Editor’s Notes. 1. Rev. Engelsma called my attention to a typographical error in his article in the Jan. 1 issue, p. 155, first column, last paragraph. The sentence concerned should read: “His reference was not, primarily, to the heathen, but to the multitudes of fainting, scattered Israelites, the Old Testament people of God, under the care of the priests and scribes.” 2. These articles of Rev. Engelsma are a transcript of a lecture on this subject. The reader will notice there is duplication between this department and Prof. Decker’s. The latter had begun his series, however, before Rev. Engelsma’s material was submitted; and Prof. Decker will continue on this subject in his Missions department.
What the Reformed Faith Is
Why then is it charged upon the Reformed Faith, and sometimes feared, that it is incompatible with evangelism? This is because of what the Reformed Faith is. It is the teaching that salvation is the free gift and sovereign work of God in Jesus Christ, wholly without the slightest merit or work of man. The message of the Reformed Faith is, “Salvation by Grace Alone.”
This message consists of several outstanding truths. God has eternally loved and predestinated unto eternal love some persons out of the human race, in distinction from others whom, in the same decree, He predestinated unto perdition. This is the gracious source and foundation of all salvation.
God gave His only begotten Son to die for all those, and those only, whom He had given to Christ as His people, effectually to redeem them, by atoning for their sins. This is the gracious ground of all our salvation.
God now efficaciously calls, by the gospel and the Holy Spirit, into saving fellowship with Jesus, all those, but only those, whom He chose and redeemed. This is the gracious accomplishment of salvation. This work continues, as preservation, until all the elect, redeemed, and renewed people of God are perfected in glory.
With these doctrines, the Reformed Faith holds that all men alike are, by the fall of Adam, dead in sin and slaves to Satan, having wills that are not free, so as to be able to choose Christ and salvation, but bound, so as to be incapable of doing ought else, safe to reject the Christ presented in the gospel.
The Reformed Faith preaches an almighty, gracious God and a powerless, totally depraved mankind.
Such a faith, men charge, cannot evangelize. Indeed, such a faith must be unevangelistic in its very spirit. It cannot be motivated to be zealous in evangelism. Even if it were so motivated, it would have no message to bring.
Note well, however, that his charge, or fear, as the case may be, arises from certain preconceived notions about evangelism—notions that are un-Biblical. There is the notion that the motivation of evangelism is God’s love for all men and desire to save all men. There is the notion that the message of evangelism is a universal love of God, a universal atonement, and a universal grace in the preaching, all dependent upon the free will of sinners, who, it is thought, are able to choose for Christ. There is the notion that the efficacy of evangelism is the persuasiveness of the evangelist and the decision of the sinner’s wooed will.
Having these notions of evangelism, men proceed to corrupt the Reformed Faith in the interests of evangelism. Double predestination hinders missions; and, therefore, reprobation is denied, and men proclaim a universal saving love of God—the evangelist preaches to all and sundry, “God loves you.” Limited atonement hampers missions; and, therefore, men preach a universal atonement—the evangelist assures all and sundry, “Christ died for you.” An efficacious call of the gospel to some only restricts mission work; and, therefore, men teach that God is gracious to all men in the preaching the evangelist announces to all his hearers, “God desires your salvation and is now sincerely offering salvation to you.” Total depravity does not square with such evangelism (for what good is all this love, atonement, and grace, if the sinner cannot avail himself of it?); and, therefore, it is suggested to the sinner that he has the ability to open up his heart to let Jesus in, or he is told outright that the new birth depends upon his believing.
With this kind of evangelism, the Reformed Faith is incompatible; of such an evangelism, it is the sworn foe. A Reformed preacher would not dare to engage in evangelism of this kind. He would not, because he fears to stand in the Judgment, having preached a message that robbed God of His glory in the salvation of sinners and that taught sinners to trust for salvation in their own ability and activity. The worst evolutionist, a veritable Charles Darwin, will not be so culpable of despoiling the wonderful works of God as such an evangelist.
But this is not Biblical evangelism. With Biblical evangelism, the Reformed Faith is perfectly compatible. It is false, it is absurd to suppose that the Reformed Faith cannot do evangelism, because of the doctrines of grace that it espouses. These truths; assailed as detrimental to evangelism, are truths that set forth salvation as God’s gracious gift. They constitute the gospel, the “evangel,” the good news. How foolish of men, whether within Reformed churches or without, to deny the gospel, in order that they may better evangelize, i.e., proclaim the gospel. Men are really saying that God’s gospel is unpreachable, or that it is not serviceable for saving sinners and gathering the Church.
Let us see that the Reformed Faith can engage in evangelism, and how it does so. We will examine, in turn, its message, its method, and its motivation.
The Message of Reformed Evangelism
The message of the Reformed Faith in evangelism will be the whole counsel of God, as was the message of Paul, according to Acts 20:27. The Reformed preacher knows the entire Scripture and knows it as the inspired Word of God. He comes with Scripture, not with a little list of spiritual laws or some gospel on a thumbnail. Essentially, the message is always the same; but the preacher applies it differently to different audiences. Christ’s evangelism of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) differed from His evangelism of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Paul’s approach to the Jews of the synagogue differed from his approach to the Greek philosophers of Mars’ Hill (cp. Acts 17:1-3 with Acts 17:16-34). That thorough doctrinal instruction is required in evangelism, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20plainly shows, for it calls the Church to baptize the converts in the Name of the Triune God, implying that the missionary has taught the converts the doctrine of the Trinity. In order to do this, the preacher must himself have thorough knowledge of the Word of God and must possess the wisdom to address the Word to every audience. He must be called and qualified by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We must not have uncalled and unqualified “evangelists,” no matter how well-intentioned.
Although our message is the whole counsel of God, there are certain crucial elements in the message of evangelism. What they are, our Lord pointed out in His mandate to the apostles, and to the Church, in Luke 24:47. Immediately upon His resurrection from the dead, Christ opened the understanding of the disciples “that they might understand the scriptures; And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (vss. 45,46). Then, He commissioned them (and in them the Church down through the ages): “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Similar was the later commission of the apostle born out of due time, Paul, in Acts 26:18: “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” This commission, Paul carried out by showing to all men “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).
Evangelism must preach the sin of the people, the sin of the people as guilt—liability to the punishment of the offended God. Therefore, it is to proclaim the holy and righteous God, Whom the sinner has offended. This implies the preaching of God’s Law, which the sinner has transgressed and which he cannot keep. The Reformed Faith does this sharply, pointedly, concretely! In contrast, much present-day evangelism says little or nothing about a holy God, His righteous Law, sin, guilt, and punishment. If sin comes up at all, it is only the aspect of sin that consists of the sinner’s temporal troubles because of his wickedness. How different was the evangelism of Christ and of His apostles! Think of Jesus’ deliberate exposure of the adultery of the Samaritan woman at the well. Think of Peter’s searing condemnation of the Jews in Acts 3:14: “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.”
Evangelism proclaims the remission, or forgiveness, of sins for every sinner who repents. This is the removal of the sinner’s guilt and the imputation to him of the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith alone. The forgiveness of sins is the blessing of salvation that is to be preached in evangelism. This was the great, glorious concern of the Reformation: justification by faith only. Where is this even to be found in much modern evangelism? The great concern is that the sinner go to heaven and be happy, or that he be happy and successful here on earth. Not long ago, I heard a “convert” give a testimony on behalf of the famous evangelist who saved him, that accepting Jesus made him a better pass catching end for his southern university football team.
If remission of sins is preached, the cross is preached; and the cross is preached as substitutionary atonement, as satisfaction made to the righteous God, as effectual redemption of all for whom Jesus died, so that those who trust in the cross enjoy its real benefit. But the cross is not preached apart from the Crucified. Jesus Christ Himself is preached as the message of evangelism; He is preached as the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, so that His blood was precious blood, blotting out sins.
If this is Who Jesus is and if this is what His cross is, the love of God is preached when remission of sins is preached. For it was God Who gave His Son on behalf of sinners—not all sinners, but sinners, just the same. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16).