THE CALLING (Continued)
And we may also refer to Romans 9:1, ff.: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” All these Israelites, therefore, in the old dispensation, as well as in the beginning of the new dispensation, were under the influence of the gospel, the promises, the covenant. Yet it is evident that not all were called in the saving sense of the word. And how must that be explained? The apostle writes in verse 6: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” And then the apostle calls attention to the examples of Jacob and Esau, who before they were even born, or had done any good or evil, were already characterized in God’s counsel as elect and reprobate. Thus we read in vss. 10, ff.: “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;), It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” And then the apostle puts the question: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” And then the answer by the apostle is not finished by human reason, but only by referring to the will of God, and that too, according to the revealed Word of God: “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” And the conclusion is found in vs. 18: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” And therefore, that not all to whom the gospel Es preached are called in the saving sense of the word is in the ultimate sense due to God’s good pleasure and His eternal counsel. Under the preaching of the gospel He surely saves His elect; but under that same preaching of the gospel He certainly hardens the reprobate. It is, therefore, only the internal aspect of the calling as it comes to the elect that is efficacious unto salvation.
However, it is through the preaching of the gospel that the twofold effect is realized: the salvation of the elect and the hardening of the reprobate. The minister of the Word must not change the Word of God into anything else. He must be willing always to serve God’s twofold purpose. He is a savor of life unto life, but also a savor of death unto death—always. And no matter whether the minister of the Word is the one or the other, he must simply always be faithful in bringing nothing but the Word of God. For thus it is written in II Corinthians 2:14-17: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth 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 savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour 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 through the preaching of the gospel God is merciful unto whom He will be merciful; but He also hardens whom He wills. And anyone who does not want to serve this twofold purpose can never be a minister of the Word of God. But he who through divine grace has learned to will the purpose of God may be assured that in the proclamation of the gospel he is always well-pleasing to God Who sent him.
What is saving faith?
Saving faith is that gift, or work, of God in the elect, regenerated, and called sinner whereby the latter is engrafted into Christ and embraces and appropriates Christ and all His benefits, relying upon Him in time and eternity.
All our confessions speak of saving faith. Thus, for instance, in the Heidelberg Catechism, Questions and Answers 20 and 21: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ? No; only those who are engrafted into him, and receive all his benefits, by a true faith. What is true faith? True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
Also the Belgic, or Netherland, Confession speaks of faith in Christ, in Article 22, as follows: “We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either that all things, which are requisite to our salvation, are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things, are in him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith, have complete salvation in him. Therefore, for any to assert, that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy: for hence it would follow, that Christ was but half a Savior. Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean, that faith itself justifies, us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits, and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.”
And also in the Canons of Dordrecht, III, IV, 14, faith is described as follows: “Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; or even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, therefore, approaches the question of saving faith from the point of view of this other question: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?” This indeed is an important question. It is of grave significance. The question concerns men, all men, as they are perished in Adam. But the question does not so much concern men; but principally it concerns God. The question what may become of all men is one that concerns God in His dealings with men> with all men in the world. For the question is not whether somehow it happens that all men are saved. Nor does the question mean to inquire into the success of a determined attempt to save all men. Nor does it mean to ask whether all men, are willing to be saved, or whether all men have a chance of salvation. The question, once more, is not whether salvation is offered to all men. But the fundamental question is whether God is willing to save all men and does save them. For, after all, salvation is of the Lord! And therefore the question must mean whether God saves all men. And, mark you well, the Catechism speaks of all men as they perished in Adam. But if this is the case, if all men really perished in Adam, is it not quite rational to suppose that God will also save all men? Is it not true that, granted that all men also bear individual responsibility for their sin, the fact remains that the first beginning of their sin and death lies beyond their individual existence and responsibility, and that they are born in guilt and damnation? Would it not then be most rational to conclude that God will certainly save every individual of the human race?
In our day, as well as in the past, there are those who attempt to answer this question in the affirmative. They usually argue from the fact that salvation is through Christ, and that there are large numbers of men who in this life never had an opportunity to come into contact with Him. The majority of men die without having ever heard of the Savior. And therefore they argue that somehow all men finally must have an opportunity to come to Christ. There are different shades of universalists. Some claim that there will be an opportunity to accept Christ after death. Some even maintain that there will be an opportunity given to all men after the day of judgment. Others maintain, among whom also we may list Karl Barth, that there will be no eternal punishment, but that those who stubbornly refuse to accept Christ will be annihilated. It stands to reason that these universalists of different shades also appeal to Scripture for their contention and for their false doctrine. This, of course, is usually the case. They appeal to such passages of Scripture as, for instance,Matthew 10:15: “Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” Again, they refer to passages like Matthew 11:20-24: “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” And, once more, they appeal to Luke 12:47, 48, where the Lord makes a distinction between the servant that shall be beaten with many and him that shall be beaten with few stripes. In none of these passages, however, universal salvation is taught. It is evident that they only make a distinction of degree in the measure of punishment that is to be inflicted upon the wicked. Again, they refer to John 15:22-24: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” Also these words do not teach the conclusion which the universalists draw from them. They claim that the words of this passage teach that no one has sins unless he first comes into contact with Christ. But this is certainly contrary to all the teachings of Scripture.