It is commonly asserted that those who insist on a particular atonement are, nevertheless, compelled to ignore this doctrine in their preaching, particularly in the mission field. Even if one is convinced that Christ died only for the elect, he cannot say so when he is preaching to unbelievers or even to a mixed audience. Actually in the mission field the preacher is compelled to declare to all men promiscuously: “Christ died for you.”
This is what Dr. Daane literally writes in the Reformed Journal of December, 1464.
He who preaches the gospel to the unconverted man either makes this statement (“Christ died for you”) or appears to be making it. For if the Cross is the heart of the gospel, what is the minister of the gospel asking the unconverted to believe? And in the event the gospel of the Cross is rejected, what is the unbeliever really rejecting? What is he refusing to accept? What indeed is that “good news” that must be preached to “every creature?”
Let us begin with the last question, “What indeed is the “good news” that must be preached to “every creature?”
Rather than to suggest my own answer to this question, let us ask THE Preacher, the only Preacher and Missionary, our Lord Himself, how He would answer this. And we have the answer in Jesus’ own gospel message addressed to a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers, in which He declares,
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, 14, 15).
No one can deny that this is true mission preaching. Nor can anyone escape the fact that Jesus. speaks emphatically of “my sheep.” It was no unusual experience in Jesus’ time to see a shepherd with crook in hand watching his flock on some hillside or slowly leading it to the sheepfold. Especially in those days the sheep were the peculiar property of the shepherd. His flock was practically all that he owned, his choice possession. He devoted his life to the constant care of his sheep, even spending the night out in the open field to protect them from the wild beasts. Luke writes, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” This same figure was used by the prophet Isaiah when he spoke of the coming Savior with the promise, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Jesus is only confirming this gospel message of Isaiah when He declares that He is the Good Shepherd.
Christ’s peculiar distinction is first, that He knows His sheep. Because He is the Son of God He knows His sheep sovereignly, eternally. He knows them as those given to Him by the Father. Their names are written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. The sheep do not choose Him, but He chooses His sheep. He wants them to know that.
Second, Christ loves His sheep. That is the earmark of the good shepherd, that he loves his sheep. A hireling works for wages, is interested only in the personal gain he can acquire from them, but is not concerned about the sheep. Therefore, when danger threatens, the hireling flees. But Jesus as the Good Shepherd meets the ravenous wolves that attack Him from every side, and even deliberately gives Himself into their hands, that He may lay down His life for His sheep. Greater love hath no man than that, that he lays down his life for his sheep. This gospel message is confirmed by the apostle Paul in Romans 5:8-10.
Third, the Lord cares for His sheep. A sheep has to be fed. Many animals can forage for themselves, but not a sheep. If left to itself it dies. It has to be led to green pastures and to the quiet stream. Moreover, a sheep must be watched. Of all the animals a sheep is most prone to wander. Therefore Scripture reminds us that we can see ourselves in the foolishness of a sheep, for we all like sheep have gone astray. We have wandered off, each one in his own willful way. A sheep readily gets itself lost so that it cannot possibly find the way back. The shepherd is often compelled to go after his sheep into the desert or out on some dangerous precipice. Lastly, a sheep is utterly defenseless against the prowling beast that craves its blood. A bee has its sting, a lion its claw, a dog its teeth, but a sheep is completely helpless when attacked. The Good Shepherd assures us that He feeds His flock in green pastures, watches over them in tender care, and protects them from every evil.
What more wonderful gospel message would anyone want but this: Christ is the Good Shepherd Who came to seek and to save His lost sheep? He did this even to the extent that He laid down His life on the cross for His own.
Daane asks: “If the Cross is the heart of the gospel, what is the minister of the gospel asking the unconverted to believe? The answer is: Just that1 Christ is the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for His sheep.
Again Daane asks: “In the event the gospel of the Cross is rejected, what is the unbeliever rejecting? The answer is: The Christ of the Scriptures. Him they crucified. And they did that, not because there was anything wrong or lacking in His preaching, but because as the Lord Himself declares to them: “But ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep.” John 10:26. We should notice that it is not the other way: Ye are not of my sheep because ye believe not. But, ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep.
Those Other Sheep
The objection may be raised that Jesus was speaking only to those who already believed, so that they already confessed Him as their Lord, and therefore He refers to them as “My sheep.” Even if we should grant that, we cannot overlook the fact that Jesus also speaks of “other sheep.”
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” v. 16.
When Jesus speaks of “this fold,” He refers to the entire church of the old dispensation which has already been gathered in. As a shepherd brings his sheep within the enclosure of the sheepfold to give them shelter and protection, so the Lord had already gathered His church throughout the entire old dispensation. Through the prophets and by His Spirit He had gathered His elect in the line of continued generations of believers. We can readily trace that covenant line from Adam to Noah through Seth, and from Noah to Abraham through Shem. God made Abraham the father of believers, and therefore the covenant line continued in the spiritual seed of Isaac and Jacob, and was carried particularly through Judah to David and Mary, the virgin of whom the Christ was born. In spite of all the attempts of the devil to prevent Him, and in spite of all the efforts of the evil generation of Jesus’ own day to interfere with His work, Christ did gather His children unto Himself as a “hen gathers her chicks.” The church was gathered; the carnal seed stood condemned in their unbelief, so that Jerusalem would be left desolate.
But now in distinction from those sheep of the old dispensation, Jesus speaks of “other sheep.” He saw the entire church of the new dispensation that must still be gathered in. There is a ring of confidence in His voice as He makes claim to those other sheep also. He does not say: Other sheep I would, like to have. Nor does He say: Other, sheep I will have. But He declares: Other sheep I have. For He has already received them from the Father and, will lay down His life for them.
The Lord adds: “Them also I must bring.” Here He plainly refers to the mission labors of the new dispensation. With this in mind He commissions His apostles, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The Lord sees Pentecost with the three thousand that were added to the church. He sees the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth, gathering God’s elect from every nation and people. He will send forth that gospel as the Lord of Glory, the living Savior, drawing His own unto Himself. For He, and He alone, causes that gospel to be a power of God unto those who believe. He gathers, defends and preserves His church by His Word and Spirit. (Lord’s Day 21, Question 54).
Jesus considers this His divine “must,” the mandate that He has received from the Father. And that is what also gives Him confidence that this work will be carried out. If it were the work of men, or if the acceptance of the gospel depended in any way upon the will of man, then the Lord could never be sure that His sheep would be gathered and saved. But He confidently adds, “They shall hear My voice.” Again we are impressed with the fact that He does not say: I want them to hear My voice. Nor does He say: I declare My love to all men and assure them that I died for them in the hope that they will hear My voice. He does not consider the power of the gospel to lie in the mere statement: I died for you. But He affirms: They shall hear My voice. There is no doubt about it, because His is the powerful voice of the Son of God, Who lays down His life for His sheep and lives to give them eternal life. The fact that they hear His voice is the result of the work of His Spirit in their hearts. He calls the dead into life, even as He calls the things that were not as though they were. It is the new life of the Spirit that causes the sheep to hear His call. They flee from a hireling and from all false teachers, for their voices fill them with apprehension. But they are drawn by the voice of Jesus. They know they are sinners and find in Him the only possible Savior. They respond to His love because the love of God is spread abroad in their hearts.
Therefore Jesus is absolutely certain of the outcome. “There will be one flock and one shepherd.” Elsewhere the Lord had said, All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37). There Jesus assures His sheep .of their certain coming, but also of their certain acceptance. What a glorious gospel for those who are actually weary and heavy laden. “You will certainly come.” Our Lord tells us that in His own Word. “You need not fear, for I will receive you, even as certainly as I drew you.” And not one will be lacking. The “fall” in the text refers to the sum total of those given to Christ by the Father. He loses none.
Already Christ visualizes that multitude that no man can number as it is ultimately gathered before the throne. It is one complete flock, consisting of the church of all ages. The entire family of God is brought into Father’s House with its many mansions, where each has his own appointed place, and no place is found empty.
It is this gospel which we are mandated to preach to every nation and to all creatures. It is the gospel of particular atonement and certain salvation.
There are a number of passages of Scripture that seem to teach the very opposite of particular atonement. On the surface they would appear to contradict this emphatic word of Jesus. Those we will consider, the Lord willing, next time.