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Hard Stands

Thank you for your useful work Common Grace Revisited, originally a series of editorials in the Standard Bearer (March 15, 2002 — December 1, 2002). I am a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and have struggled with the doctrine of common grace ever since I read A.W. Pink’s book The Attributes of God. I am especially grateful for your work in light of the desire of many within the church to blur the line between the church and the world. I am especially impressed with (or depressed by) the quotations of Mouw and Smedes at the end, which show where amazingly undiscerning thought on the part of theologians will take us. I hope that your work moves the church to recover the truth of grace as the unmerited favor of God toward His elect.

Also, the editorial in the sample issue of the Standard Bearer brought forth some points which were refreshing to hear. I have sometimes felt that the confessional stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches was perhaps overly rigid. I wondered if the preaching would end up as an exegesis of the catechism rather than the Word of God. I was therefore really pleased to read of Rev. Hoeksema’s insistence upon the freedom of the preacher and your candid assessment of the sometimes stiffnecked response on the part of the congregants.

I also appreciate the role of the Standard Bearer in keeping the ecclesiastical windows open to admit the breeze of the Holy Spirit.

I heartily appreciate, however, the insistence of your editorial that with that liberty we strive to build on the work of those who went before. New and fresh must simply be our view or development of the same well proven old truth.

Thank you for your willingness to take hard stands.

William J. Gilbert

Pasa Robles, CA

Emphasis on Responsibility

I have read Rev. Kortering’s article on “Mission Preaching in the Established Church” (Standard Bearer, June 2003).

On page 395, he says, “… whom God wills to save will hear what is necessary to respond properly and be saved.” Could you explain in detail what you mean by this statement? Is the proper response of the unconverted a prerequisite to his salvation?

Secondly, what do you mean to express by, “So also those who are not willing to embrace the true faith because they do not want the responsibility that it requires will know that they are not right with God”? (p. 396). How does a person’s willingness or unwillingness to accept the responsibility of the true faith impact his or her salvation? In fact, what do you mean by the word “responsibility”?

In these articles, heavy emphasis is laid upon the responsibility of both the Christian and non-Christian alike to repent and believe. Are we to make any distinction between the two? If we are, what is the difference?

Herman D. Boonstra

Hull, IA

RESPONSE:

I want to express my appreciation to Mr. Boonstra for his interest in the Standard Bearer and more particularly in the subject of the preaching of the gospel and a proper response to it.

He makes reference to two quotations within the body of my Standard Bearer article.

The first quotation is taken from the early part of the article. Let me quote the entire sentence. “When this is done regularly (when the local church includes a call to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in its preaching-J.K.), as it ought, then any non-Christian, unconverted person whom God may place under such preaching and wills to save, will hear what is necessary to respond properly and be saved.”

The first request is to explain in detail what I meant by this statement.

God saves non-Christians through the preaching of the gospel. He does this by the message brought forth, which includes the call to repent and believe. This is done both in the mission field and in the home church. For this reason, if God is pleased to bring into our worship service here in America a non-Christian, and the pastor sounds forth the call that sinners must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, this non-Christian will hear in the gospel that which is necessary for him to become a Christian. One becomes a Christian by repentance of sin and faith in God and in His Son, Jesus. The preaching forms the bridge between God and man to accomplish this great wonder.

The outcome of this encounter is God’s work. That is why we mentioned, “whom God may place under such preaching and wills to save.” It is truly amazing how God brings His elect in contact with the preaching and works His work of salvation through such preaching. God is sovereign in all of this. This is evident in the vision of the Macedonian man to Paul (Acts 16:9ff.). God wanted Paul to go to Macedonia because there, waiting for him, was the Philippian jailor. That is not all; God also works His will through the preaching so that it accomplishes His purpose. The great truth of sovereign grace establishes the blessedness of the outcome. God draws men unto Himself to hear the preaching, but God also works salvation in such a person whom He wills to save. For this reason, the answer to your second question is no, the response of the unconverted is not a prerequisite for his salvation. That would make faith conditional upon the will of man. Rather, the act of repenting from sin and believing is the God-established way in which a man is saved. Repentance and faith are the means whereby the sinner appropriates Christ unto himself and by which he enjoys the blessings of salvation. That, according toEphesians 2:1-10, is God’s great gift.

This leads to the second quotation, taken from the article a bit later. “The point is that if there is a person sitting in church who is not right with God because he is walking in sin and making excuses for it, he will not feel comfortable while sitting under the preaching of the gospel. So also those who are not willing to embrace the true faith because they do not want the responsibility that it requires will know that they are not right with God. The preaching will expose to themselves their sinful response.” You ask for an explanation.

Here we are dealing with the person who is sitting under the preaching of the gospel. There are only two ways in which one can sit under the word preached. It is either faith or unbelief. True, there are many who may struggle for some time to come to terms with the message of the gospel and in the process be confused or seeking, yet before God it comes down to faith or unbelief. This is true because the power of the gospel is twofold, a savor of life unto life or of death unto death (II Cor. 1:14-17). For those who persist in their unbelief, the preaching of the gospel does not allow them to remain in some indifferent or ignorant state. The truth set forth in the preaching is not declared as if man may do with it whatever he pleases. Rather, it comes in such a way that man has a duty to repent and believe. There is only one correct way to respond to the gospel and that is God’s way. Because of this, the message of the gospel includes not only a call to repent and believe, but also warnings of judgment for those who persist in unbelief. Hence, a person who is not right with God, who does not sincerely repent from his sins and embrace Jesus as the only way of forgiveness and peace with God, must go home a condemned man. He has scorned and mocked the sacred call of God unto salvation.

One reason why some reject the gospel is that they are “not willing to embrace the true faith because they do not want the responsibility that it requires.” I use the word “responsibility” in the sense of “duty.” Among the greatest hindrances of people becoming Christians is the change God commands of converts. Holy living is not a luxury that perhaps some Christians enjoy. It is implicit in faith itself. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). A working faith is the believer’s duty, which he owes to his heavenly Father out of love and thankfulness for his salvation. Many there are who might be interested in Christianity and the Reformed faith if they could only get away from God’s holy ways.

This answers your question, “How does a person’s willingness or unwillingness to accept the responsibility of the true faith impact his or her salvation?” Unwillingness leaves one in the state of guilt and condemned before God; willingness opens the doors of heaven for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

Finally, you have concern with the emphasis upon responsibility. I can best summarize it this way, God’s sovereignty does not negate man’s responsibility (here it is used in the sense of accountability). If we use the word responsibility as man’s ability to respond to the gospel, then of course the natural man has no ability to respond, it must be given him from above. Jesus eloquently said, “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65). This is the rock of truth that makes all salvation possible. If it was up to man to fulfill some condition, no one would be saved. The marvelous thing about the gospel encounter is that here God in His sovereign way deals with man who is accountable before Him. Jesus made that plain in His thunderous words of condemnation to the Jews, “It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you” (Matt. 11:24). The reason is obvious: the men of Capernaum heard Jesus preach. They are accountable for this. Those who reject the gospel will suffer more in hell than Sodom, which was burnt with fire and brimstone in this life. If you ask, how can God hold man accountable for that which he cannot perform, Paul answered that inRomans 9:19ff.

From a more positive point of view, the narrative of Paul’s encounter with the Philippian jailor is noteworthy. God spoke through earthquake and judgment. The jailor was desperate, and upon hearing from Paul that the prisoners were all there, he fell on his knees and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul did not say to him, wait a minute, you have your theology wrong. You should not ask, what must I do. You can’t do anything. No, that question was stirred in his heart by the Holy Spirit to prepare him for the good news of salvation. Thus Paul brought to him the call of the gospel, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” This is how God works salvation in the hearts of men. He calls them to do what they cannot do in themselves. The necessary grace He supplies in order that, in the end, all glory is unto God, the great God of our salvation.

— Rev. J. Kortering

On Target

I complement you on the special, Reformation Day issue of the Standard Bearer (Oct. 15, 2003). I found the articles on Calvin very edifying. I hope that there will be more on Calvin’s life and work in future issues.

I found especially the article on predestination by Rev. Charles Terpstra to be on target. Much has been made of the fact that predestination in Calvin’s theology is placed in the category of ecclesiology by those who wish a “kinder and gentler” view of that doctrine and the allied doctrines of election and reprobation. Actually, they wish to obscure the Reformer’s, and the Bible’s, teaching of these truths and have a faith that is neither outright Arminian, and thus Pelagian, nor outright Calvinism, an impossible quest. Terpstra tackles this right on, clearly affirming that Calvin’s placing predestination within the locus of ecclesiology makes no difference from placing it within theology proper. I myself, while a student at Western Theological Seminary, was taught that there was a substantive difference in Calvin’s teaching on predestination from that of his successors in Geneva, Beza, and later Turretin, largely on this basis. I could never see a substantive difference. Thanks to the Standard Bearer for affirming Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.

Charles Fles

Muskegon, MI