Dr. Daane writes in the October issue of the Reformed Journal under the heading “From 1924 to 1964”: “Yet today even critics of Professor Dekker’s position are openly acknowledging God’s love for all men. This represents a tremendous change—and a tremendous gain. We may expect that this will bring about a profound- change in the pulpit messages of Christian Reformed Churches. And if it is true that God loves all men, then silence on so profound and glorious a truth has been a serious and sad omission . . . It is nothing less than surprising that Professor Dekker has accomplished so much so soon.”
It is not my intention to comment on this statement, except to point out that Dr. Daane is convinced that Prof. Dekker’s views on God’s love for all men are another stride beyond the position taken by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 in regard to the well-meant offer of salvation, and that his views are commonly accepted in the church. This Daane considers a tremendous gain. And he looks forward to even greater progress in that direction in the future, for God’s love for all men will be openly proclaimed from Christian Reformed pulpits. And then one only echoes his surprise when he says, “It is nothing less than surprising that Professor Dekker has accomplished so much so soon!”
But I am actually more interested in the statement made in the following paragraph of this article. There he writes, “He (Prof. Dekker) did indeed only do what Christian Reformed missionaries have long done under the actual demands of preaching the gospel to pagans. How many of them have taught pagan children on the mission field, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!’ I once observed a Christian Reformed missionary on the New Mexico field teach this song to hundreds of Indian children. Confronted with the theological issue involved, the missionary gave this defense: ‘How else can I bring the gospel to them?’ I had to confess that I did not know. All preaching of the gospel, whether to children or adults, begins with a proclamation of the love of God. Professor Dekker is echoing the missionary on the field when he asserts that God loves all men. But he has brought this echo to the pulpit; he has made articulate what was so largely muted. This is an historic advance, and the years ahead may well judge it to be his greatest theological contribution.”
Here Dr. Daane points out that it has been the practice among missionaries of the Christian Reformed churches for years to teach that God loves all men. He even adds, “All preaching of the gospel, whether to children or adults, begins with a proclamation of the love of God.” The fact that Professor Dekker is bringing this out in the open and on the pulpits must be considered an historic advance, possibly Professor Dekker’s “greatest theological contribution.”
Now all this is staggering. Especially because Professor Dekker’s assertion of God’s love for the reprobate is praised as the greatest theological contribution to Reformed theology. It is extolled as an historic advance that this “so profound and glorious truth” is now openly proclaimed from the pulpits of their churches. And all this without a single proof from Scripture to substantiate his position that this is the profound and glorious truth of God’s Word.
I wish to show in this present article that the preaching of John the Baptist did not begin with the love of God. I want to make clear beyond a shadow of doubt that John’s evangelical approach was not, “God loves you,” and, “The coming Christ will die for you.” In fact, John’s preaching contradicts that very statement that “All preaching of the gospel, whether to children or adults,begins with a proclamation of the love of God.”
When we read the accounts of John’s ministry by the various Gospel writers we ask ourselves, has God’s attitude toward all men changed since the old dispensation? Was God’s love limited then, and is it universal now? And if it was universal even then, why did John the Baptist fail to make the whole world his mission field? Why did he limit his activities to Palestine, no, to the wilderness about Jordan? Why did God call him to be a Nazarite, who spent his time in the wilderness, dressed in camel’s hair and wearing a leather girdle, eating locusts and wild honey? It was after all God’s mandate that he should labor just there and nowhere else. Now if his preaching even there had begun with the love of God the Bible would certainly have told us so. And yet we read the very opposite. InMatthew 3:2 we are told, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And in Luke 3:3 we read concerning John, “And he came into all the country around Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” John preached to the people to expose their sins and guilt, declaring to them the righteous condemnation of God and calling them to repentance. That is not by any means the same as saying: “God loves you all; Christ will die for you all.”
And if there is still some doubt in our minds about that, we need only read Matthew 3:7-12: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said to them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
We need only note here that he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “generation of vipers,” that is, children of Satan. He condemns their self-righteousness and points them to the righteousness in Christ as the only basis for their baptism. He makes a sharp distinction between the good tree that is saved and the bad tree that is hewn down and cast into the fire. And again he makes distinction between the wheat and the chaff, for the wheat is gathered into the garner, and the chaff Christ will burn up with unquenchable fire. From this one must conclude that the wheat are the elect, and the chaff is the reprobate; or again, the good tree represents those for whom Christ dies, while the bad tree represents those of whom Christ says, “I never knew you.”
Before we criticize John as being a missionary who did not understand his calling or as unfit material to receive a call for the mission field of our day, we should remember that he has the seal of God upon his work. All the gospel writers point out that John was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord.” Luke 3:4-6. And Christ testifies of John, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” Matthew 10:11. He was beyond dispute the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, who in a short ministry of possibly a year and a half fulfilled his calling, as the angel Gabriel had said to Zacharias in the temple before John was born, “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.”
John spent his last days on earth in prison under the wrath of Herod, whom John reproved “for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done.” Luke 3:19.