade junkies

Is it fair that some people get to hear a thousand gospel sermons and others hear only one? And what if they happen to have toothache on that one occasion? Is it fair that one person gets to hear Billy Graham and another has to make do with some small town nobody with an abrasive accent? Is that fair?

The logicians have thought of that, too. For them, conditional election is not only based on God's knowing what individuals would chose in the future. It is not restricted to God knowing what they actually do, but, and get this, it allows for what they would do under perfect or optimal conditions.

I have heard this idea seriously espoused by Arminians. God, they say, not only knows what people do with Christ but He knows what they would have done had they not been subject to all the hindrances of sin. God therefore discounts all the hurdles of time, age, intellect, poverty, religious affiliation etc., etc. He then elects on the basis of what people would do with Christ if they had perfect knowledge and perfect opportunity. Why not? Its fair.

A peculiar papist dimension

Roman Catholics have a quaint adaptation of this 'equal chance for all' logic. Some believe that Jesus Christ personally visits every single person at the moment of their death and gives them one final opportunity to receive salvation.

And if that does not seem fair-that both good and bad get a final chance-they have even refined it to accommodate good works. The 'odds' of this chance is determined by how good the person has been in their life under whatever moral code they happen to have lived. Live honourably by your law or moral standard and your chance to be saved at the precise moment of death is increased. Fail to live well and the odds are proportionately diminished. Neat.

Gospel offers-free and fair?

Ironically, this slavish devotion to equity and fairness is the very same ethos that prompts the widespread idea of free-offer preaching amongst so-called reformed evangelicals. They tell us that regardless of election, predestination and the eternal decrees of God, there remains a genuine, well-meant and sincere 'offer' of salvation in all gospel preaching that the sinner is able to accept or reject.

It is this construction of gospel ministry that encourages many evangelical churches to engage in free-will style gimmicks to attract people to church. After dinner sermons and breakfast buffet epilogues might appeal to novelty hungry men and women of the world, but they are concocted by professing believers who have a totally wrong notion of what the gospel message actually is.

The gospel is not a 'take it or leave it' offer. It is a quickening lifeline to God's lost sheep. It is the call of the Master-shepherd, the empowering tool of God the Holy Spirit as He actually and effectually saves the elect of God and only the elect of God. To the non-elect, the reprobate, the gospel is not an offer of grace but the stench of hell in their nostrils. The Apostle Paul calls it the savour of death.

Bondage of the will

Part of the trouble with today's crippling subjection to 'fairness' is a failure to start at the right place when thinking about gospel preaching. Most preachers imagine they are speaking to impartial listeners. They assume that if they make a cogent and attractive presentation they are giving their listeners the best chance possible of receiving Christ. They are trying to reach the will by convincing the intellect. When this fails some are not above trying to reach the will via the emotions. Both routes are bound to fail for the simple reason that a sinner's will is not impartial. It is solidly opposed to Christ.

A tulip of great worth

Many years ago delegates at the Synod of Dort (see page 9), systematised the essential nature of evangelical doctrine under five heads of doctrine. In time these became known as the doctrines of grace and by the acronym TULIP. This stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Do not fear the theology of these terms, they comprise the essence of gospel truth. Get to know these doctrines and you will be well equipped to understand the nature of the gospel.

The delegates realised that contrary to the teachings of Jacobus Arminius, when we preach Jesus Christ we must preach Him in the context of true Bible doctrine.

Total depravity

Consequently, true preaching proclaims 'Total depravity'. It teaches not only the inability of the sinner but the natural antipathy of the sinner against God. Sinners are repulsed by grace. They hate the one true God. They hate Christ and despise His sacrifice. They tread His blood underfoot. They are neither sympathetic to nor accommodating of the gospel. Ever so politely they live and demonstrate Total depravity.

Unconditional election

True preaching proclaims Unconditional election. It acknowledges God's right and freedom to select whomsoever He chooses to salvation. It humbly accepts God's wisdom in eternal matters. It does not rate fallen man's notions of what is fair and what is not. It accepts that God's electing grace and gift of salvation is based on nothing done by man or thought by man. It is bestowed freely and totally without conditions.

Limited atonement

True preaching proclaims Limited atonement. It rejoices in an atonement that actually accomplishes the redemption of elect sinners. Those whom God has chosen are those for whom Christ died. The benefits of Christ's death are bestowed only on those whom God has elected to salvation. Hence the extent of the atonement is restricted or 'limited' to those only for whom the Lord died. Only the sins of the elect are paid for by our Lord's sacrifice. For everyone else judgement will be eternally applied in hell.

Irresistible grace

True preaching proclaims Irresistible grace. It teaches that God's sovereign purposes to save certain chosen sinners will certainly be accomplished. Despite man's natural rebellion and total depravity God will powerfully and irresistibly bring salvation to His chosen people by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the true gospel.

Perseverence of the saints

True preaching proclaims Perseverence of the saints. It sees the implication of all of the foregoing truths and believes that despite sin, all those elected by God, redeemed by Christ, irresistibly called by the Holy Spirit, are eternally secure and will persevere through all the trials and temptations of this life to enter eternal life in the presence of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The power of God unto salvation

When it comes to preaching (and hearing) the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, only the full-orbed doctrines of sovereign grace do justice to God's wonderful plan of salvation. Say it with flowers!