Previous article in this series: February 1, 2014, p. 211.
If God has chosen to save only some, and if He regenerates these people without their seeking it, what is the purpose of preaching the gospel to all men?
Many professing Christians ask this question. It is common to hear them ask it when they hear the truth that God desires to save only some people. That doctrine does not fit with their view of the content of the gospel and the purpose of the preaching.
In other words, the question these people ask serves to bring out an important point: If you have a wrong view of salvation (and of regeneration specifically), you will also have a wrong view of the gospel and of the purpose of preaching it.
Having covered in four articles some central points on regeneration, this article will be the beginning of a series on the subject of the call of the gospel. What is the gospel? What does it mean to preach it? What does God accomplish by means of this preaching? With this article we begin a consideration of these subjects.
First regenerated, then called
There is an order in which the blessings of salvation are given to God’s people. We commonly refer to this as the order of salvation, or ordo salutis, for those who enjoy using the Latin.
The first two in that order are as follows:
Regeneration: God giving a person a new spiritual heart.1
Calling: God speaking to those whom He has already regenerated, and in this way drawing the regenerated unto Himself.
Having already considered the first, we are proceeding now to the second.
God speaks to the regenerated. He speaks to us through Christ, and Christ speaks to us through the preaching of the church. This is the means our Father uses to call the regenerated and draw them unto Himself.
This drawing is necessary. No one can come to Christ unless God draws him. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (). God’s people are not only in this world, but are by nature also like this world. What is their need? That God draw them out of this world, so that they come unto Christ and commune with those who are in Christ.
God Himself draws them to Christ, and this passage from John explains how He does that. He draws them by teaching them. It is all those who have “heard, and learned of the Father” that are drawn out and come to Christ.
It is by means of gospel preaching that God teaches His people. This is the means by which the regenerated come to hear and learn of their heavenly Father. The more they hear their Father and understand that they are like their Father in the new man, the more they willingly separate from this world, and come unto the one who has begotten them from above.
Drawing (not creating) the fish
Our Lord said, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” ().
Preaching is fishing. It is the means God uses not to create the fish, but to draw out the fish that He has already created.
God creates good fish when He regenerates them. This is when they become “new creatures” or good fish. Then God uses the preaching of the truth to draw the good fish to Christ, and to cause them to school with other good fish.
It is of great importance that we understand this. There are many who view the preaching to be the means by which the unregenerated (bad fish) come to recognize that they are bad fish, so that they will ask God to regenerate them and thus make them into good fish. Those who have this view will often think that it is especially the unregenerated who need the preaching, so that they can become aware of their unregenerated condition and ask God to raise them from the dead.
This is really the Arminian view of salvation and gospel preaching, but it often seeps into churches that refer to themselves as Reformed. Thus it is important that we understand the proper order: First God gives us a new heart, and only then do we have a desire to eat the preached Word that is spiritual food for our spiritual life.
Drawing the good fish
Many today try all sorts of means other than the preaching of the truth to draw people into their church. Although they may succeed in acquiring more fish, most or all of the fish that they will gather will not be the good ones.
The good fish are gathered by setting out the good food. Although man by nature despises the distinctive doctrines that we preach, those whom God has raised from the dead long for this food. God regenerates whom He pleases. To us He has given the calling to preach the truth that He has taught us, knowing that God will use that preaching to draw the living unto Himself.
First God puts His Word in our heart. Then when we hear the preaching of that Word we have a delight in it, and experience ourselves being graciously drawn toward the one who is teaching us.
This then brings us back to the question brought up at the beginning of this article. If God wants to save only some people, why preach to all men?
Part of the answer to this question has already been given. God uses the preaching of the gospel to draw out those whom He has already regenerated. In the preaching the truth is cast out as a net. This net is used not to create the fish, but to draw the fish into the boat.
But another point could be added about the work of missions. Although we preach to “all persons promiscuously and without distinction,” we are called to preach the Word to all those “whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel” (Canons II, 5).
As our Lord showed to His disciples, He alone knows where the good fish are. Therefore we must constantly look to Him to guide us as we go forth to the nations, preaching the one Word that will be effective in drawing His people into the church.