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It might be thought that we had pretty well covered this aspect in the preceding section. Not so; there is another important phase of it which needs to be considered. Sin has not only alienated man from God, but man from man as well. Where there is no love to God there is no genuine love to our fellow-men. By nature we are totally depraved, and as such possessed of a radically selfish, evil, malicious disposition. “The poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their ways” ( Romans 3:13-17).
The record of human history consists largely of a solemn demonstration of that fact. Envies and enmities have marked the relationships of one nation to another, one party against another, one individual against another.
It is only the restraining hand of God which holds men within bounds and prevents the social sphere from becoming worse than the jungle. Every once in a while that restraining Hand is largely withdrawn and then, despite all our vaunted progress, human nature is seen in its naked savagery. The truth is that men today are neither better nor worse than they were at the beginning of this Christian era. Speaking of God’s own people during their unregeneracy, the apostle described them as “serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” ( Titus 3:3).
Such are men the world over, though they will not own up to it, nor can they be expected to. Since the natural man is ignorant of his inherent and inveterate enmity against God, it not to be supposed that he is aware of harboring such a spirit against his neighbors. But if all the police were removed from this so-called civilized country, how long would it be before “hateful and hating one another ” was plainly and generally manifested!
Fallen man not only requires to be reconciled to God but to his fellows, and where the one takes place the other necessarily follows. Reconciliation, as was shown, is one of the fruits of regeneration; for at the new birth a new principle is imparted to its subject, so that his enmity is displaced by amity. “Everyone that loves Him that begat, loves him also that is begotten of Him” ( 1 John 5:1).
The reconciliation of a soul to God entails his reconciliation to all saints.
Since God has been reconciled to the entire Church (considered as fallen) and its two main constituents (believing Jews and Gentiles) are made one, it follows that each Christian is, fundamentally, harmoniously united to all others. We say “fundamentally ,” for the work of Christ has federally and legally united them. But that is not all. He procured the Spirit for His Church and He—by the work of regeneration—makes them vitally one in a new creation. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one spirit” ( 1 Corinthians 12:13).
As the Christian’s reconciliation to God entails certain clearly marked responsibilities, so also does his reconciliation to all fellow-believers, and these are what we shall now be occupied with. Let us begin with that basic and comprehensive duty, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” ( Ephesians 4:3).
Concerning that simple precept there has been much confusion, both as to its meaning and requirement, with almost endless controversy about church union and divisions. Man, with his usual perversity, has changed that exhortation to “Zealously attempt to make and enforce a human unity ,” anathematizing all who will not subscribe and conform unto the same.
Romanists have made the greatest outcry about church unity, vehemently contending that it is indispensably necessary that all Christians should submit to the papal authority, and that there is no salvation for anyone dying outside their communion. Thus, a visible and carnal union with an Italian pontiff is preferred to an invisible, spiritual and saving union with the Christ of God.
We do not propose to conver now the various efforts and devices of men since the Reformation to bring into existence organizations for unity and uniformity among professing Christians, both in creed and form of worship, such as State Churches “by law established ,” denominations which have laid claim to being the “true Church ” or “churches of Christ ,” nor the high pretensions of those who rather more than a century ago denounced all sects and systems and alleged that they alone met on “the ground of Christ ’s Body ” and “expressed ” the unity of the Spirit, only to split up in a very short time into numerous factions and conflicting “fellowships .” No, our object here is not to be controversial but constructive, to give a brief exposition of Ephesians 4:1-6, and then point out the practical application and bearing of the same. We cannot intelligently “keep the unity of the Spirit ” until we rightly understand what that “unity ” is ; may He graciously be our Guide. “I therefore the prisoner of the Lord beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called... endeavoring to keep” etc. ( Ephesians 4:1-3).
That exhortation holds the same place in this epistle as <451201> 12:1 does in that of the Romans, being placed at the forefront of the hortatory section, and we at once observe the verbal resemblances between them in the “therefore ” by which it is supported, and the “I beseech you ” the earnestness with which the call is made. Standing as it does at the beginning of the practical division of the epistle, taking precedence of all its other precepts, we have emphasized its deep importance. It was written by the apostle during his incarceration at Rome, but it is blessed to mark that He looked above Caesar, regarding himself as “the prisoner of the Lord .”
Therefore we find his heart was occupied not with his own danger or discomfort, but with the glory of Christ and the interests of His redeemed.
He asked not the saints to “get up a petition ” for his release, nor even to pray for it, but was concerned that they should conduct themselves in a way which would bring glory to his Master.
The “I therefore beseech you that you walk worthy .. . endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ” requires that we carefully consult what precedes, for it is the contents of Ephesians 1-3 which explains the force of <490401> 4:1-3. First, it should be pointed out that the Greek word rendered “bond ” is not the simple “desmos ” but rather the compound “sun-desmos ”—joining—bond. This at once links up with and is based upon the “fellow-citizens ” of 2:19, the “being fitly framed together ” and “builded together ” ( 2:21,22), and the “fellow-heirs , and a joint-body , and joint partakers of His promise ” ( 3:6 —Greek), where in each case, the reference is to the union of believing Jews and Gentiles in the mystical Body of Christ. It is therefore an affectionate plea that those who in their unregenerate days had been bitterly hostile against each other, should now walk together in love and harmony. The same Greek word occurs in the parallel passage in Colossians 3: “above all things put on charity , which is the joint bond of perfectness ” (v. 14), which throws clear light on the verse we are now considering. “I therefore ... beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called ,” which is unto sonship—holiness and glory, conformity to the image of Christ. The inestimable privileges conferred upon those who are effectually called by God out of darkness into His marvelous light, obligates its favored recipients to order their lives accordingly. It requires from them a distinctive spirit, a particular disposition and temper, which is to be exercised and manifested in their dealings with fellow-saints. They are to conduct themselves with humility and gentleness, not with selfassertiveness and self-exaltation. They are required to seek the good and promote the interests of their brethren and sisters in Christ, and continually endeavor to preserve amity and concord among them, “to bear with one another in love as to those light occasions of offence or displeasure which could not be wholly avoided even among believers in this present imperfect state” (T.
For the Christian to walk worthily of his vocation is for him to live and act congruously, suitably for it. Here it has particular reference to the spirit and manner in which he is to practically conduct himself toward his fellowsaints, namely, by endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That word “endeavoring ” means far more than a half-hearted effort which ceases as soon as opposition is encountered. It signifies “give diligence ,” laboring earnestly, doing our utmost in performing this task.
The nature of this duty is intimated with considerable definiteness by the particular graces which are here specified as needing to be exercised. Had that “unity ” consisted of uniformity of belief—as many have supposed, then the saints had been exhorted unto the acquirement of “knowledge ” and the exercise of “faith .” Or had that unity been an ecclesiastical one which is to be framed or “expressed ” on earth, then the call would be to the exercise of “faithfulness ” and “firmness ,” in uncompromisingly resisting all innovations. But instead, it is “with all lowliness and meekness , forbearing one another in love .”
Thus whatever is our angle of approach in seeking to define this controversial expression, whether it is from the contents of the previous chapters, the parallel passage in Colossians 3:14, or the congruity of the preceding verse, it should be clear that the “unity of the Spirit ” which we are to diligently assay to keep “in the bond of peace ” has no reference to the formation of an external and visible unification of all professing Christians, in which all differences in judgment and belief are to be dropped and where all worship is to conform to a common standard. The union of Christendom which so many enthusiasts have advocated would, in reality, consist of a unity in which principle gave way to policy, contending earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the saints would be displaced by the uttering of mere generalities and moral platitudes, and the masculine virtues degenerating into an effeminate affection of universal charity. Sheep and goats will never make amicable companions, still less so sheep and wolves. Variety and not uniformity marks all the works of God, whether it is in creation, providence or grace.
The unity of the Spirit is not an ecclesiastical one here on earth, nor is it one which God will make in Heaven by and by. Nor is it the unity of the mystical Body, for that can no more be broken than could a bone in the literal body of Christ ( John 18:36). The very fact that it is “the unity of the Spirit ” precludes any visible ecclesiastical unity. It is a fact subsisting to faith, without any evidence of it to sight. It is therefore a Divine, spiritual and present unity which is quite imperceptible to the senses. It is that unity of which the Spirit is the Author. It is the new creation of which He makes God’s elect members by regeneration. Every soul indwelt by the Spirit is a part of that unity, and none others are. By being made members of the new creation we are brought into “the joint-bond of peace .” Each soul indwelt by the Spirit is inducted into a company where enmity has been slain, in which the members are united as the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice, and they are here enjoined to act in full harmony with this new relationship.
By virtue of his having the Spirit each Christian is in spirit united with all other regenerated souls, and he is to give diligence in practically observing that fact in all his converse and dealings with them. He is to earnestly avoid falling out with a brother or sister in Christ, being most careful to eschew everything having a tendency to cause a breach between them. He is to love all in whom he can discern any of the features of Christ, whether or not they belong to his own “church ” or “assembly .” He is to exercise good will unto all who are members the Household of Faith. He should be slow to take offence, and having himself received mercy, should ever be merciful unto others. God’s reconciliation should be our rule in dealing with our brethren: “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” ( 1 John 4:11), and since His heart embraces the whole of His family, ours should do no less. If He is longsuffering to usward, we should be longsuffering to themward. “Be you therefore imitators of God as dear children” ( Ephesians 5:1).
Now the only possible way in which the reconciled soul can discharge this essential and blessed part of his responsibility is by exercising those graces enjoined in verse 2. After beseeching the saints to walk worthy of their vocation, Paul described the necessary qualifications for so doing, namely, “with all lowliness and meekness , forbearing one another in love .”
Lowliness of mind or humility is to have a mean estimate of myself, based upon the consciousness of my sinfulness and weakness. Let it be most attentively noted that the exercise of this grace comes first, and that it is not only “with lowliness ,” but “with all lowliness .” Nothing so hinders our keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as personal pride. Next comes “meekness ,” which signifies tractability, gentleness, mildness; an unresisting and uncomplaining temper. It is that lamb-like disposition which enables one to bear injury from others without bitterness and retaliating in a spirit of revenge. “Forbearing one another in love :” suppressing anger and ill feelings, patiently enduring the failings, foibles, and faults of my brethren, as they do (or should) mine.
Those grace of humility, meekness and longsuffering are to be manifested in keeping—recognizing and cherishing—that spiritual and invisible unity which there is between the children of God, loving all in whom they perceive His image doing everything in their power to further one another’s interests and to promote harmony and concord. For the glory of God, the honor of Christ, and the good of His people, each believer is under bonds to exercise and manifest a spirit of good will unto his brethren; that is to override all natural peculiarities, all selfish interests, all party concerns. That does not mean a peace at any price, wherein we connive at error or condone the sins of an erring saint, making no effort to recover him. No indeed, the wisdom which is from above is “first pure , and then peaceable ” ( James 3:17). If we perceive a professing Christian walking contrary to the Truth, we are to have no intimate fellowship with him, “yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” ( 2 Thessalonians 3:15); if he is suddenly overtaken in a fault we should, in the spirit of meekness, seek to restore him ( Galatians 6:1).
Rightly did Matthew Henry point out that “The seat of Christian unity is in the heart or spirit; it does not lie in one set of thoughts and form or mode of worship, but in one heart or soul.” In other words it lies in the exercise of a gracious and peaceable disposition. As that writer so aptly pointed out, “Love is the law of Christ’s kingdom, the lesson of His school, and the livery of His family.” If Christ is the Prince of Peace, then surely His disciples ought to be the children of peace, ever striving to maintain amity and harmony. The root cause of strife and dissension lies not in anything external, but within ourselves: “From where come wars and fightings among you? Come they not here even of your lusts that war in your members?” ( James 4:1).
We should not rudely obtrude our ideas upon others, but rather wait until we are asked to state our views, and then do so with meekness and reverence ( 1 Peter 3:15). The cultivation of an amiable disposition and peaceable temper is the best cement for binding saints together. In verses 4-6 the apostle mentions several motives to prompt unto a compliance with the duty expressed in Ephesians 4:1,3. “There is one Body, and one Sprit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling.”
What better grounds could believers have to love and act peaceably toward each other! They are fellow-members of the mystical body of Christ, they are indwelt by the same blessed Spirit, they are begotten unto the same glorious and eternal inheritance. Do they look forward to the time when they shall join “the spirits of just men made perfect ”? Then let them anticipate that time and act now agreeably toward those they hope to dwell together with forever. “One Lord , one faith , one baptism .” There may be different apprehensions of that Faith, different degrees of conformity to that Lord, different understandings of “baptism ,” but that must not alienate the heart of one Christian from another. “One God , and Father of all,” whose family all the reconciled belong to; and should not the members of that family cherish one another! Let that sevenfold consideration animate each of us to live in peace and brotherly affection with our fellow-saints.
The unity of the Spirit differs from the oneness of the Body, in that while we may either keep or break the former, we can do neither the one nor the other with the latter. The responsibility of those reconciled to each other is, negatively, to avoid anything which would mar that unity; and positively, to engage in everything that would further it. Pride, self-will, envy, bigotry, fleshly zeal about comparative trifles, are the causes of most of the frictions and fractions among believers. “Only by pride comes contention .” ( Proverbs 13:19). That is the most fertile root of all—offence is taken because I do not receive that notice to which I deem myself entitled, or I am hurt because I cannot have my own way in everything. “A whisperer separates chief friends ” (Nov. 16:28): but he can only do so by one giving ear to his malicious tales! An acquaintance of ours used to say unto those who come to her with evil reports of others, “Please take your garbage elsewhere: I decline to receive it.” “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you; leave there your gift before the altar and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” ( Matthew 5:23,24).
How emphatically that makes manifest the importance which God attaches to our keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! When that unity has been broken, He desires not our gifts. If you have done a brother an injury and he has just cause of complaint, peace has been disrupted, and the Holy One requires you to right that wrong before He will receive your worship. “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me” ( Psalm 66:18).
God is as much the Father of the offended one as He is of you, and He will receive nothing at your hand until you remove that stumblingstone from before your brother. No worship or service can possibly be acceptable to God while I cherish a malicious spirit toward any of His children.
When a minister of the Church of England gives notice of an approaching “Holy Communion ” he is required to read unto those expecting to participate from an exhortation containing these words: “And if you shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbor, then you shall reconciled yourself unto them; being ready to make restitution and satisfaction, according to the uttermost of your power, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others that have offended you, as you would have forgiveness of your offence at God’s hand. For otherwise the receiving of the Holy Communion does nothing else than increase your damnation.” Alas that there is so little of such plain and faithful warning in most sections of Christendom today, and that Christ is so often insulted by His “Supper ” being celebrated in places where bitter feelings are cherished and breaches exist between the celebrants.
The following precepts are so many illustrations of Ephesians 4:3 and so many branches of the responsibility saintwards of each reconciled soul. “Have peace one with another” ( Mark 9:50). “You ought also to wash one another’s feet... love one another” ( John 13:14,34). “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another” ( Romans 12:10). “Admonish one another ” ( Romans 15:14). “By love serve one another...bear one another’s burdens” ( Galatians 5:13; 6:2). “Be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” ( Ephesians 4:32). “In lowliness of mind let each one esteem other better than themselves” ( Philippians 2:3). “Comfort yourselves together and edify one another” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:11). “Exhort one another... consider one another to provoke unto love and good works” ( Hebrews 3:13; 10:24). “Speak not evil one of another” ( James 4:11). “Use hospitality one to another... all of you be subject one to another” ( 1 Peter 4:8; 5:5).
CONCLUSION In the course of our explanation of this doctrine we have sought to make a comprehensive view of it as a whole and then to examine in detail its essential components. Truth is a unit, one harmonious whole, but with our very limited powers of comprehension we are incapable of receiving it as such: rather do we take it in “here a little , there a little .” That is according as God has constituted us. When endeavoring to master a subject or problem which is presented to the mind, we are obliged to consider singly its several elements and branches. When partaking of material food we do not attempt to swallow it whole, but first break it into fragments and then masticate them. It is thus with the spiritual ailment which God has provided for the soul. Unless we carefully collate all that the Spirit has revealed on the subject, duly ponder each aspect and view it in its true perspective, we shall obtain nothing more than a vague and faulty conception of it.
Though Truth is a unit, it has two sides to it. It had in the communicating of it: it is a Divine revelation, yet it passed through the minds of holy men and is couched in their language. It is thus with its contents, as a whole and all its parts. There is both a Divine and a human side to it, issuing from God, addressed to men: revealing His heart and will, enforcing our responsibility. That necessarily presents a problem to the finite mind, the more so since our mind is impaired by the ravages of sin. As man is constructed, he is unable to take in both sides of the Truth at a single glance, being obliged to view each separately. Unless he does so, a distorted vision will inevitably ensue, for while contemplating but one half he will imagine that he is actually viewing the whole. Now those two sides of the Truth are not contradictory, but complementary. Since God is God, He must maintain His sovereign rights and enforce His authority; and since He has constituted man a moral agent, He deals with him accordingly— having absolute control over him, yet leaving him to act freely.
This twofoldness of truth is exhibited in every doctrine contained in Holy Writ, in every aspect of the Faith, in every branch of the Evangelical system, and it is in the maintaining of a due proportion and balance between them that the competency and helpfulness of any expositor chiefly appears, as it is also the hardest part of his task. Most conspicuously is this the case with the doctrine we have been treated of, for not only is reconciliation itself a mutual affair, but Scripture presents reconciliation as being both an accomplished thing and also as something now being effected—according as it is viewed from the standpoint of what Christ wrought at the cross, or from what is required of the sinner in order for him to personally enter into the good of what the Redeemer there procured. It is specially for the benefit of the young preacher—scores of which will read them—that these closing paragraphs are penned, for unless he is quite clear upon this distinction, his trumpet will give forth an uncertain sound.
When was God really reconciled to the Christian? At the cross or when he savingly believed the Gospel? That question has been discussed earlier, yet we believe that some will welcome a further elucidation. On this subject, as so many, the Puritans are much to be preferred to the best writers of the nineteenth century. “God is never actually reconciled to us, nor we to Him, till He gives us the regenerated Spirit” (T. Manton). “For the preparing us to be reconciled it is necessary that we are convinced that we are enemies to God, and that He accounts us such, and that so long as we remain in that state He is also an enemy to us” (T. Goodwin). “There is a double reconciliation here ( 2 Corinthians 5:18,19).
First, fundamental, at the death of Christ, whereby it was obtained, This is the ground of God’s laying aside His anger. Second, actual or particular, when it is complied with by faith. This regards the application of it, when God does actually lay aside His enmity, and imputes sin no more to the person” (S. Charnock).
Elsewhere Charnock says, “He acts toward the world as a reconciling God towards believers as reconciled. He is reconcilable as long as He is inviting and keeps men alive in a state of probation.” The Puritans drew a plain and broad line of demarcation between the impetration [to obtain by request]or purchase of salvation, and the actual application or bestowing of the same. “By impetration we mean the purchase of all good things made by Christ for us with and of the Father; and by application, the actual enjoyment of those good things upon our believing; as if a man paid a price for the redeeming of captives, the paying a price supplies the room of the impetration of which we speak, and the freeing of the captives is the application of it” (J.
Christ merited and obtained the reconciliation of both sides, yet God is not reconciled to us nor are we to Him until we repent and believe. So it is in justification: Christ wrought out a perfect and everlasting righteousness for all His people, yet God does not impute that righteousness to any of them until they savingly believe the Gospel.
While most of the best theologians of the last century recognized the necessary distinction between the impetration and the application of reconciliation, yet often they failed to frame their postulates consistently therewith. For instance, one of the most eminent of them, and for whose works we have a high regard, stated, “On the ground of God’s reconciliation to us, we are exhorted to be reconciled to Him, and the great motive or encouragement is His previous reconciliation.” That such language was not simply a slip of the pen (to which all are liable) is clear from what follows in his next paragraph. “‘The chastisement of our peace ,’ by which peace was procured, ‘was upon Him , and with His stripes we are healed .’ God was reconciled when that was done, and made justice cease to demand our punishment.” It is because such teaching has been so widely received and has led to serious mischief in the evangelical ministry, that its erroneous character needs to be exposed.
To affirm that God is reconciled to sinners, or if you prefer it, to His elect, before they are reconciled to Him, is an unintentional but tacit repudiation of John 3:36: “He that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Note it is not “the wrath of God shall come upon him ,” but it is on him now and remains so as long as he is an unbeliever. In these respects there is no difference whatever between the elect and the non-elect. All are “by nature the children of wrath ,” under the Covenant of Works, and therefore under the curse and condemnation of the Law. The work of Christ has not changed the attitude of a holy God toward a single soul who continues in love with sin and a rebel against Him. “He is angry with the wicked every day” ( Psalm 7:11), and “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” ( Romans 1:18).
It is not until the sinner repents and savingly believes the Gospel that he passes from one state to another and the frown of God is displaced by His smile ( John 3:18; 5:24). Of the elect ( 1 Peter 2:10) it is that “which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” ( 2:10).
This is another declaration from a nineteenth century theologian of high repute, and to whose works we are personally indebted not a little: “God is reconciled: He is no longer angry with the sinner, for he is no longer a sinner in the eye of God and His justice.” Had he said, “the penitent and believing sinner,” that would be blessedly true: instead he was discussing what Christ’s work had accomplished Godwards. In the same paragraph he averred, “All the chosen people are redeemed,” which is another statement badly in need of qualification and explanation. Christ indeed “gave Himself a ransom for all ”—His people ( 1 Timothy 2:6), and He did so “that He might redeem us from all iniquity ” ( Titus 2:14), but none then unborn were actually “redeemed .” The correct way to state it is this: redemption was purchased for all the chosen people by Christ, and “in due time ” ( Timothy 2:6) they are made partakers of that redemption by the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit. Believers alone are actually redeemed or emancipated, and it is of them such passages as Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18,19 speak.
It is only by attending closely to the exact wording of Scripture and refusing to go one iota beyond its statements, that we are preserved from confusion and error. Christ was made sin for us “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” ( 2 Corinthians 5:21).
It is not said that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to all His people,” but “to everyone that believes” ( Romans 10:4). “Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich” ( 2 Corinthians 8:9).
He was “made a curse for us...that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” ( Galatians 3:13,14).
Christ “suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” ( 1 Peter 3:18).
But we are not actually made rich or partakers of the blessing of Abraham, nor brought to God, until we repent and believe. As we must distinguish between the impetration and the application of the atonement, so also must we between the grace of God decreeing and the execution of the decree of His grace. The “all spiritual blessings ” of Ephesians 1:3 include regeneration, yet none are regenerate until effectually called by God. “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” ( Romans 5:10) impetratively, for God has accepted Christ’s ransom, yet He does not apply it till faith is exercised by us. Reconciliation, redemption and justification are alike the results of Christ’s satisfaction, the blessings which He purchased for His people, but they are only bestowed upon them when they are personally reconciled to God. “God the Father justifies, through the Son, by the Spirit, who works faith to receive the same. But until those things meet together our persons are not properly justified, notwithstanding Christ has wrought out a complete righteousness” (W. Bridge, 1670), nor is God reconciled to us till the Spirit has wrought faith in our hearts. In the light of Romans 3:25 and 26 are we not fully warranted in saying that, Christ is set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood that God might be holy, and yet the Reconciler of him who ceases to defy His authority and sues for mercy through the Lord Jesus.
Though the governmental requirements of God demand that the sinner end his revolt before He will be reconciled to him, that by no means implies any doubt of Christ’s satisfaction securing its designed effects. The atonement has done very much more than remove legal obstacles which previously stood in the way of friendship between God and men or opened the door for Him to bestow peace and pardon upon all who would accept them, as the Arminian speaks; it has absolutely guaranteed the salvation of all for whom it was made. So far from the word “might ” in the passages quoted, above denoting uncertainty, it is expressive of design and intimates the sure consequence that follows from Christ’s sacrifice. As the Westminster Confession of Faith so well puts it, “To all those for whom Christ purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same,” where the word “redemption ” is used—as it often is in Scripture—as including all the blessings which it was the immediate object of Christ’s death to procure.
That there is a human side to the Evangelical system by no means introduces an element of uncertainty into it or jeopardizes its success. “God is in one mind and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, even that He does” ( Job 13:13).
The Arminian comes short of the full truth when he says, “All was done on Christ’s part which was necessary to make possible the reconciliation and pardon of sinners, and it is now left with them whether they will receive or reject the Gospel offer,” and that “since God has constituted man a moral agent, He requires his voluntary cooperation.” Christ’s sacrifice has made certain the reconciliation and redemption of all for whom it was offered, for it ensured that He would “see the travail of His soul and be satisfied .”
Christ’s impetration secured an infallible provision for the effectual application, namely, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who by His invincible operations should regenerate each of Christ’s “seed ” and work saving repentance and faith in them. Though eternal life, repentance and faith are the “gifts ” of God, they are also the fruits of Christ’s atonement, and are conferred upon all in whose room He suffered and died.
Instead of merely opening a door of salvation for the whole of Adam’s posterity to enter if they feel disposed to, the atoning work of Christ has effectually secured the actual salvation, of all the people of God, for by the wisdom of the Divine counsels and the power of the Spirit they are brought to gladly concur with God’s will, and put their trust in the blood of the Lamb. Nevertheless, God still enforces the righteous requirements of His government and treats with men according to their responsibility, sending forth His ambassadors to charge them with their wickedness, bidding them to be reconciled to God, and assuring them of His gracious acceptance upon their ceasing to fight against Him. Before the sinner can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s death he must consent to return to the duty of the Law and live in obedience to God, for He will not pardon him while he continues to live in rebellion against Him. The Gospel calls upon men to repent of their sins, forsake their idols, and enter into solemn covenant with God, yielding themselves up unreservedly to Him, to henceforth live unto His glory.
The work of the evangelist is clearly defined: the O.T. precedes the New, the ministry of John the Baptist went before that of Christ, the substance of Romans 1-3 is to be preached before the truth of Romans 4 and 5 is proclaimed. His first duty is to preach the Moral Law, for “by the Law is the knowledge of sin ” ( Romans 3:20): its requirements, its strictness, its spirituality, its curse, that his hearers may be brought to realize their guilty and lost condition. Coupled with this preaching of the Law must be a presentation of the character of the Lawgiver and His claims upon the creatures of His hand: that He is sovereign Lord, demanding unqualified submission to His will; that He is ineffably holy, hating all sin and iniquity; that He is inflexibly just and “will by no means clear the guilty ,” and will yet judge every man according to his works. Conviction of sin, by the application of the Law to the conscience, is the first step in the progress by which men are led to take hold of God’s covenant. Peace with God, which the covenant established, will be sought and prized by none except those who are conscious of their guilt and dread the displeasure and vengeance of the Judge of all the earth.
The second duty of the evangelist is to preach the Gospel, and that, in such a manner, that he neither contradicts nor weakens what is pointed out in the preceding paragraph—though complementing it. He is to show that the principal design of God in sending His Son here was to magnify the’ Law, to manifest His detestation of sin, to exhibit His justice; all of which was solemnly seen at the cross. He is then to open the wondrous grace of God in giving His Son to execute His mission and perform His work, not only for the glory of God but the good of sinners. He is to show the amazing thing is that God takes the initiative, that in Christ He makes the advances, that by Christ provision is made for the healing of the breach, and that He sends forth His servants to make overtures of peace, bidding sinners “be reconciled to Him ”—to be converted, to repent of their sins, abandon their wicked ways, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and walk according to His precepts.
It is the duty of the evangelist to show that though Christ is read to be the Friend of sinners, yet He will not be the Minister of sin, but rather maintains the honor and interests of the Father at every point. His call is, “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
That is, Come unto Me, all you that have in vain sought satisfaction in gratifying self and partaking of the pleasures of sin, and are now weighed down with burdened consciences and a sense of the deserved wrath of God. “Take My yoke upon you ... and you shall find rest unto your souls .”
That is, Own My sceptre, surrender to My lordship, walk in obedience to My commandments, and rest of soul shall be your portion. The One who made satisfaction to God tells us the benefits of it are received only through our believing ( John 3:16), and that is an act which principally respects the will. The believe is to “receive ” Christ ( John 1:12) as He is offered in the Gospel: to receive a whole Christ, to be our Prophet, Priest and King.
The work of the pastor or teacher is to further instruct those who have responded to the message of the evangelist. He is to show that as God out of Christ was an offended and threatening God, God in Christ is an appeased and promising God. He is to make it clear that the reason why those who responded to the call and appeal of the evangelist was not because they were in themselves wiser or better than those who reject it, but that it was God who made them to differ ( 1 Corinthians 4:7). That God did so first, by choosing them in Christ before the foundation of the world; second, by giving them as sheep to the good Shepherd for Him to save; third, by causing the Holy Spirit to bring them from death unto life, illumine their understandings, convict them of their lost estate, and make them willing to receive Christ. Thus they have no cause for boasting, but every reason to ascribe all the glory unto the Triune God.
Should the young preacher say, I am not yet quite clear in my mind, especially does the doctrine of election puzzle me as to exactly how I should address the unsaved. Neither election nor particular redemption should in anywise cramp your style. Your commission is to preach the Gospel to “every creature ” you can reach, and the Gospel is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” ( 1 Timothy 1:15), and therefore you are warranted in telling your hearers that there is a Savior for every sinner out of Hell who feels his need of Him and is willing to comply with His terms. Your first business is to show him his need of Christ and count upon the Spirit’s making your efforts effectual, assured that God’s Word shall not return unto Him void, whether or not you are permitted to see its fruits. But if you are granted the privilege of seeing some comply with Christ’s terms, then you may know that they are members of that Church which Christ loved and gave Himself for, and that the Spirit has now vitally united them to Him.
The evangelist’s message is that there is salvation in Christ for all who receive Him as He is offered in the Gospel and put their trust in Him.
Though Christ purchased reconciliation and justification for all His people, yet they do not receive the same until they repent and believe. God is willing to be on terms of amity with the sinner, yet He will not be so until the sinner submit to those terms. Christ has perfectly made peace with God, so that no other ransom or sacrifice is required, yet none are admitted into it until they make their peace with God. God has appointed a connection— a moral and holy one—between the blessings purchased by Christ and the actual conveyance of them to His people. Though Christ died in order to procure Heaven for them by His merits, He also died to procure for them the regenerating operations of His Spirit to prepare them for Heaven. The test or evidence of our compliance with God’s terms is a life of voluntary obedience: “as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy” ( Galatians 6:16) —“mercy ” toward their defects.