In my previous article, under the above caption, I pointed out that, according to Rev. D. Zwier, our gospel message—the gospel as we, ministers of Protestant Reformed churches preach it, lacked “aangenaamheid” pleasantness. Zwier, so I wrote, ought to tell his readers just what he means. What he means is not that our message for God’s believing people lacks “aangenaamheid.” He knows that our message to God’s people is that with body and soul, both in life and death, they are not their own but belong to Christ their faithful Savior with all that this implies. Now this message is characterized by “aangenaamheid” for God’s people, who stand in their faith. And this is our message to them. Zwier knows and admits this. What the reverend means, when he says that our gospel lacks “aangenaamheid” is that our message lacks “aangenaamheid” pleasantness for the unregenerated, the wicked. In my former article the statement occurs that a gospel-message, not dishonoring to God, cannot possibly be pleasant to the unregenerate. I now want to enlarge on this.
We direct our attention firstly to this natural man. This man is wicked, rebellious, obdurate in heart and will, impure in his affections. He is prone to all evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and thus unable and unwilling to return to God, to reform the depravity of his nature or to dispose himself to reformation. So speak our Canons (third and fourth heads of doctrine, Arts. 2, 3). This speech agrees perfectly with the language of Scripture. “And you, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the others (Eph. 2:1-3). Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew not him (I John 3). And ye shall be betrayed, both by parents and brethren, and kinsmen, and friends; and of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated by all for my names sake (Luke 21:16, 17). There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongue they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace they have not known: There is no fear of God ‘before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God (Rom. 11-19).
Now Rev. Zwier (and his colleagues) maintain that the gospel is pleasing, must be so preached as to be pleasing to the man—the natural man—to which all the above scriptures apply. His contention is therefore that the promise of the gospel, if correctly preached, is pleasing to such who are devoid of the life of regeneration, thus to such who are dead in sin, and thus walk according to the course of this world, have their conversation in the lusts of the flesh, fulfil the desire of the flesh and of the mind, are prone to all evil, are in bondage to sin, are unwilling to return to God, hate and know not God and His people, truth, Christ, and His cross, salvation, the heavenly. To such the promise of the gospel is, must be made to be, truly pleasing. That this is the reverend’s contention is plain from what he wrote in De Wachter for Dec. 26, 1939. “De poging, door onze in 1924 afgeweken broeders ondernomen, om door middel van eigen “interpretatie” de bovenstaande uitdrukking in Art. 8 van onze Doorsdhe Leeregels, Hfdst. III-IV, krachteloos to maken, heeft dus wel droeve gevolgen.
“Zij willen well “aangenaamheid” in de Evangelieprediking, maar—alleen voor de uitverkorenen. Voor de anderen, (the unregenerate including the reprobate. G.M.O.) tot wie het Evangelie komt, hebben ze niets dan een bevel en eene dreiging.” The reverend does admit here that we want pleasantness in the preaching of the gospel for God’s believing people. The fault he has to find with us is that we want no elements of pleasantness in the gospel preaching for the unregenerate, the godless. According to the reverend then the preaching of the gospel is, must be made, pleasing also for the godless, that is, this preaching, the gospel-message, as contained in Scripture, has elements in it in which also the godless can and do take delight, so that a preaching not pleasant also to such who are devoid of the life of regeneration is not in accordance with Scripture. Such a preaching does not set forth the true, scriptural promise of the gospel. Such is the reverend’s contention. This is his stand on the matter under consideration. But this stand is wrong. The unregenerate one being what he is, a sinner spiritually dead, hating God and His Christ, God’s gospel is not, cannot possibly be, pleasant to such a one. This ought to be self-evident. In the language to our canons, (Second Head of doctrine, Art. V), the promise of the gospel is, “that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (The article continues, “This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”
When Zwier therefore wrote, “Voor de anderen, tot wie het Evangelie komt, hebben ze niets dan een bevel en een dreiging,” he deliberately, against his better knowledge, penned an untruth about us. Our message to every hearer is not merely “believe,” and, “if thou believest not, thou shalt perish,” but also, “Whosoever believeth shall be saved.” Zwier knows this. Why this distortion of facts on his part? He may answer this question. Now to believe, I speak now of saving faith, is to forsake sin and to turn to Christ, to the living God, thus to truth, holiness and righteousness. To believe is to repent of sin. It is to despair of self and to embrace Christ as the sinner’s only hope of salvation. It is to subscribe, as constrained by the love of God, to God’s appraisal of man to the effect that man is by nature^ dead in sin and that thus the sole author and finisher of his salvation is the sovereign mercy of God. And the life that is promised to the believing is to know God. It is thus heavenly perfection, joy and peace. It is to be like God and thus to love and delight in Him. It is fellowship with Him and with the Son. Now if this be the action of one who believes and if this is life, how can God’s gospel—the gospel that whosoever believeth in the crucified Christ shall have everlasting life, be pleasant to the godless? Do the godless loathe sin? Do they yearn to be freed from its power? Do they hunger after righteousness? Does the biblical conception of life everlasting have attraction for them? And the answer: the natural man wills not to repent. He loves sin and is in bondage thereto. And all his thoughts are that there is no God. How then can God’s gospel be pleasant to the godless, to man devoid of spiritual life? It cannot be. And it is not. It was because Christ preached God’s gospel, that the wicked nailed His blessed body to the cross. I read this in the Bible. Has Zwier not read? If so, how is it to be explained that he insists that the promise of the gospel is pleasant also to the godless men, and that a gospel preaching that contains no elements of pleasantness for the godless is not God’s gospel, this is rather amazing.
However, rightly considered, Zwier admits that God’s gospel—the promise to the effect that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall have life everlasting, thus the declaration that God saves believing people—contains no elements of pleasantness for the godless. He admits this through his mixing the promise of God’s gospel with the teaching that God is kindly disposed toward His people not only but toward the reprobate as well and that He earnestly desires to save also the latter. Attend to the following from his pen, “De liefelijkheid van het aanbod de heils ontbreekt in hunne prediking. Maar kon ons dat verwonderen? Voigt dat niet vanzelf uit hun loochening van de gemeene gratie ? Als God zelf geen enkel greintje van gunst of gratie, van barmhartigheid of lankmoedigheid, heeft voor de goddelooze wereld. . . .waarom zouden zij dan barmhartiger wezen dan God” (De Wachter, for Dec. 26, 1939)? Here it is indirectly asserted that “God barmhartigheid heeft voor de goddelooze wereld” that is, “voor de verworpenen.” This erroneous teaching Rev. Zwier distils from various scriptures and from a certain statement occurring in the Canons. And Ezek. 33:11 is made by the Rev. to set forth the doctrine that in His kind regard for the reprobated ones, God also desires or wills to save them.
Now why should the brethren, the leaders of thought in the Christian Reformed Church be so insistent that the preaching of the gospel contain these erroneous elements of doctrine? This can be explained. Consider that this holding to the doctrine that God in His love is resolved to save only the elect, allows the minister of the Word to say to the wicked, to the unbelieving in this audience only this, “God loves and is resolved to save only His people, the ones whom He chose unto life eternal in Christ. He is thus resolved to save such only who bear the mark of election, to wit, a faith that expresses itself in true sorrow for sin. Hence, whether God loves and desires or wills to save you, wicked one, remains to be seen. If you be converted and by His mercy repent and, forsaking your sin, turn to Him, He in His sovereign love will save, yea, has and is saving you. On the other hand, your persisting in your unbelief is the evidence that He wills not to save you, that in His wrath He prepares you for eternal perdition through His hardening your heart by the preaching of the gospel.” Now this message, preaching is anything but pleasant to the wicked one, the unbelieving. Yet this is the only conceivable message that the minister of the Word can have for the wicked and unbelieving, if in his preaching he consistently holds to the truth that God loves and wills to save only the elect. On the other hand, this holding to the doctrine that God loves and desires to save also the reprobate, allows the minister of the gospel to say to the wicked and unbelieving, “God loves you and desires to save you.” Rev. Zwier in his preaching holds to this latter erroneous doctrine. Why? The reason is His desire to have something gratifying to say to the godless, his insistence that in his preaching he be pleasing also to the wicked, to such devoid of spiritual life.
But let us now ask, Does a minister of the gospel, through his mixing his preaching with these erroneous elements of doctrine, actually succeed in rendering his preaching pleasant to the wicked? Does the minister of the gospel, through his proclaiming to wicked men that God regards them in love and desires to save them, render his preaching pleasant to them ? Does it truly delight the wicked to be told this? Indeed not. And the reason is that, being what they are, ungodly, they hate and despise God, His glories, including His love, mercy, and compassion and thus also the Christ, the cross, and the prepared salvation of God, in the face of which God’s glories are seen, Paul tells us this literally, “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God teadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:3, 4). What careth the godless one whether or no God—and I speak now of God and not of an idol—loves and desires to save him. Despising as he does God and the cross, the very idea causes him to shudder. But will not the godless one take a certain carnal delight in Rev. Zwier’s preaching? Whether he will or no depends upon how the reverend answers certain questions put to him by such a one. Firstly the question, “Am I actually to be saved?” Secondly, “Who sovereignly decides whether or no I am to be saved, God or me?” If Rev. Zwier crucifies that desire in him to be pleasing in his preaching to the godless, he will say, “Whether or no God will actually save you, I know not. All I can say to you is this: Whether you will be saved depends not on you but on God alone. If in His sovereign love He knows you from before the foundation of the world in Christ, if Christ has died also for you, if He was raised also for your justification, certainly, you will be saved. If not, you will perish in your sins. Of yourself you cannot will to be saved. You can only will to be disobedient and unbelieving. On the other hand, if the Rev. replies under the impulse of his desire to please the godless in his preaching, he will say to this wicked one, “Christ died for you. Your sins are thus atoned for. God loves you and earnestly desires to save you; but whether you will actually be saved depends altogether upon whether you will choose to be saved. If not, God stands powerless.” Only if this be the reverend’s reply, will his preaching be pleasant to the godless one. Why? Because he dethrones God in his preaching and enthrones man, the godless one. Certainly, such preaching is pleasing to the godless. And such preaching only, and none other. If so, may the ministers of the Word be pleasing to the godless, to sinful flesh in their congregations? May they so preach as to provide the godless, this flesh with a real reason for delighting in their preaching? Is this the will of God?
But are there not cases on record of unregenerated persons rejoicing in the pure preaching of the gospel? In the parable of the sower (Matt. 13) there appears an unregenerate one who “hears the word and anon with joy receiveth it.” But this joy is not genuine. The person does not truly love the gospel. For “when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended.”
The minister of the Word, who is bent on pleasing the unregenerate in his preaching finds himself under the necessity of falsifying the truth more and more. The attempt therefore to please the sinful flesh in the preaching is the beginning of the end. And this end is not merely Arminianism, nor even Pelagianism, but out and out Modernism and ultimately Atheism. For the wicked continue to complain until the preaching has been freed from every element of truth. The minister of the gospel does not permanently satisfy them by the proclamation that man sovereignly determines his destiny. The wicked one, hearing this, will continue to ask questions. He will want to know what God will do with him in case he chooses not to repent. He will not be satisfied with being told that he then, after his hardness and impenitent heart treasures up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immorality,—eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,—indignation and anguish, upon every soul of mean that doeth evil (Rom. 2:5-9). Hearing this reply, the wicked one says that there is no hell, no eternal retribution, no God to render to every man according to his works. And this is what he will want to hear in the preaching. Truly, this desire to please the wicked, sinful flesh, in the preaching is the beginning of the end. Yet, Rev. Zwier is proclaiming that this must be done. The minister, he insists must preach according to the heart of the godless, must seek to please in his preaching sinful flesh. Really, this is nothing short of amazing.
Why should ministers of the Gospel in the pulpit and from radio stations be preaching according to the heart of the wicked? There must be reasons. They may be afraid and ashamed to tell the world the plain and full truth about God and His redemption through Christ. It really requires an astonishing amount of courage—courage born of saving grace— to tell the truth about God especially when speaking into a microphone of a radio station. For then the minister contacts the world, is addressing, for all he knows, thousands of worldlings also. And then to make the good confession, to proclaim the full, pure truth about God? How long would the minister be permitted to continue preaching (from a radio station) if he would? Not very long, certainly.
There is still another reason why a minister of the Word will want to please sinful flesh in his preaching, the reason, namely, that he holds to the view that a preaching setting forth the full truth about God and His grace is fit to be heard only by God’s believing people, by advanced Christians, and not by unbelieving, unregenerated men, that the latter can be won for Christ by a preaching in which such elements of doctrine as the sovereign mercy and grace of God do not appear or appear as falsified. This view is as stupid as it is untrue.
The unregenerate cannot be won for Christ. Before a sinner turns to Christ, he must be given a new heart. Then he will be converted, that is, forsake his sins and turn to Christ. But to preach to sinners with new hearts is to preach to God’s people. And it is only in such that the preaching bears fruit. We, therefore, invite Rev. Zwier to advance one rational and biblical reason why he insists that the minister of the Gospel should render his preaching pleasing to the wicked.