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The Gospel: For the living or the dead?

"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:14,15)

Our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus, speaking here at the beginning of His ministry, exhorted His hearers to repent and believe the gospel. Did they? "Where the word of a king is, there is power." There is no question in our mind that all to whom repentance was granted did repent. (Acts 11:18) Those that were ordained to eternal life did believe. (Acts 13:48) The Lord did not come that He might try to save some, but that He would save His people from their sins, and that everlastingly. When He preached the gospel, there were those present that were predestinated to hear and believe, and no power on earth could prevent that occurring. What a blessed doctrine it is when we are given to see that salvation is of the Lord; first, last and always.

But to confine ourselves to the subject at the heading we ask: What is the gospel, and what is its purpose? We hesitate not to say that first and foremost the gospel is good news; not for all mankind, but His chosen ones, and secondly, its purpose is just that - to be good news for those for whom it is intended. Men may preach Sunday after Sunday, and meeting after meeting to those who are dead in sin, and aliens to God, but those dead hearers can never respond any more than intellectually to what is preached. Men may a have carnal understanding or comprehension of what is being said, but the outward man, or that which is born of the flesh, being enmity against God, cannot receive the things of the Spirit, and mark this well, the gospel is a spiritual message for spiritual being a Being dead in sin, men love their idols, and cannot give them up. (One of the most cherished idols is the notion that dead sinners can receive life by responding to the gospel.) And, while the natural man will deny it, they hate the Word of God. They hate God and His message, and hate the messenger as well. Being deluded by self or Satan, many will speak in a boasting manner of how they can believe the word of the gospel, and even speak well of the gospel, while they are yet strangers to its power and intent. No, the gospel is of no use, humanly speaking, to those outside the election of Grace. One might just as well feed pearls to the swine as to preach the gospel to the reprobate. Neither can appreciate the value of the commodity. We would add, however, as a word of caution, that it would be wrong if we try to determine for ourselves who the reprobates are among the flock, supposing that we might withhold the gospel from them. No; the gospel minister is to preach the word and leave to the Lord the sifting. And too, the servant of the Lord must not harbor ill feelings to them who know not God. We have no license to manifest malice when others have not the same light we seem to have, if indeed we do. However, for those who are born of the Spirit of God, who do have life in Christ, the gospel comes like a much needed shower upon the fields. It comes down in power and strength, and it bedews those for whom it is intended. They are comforted, they are made glad, they are strengthened in their God, they are made to say, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief." They call upon Him whom they have pierced, and they delight upon such words as bring praise to the name of their God and instruction to their poor hungering souls. But all of these things are foreign to those who are dead in sin.

Arminians may, and do ask, "Why do you preach the gospel if it does not save poor sinners?" And we vehemently deny that it does save poor sinners when the word "save" is used as being the equivalent of being born again. In the sense the word save is intended by the mission advocates, the gospel will avail the dead sinner nothing. Without doubt the gospel has and does save the living children from many false doctrines and evil practices, for it is the power of God unto salvation for every one who believes, but there is absolutely no power in the gospel for the unbeliever. (Romans 1:16) We contend that we preach the gospel, first, because like a fire in our bones, we cannot do otherwise; and secondly, if called of God to preach, we will answer the calling; and thirdly, because God has always raised up hearers when He has raised up ministers, and thus they complement one another. So the word goes forth in power and authority to its intended place, at its intended hour, as God would design it, and not as man. We preach the gospel because we are bidden to; not because it calls dead sinners from their sins. We preach the blessed gospel because it is food to the living child, and not a source of life to the dead alien. We preach the gospel because God's little children hunger and thirst after righteousness, and they respond with joy when they receive the gospel in their inward being. Unlike those who are dead in sin and who cannot receive the things of God, the living children will and do respond as they receive by grace the glad tidings of the gospel.

Yes, we deny that the purpose of the gospel is to save dead sinners from their sins, or to quicken the dead into life. There is not one place in the word of God which would support such a doctrine, though multitudes have sought to find it there. There are texts, however, that teach the opposite, such as where the Apostle Paul told young Timothy "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:" (2nd Timothy 1:10). Observe that the gospel brings life and immortality to light, but that does not mean that it brings life and immortality into existence, but rather to light. The mission system advocates confuse themselves and their followers by saying that were it not for ministers (hirelings) going forth to sow the seed, multitudes would perish in their sins. If that were so then the Old School Baptists are terrible sinners for not supporting the monied system of missions. But, there can be nothing further from the truth, for if this was the truth, which it certainly is not, then of all the peoples upon the earth that deserve to be exiled to hell and torment for their sins, it is those mission advocates that hold to the doctrine of gospel regeneration, for they certainly, having boasted and strutted forth such a doctrine as this, have not lived up to its awesome responsibilities. To illustrate - If by raising money and sending forth missionaries or preachers we could convert the dead to life, convert sheep out of goats, and make wheat out of tares, then by all means we should utilize every moment and every fund at our disposal to see that just that is done. We should never rest; we should weary ourselves even unto death in the pursuit of such a lofty objective. If there is yet one sinner within our reach, or within our influence, who has as yet not been converted by the gospel, and brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, then the burden is upon us to reach that one also, lest he perish in the everlasting flames. But we ask, Is this being done? No! No! No! Indeed it is not. For the most part, those who contend for a gospel regeneration system live in splendor, live in ease and in comfort. They fare sumptuously every day on the filthy lucre they have filched from their minions. They receive their salaries, they go out to their appointed field, and they toil (?) their appointed hours and then withdraw from the battle. If others perish in their sins, so be it. To hear them tell it they only have limited funds and limited time, we repeat, to hear them tell it. We cannot conceive that anyone with a burden such as they profess to have could idle themselves one second of their life with such a momentous undertaking at hand. Yet such is the case.

Again, if the gospel is intended to give life, to bring the poor dead sinner from death to life, to quicken the unregenerate, then surely there must be some few clear passages in the Bible that would teach us so. We do not speak of texts wrested from their context; only such as have a clear "Thus saith the Lord" stamped on them. But on the contrary, we find nothing of the sort. We understand from the Word of God, "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them, to the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34) Need words be plainer? What more could be said? We understand that God effectually, by His Spirit, calls those for whom He intends to give life, and that same Spirit teaches them to know the Lord their Saviour. Does God need a so-called gospel preacher to accomplish this? The heavens forbid!! Yes, a sinner might be quickened and at the same time be called by the gospel. God verily cannot be limited. However, such does not appear to be the ordinary in the Bible. The apparent order of God bringing a sinner to Him is first, the quickening work of the Spirit on the vessel of mercy to create Christ in him the hope of glory. At some point after this the gospel is made known to him, and it opens up such realities as his new life, his hope, and a host of other rich treasures in Christ his Lord. The gospel does not give the redeemed sinner these blessings; rather it brings them to light, as says the word of truth.

We learn from the scriptures in an copious amount of places that Jesus has died for His sheep, and that none of them shall finally be lost; that all of them shall be saved. There are no ifs, or suppositions in this formula, but rather it is an everlastings certainty made sure in the election of grace, and that from the foundation of the world. But if it were left to us to carry the gospel to those whom God has ordained to eternal life, where is the certainty that it would ever be accomplished? Look carefully at the following text and it will be seen that it clearly does not support the idea that is supposedly drawn from it. "So shall my word be that goeth 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." Nothing is said here about the word that goes forth out of the preacher or soul-winner's mouth. My word is God's word, not man's. My mouth is God's mouth, not the missionary's. Which I please is God's pleasure, not man's. Whereto I sent it is God's directive, not the creature's. There is absolutely nothing in this text to lend support to the idea that one may dash out and preach a gospel sermon and it be as God's mouth. It is not so or He would have told us so. And this is but one of many texts the gospel regeneration group twists to suit their own needs.

Make no mistake about it. Either the gospel, as is supposed by some, gives life, or it does not. We speak here of the gospel as is preached by man. Can it possibly be believed by anyone with a Bible in their hand that a mere man could by speaking words formed from his religious creed bring life to a sinner presently dead in sin, blind in unbelief, and in a state of enmity with God? Yet so it is. A familiar argument we hear often goes something like this. "We believe in election and predestination just like you do, but we believe also that God has ordained that his ministers call out the elect with the gospel and preach life to them; and so they believe and live." Well, without trying to be clever, let us say that they don't believe election and predestination just like we do or they would not run with a message God hasn't given them. Did not our Lord say "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) See too, if any hint of gospel regeneration, or creature effort can be found in the following text. "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. "(John 1:13) Surely this is as clear as it will ever be found, and not any amount of twisting and turning will ever sully the clear testimony of the disciple John. Not one hint here that God would employ man in the great work of bringing a sinner from death to life. After a long and studied pursuit of this subject we have concluded that the chief reason there are those that hold to gospel regeneration is because it pampers the flesh by making it (the flesh) a part of the great work of God.

Now, if it is necessary for a man to preach the gospel in order for a poor sinner to be brought to life, then it must have been necessary for someone to have first preached to the preacher for him to have life, also. And, too, it must have been necessary for someone to preach to that one, third removed, and on, and on, and on, back even to Adam, the first man upon this earth. Thus, if it is necessary for someone to each the gospel for one to be spiritually born, we ask, Who preached the gospel to the very first one when there was no one else around? It is usually responded that God preached to that one. And there you have it. If God did, indeed, speak life to the first sinner saved by grace, then why should we believe that He who changes not, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, would have altered His program or plan to invest this awesome task into the hands of men, when the first sinner was saved by God, and God alone. It seems on the surface ridiculous, and after some study it still seems ridiculous. Indeed, we believe the gospel is important. It is blessedly important to all who hunger for a message from heaven, but we do not believe that God has ever intended that the gospel, as preached by man, be the means of giving life to a poor sinner. We do heartily agree that all who have been born of the Spirit of God believe on Jesus Christ. But not because someone got to them with the gospel: rather because God fully equips all His children for heaven without the assistance of man.

It may be objected by some that infants, heathens, and idiots do not believe on God. But how can we say what God has or has not done for those limited ones? And, if indeed the Lord has any chosen ones among them, and we believe He has, then why should He not give them faith just like He gives all the rest of the elect? How else does one believe, except by faith? And is not faith the gift of God unaided by men? We fairly submit that if the gospel is needed to save an ordinary sinner then it is also necessary to save the infant, the heathen, and the idiot. Are they not all alike sinners of Adams race? There can be no such thing, as we understand it, as a sinner made alive in Christ, and yet ignorant of Him. There will no sinner wake up in Heaven and wonder who that is sitting on the throne. They will be brought to a knowledge of their dear Redeemer in this life. Not, as we strongly object, by a preacher saving them with the gospel, but by the work of the blessed Spirit Who created Christ in them the hope of glory. Not Christ in the head, but in the spiritual, or inward man, where none but God can see.

J.F.P.

The Remnant
May - June 1989