A small group of people stood one day before an open tomb just outside Bethany of Judea. Their eyes were on the man who had commanded that the grave should be opened even though it was all of four days since the body of his friend had been laid to rest. It was a strange command, for in that hot climate putrefaction would be well progressed. Then the man spoke. He said, “Lazarus, come forth.” Before their very eyes, they saw the corpse that was in the grave arise and come forth. Even today, we look back upon this event and marvel.
This event, together with many others, served to demonstrate the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was more than just a man; He is also the Son of God. To His voice belongs the very authority and power of God. It is able to produce its own effect. Man with his words must depend for influence upon his uncertain powers of persuasion, and always the results are very temporary. God speaks and it is done (Ps. 33:9). As He said to Isaiah, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Nor is there any limit to the working of God’s Word of power. It has gone out through all the earth and even unto the ends of the world (Ps. 19:4).
As we consider the working of this Word of God, we can distinguish it into four different aspects.
1. First, there is the Word of God as it called the creation into being. In the beginning all things were created by the Word of God (John 1:1-3). Into the emptiness before time when no material being existed, God spoke and called forth the things which be not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Gen. 3:3). He stretched forth the heavens above and spread the earth beneath and gave breath unto man (Isa. 42:5). “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” (Ex. 20:11). The mind of man can not understand it. Only faith can believe it (Heb. 11:3).
2. Secondly, there is the Word of God in His providence. Having created the universe, He would not leave it to go on by itself. Rather He remains very close to it so that there is nowhere that one can go and escape from His presence (Ps. 139:7-12), and the apostle Paul could say, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). By the Word of God all things are preserved and held in existence (Neh. 9:6), and they are guided according to His counsel (Isa. 46:10). He rules over the brute creation (Ps. 104), but also over the ways of man (Jer. 10:23.) He has called forth a nation and a people unto Himself (Isa. 43:1), and has given others for its service (Isa. 43:3, 4). Even the king’s heart is in His hand, and He turns it whithersoever He will (Prov. 21:1).
3. Thirdly, there is the calling of God’s Word in His justice. All men have sinned and have come short of the glory of God; they have rebelled against their Maker (Rom. 3:10-23). But God is a God of justice and concerning this sin He will not remain silent (Ps. 50:3). He testifies against it. He has done so through the curse which He laid upon the earth, the thorns and thistles, the storms and pestilence and famines (Gen. 3:17-19). Now He does this even more clearly through the Word of His Gospel commanding all men everywhere to repent of their sin (Acts 17:30).
4. Finally, there is the Word of God which goes forth as a calling of grace. Grace is an attribute of God. God is a gracious God (Ex. 34:6), which means, He is a God of ethical pleasantness and beauty. This grace God has determined to make known through His Word among men. Gracious is this Word of God as it goes forth in power unto man. It calls him forth out of darkness into God’s marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). It renews man after the very image of God (Col. 3:10). It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Rom. 1:16). In the Word of the Gospel is the grace of God revealed through Jesus Christ His Son (Rom. 5:15).
It is especially with these latter two elements of the Word of God that we are concerned. They constitute what we know as the Gospel. This Gospel, Jesus Christ has given unto His Church to be proclaimed unto the ends of the world (Mark 16:15). The same power is still contained in that Gospel as when it was spoken by Jesus Himself. Shortly after the raising of Lazarus, He said to His disciples, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12). Not so much as though the work of the Church is to call forth the physically dead, although also this was done by the apostles, but the greater work of the Church is to call forth the spiritually dead unto eternal life. This can be done because the Gospel, when faithfully proclaimed, does not become the word of man; it remains the word of God.
The first element of the Gospel, as we have seen, is the call to repentance. Jesus expressly commanded that this should be proclaimed unto all nations (Luke 24:47). This is a very important part of the Gospel. It is to be found throughout the pages of Scripture. Again and again it echoed from the lips of the prophets throughout the old dispensation; it went forth as a cry in the wilderness from the mouth of John the Baptist standing on the bank of the Jordan; the apostles carried it throughout the borders of the Roman Empire; and even Jesus gave as the purpose of His coming, to call sinners to repentance. It is the revelation of God’s justice, and God’s justice will not remain silent. No man has a right to sin against God. This the Gospel tells all men everywhere. It commands them to repent (Acts 17:30). This command must be preached to all men, but never may it be changed. It may not be presented as a mere plea or invitation. It may not be brought down to the level of the word of man which must depend upon uncertain powers of persuasion. God does not plead or beg; He commands. He tells all men everywhere that He has no pleasure in sin. Only this is acceptable to Him that the wicked turn from his sin and repent (Ezek. 33:11).
When this call to repentance is faithfully proclaimed, it is always powerful to produce an effect, although that effect may not always be what we might expect.
In some this call of the Gospel brings forth fruits of repentance. It illuminates their minds so that they recognize themselves for what they really are, sinners incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. It pricks them in the heart so that in misery for their sins they cry out like the multitude on Pentecost, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) The reason why they so respond is that God has prepared their hearts for the Gospel. He has taken out their old heart of stone and given them a new heart that is soft and receptive to His Word (Ezekiel 11:19, 20). He has given them ears to hear His Word, eyes to see, and hearts to understand that it is true (Isa. 35:5). They are born again by the Spirit that they may see the kingdom of God and through repentance enter in (John 3:3, 5). They are the sheep given of the Father who hear the voice of the shepherd and repent (John 10:27).
The rest who hear the call to repentance respond too, but in quite a different way. They reject the Word of God and turn from it in derision. In their pride they are become fools and refuse to acknowledge that they are sinners. They are that rebellious people who have eyes to see and see not, ears to hear and hear not (Ezek. 12:2). Nor need we be surprised at this. It does not mean that the Word has proved ineffective. God has told us that it must be so (Isa. 6:9, 10). The Gospel is a two-edged sword cutting both ways (Heb. 4:12, 13). It is a savor of life unto life, but also of death unto death (II Cor. 2:15, 16). It is “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (II Peter 2:8) . Thus when Moses called Pharaoh to repentance, he hardened his heart because it was the wiI1 of the Lord (Ex. 4:21). Jesus purposely spoke in parables so that the wicked might clearly be shown the will of the Lord and turn from that which they hated (Mark 4:11, 12).
It is exactly as Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
The second element of the Gospel is the calling of grace. It is from this element especially that the Gospel derives its name, meaning, the good news. Like the call to repentance, it is to be preached throughout all the world. The two must always be preached together. But unlike the call to repentance, the call of grace is very particularly addressed. It speaks only to those who have heard the call to repentance with their hearts and have obeyed it. They are variously distinguished in Scripture. They are called the laboring and heavy-laden (Matt. 11:28), the thirsty (John 7:37; Isa. 55:1), the meek (Matt. 5:5; Zeph. 2:3), the mourning (Matt. 5:4), they that hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6), the willing (Rev. 22:19), and the believing (John 3:16). These are spiritual characteristics and can be found only in those who have been touched by an awareness of their sins. This sin weighs upon their hearts as a burden of which they long to be relieved; it causes them to be meek and mourning under the sorrow of their guilt; it makes them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of the kingdom of God. They are the blind to whom Christ comes to give sight (John 9:39). They are the sick to whom Christ appears as a physician (Matt. 9:12). They are the sinners who are called by the Savior (Mark 2:17). They are the sheep that hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him (John 10:26, 27).
The reason why this call of grace is so particularly addressed is that God is always serious in the speaking of His Word. God does not lie. He is serious when He tells all men that it is their duty to repent from their sins, and that only such repentance is pleasing in His eyes. So also He is serious when He calls only those who have the marks of spiritual life unto salvation. It is only for them that He has provided salvation, and only to them can it be given. The Scriptures clearly teach that God has made a distinction between men in His eternal counsel (Rom. 9;Eph. 1; Jude 4; I Peter 2:8, 9). There are those who shall not come to salvation and this, the Gospel serves to reveal (Mark 4:11, 12). The Gospel offends them and drives them away (John 6:66). The reason is that grace is not given them of the Father (John 6:65). It is those who are ordained to eternal life that are called by grace, not according to works, but according to God’s purpose of grace (Rom. 2:28-30; II Tim. 3:9). The hearts of such God opens that they may attend to the Words of eternal life (Acts 16:14). They are the sheep given unto Jesus who hear the voice of the shepherd (John 10:27-29). Being ordained to eternal life, they believe and are saved (Acts 13:48).
Thus the Word of God’s grace is a powerful means unto salvation. It draws the elect unto salvation, without which no one can be saved (John 6:44). It brings the thirsty to drink of the waters of life. It brings the hungry to eat of the bread of life. It brings the weary to rest, and speaks peace to those who mourn. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth (Rom. 1:16). Having heard it, every child of God is sure to echo the confession of the apostle, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).