Pristine Grace

To Whom Is The Gospel Preached?
by Silas Durand
To Whom Is The Gospel Preached?

     Many who are evidently children of God believe that the gospel is preached to those dead in sin for the purpose of quickening them; that the Lord uses the ministry of the word as the ordinary means of bringing his people from death to life. I believe this to be an error, and like all error it tends to the discomfort of those among the living family of God who embrace it.

     Throughout the scriptures living souls are designated as the subjects of gospel address. "He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor." (Luke 4:18) "The poor have the gospel preached to them." (Matt. 11:5) "Children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth the Lord, unto you is the word of this salvation sent." (Acts 13:26) "Ho, every one that thirsteth." (Isaiah 55:1) "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." (Rom.1:16) All these, the poor, those who fear God, the thirsty and the believer, are living characters. But when it is said that to such only is the gospel sent, then some will assume that we believe that the minister must be careful to select those whom he knows to be the elect and speak only to them. The apostles whom the Saviour sent "unto all the world," that is, among Gentile nations as well as to the Jews, could not know the elect until they were manifest by believing the gospel which they preached. They proclaimed the gospel, the glad tidings of salvation, wherever a door was opened in providence to all that came within the sound of their voice; and so do all of the ministers of Jesus Christ. But none hear it spiritually but those who have spiritual ears; none believe it but those who have faith to believe. Some say it is to be preached to those without faith. In a literal sense this is true, but not in order to produce faith in them, but to separate from among them those who have faith. Paul tells some unto whom the gospel was preached who were not profited by it because they had no faith. (Heb. 4:2)

     If one should be sent with a message from a king to all his subjects in a certain distant land, he would not have to inquire out those subjects before delivering it; for the message itself, proclaimed openly among the people, would find out those in whose native language it was delivered, and thus distinguish them from among all the multitudes as the ones unto whom it was sent. So the gospel is a message of glad tidings sent in the language of Canaan, and though proclaimed among all people, none hear and understand but those who have been born of God. Unto these he "has turned a pure language," and by hearing and believing that sweet message they are manifest as those unto whom it was sent by the Great King. These are new creatures in Christ, unto all of whom the gospel is preached.

     The Saviour said to his apostles, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." The expression "every creature" is acknowledged by all to have a limited meaning. Unlimited, it would embrace the animal creation. But all must acknowledge that it is still further limited, for it could not include infants and those not literally capable of hearing and understanding. (This shows that the preaching of the gospel is not necessary to eternal salvation, as some ignorantly imagine, for infants of days, removed from this world, sing the glory through Jesus Christ our Saviour.) But of those who are capable of hearing and understanding naturally, how very few have ever heard the literal sound of the gospel. If, then, we understand the Saviour's command to the apostle to be that they should preach the gospel to every one of the race of Adam who was capable of hearing and understanding the words, we must conclude that his command has not been obeyed, and that the will of God has not been done. But this cannot be, for many scriptures declare that all of his will is done in heaven and on earth; that whatsoever his soul desireth even that he doeth." Also, he declared that "The poor have the gospel preached to them." And an inspired apostle has said that this gospel of the kingdom was preached to every creature which is under heaven. (Col. 1:23) It has been asserted that the expression, "every creature," as used by the apostle does not mean the same as when used by the Saviour. But to prove this assertion the very point in controversy is assumed. It is said that the apostle could not have meant that the Saviour's command was fulfilled, because the gospel had not then been preached very far from the Mediterranean Sea. But the apostle is authority for believing the gospel was preached to every creature which is under heaven in that age, and has been ever since, in full obedience to the Saviour's command, which embraced every creature only in a spiritual sense, every one who is created in Christ Jesus. These only have ears to hear, and the Saviour said, "Let them hear." These only hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the Saviour said "They shall be filled." These only are poor in spirit, and the Saviour said, "Unto the poor the gospel is preached."

     How often it is said that the preaching of the gospel is the means of quickening dead sinners. But it is not so said in the Bible. Our Saviour said, "As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whomsoever he will." And again, "It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing." And again, "The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." "Yes," it is replied, "this is true, but the spirit sends that life or quickening power through the preaching of the word; the dead hear the voice of the Son of God in the gospel, believe and live." A little more thoughtful attention would cause them to reverse the order of those words, remembering that life must precede both hearing and believing. And in considering all the scriptures which are presented to sustain the idea that the preaching is instrumental in bringing the dead to life, such as the command to teach all nations, and the apostles' obedience to that command, and the declaration that many hearing the preaching believed, we must bear in mind that none but the living can be taught, or can believe.

     There are no instances recorded where eternal life is said to have been communicated through the preaching of the gospel. But there are instances where it is known to have been possessed by those who had not heard the preaching by human lips, as the eunuch, the jailor, Saul of Tarsus and Cornelius with all his house; and in the case of Lydia the power of God is expressly declared as preparing her to attend the things spoken, while Paul was preaching. In my mind this is expressly to teach that the preaching, and the preparation to hear and receive the preaching, are to be considered as distinct from each other. It was not said that the Lord opened Lydia's heart through Paul's preaching. I must therefore believe that not only in some, but in all cases, spiritual life is communicated before there is power to hear and believe, instead of being given through and by the hearing. The life must precede the hearing, though it be but for an instant.

     It is very often the case that condemnation on account of sin is first felt when not under the sound of preaching, and often by those that never heard the truth preached. Also deliverance from that condemnation is experienced most generally, perhaps, when the poor soul is in secret trying to cry and beg for mercy. Now the preaching of the gospel can be heard and understood by that one. If he has sat under the sound of it before, it now has a new sound. It tells what he has felt. He believes because he has the witness in his own heart to prove the truth of what the preacher says. It is to him the power of God unto salvation, because that power has been experienced within him. "This gospel of the kingdom," the Saviour said," must be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:44) This was done before the apostles had fully finished their work in declaring the end of that dispensation, and establishing the gospel church in all its order in obedience to the command of Christ. It must be preached, not to quicken dead sinners, but for a witness, manifesting those unto Saviour has communicate eternal life and the glad tidings of salvation. The preacher can tell no one anything which has not already been taught him by that anointing which he has received of Jesus, and which teaches of all things. (I John 2:27) And it is only concerning the work of God's grace and his power unto salvation experienced in the heart that any one is fed with knowledge and understanding by the pastors after God's own heart whom he sends unto them. It is supposed by some that "Feed my sheep," is not the limit of the Saviour's command to the apostles, and of the apostle's directions to ministers; that when Paul said to Timothy, "Preach the word," he opened up a larger field of labor than when he said to the Elders of Ephesus, "Feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood." But did the apostles or ministers ever preach anything in obedience to his command but the truth as it is in Jesus? And is not every part of that truth always the food which is to be ministered to the sheep and lambs, to the church of God? Did any one ever profit by the preaching of the gospel but the sheep? Then it must be acknowledged that neither apostle or prophet can go beyond the command given to Peter, "Feed my lambs."

     To speak of the Lord using means and instrumentalities to bring his people from death to life appears to me derogatory to his majesty and power. It seems like limiting the Holy One of Israel. Although many who believe this would not limit him, but wish to honor his name. If such a thing were expressly declared in the scriptures that would settle it as the truth, but since it is not, it is always an inference. In defending the doctrine of means, one says, "The tool of the mechanic will of itself never accomplish anything, yet in all the mechanic's purposes the tool and its uses are included." And with this he illustrates how he supposes the gospel ministry has been appointed by God as instruments to be used in severing the stones from the rocks, and in building up the church. But the mechanic is dependent upon the tool. Is the Lord dependent upon the ministry to do that work? The very thought is limiting him. I know it is said that he has ordained the means with the end. But when the Bible talks that way, I will receive it. He has ordained everything, in a certain absolute sense. Nothing transpires but is in accordance with his eternal purpose. He has chosen to feed his people by the hand of poor sinners saved by grace, but he does not speak of them as means and instrumentalities. This is the inference of men, and is calculated to make them appear of some importance. And generally the means are said to be in men's hands, as though the Lord worked by means but men used the means. He works in and through them by his controlling and directing spirit, causing them to preach in such a way that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of man. But not to give life through them or through their preaching.

     The same author just alluded to speaks of the ram's horns as the means by which the walls of Jericho fell down, and implies that the preaching of the gospel is thus represented as the means of quickening dead sinners. But Paul in presenting the truth concerning this subject, does not even allude to the blowing of the ram's horns, but says, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were compassed about seven days." One might reply that faith enabled them to use the means. Then we must refer to some of the other examples which the apostle gives in the same connection of the character and power of faith to see if this is to be so understood. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death." "By faith women received their dead raised to life." Were any means used here? Were the empty pitchers and lamps and trumpets in the hands of Gideon's little army means by which the Midianites were overthrown, or were they dispersed by the sword of the Lord and of Gideon? the word of God, which by faith the little company believed. In all these instances the apostle is showing examples of faith as the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. Faith is the knowledge of God's will and purpose which he gives to his people according to his own pleasure, causing them to desire and pray for the very things he has foreordained for them, and to be absolutely assured of them, so that they will move on in obedience to his commands against impossible barriers, against all the dictates of worldly wisdom, not to effect the fulfillment of his purposes, but to display the power of that faith of which he is the author and finisher, by holding the pitchers and lamps, compassing the walls, blowing the ram's horns, and even sounding the trumpet of victory before the enenmy knows of defeat. Joshua did not say Shout, that the Lord may give you the city, but, "Shout, for the Lord hath given you the City" and after that the walls fell down. The Lord threw them down without the aid of the ram's horns. He overthrew the armies of the aliens. He raised the dead to life, and translated Enoch that he should not see death. And he gave his people faith as the substance and evidence of these things before they were seen, and by that faith made them overcome the world. They were witnesses of his work. And so are all the Lord's servants witnesses of his work. He sent Paul as a witness both of the things he had seen, and those things which he would appear unto him. (Acts 26:16) If any insist that the Lord Jesus opened the eyes of the heathen and turned them from darkness to light through the preaching of Paul, they must still remember that only the living are blind. That the Pharisees, our Saviour said, were not blind in the sense that those were whose eyes he came to open. Those who experience a hope are often left long in the bondage of error and delusion, before the Lord sends the truth home to them, opening their eyes to see it as in accordance with what they have experienced. So when they hear the truth preached and the Lord attends it with power to them as living souls, their eyes are opened to see it, they believe it, they are turned from the darkness of error to the light of it, and as sheep they feed upon it.

     "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should he a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." (James 1:18) This is regarded by some as a declaration that the preaching of the word quickened those alluded to. But the apostle James includes himself with those of whom he speaks. What he says of them was true in his case. But we know he was not made alive by means of preaching, for the Saviour called him by his own voice, saying, follow me. That same voice is heard by all his sheep. By him as the word they are begotten and born, for Peter says 'Being born again, not of corruptible seed' but of incorrupible by the word of God which lives and abideth forever." He does not say they are born again by the preaching of the gospel, but he says that this word of God by which they are born again and which endures forever, is the word by which the gospel is preached unto them. (1Peter 1:23-25) That word is Jesus, whose name in salvation called the Word of God. (Rev. 19:13). This is the word which was in the beginning and which was God, and which was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (See John 1:1,14) The gospel is not this word, but is glad tidings of it. This word by the gospel is preached unto the saints who have felt the glorious power thereof, as the apostle John says: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life, (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that your fellowship may be with us." (I John 1:1,14) Here is the word of truth, the word of life, the word of God, the eternal life, by which the saints are all begotten and born again. This is the word of God by which hearing and faith come. If that word of God be not in the heart, there can be no power to hear, nor can the faith or truth of the gospel be received. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who hath believed our report?" They all heard literally, for "their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." But only those who had been begotten by the word of truth could hear and understand. (Rom. 10: 15-20)

     The gospel stands contrasted with the law. A little consideration of this point will show that the gospel cannot be to the dead, but to the living. The Lord's people must first know the law in its condemning power before they can receive the gospel, the glad tidings of salvation. But none can know himself to be a lost sinner, justly condemned by the holy law of God, until he has been made alive by the quickening spirit of God. Only by the light of divine life can one see himself dead in trespasses and sin. Paul was alive spiritually or the coming of the commandment would not have caused sin to revive and him to die. It is only to the living soul that the law is felt to be a ministration of condemnation and death. On the day of Pentecost there were many living souls, who up to that time had been working under the law. When Peter was inspired by the Holy Ghost to proclaim the end of that dispensation, and the abrogation of its ritual service by the death of Christ whom they had crucified, and to proclaim him as having been made both Lord and Christ, this word that he preached pricked them in the heart, inflicting a death wound, killing them to all hope of ever again approaching a holy God by the works of the law. Only those who had spiritual life, and were by that enabled to see the just demands of the law, making its service a heavy yoke to them, and yet knowing no other way of pleasing God but by striving to keep it, only those could be pricked in the heart. No natural man was thus made to feel the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. But those who had seen a necessity for a sacrifice for sin, as Abel did, and who had heretofore known no other than that which pertained to the worldly sanctuary and Levitical priesthood, were made to feel the hopelessness of their case when the end of that dispensation of legal sacrifices was announced, and they were assured that God would never accept them again. Then was fulfilled in their experience the words of Joel, the prophet. The sun, representing all natural wisdom and knowledge, was turned into darkness, the moon, representing the law, was turned into blood, demanding the death of the sinner, and they saw signs of death, destruction and desolation in those legal heavens and in that legal earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke, and cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter proclaimed to them the gospel and its blessings and privileges, and they gladly received his word.

     This was apostolic work. Since the last word by the apostles was spoken and written none can ever do apostolic work again. They are still on the twelve thrones, but it is by the words left on record that they judge the church of God.

     But in the experience of the saints the same order still prevails. First a knowledge of the law by the light of divine life, then a knowledge of the death it demands, then an experience of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. In this experience the preacher can render no help. But this preaching follows on in the path the Savior leads. He tells the story to the hearer no faster than it is told in his own soul by the Savior. His preaching of the truth is sweet, for its sweetness has been felt within. Many have passed through all the order of experience, from the first knowledge of the law's demands to a full deliverance, before they ever heard the gospel preached by man. Then from that time it is a savor of life unto them. They are fish that are caught by it. They are sheep and lambs to be fed by it. Wherever they are, among false professors, or in the world of the unbelievers, they can never listen to it with indifference, but it will have a drawing power upon their souls. By it they are ministered to, edified, perfected in the knowledge of the truth whose power is in the heart, sustained under heavy trials, comforted in affliction, encouraged in darkness, until they have finished their course as witnesses in this world of sin and sorrow. Then tongues will cease, prophecies will fail. Knowledge will vanish away, faith will be lost in sight. And love, sweet, holy love, which has been the one never failing light and comfort and guide of our souls while here, will open to us the gates of eternal day, and usher us into that world where all is love.