“Whence knowest thou this?” Whence knowest thou that our Lord Jesus Christ is “that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?” And whence knowest thou that this Mediator is “of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?” To this question the Catechism gives one of the finest answers in the whole book of instruction: “From the holy gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.” This is a remarkable answer, indeed,. We might, perhaps, have expected that our instructor would have answered “I know this from the Holy Scriptures, which are the infallible Word of God, and my only rule for faith and life.” But the Catechism, evidently, had in mind the saints of all ages, and remembered, that all the saints, both of the old and new dispensation, from the very beginning of history, were saved through that same Mediator, and must have possessed the same promise of salvation, the same source of knowledge concerning this Mediator of God and man, although they certainly did not possess the Holy Scriptures, from which we of the new dispensation derive the knowledge of the Christ. And, therefore, it calls our attention to the holy gospel, and emphasizes that as long as there were heirs of the promise in the world this holy gospel was delivered unto them. And it also reminds us that this “holy gospel” is not merely something that was preached from the beginning of the world, but that it was also fulfilled in God’s only begotten Son.
Very often we read of the “gospel” in Holy Writ. It is called “the gospel of God” to emphasize its exclusively divine origin and authorship. Rom. 1:1; II Cor. 11:7; I Thess. 2:8, 9; I Pet. 4:17. The gospel is not ours but God’s,. In no sense is it of human origin. God conceived of the gospel, He realized it, and He proclaims it. With a view to its contents this gospel of God is called the “gospel concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” or simply “the gospel of His Son.” Rom. 1:3, 9; Mk. 1:1. The contents of this gospel is, therefore, the revelation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. It is the “gospel of Christ,” the Anointed of God, or “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the Anointed Savior, who shall save His people from their sins.” Rom. 15:19; I Cor. 9:12; II Cor. 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Cal. 1:17. It is defined as “the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” and as “the gospel of the Kingdom”; or as “the gospel of the grace of God,” and “the gospel of your salvation,” “the gospel of peace.” I Tim. 1:11; Matt. 4:23; 9:34; 24:14; Acts 20:24; Eph. 1:13; 6:15. All these terms describe “the holy gospel” as something divine, something that concerns the Son of God and our salvation, something that is not of this world, neither concerned with this world, but with things which “eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, neither have entered into the heart of man.” It is concerning this “holy gospel” that the Catechism instructs us in its nineteenth answer.
It is evident from this answer of the Heidelberger that it conceives of a very intimate and close relationship between the gospel and the promise. For when it speaks of “the holy gospel” as being fulfilled in God’s only begotten Son, it is thinking of the gospel as the promise of God. And this is quite in accord with the teachings of Scripture. In the Bible the words epangelia (promise), and euangelion (gospel) are synonyms. In the usage of the Church the two are often combined in the phrase: “the promise of the gospel.” Thus our Heidelberger uses the term in its answer to the question: “What are sacraments?” The answer reads: “The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, He may more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.” And also in its answer to the question concerning the preaching of the Word as one of the keys of the kingdom, it employs the same term: “Thus: when according to the command of Christ, it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ’s merits,” etc. Q. 84. To denote the real nature of the gospel, however, it were better to turn this phrase about, and to speak of the gospel of the promise. The idea, of the gospel is that it is good news concerning the promise. One that has some news to bring, in the name of God, concerning the promise, preaches the gospel. This idea is clearly expressed in: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” This last clause: “In thee shall all nations be blessed,” is, of course, simply the promise. And the text declares that when God makes an announcement of this promise to Abraham, the gospel is preached to him. The gospel is, therefore, identified with the promise. It is the announcement of the promise. The same truth is expressed in : “And we declare unto you glad tidings (eualngelidzometha, we preach the gospel), how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” It is evident that the promise here mentioned as being “made unto the fathers”, is the same as the one mentioned in Gal. 3:8. The promise: “In thee shall all nations be blessed,” is fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And also in the text from Acts the promise and the gospel are simply identified. When the apostles preached the gospel, they announced glad tidings concerning the fulfillment of the promise. If, therefore, we would understand what is meant by the gospel, we must inquire into the nature of the promise of God.
Very frequently the Bible speaks of the promise of God. Sometimes the plural, promises, is used to denote the manifold riches of the grace of God, in other passages the singular is employed to remind us that the promise of the gospel is essentially one. Inwe read: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” And at the close of that marvelous chapter it is said with a view to all the saints of the old dispensation: “And these all, having obtained a good report, through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect,” These passages teach plainly that all through the old dispensation there was the Promise, which was always the same. As the Catechism teaches us, the gospel certainly was preached to the saints from the very beginning. And the essence of that gospel was the Promise. This promise was not yet fulfilled: they did not receive the promise. But through the grace of God they embraced the promise by faith, and they saw it afar off. Because of that promise they lived in hope, and confessed that they were strangers on the earth. So glorious was that promise even then, that for the sake of it the saints of the old dispensation were willing to forsake all rather than lose their hold on the promise. They “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again; and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented: (Of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth..” How glorious was the promise of the gospel, if even the distant view of it could fill them with such zeal of faith, and endurance of hope!
Of this promise also the epistle of Paul to the Galatians speaks. For to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. 8:16. And although the promise was temporarily placed under the law, yet the law could not possibly make the promise of none effect. In fact, the promise remained the essential thing, even under the law.. For never was the inheritance of the law; always it was given to Abraham unconditionally by promise. And seeing that the true seed of the promise is Christ, we also are Abraham’s seed if we are of Christ, and heirs according to the promise. 3:29. As to the contents of this promise, Scripture speaks of it as “the promise of the Holy Ghost,” the exalted Christ received and poured out into the Church, And this promise of the Holy Ghost, which is the realization of the gospel that was preached to Abraham, and by which all the nations of the earth should be blessed, we also receive. . It is a promise “of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” . “And this is the promise that He hath) promised us, even eternal life.” . It is the promise of His coming, ; the promise to enter into His rest, ; the promise to be heir of the world, “for the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” . For this reason, Scripture speaks of “the Holy Spirit of promise”: ; and of “the children of the promise” that is of those children that, in distinction from mere children according to the flesh, are born in virtue of and through the power of the promise, ; and of the heirs of the Promise, unto whom the Lord seals the riches of the promise and the inheritance with an oath, . Hence, when the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, standing on the threshold of the new dispensation, preaches the gospel, he declares: “For unto you is the promise, and unto your children, and to all that are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” . The gospel, therefore, is the glad news concerning the promise that was given to Abraham and his seed, the heirs of the promise, chosen before the foundation of the world, as they walk in the midst of darkness of this sin-cursed world.
And this promise is sure. It can never fail. The Word of God can never be made of none effect. The “gospel of the promise” is, therefore, not to be changed into a vague, general, “well meaning offer of grace to all.” For between “the gospel of the promise” and a “well meaning offer” there is as much difference as between day and night. The two have nothing in common. He that preaches a well meaning offer cannot preach the glad tidings of the promise. A well meaning offer depends for its realization, in part at least; on the will of him to whom the offer is made; a promise is as sure as the truth and integrity of him by whom the promise is made. Preach a “well meaning offer” and all certainty is gone, for the realization of this well meaning offer of grace and salvation is contingent on the will of man, of a man that is dead through trespasses and sins, and that will always despise the offer of grace.” And if this is the case, salvation is a completely lost cause. But the promise rests in God alone, in the truth and faithfulness of the eternal, unchangeable God. The promise of the gospel signifies that the eternal God, Who can never deny Himself, bound Himself to give to the heirs of the promise, that is, to the elect, eternal life and all things. For also in this do the promise of the gospel and a well meaning offer of salvation differ: the latter is general and undefined, it can be made to all men without distinction; the former is particular and clearly defined: it concerns only those whom God in His eternal good pleasure ordained unto salvation.
And how could it be different? Is not God GOD? Is He not the only One, and there is none beside Him? And is He not the all-sufficient God in Himself, and the absolutely sovereign Potentate? Where, then, would be the party to whom God would promise anything or offer something, unless He Himself in His sovereign good pleasure ordained and formed that “party”? Indeed, if there is a promise of the gospel, it must follow that this promise is entirely His, conceived by Him, given by Him, realized by Him, bestowed by Him, and that also the heirs of the promise are sovereignly determined by Him alone. Then God has sovereignly foreknown and foreordained the heirs of the promise in His everlasting counsel. “For whom He hath foreknown, them He also did predestinate to be conformed according to the image of His Son; and whom He did predestinate, them He also called, and whom He called them He also justified, and whom He justified them He also glorified.”. The promise of the gospel is sure, but it is sure to the heirs of the promise alone. One may, therefore, preach the gospel promiscuously to all men without distinction, but a gospel without distinction he may preach to no one in the name of God. If he does, he makes God a liar, Christ powerless to save, the gospel of none effect, and the assurance of the believer groundless. But, according to Holy Scripture, God’s promise is sure, and the heirs of the promise are determined by His sovereign foreordination. For, first of all, the Chief Heir of the promise is Christ Himself. For “to Abraham and his seed are the promises made,” but, mark you well, “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as; of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ,” . And no one dare deny that Christ is of God, sovereignly ordained by Him to be the heir of the promise. But if the Chief Heir of the promise is ordained of God, so are they that are His. And only thus could God swear by Himself that He would surely fulfill the promise to Abraham and his seed. “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them the end of all strife. Wherein God, willing to shew more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability, of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, wherein it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” . To the heirs of the promise the promise is sure, because it is based on and rooted in the immutable counsel of the eternal God!
Now, the announcement of this promise is the gospel. It is euangelion, good tidings, good news, because it is the sure promise of light in the midst of darkness, of righteousness in the midst of sin, of eternal life to them that lie in the midst of death. For, by nature the heirs of the promise lie with all the world under the curse, in the darkness of sin and death. In and with that world they are of the first Adam, born in sin, children of wrath, even as also “the others.” And the promise, and that, too, exactly because it is the promise of God, causes the glad light of hope to dawn in their hearts the hope of redemption and deliverance out of the night of misery through the which they walk. Good news the announcement of this promise of the gospel is to them, especially because that promise speaks of things which “eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and that never entered into the heart of man.” The promise does not merely bring to them the prospect of redemption from their sin, and the deliverance from their present death, and of a return to former state of integrity, but it holds before them the glorious hope of eternal life, the life of immortality and incorruption, the hope of the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away. And the glory and blessedness of that state that is assured them by the unchangeable promise oi God, is as highly exalted above the original state in the first Paradise, as the Lord of heaven is exalted above the man that is of the earth earthy. The news of the gospel, therefore, is unspeakably good news. It is euangelion indeed. And it is news. For the gospel is not of this world. It never did, and it never could arise in the heart of man. Philosophy could never invent this news. The princes of this world could never conceive of it. It is the gospel of God concerning things that are wholly new. It is, therefore, God Himself that announces the promise, and that proclaims the gospel of His Son. Or, as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us: “From the holy gospel, which God Himself revealed.” To the heirs of the promise the gospel comes by revelation even though it is proclaimed by men. No mere word of man is sufficient for this. The heirs of the promise must hear the Word of God, Hence, the Catechism certainly touched upon the heart of the matter, when, in answer to the question: “whence knowest thou this?” it called attention to “the holy gospel, which. God Himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices, and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly has fulfilled it by His only begotten Son.” Always it is of God. Always there were pilgrims of the night that were heirs of the promise in this world, from its very beginning. And always they longed for the euangelion, for some glad new concerning the promise. And again, always it was none other than God Himself that satisfied their earnest longing by publishing to them the gospel concerning His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!