We are now coming to the most important aspect of our research on the Scriptural approach in preaching the Gospel to the unconverted. We examined the approach employed in preaching the Gospel in the old dispensation. We considered the approach used by our Lord Himself during His earthly ministry. We now turn to the Book of Acts to see how the apostles preached the Gospel to the unconverted after the day of Pentecost.
To us who maintain that God establishes His covenant with His people in Christ, even in the line of continued generations from Adam through Abraham to Christ, it comes as no surprise that the preaching of the Gospel promise was limited almost entirely to the historical line of the covenant. You can trace that line very readily from Adam through Seth and Enoch to Noah, while Cain’s generations were excluded from it. Again the line continues from Noah through Shem while the generations of Ham and Japheth are not included in that covenant line, at least not until a much later date. From Shem the line continues through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for a while even confined within a single family. That does not mean that there were no remnants of believers outside of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but these remnants died out in their generations, while the main covenant line continued through the twelve sons of Jacob, and finally even centered itself in the tribe of Judah to David, and along David’s royal line to Mary and to the Christ. Israel had the covenant and the promises, while the nations round about were left to walk in their own ways. Acts 14:16. The covenant remained almost completely confined within the narrow bounds of national Israel throughout the entire old dispensation. And when the Gospel message did reach out beyond Israel to the Gentiles, these converts were generally brought into the sphere of the Old Testament covenant, engrafted into Israel. Such converts as Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, Ruth the Moabite, and the Ninevites are outstanding examples of those who would be gathered into God’s church and covenant in the new dispensation, when Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem. Even the Psalmist spoke of glorious things to come when Egypt and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia would be included in the line of the covenant. (Psalm 87:3, 4). Paul tells us that it was through the fall of Israel as a nation that salvation is come to the Gentiles. (Rom. 11:12). Jesus also made reference to that more than once during His earthly ministry. Our Lord pointed to the remarkable faith that had been given to certain Gentiles, such as the nobleman of Capernaum and the Syro-Phoenician woman, reminding His disciples, “Behold, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” When Israel rejects the Christ, the Spirit of Christ is poured out upon all flesh, the church becomes universal and the proclamation of the Gospel also extends to the ends of the earth.
It is exactly for that reason that a study of the preaching of the apostles in the Book of Acts is so important to our present discussion.
I can hardly refrain from adding, that it is difficult for me to understand how anyone can maintain the Scripturally fundamental truth of God’s covenant and at the same time advocate a universal love of God for all men. It seems to me that the truth of God’s covenant as established in Christ with those who belong to Christ, is even more fundamental and more prominent in Scripture than the truth of God’s sovereign election and reprobation. The covenant as a relationship of friendship between God and His people in Christ appears on every page of the Scriptures. That covenant fellowship with God in Christ is the blessed experience of every true believer. But God’s covenant love for His people is an eternal, unchangeable, exclusive love. God refers to His relationship with His people as the relationship of Bridegroom and bride, Husband and wife, Father and children, the Testator of the promise and the heirs of the promise. God assures His people that they are His because of sovereign good pleasure; they are His peculiar possession; to them He says: “I will be Thy God and thou shalt be My people.” All Gospel preaching proclaims this truth, and certainly never contradicts it. Nor is there room in Scripture for another love, another relationship, or another Gospel, or another Gospel message. This was true in the Old Testament. We shall find the same to be true in the Book of Acts.
The covenant with Abraham and his spiritual seed is carried over from the old dispensation into the new, with this difference that the church now becomes universal in the sense that God will gather His elect covenant people from every nation, and tribe, and tongue. The true sons of Abraham are those who are made sons by the power of regeneration through the indwelling Spirit of Christ. The church is saved in the new dispensation exactly as in the old, except that now the true sons of Abraham are gathered from many nations and peoples of the earth, wherever God in His good pleasure sends the Gospel to gather His own. Jesus declared already in John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold (the elect of Israel of the old dispensation): them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” When our Lord is about to ascend to heaven He instructs His disciples, “And ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” And this fact that the church, now leaves the narrow confines of national Israel to spread out into all the nations of the earth becomes even more evident from Acts 2:30, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
A single remark about this last passage. It is often contended that only Jews and Jewish proselytes were present at the Pentecost feast, and therefore only they heard Peter’s sermon and were brought to repentance. Moreover, it is pointed out that Peter and the apostles were by no means ready at that time to preach the Gospel to those who were not Jews. Therefore when Peter spoke of the promise “to you and to your children” he was still not thinking of the Gentiles. Peter himself was limiting the promise only to Jews, even as there were only Jews present when this Gospel message was brought. Even though we would agree that Peter’s audience was still strictly the church of the old dispensation, so that “you and your children” at that moment applied to Jews and proselytes, the Lord nevertheless extends the promise by adding, “And to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” And that is significant! Not Peter, but God declares through the Holy Spirit that the promise extends to as many as the Lord our God shall call; And that can be among the Gentiles as well as among the Jews. But that also tells us that the Gospel message is no offer, but a promise, and this promise is not promiscuously given to all men, but to those who arecalled. Only the called receive the promise. And they very actually do! For when God calls, not merely externally through the preaching, but also internally by His Spirit in their hearts, He calls efficaciously. God draws out of death into life and gives those who are called faith to believe the promise. The preaching of the Gospel is not a mere proclamation of a universal love of God for all men, but is the power of God that saves by way of conversion and faith.
Therefore if we ask, “What is the content of the preaching in the Book of Acts?”, the answer is given very simply: The fulfillment of the promise. The apostles preached Jesus. They preached with power on His authority, as led by His Spirit. They preached that Jesus is the Christ. They preached the resurrection of Christ. They preached that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Who died and rose again and is gone into heaven, according to the Scriptures.
Already in the early chapters of Acts we are told that the apostles and their helpers preached that Jesus is the Christ.
Acts 5:42, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (“Jesus as the Christ.” R.V.)
Acts 8:15, “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.”
Acts 8:35, 37, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him (the Ethiopian eunuch) Jesus.” “And he (the eunuch) answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Paul also preached that Jesus was the Christ, even as he was called of God to do just that.
Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said unto him (Ananias), Go thy way, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”
Acts 9:20, “And straightway he (Paul) preached Christ in the synagogue, that he is the Son of God.” Verse 22: “Proving that this is very Christ.”
The apostles also preached the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection unto life for all believers through Christ. (Acts 4:33) And they did this in spite of the opposition of the chief priests and rulers who were offended by their preaching. They certainly did not ask whether this belonged to the “addressability of the Gospel” but spoke boldly as they were commanded (Acts 5:20).
Acts 4:11, 12, “This is the stone which was set at naught by you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Whereupon the rulers reacted by saying, “Did we not straightly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”Acts 5:28.
Again we read in Acts 5:30, 31, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew and hanged upon a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”
The apostles preached repentance from sin and faith through Jesus Christ.
Acts 3:19, “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the time of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
Acts 3:26, “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus Christ, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 13:38, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
And this preaching of the Gospel also had its effect, even according to the purpose of God.
Some were grieved by it, Acts 4:2; some opposed it, Acts 5:28, 33; some resisted it, Acts 7:51, 52; some deemed themselves unworthy of everlasting life and put the Word of God from them, Acts 13:46; some were moved with envy, Acts 17:5; some made insurrection against Paul and the Gospel, Acts 18:12.
But on the other hand, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:48. They were glad. Acts 13:48. They cried out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, and they were told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house.”Acts 16:30. They “received the Word with readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so,” as in Berea. Acts 17:11.
As Paul sums up the fruit of his preaching in II Corinthians 2:15, 16, “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other a savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?”