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More on Responsibility

I thank Rev. Kortering for his detailed answers to my questions regarding his article on “Mission Preaching in the Established Church,” in the Standard Bearer of June 2003 (SB, Nov. 15, 2003, pp. 79, 80). However, the emphasis or viewpoint with which this article was written tends to focus entirely too much upon man in God’s sovereign work of salvation.

In 1953, Rev. Hoeksema warned that overemphasis on the responsibility of man will eventually lead to the loss of the gospel (cd’s of 1953, Heritage Recordings). Let’s not make man’s response to the call of the gospel the focal point of salvation, but rather, let’s see God’s glory as the sovereign Potter who shapes some vessels to honor in Christ and others to dishonor. Let us confess with all our hearts that God unconditionally saves His elect and that He unconditionally applies to them in time, by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, all the benefits that are theirs in Christ. Thus He shapes, molds, and fits the elect, causing them to walk in those good works that were before ordained for each of them (Phil. 2:13Eph. 2:10). By the Spirit’s work in them, the elect become more and more willing partakers in all the blessings of salvation as joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). To do God’s law becomes their delight. God, by His work of sanctification, continually draws His regenerated children into covenant fellowship with Himself and makes them His covenant friend servants, giving unto them the privilege to represent His cause in the midst of this world, so that the believer more and more says “no” to sin and “yes” to God. Thus He changes His bride from glory unto glory. The apostle Paul sums it all up so beautifully when he says in Galatians 2:20, “…I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” And faith is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).

Rev. Kortering in his answer to my questions says, “A working faith is the believer’s duty, which he owes to his heavenly Father out of love and thankfulness for his salvation.” However, faith is neither the duty nor the work of the child of God. Faith, as to both its source and activity, is the free gift of God worked in us by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit applies the gospel to our hearts. Faith is not a condition to salvation. It is not, as the children’s song puts it, “If I love Him till I die, He will take me home on high.” But rather the truth is, “He will love me till I die, He will take me home on high.” It is not as though Christ strings the electric wire of faith between us and God and now it’s up to us to turn the switch on in order to make that faith active in a life of good works. When we are ingrafted into Christ by a true and living faith, we live! By this true and living faith we receive all the blessings of salvation that are ours in Christ from all eternity (Eph. 1:3-6). The blessings of repentance, of believing in Christ, and of good works. By the Spirit’s work in his heart, each child of God works out his own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is none of self but all of God. As ordained, some will work twenty fold and others a hundredfold. In this light we understand that every man shall be rewarded according to his works (Matt. 16:27). The reward is not of merit but of grace.

I suppose that much of the overemphasis on man’s response to the call of the gospel is done innocently enough, at least I hope so. I suppose that ministers see alarming trends in their congregation, denomination, and young people, and come to the conclusion that the way to motivate their listeners to a godly life is by emphasizing man’s responsibility. We need more “mission preaching.” I fail to see the source of motivation in this. Will you scare the child of God into a life of thankfulness by somehow separating his responsibility from Christ? If you do, then you have lost the gospel of good news. True, the preaching of the gospel must warn the child of God from ways of wickedness and call sinners to repent, but that is not the “good news” of the gospel. Rather, let us look for the motive to godly living in this, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Such God-centered covenantal preaching becomes the power of God unto salvation to us who are saved, and foolishness to those who perish (I Cor. 1:18).

Herman D. Boonstra

Hull, IA

Response:

Since brother Boonstra does not direct any questions to me or seek additional understanding regarding my published articles, I will conclude this correspondence with him with a few observations.

1.His concern for a proper emphasis upon God’s sovereignty is laudable and rare in our day. I can, of course, join him in praising God for the wonderful work of salvation, which is His work from beginning to end. We observed this in the rearing of our children, in ministering over the years in our beloved Protestant Reformed Churches, and in some ways even more so, in the amazing way God saves heathen. If it were not by grace alone, all such efforts would be of none effect. It is good to hear one of our readers emphasizing this glorious truth.

2.I also want to assure him that my emphasis in the articles upon man’s duty to respond properly to the preaching of the gospel was not done out of some sort of innocence, ignorance, or inappropriate consideration. “I suppose much of the overemphasis on man’s response to the call of the gospel is done innocently enough.” As I have already explained, and it is necessary to repeat for emphasis, God saves and judges men through the confrontation of the gospel. God is earnest when He calls men to repent and believe. It comes to the hearer who has the natural ears to understand clearly what God speaks. Even though the unsaved person does not have the capacity to respond properly, that is, to repent and believe, he does have the capacity to know right from wrong and deliberately to choose the evil and reject the good. When he does such, God justly holds him to account and judges him. The same is true when God is pleased to give grace to the hearer, who then not only has the natural ability to understand what God is saying, but receives grace that enables him to repent and believe. Though there is no inherent grace in the message itself, yet it is through the message that God calls one to salvation. For this reason, the call to repent and believe is just as much part of the good news of the gospel as the setting forth of Christ as Savior and Lord. I differ with his statement, “True, the preaching of the gospel must warn the child of God (and also the wicked, JK) from the ways of wickedness and call sinners to repent, but that is not the ‘good news’ of the gospel.”

3.Faith surely is the gift of God, worked by grace in the heart of the elect sinner, but that fact does not take away from the reality that faith is viewed in the Bible as the act of man. “For with the heart, man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10). God does not believe in man, neither does Christ believe for man, but man believes. In this sense, God directs the call of the gospel to the hearer, and upon the operation of grace the hearer believes the good news set forth in the gospel. Our spiritual forefathers rejected the notion that the hearer was some sort of “stock and block” or, in more modern terminology, a robot. God saves in the way of conscious involvement of the hearer. Even then, the cause of salvation and the end result is God’s wonder work throughout.

— Rev. J. Kortering