When was the last time you have contemplated the Word of God as it is recorded in Acts 13:48? It reads as follows, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” This is really an amazing statement! For we read that the Gentiles were glad at the preaching of Paul, who brought the gospel of Christ. Not only this, but they glorified the word of the Lord! They that did this had previously been unbelievers—heathen. But the fruit of the preaching is belief and gladness!
On the other hand, many when they heard the preaching of the apostles were not glad, but despised the word of the Lord. So incensed were they that they would, if it were possible, kill the apostle who so preached Christ. The unbelieving Jews did this, often stirring up a crowd against them; and also the unbelieving Gentiles did this, as in Ephesus.
In the light of this twofold reaction to the preaching of Christ, what a wonder that we read what we do in the text of Acts 13:48. Rev. H. Hoeksema states the following truth in his, Reformed Dogmatics. “The preaching must be directed not only to the elect, but also to the reprobate; not only to the godly, but also to the ungodly. It must be so distinctive that under its influence the reprobate and ungodly cannot remain, but will reveal themselves as haters of the truth of God and His Christ.”
Further, Hoeksema goes on to state, “And moreover, even the elect regenerated are not perfect. There is much flesh in the church. Daily they have to strive with the desires and lusts of the flesh, and must be admonished steadfastly to walk in the way of the covenant, to hate sin, and to fight against it, and flee from it.”
Such was the preaching of the apostles always, also on the field of missions. This, too, was true of Christ Himself in His preaching. Hear His word recorded inMatthew 10:34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Such is His preaching that it even sets a man at variance with his father, and a daughter against her mother. The fruit, therefore, of the apostle’s preaching was such that many despised the apostles and the word that they brought, while others were glad, and rejoiced, praising God and glorifying His Word.
Why? Why do some receive the exhortations of the Word with gladness—become humbled by it, and give all glory to God? According to many, the answer lies in the fact that some men are better than others. They are willing to have the word—they have an innate goodness that enables them to strive after the word. They open their own hearts to accept the preaching, while others will not.
So prevalent is this idea or theory in the church world today, that man has so constructed paraphrased versions of the Bible to change the wording of our text, so that it might read exactly in harmony with their evil theology. The result is that they make Acts 13:48 read just the opposite of the truth in-breathed by the Spirit of Christ. We take note of this by quoting from Reach Out, one of the versions of THE LIVING NEW TESTAMENT. Acts 13:48 reads, according to this instrument of Satan, the following way, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and rejoiced in Paul’s message; and as many as wanted eternal life, believed.”
The emphasis in this version falls upon man and his will, rather than upon God and His work. Thus the ingathering of the church is presented as dependent upon the will of man.
However, if this were true, this would be an overwhelmingly fearful thing for both the hearers and the preachers of the gospel of our Lord. Certainly, if we were to assume that the ingathering of the church was dependent upon the hearers’ desire for eternal life, then it would be utterly impossible to take up the calling to preach the word of Christ. For then the salvation of Christ’s church would become dependent upon the ability of the preacher to convince people to want eternal life! But natural man will not ever desire eternal life, for he is dead in sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1). This is very evident from the preaching of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When He preached upon the mountain to the multitude, and even fed them miraculously, only a few remained with Him. Why was this true? Was not Jesus good enough in His preaching? God Forbid! Rather, Jesus explains that only those whom God draws unto Him will come to Him, believing in Him.
According to the Word of God which we are considering, the preaching of Christ is received by those ordained unto eternal life. This is wholly different! And this was extremely comforting for the apostles as they preached the gospel, as it is also for Christ’s faithful servants of all ages as they go forth preaching the Word of God. May we have grace to remember this in our preaching and missionary labor.
This truth is found throughout the Scriptures. When God brought His people into the typical land of rest He declared to them, according to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor chose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” The reason Israel was redeemed out of the land of bondage and led into the land of rest is alone God’s sovereign and eternal covenant love which He has set upon them, and which He promised to their fathers. God is faithful to save those whom He has called in love. He loved them eternally. He loves those whom He calls by His Word throughout the ages, for He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-4). It is the eternal ordination of our faithful covenant God that is worked out by His calling through the preaching of the gospel. Jesus explains that His sheep hear His voice, whereas those who are not of His sheep do not (John 10). In verse 29 our Lord teaches us that the sheep are given Him of His Father. Therefore, though many who are not of His sheep take up stones to slay His servants, and cut off the preaching of Christ, nevertheless, of those who are the ordained it is said “many believed in Him there.”
It is evident from Acts 13:48 that the believing is the fruit of the ordination unto eternal life. For as we are ordained in Christ, so is Christ sent of God as our ordained Head to redeem us. This was the testimony of the Spirit in Deuteronomy 7:8. It is because of God’s elective love alone that He has redeemed us out of the house of bondmen, whether typically or in reality.
This same testimony we receive in Ephesians 1. We are chosen from eternity in Christ unto the adoption of children, and it is on this basis also that Christ has come in our flesh, “In Whom we have redemption through His blood.” It is by Christ’s redeeming work that we have the forgiveness of sins, and are become righteous. And upon the basis of Christ’s merits, His righteousness, He calls us out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s fellowship. He sheds forth His Spirit, making known unto us the mysteries of God’s will, sealing unto us the Word.
Therefore, on the basis of the atonement and the righteousness of Christ we are united by His Spirit to Christ Himself. Thus God gives unto His chosen ones eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand.
The natural man has not been given this. He has eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, etc. Jesus says to them, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. 13:15). It is obvious from this text that the unbelief of the wicked is also ordained of God.
But those who are ordained unto eternal life by the living God are covered by Christ’s blood and are called by Christ’s Word and Spirit unto belief. We are converted and He heals us. And we are given the conscious testimony of our righteousness in His blood, and thus by grace walk out of Christ in the works of faith, trusting in Him and praising God.
It is in confidence and in comfort that we are able therefore to preach the gospel of Christ. For we know that God never sends forth His word to return unto Him void, but that it always accomplishes His perfect purpose. It does this as well when the ungodly hearts are hardened, that God’s power and righteousness may be revealed in their condemnation in the way of their sin, as it does when the ordained unto eternal life receive that Word in gladness.
Indeed, it is in gladness that we receive the blessed gospel of our salvation! For true gladness comes with the knowledge that the cause of our alienation to God is removed, that we have been reconciled by God to Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. As we are justified by His blood we are now drawn unto God by His Word and Spirit. And the fruit is that we now in principle and soon in perfection will dwell in His fellowship and blessed communion.
Then, indeed, we have peace which God alone is able to give. For even our sins can no longer condemn us. Nor is any enemy able to have the victory. All things are well! Gladness is to have fellowship with God through the blood of our Lord, and to live in God’s blessed fellowship as His servants.
And then, surely, as He proclaims His Word to us we glory in that Word. For it is the Word of our salvation in Christ. We cannot glory in anything else, can we? Surely not in anything we are able to do! But what we are forever unable to accomplish, the gospel of Christ teaches that God has done for us. He forgives us in the blessed Son and He delivers us unto the eternal life unto which He has ordained us, Let him that glorieth, glory alone in our God.