Rev. denHartog is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
The apostle Paul was the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He begins almost all of his letters reminding his readers of this important truth. Christ is the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Lord. He now rules over all the nations of the world. This sovereign and glorious Lord called Paul to be a preacher. The man who was once an enemy of God and a persecutor of the church was saved by the power of the Word of Christ and made His lowly and obedient slave. At the very same time he was called to be the instrument of Christ to bear His name and declare the gospel of His salvation for the saving and gathering of His church. When this happened. Paul asked with fear and trembling, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?!”
Paul was called to be an ambassador of Christ. The ambassador must boldly and faithfully declare the Word of Christ. There is no word like the Word of Christ. By this Word Christ would be glorified and His sovereign purposes fulfilled in the earth. The glorious name of Christ must be declared through all the earth until every knee shall bow before Him and every tongue shall confess His name to the glory of God the Father. The servant of Christ must never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the wonder-working power of Christ by which He saves His people chosen unto eternal life. The calling to declare the gospel of Christ throughout all the earth is a mighty and glorious calling! No other earthly occupation can compare with it. None accomplishes a purpose as great and wonderful. None has a duty more urgent and serious. The whole church of Jesus Christ must be interested in this work. She must be concerned about raising up preachers from her sons, supporting seminaries where they can be properly trained, and sending them out into the world to do their mighty work. She must pray for them daily, and support their work through sacrificial giving. This work must be continued by the followers of the apostles. In I Corinthians 9:16 Paul speaks of the compelling nature of his calling, “necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.”
The faithful preacher is Christ’s own chosen vessel. Christ qualifies him with the necessary gifts of His Spirit and the special knowledge and understanding of His Word. The preacher of the gospel is clothed with the authority of Christ and sent into the world by Him. The ambassador of Christ has the solemn obligation to declare the Word of Christ with absolute authority. He may not change the Word of Christ or by any means bring his own word. He must declare only the Word of Christ. He is sent where Christ sends him. Wherever he goes he must bring only the Word of Christ his Lord. He must teach men the true doctrine of salvation without the mixture of human opinions. The whole counsel of God must be declared, nothing must be kept back that is profitable for the salvation of God’s people.
When the content of the gospel is changed and substituted with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, the man who does this becomes a false preacher and leads men astray. He may have a large following, but those who follow him will not be made to follow Christ. Instead they will be made followers of a weak and helpless man and one who seeks his own glory rather than the glory of Christ. This preacher, in spite of all his boasting, is powerless to save. He seeks only to enrich himself by robbing from those he has called to come to him. For this the false preacher will receive the most severe condemnation.
The Lord is pleased to gather and defend and preserve His church through the means of the preaching of the gospel. Those who are redeemed and called by Christ must be made members of His church, where they can be built up in the faith and worship the true and living God with their fellow saints. There they must submit themselves to the discipline of Christ. Men who do not bring the Word of Christ may be managers of a large and glorious institution, having grand church buildings able to seat thousands and equipped with all the latest electronic marvels, but this institution is not truly the church of Jesus Christ. This institution may provide popular entertainment programs attracting even many young people, rivaling modern rock concerts and boasting all sorts of humanistic ministries for every group of troubled persons in our modern society, but it does not serve the purpose of Christ and His salvation. Woe unto the managers of these institutions, who care neither for Christ nor for His church.
As the servant of Christ, Paul confesses that he has made himself a servant of all. Though he was by Christ made free from all men, as a preacher of the gospel he became the slave of all men, that “he might gain the more” (I Cor. 9:16). He was willing to become all things to all men, that by all means he might save some (I Cor. 9:22). Such was the love of the servant of Christ for those who must be saved by Him. The idea of this statement is not, as some foolishly teach, that even the gospel itself must be compromised so that the preacher might gain a large following. Neither does it mean that all sorts of unbiblical means for merchandizing the gospel may be employed in order to give it popular and mass appeal. Losing the truth of the gospel is fatal. When a man does that, he has lost all. He no longer glorifies Christ. He no longer preaches a gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. He no longer brings the Word of Christ that alone is able to build up men unto the knowledge of Christ and a perfect man, unto the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
Not all men will be saved through the preaching of the gospel, not even the majority of mankind. The gospel is not an offer of God to save all. Many will be offended by the preaching of the gospel. They will be condemned in their sin, and their hearts will be hardened even by the preaching of the Word of Christ to them. They will turn away from the truth, showing that they love the lie and darkness rather than the glorious light of salvation. The ministry of Jesus Himself had this result in Galilee. Jesus made this evaluation of the rejection of the gospel in Galilee: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11:25, 26). The apostle Paul declared this same truth in his second letter to the church of Corinth:
Now thanks be unto God, which always causes us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved and in them that perish: to the one we are a savor of death unto death; and to the other a savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ
Even when many reject the preaching of the gospel, the cause of the gospel will always triumph and fulfill the purposes of God in Christ. Though many will perish in their sins, the remnant according to the election of grace must be saved.
The mighty and glorious positive purpose of the preaching of the gospel is the salvation of God’s elect. These are those for whom Christ died. Their sins were atoned for at the cross. When the true gospel is preached, they will come to Christ, and He will receive them and save them, and will cause them to become citizens of His glorious kingdom.
This work of Christ must be accomplished in heathen lands to the very day of the return of Christ. The work of Christ’s ambassadors will always be a very difficult work and challenging work and often even a dangerous one. The world in which the gospel must be preached hated and crucified the Lord of glory and will also hate those who follow Jesus today.
The true gospel of salvation is hated just as bitterly today and opposed just as fiercely. Men who are called to this great work, at least in the past, had to be willing to leave the comforts of their homes and the peace and safety of the land in which they lived. They had to be prepared to go to a strange culture and to an ignorant, uncivilized people, living in abject poverty. Often they first had to learn the language of this people, to be able even to understand them and preach to them. As the day of the Lord approaches nearer and nearer, there are only a few of these areas left in the world where the gospel has not yet been preached. But the church must always ask whether there are still such lands where the Lord’s name must be made known and His people saved.
Those who are sent to do this work must be ready to leave family and friends behind. In times past, they would have to go to areas of the world where communication with home was difficult and often impossible. But many have gone before us in this work, and the cause of the gospel has gloriously triumphed in many lands. The modern world has changed radically. The kinds of circumstances that face the preachers of the gospel today are quite different, but no less difficult than they have been in the past. Even heathen peoples today may be highly educated and live in the most modern societies and highly developed cultures. Are we ready boldly to face the challenges of our modern world and continue the work of preaching the gospel of Christ to the end of the world before our Lord returns?