Sovereignty of Grace
ELECTION AND EVANGELISM
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questions commonly arise in the minds of all those who earnestly
desire to see their unsaved friends and relatives brought to
a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us examine these
three questions and see if there are satisfactory answers to
be found in Scripture itself.
The first question
is: Why Preach at All? If Election guarantees the salvation
of all that are predestined to be saved, why should we be bothered
with evangelism, personal or missionary? What possible difference
can it make whether we speak to men or not?
we do feel a call to evangelize, the second question is: What
to Preach? Since Limited Atonement seems clearly to be the
intention of God in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ so
that Christ died effectively only for the elect, what kind of
message do we have for the unsaved individual? Since we have
no way of knowing in advance whether he is among the elect or
not, we have no way of knowing whether Christ died for him
in particular. Can we then with sincerity say to such a one,
"God loves you" for "Christ died for you"?
If we cannot be personal in this way, what form is our presentation
to take? What actual message do we have for the individual!
The third question
is: Should Election Be Preached ? Since many are called
but only a few are chosen to be saved, is it wise to emphasize
the Sovereignty of the Grace of God which to the non-elect might
seem cause for despair? Should we not rather keep quiet on the
matter of God's elective purposes? Is Predestination a proper
subject for public discussion?
Part IV: Election and Evangelism
It is important
to bear in mind that we are not called to personal evangelism
or to the mission field simply because we want to share with
others our sense of gratitude to the Lord for what He has done
for us personally in saving us. This would make all personal
evangelism and all missionary activity dependent upon our own
feelings; and human feelings do not have the staying power to
provide a solid foundation for any venture that involves both
courage and sustained self-sacrifice, the rewards of which may
never be seen on this side of the grave. When, as almost inevitably
happens at times, we reach a low in our spiritual life, we also
lose much of our sense of thankfulness. Gratitude is not strong
enough to inspire us to any kind of sustained missionary activity.
The call to personal evangelism
and to all missionary activity rests upon the fact that we are
commanded to go.
Jesus came and spake unto them,
saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go
ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have
commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end
of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18‹20)
We are not invited
to preach the Gospel only at certain times which seem propitious
or in certain places which look more promising, though there
is no doubt that we are called to be wise as serpents and harmless
as doves (Matthew 10:16). We are encouraged to be always ready
to sow the seed. "In the morning sow your seed, and in the
evening withhold not your hand: for you do not know whether shall
prosper either this or that, or whether both alike shall be good"
(Ecclesiasatese 11:6). In writing to Timothy Paul said, "Preach
the Word; be instant in season, out of season" (2 Timothy
4:2). The Greek behind this exhortation is interesting. To "be
instant" is a translation of a Greek word which has a number
of meanings, all tending in the same direction. These are "to
stand by," "to be at hand," "to be pressing,"
"to be urgent," "to be earnest." The ideas
of eagerness, seriousness, constancy,
and preparedness are all wrapped
up in the Greek verb ephistemi ().
The Greek which lies behind the words "in season, out of season"
is perhaps more literally rendered "timely" and "untimely"
(eukairos and akairos,
In spite of our reasonings which would justify delay, the occasion being
inappropriate, it is doubtful if the Holy Spirit could have used any two
other words which would more clearly set forth the principle that we are
not to be guided by our feelings as to the appropriateness or otherwise
of the moment. There are undoubtedly times when we should remain silent,
even as the Lord Jesus upon certain occasions did not allow men to give
their testimony (e.g., Mark 7:36). The secret must surely be that we are
to commune with the Lord continuously, seeking his instructions moment
by moment so that we shall neither default nor presume.
The message is to be presented
when the Lord directs, even if there is every evidence that it
will not be accepted. In Ezekiel 2:7 the Lord said to the prophet,
"And you shalt speak my words unto them whether they will
hear or whether they will forbear." And later Ezekiel receives
further instructions in this regard, explaining to him more clearly
why he was to present a message even when there was no possibility
of its being accepted. Thus in Ezekiel 3:18, 19 the Lord said:
"When I say unto the wicked, you shall surely die; and you
give him not warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked
way, to save his life: the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity;
but his blood will I require at your hand. Yet
if you warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness,
nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but
you hast delivered your soul."
The principle here is a very important
one. We have one responsibility when occasion is offered, we
must warn men of their position before God. If we fail to do
this we are disobedient. We pay the price of that disobedience
in a loss of the sense of fellowship with our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ, and with one another. Obedience to the command
to speak to our friends of the Lord is the best guarantee of
spiritual growth and of enjoyment of fellowship with the Lord.
Yet such obedience is not essential for the fulfillment of God's
purposes in Election, for He is sovereign. This is not why we
are called to share our faith, as though without this active
ministry the hands of the Lord would be tied. It is a privilege
which the Lord allows (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
But there is another equally important
point which emerges from these passages of Scripture ‹ the
message we present serves a double purpose. To those who are
elect it means the breath of life; to those who are not elect,
whom God has merely allowed to go their own way by their own
choice, it is a sentence of death. As Paul said to the Corinthians:
"To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to
the other the savour of life unto life" (2 Corinthians 2:16).
And Paul asks, appropriately, "And who is
sufficient for these
things?" For we stand in the presence of the inscrutable
will of God whose ways are not our ways but who will in the end
demonstrate without doubt that He has done all things well. Isaiah
55:8‹11 instructs us:
My thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For
as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the
rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither
but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud that it
may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my
Word be that goesh forth out of my mouth it shall not return
unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and
it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
We do not know
in any given case why we are sent to someone or someone is brought
to us, whether it is to be, in a nutshell, "for blessing
or for cursing," but we do know from this passage that when
we use the Word of God we are obeying his command faithfully,
we are absolving ourselves from the responsibility of that man's
decision, and we can rest assured that it is not a purposeless
undertaking. God's Word will accomplish that for which He sends
it through us.
We thus demonstrate the justice
of God when men are condemned because, of their own free will,
they have refused his offer of salvation; and we demonstrate
his grace when men, who would otherwise refuse, accept his salvation
because He gives them the power to do so. What God uses in both
cases, to leave without excuse on the one hand and to save on
the other hand, is his own Word. The message that will in the
end bring life is not man's rationalization as exhibited in his
theology, nor his intuitive understanding as set forth in his
poetry, nor even the persuasive power of the eloquence by which
he succeeds in captivating his hearers. The message is the Word
of God, the "seed" (Luke 8:11). It is this that is
germinated: "being born again, not of corruptible seed,
but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides
forever" (1 Peter 1:23). And again, "So then, faith
come by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans
10.17). And once again, "Of his own will begat He us with
the Word of truth" (James 1:18).
It is of fundamental
importance to recognize that God's ultimate weapon is his own
Word and not man's. The eloquence of the speaker, his powers
of persuasion, and the sophistication of his techniques are really
beside the point. It is not that God ignores these things: it
is rather that He does not need them. He may be pleased
to use them, but men are wonderfully saved without any of these
means. The unreached derelict victimized by alcohol may stumble
upon a tract through which God speaks to his soul, and he is
born again without direct human intervention. There is a case,
I believe, of
a body of believers formed
on an unevangelized Pacific island as a result of a single loose
page blown from a Bible held in the hand of a missionary travelling
by sea to another place.
The Word of God has extraordinary
power. Some years ago I knew of an Anglican minister who did
not know the Lord but served in a small Welsh mining community
where a number of his less educated parishioners were the Lord's
children and knew it. This minister at the time was something
of a dilettante in spiritual matters and did not even consider
it worthwhile preaching a sermon at every service. On one occasion
he planned to forego the sermon but at the last moment, when
the time arrived in the service for him to preach, he casually
decided to say a few words on the text, "What think you
He went up to the pulpit and started
a random discourse for which he had undertaken no preparation
whatever. But while he was speaking, somehow it dawned upon him
that he had to answer this question himself personally. And in
some extraordinary way the light went on in his own mind and
heart as he searched for words. He hesitated ‹ then stood
silently for a moment as the truth suddenly flooded his soul.
Someone in the back of the church, a miner who for all his lack
of education knew more of the Lord than the minister did, stood
up and said in a loud voice, "Alleluia! The Parson's saved!"
And he was! So here we have a case of a man saved by his own
preaching of the Word of God.
In evangelism it is not that God
is dependent upon us who already know the Lord; rather
it is that our growth is dependent upon our obedience to evangelize,
and God does not give commands to us which are without purpose.
When our ministry occasionally succeeds in bearing fruit unto
everlasting life, we can only say with Paul that "we were
allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel"
(1 Thessalonians 2:4).
There is yet
another reason for personal evangelism even though we know that
very few will respond favourably. The fact is that there is no
other way for those very few who by grace are to respond except
somebody in some direct or indirect way provide them with the
occasion. The same message which is rejected by the unsaved is
the means whereby the elect are brought into salvation. Elect
and non-elect are indistinguishable as targets until the parting
of the ways. Romans 9:21 tells us that vessels of honour and
of dishonour are fashioned out of the same material. And as Paul
said to the Ephesians (2:3), we all shared in times past the
same kind of life, "fulfilling the desire" of the flesh
and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even
as others. The same message must therefore be presented to
the elect and the non-elect alike, though the response will be
exactly opposite. Under normal circumstances, in spite of our
special concern for particular individuals, we can never know
whether we are
to one who is yet to be born again or to one whom God will permit
to go his own way. Only once in Scripture did a man actually
know that the unsaved man to whom he was called to minister the
Gospel was numbered among God's elect. In Acts 9:1‹15 Ananias
was sent to open the eyes of a man who was "a chosen vessel"
to bear the Lord's name before the Gentiles.
It is not improper, even by standards
of human judgment, that a man should be warned that if he goes
on in his own way he must come into judgment. But having given
men free will in the first place, the Judge is not obligated
to direct that warning personally to the individual. Although
such warning makes his condemnation doubly sure because the man
personally warned is wholly without excuse, nevertheless, something
is revealed of the Judge's character when we learn that at least
He desired that the wicked should be forewarned. Even in this
giving of warning there is thus an element of the grace of God
displayed. At the same time it is quite fitting that we who are
commanded to warn men should assume some responsibility for our
negligence when we fail to do so. But when we do personally evangelize
our fellow men, we are in a sense rewarded, whether our message
is rejected or accepted, though we are apt to think of reward
as resulting only from acceptance.
Some years ago I had occasion to
see a beautiful illustration of how an apparently futile argument
can bring wholly unexpected difficulty. One of our young people
with whom I had been dealing for four years, and who was yet
unsaved, climbed on the streetcar at the limits of the north
end of our city to make the long trip (about eight miles) downtown
to a place of summer employment. On the streetcar it happened
that there was another young person who loved to argue but seemed
totally impervious to the Lord's claims and quite unaware of
his own need of a Saviour. He fancied himself something of a
sophisticated philosopher. My friend sat down beside him, and
at once got into an argument with him about the way of salvation,
though my friend himself had yet no assurance of his own salvation.
Apparently the argument continued unabated until they both got
off the streetcar half an hour later and went their own different
ways to work.
At the end of the day, in the providence
of God, both men caught the same streetcar back to the north
end of the city and found seats side by side! In view of the
enormous numbers of people coming out of work at that time in
the evening, this was an unusual circumstance indeed. Needless
to say, they picked up their former argument immediately.
That evening, after supper, my
friend phoned me and said, "I'd like to come over and see
you. I think I know what you've been trying to tell me."
And within half an hour we went for a walk together and there
was no doubt about it. He knew the Lord. He was rejoicing in
a new life. What had happened on the streetcar was that the argument,
while serving no such
purpose in the mind and
heart of the other young man, had nevertheless in his own heart
and mind clarified his position so that he was in effect evangelized
by his own words. It is tremendously rewarding to know that this
young man went forward in the Lord and is now a revered minister
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As to his opponent, as far as
I know he was never convinced.
Those who have engaged in such
personal work will bear ample testimony to the fact that even
violent opposition can be rewarding, because it draws us so much
closer to the Lord. We "fill up his sufferings," (Colossians
1:24). We grow by exercise and learn how to deal with certain
kinds of response, and there is a strange joy in being repudiated
for Christ's sake. Our sense of oneness with the Lord is greatly
enhanced and a new element of spiritual adventure is introduced
to the commission of Matthew 28 bears its own unexpected reward.
And exercise increases ability. But we are undoubtedly fainthearted
and of little faith. Let us admit before the Lord what we know
in our hearts to be true, that it is not always doctrine that
dulls our sense of mission but fear of the faces of men.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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