Article 7. This mystery of his will God discovered to but a small number under the Old Testament; under the New, (the distinction between various peoples having been removed), he reveals himself to many, without any distinction of people. The cause of this dispensation is not to be ascribed to the superior worth of one nation above another, nor to their making a better use of the light of nature, but results wholly from the sovereign good pleasure and unmerited love of God. Hence they, to whom so great and so gracious a blessing is communicated, above their desert or rather notwithstanding their demerits are bound to acknowledge it with humble and grateful hearts, and with the apostle, to adore, not curiously tot pry into the severity and justice of God’s judgments displayed to others, to whom this grace is not given. 

The above translation is substantially correct. The phrase “without any distinction of people” does not appear in the original Latin, but does not materially alter the meaning. And, instead of the negative “unmerited” the original has the positive “gratuitous.” But for the rest, the above version faithfully conveys the thought of the original. 

In this article the fathers continue along the line begun in the preceding paragraph, namely, to develop positively the doctrine of the conversion of man. And in particular they begin to speak here of the outward aspect of that calling through which the corrupt sinner is brought into living and conscious connection with Christ the Savior, or the “call of the gospel.” 

The article speaks especially of the difference between the old and the new dispensations as far as the revelation of the mystery of God’s will is concerned. By the expression “this mystery of God’s will” we are pointed to the preceding article, where we learn that the fathers understand by this mystery the good pleasure of God to save such as believe through the ministry of reconciliation. In the sixth article the fathers had also pointed out that the way of salvation was fundamentally the same in the old as in the new dispensation: “. . . it hath pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old, as under the New Testament.” Now, however, they point to the outstanding difference between the old and new dispensations. In the old dispensation, when Christ was revealed through the shadows and types, the revelation of this mystery of God’s will was limited to a very small number. This was especially true from the time of Abraham on, when the Lord began to limit His revelation to the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel. Out of all the nations of the world Israel was singled out, and for many centuries the gospel of salvation was their peculiar possession. The only contact with the gospel that anyone of another nation could have was always through Israel. And the individuals outside of Israel who were saved were but very few. In the new dispensation, when Christ has come and is exalted, the national distinction is removed. This was indicated already on the day of Pentecost in the sign of the tongues. And soon afterwards the gospel was actually preached to the Gentiles. And ever since that time there has been no national distinction as there was in the old dispensation. The gospel of reconciliation is brought to all nations without distinction. 

It is to be noted, however, first of all, that the article by no means intends to propound a general gospel. In the first place, the very fact of the difference between the old and new dispensations certainly serves to emphasize the truth that it is not and never has been the will of God to save all men. In the old dispensation already it was emphatically revealed that God’s will to save is strictly limited. Only one nation out of all the nations of the earth was the object of the ministry of reconciliation. But in the second place, even in the new dispensation the ministry of reconciliation does not extend to all men, even though to all nations. God reveals the mystery of His will to many. Hence, even the outward call of the gospel is limited. 

Secondly, we must remember that even though the Jew Gentile distinction is removed, and even though the gospel is preached to all nations in the new dispensation, this does not change the fact that in a sense there is still distinction made between one nation and another as to the time when the gospel is preached to it and the extent to which the gospel is preached to it. The gospel is not suddenly preached to all nations at the same time. But the preaching of the gospel to all nations follows a certain course already in the time of the apostles, and that course can be clearly traced in the book of Acts. First Antioch, then Asia Minor, then Macedonia and Greece, and thence westward and into all Europe, and finally only in recent centuries to America—such has been the course. Hence, for many centuries many nations even in the new dispensation have been unevangelized. And this means that millions upon millions of individuals never had the opportunity to hear the gospel bf reconciliation. And even today this is true. Outside of the main line of the course of the gospel there are still many nations which are the object of missionary activity, and that too, very limited activity. This means that even though one can speak of those nations as being evangelized, this by no means implies that every individual is reached by the ministry of reconciliation. The very opposite is true. 

Now this is a very important fact. And it must certainly act as a deterrent to a. certain false missionary zeal that sometimes pervades even Reformed circles. The major premise of this zeal is that it is God’s will that as many individuals as possible be reached with the gospel, and that if possible all men should be evangelized, let alone be saved. And it is claimed that the only thing that prevents this universal evangelization and saving of millions of souls is that there are not enough who will devote their life to mission work. The heathen, they say, are simply crying for the gospel: if only we had an army of missionaries to bring it to them! And it is the church’s fault that millions upon millions of people are not evangelized and go lost forever. Their blood is upon us. But this is plainly a false presentation of the matter, and a false presentation of the will of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures. And it is typically Arminian, of course. It is, controlled by the same denial of the sovereign and omnipotent will of God that pervades the whole Arminian view. For plainly, if it was the will of God that all nations be simultaneously evangelized from the day of Pentecost on, and that every last individual in those nations be reached by the gospel, then God is also powerful to accomplish that will if not, then you must adopt the Arminian view of God, which leaves Him impotent to fulfill the counsel of His own will, able to be frustrated by the will of mere man. But the Reformed position is that even the process of evangelization is strictly subject to the will of God’s good pleasure. All nations must be indeed be evangelized; and they will also be evangelized; but they will be evangelized in God’s time and according to His counsel. You may charge that this is fatalistic and passivistic. You may raise all kinds of worries about the missionary responsibility of the church. I insist that for a Reformed man the above must certainly be maintained as a fundamental principle of all missionary enterprise, and that all the history of the evangelization of the nations stands as a solemn testimony to the truth of it. And furthermore, that is the only possible ground of comfort and assurance for the church in its mission endeavors also. What a horrible thought it is that all the blame for the millions upon millions of heathen that go lost is upon us! Why, that simply means, that we are lost too: their blood is upon us. God will require that blood at our hand! And mark you well, that’ same must apply to the church of apostolic times too, and even to the apostles themselves. For also in those days this theory of the Arminian evangelist could be applied. Surely, it is utter folly to propound such a view. And Reformed people must never allow this sentimental theory to pervade their mission work and mission zeal. 

This all stands in close connection with the second main element of this seventh article. And that is the question, what is the cause of this dispensation of the ministry, of reconciliation? 

As the article suggests, the Arminians find the cause to lie in the superior worth of one nation over another, or in the: fact that one nation made better use of its natural light than another. It is the same old Arminian lie of the free will of man, only now applied to the very outward call of the gospel, Even as the obtaining of salvation is ascribed to the exercise of man’s free will, so even the fact that men have the gospel preached to them is ascribed not to God, but to men. Men make themselves worthy of having the gospel preached to them. One thing must be conceded to the Arminian: he is consistently Arminian. What must be said of this view? 

In the first place, it must be plain that the Arminian is simply building on his owl; false foundation. It is evident that if one consistently maintains the truth of the total depravity of man, and insists that all men are conceived in sin, by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, it is simply out of the question to speak of the superior worth of one nation over another or of the better use of natural light by one nation in distinction from another as a ground for their receiving the preaching of the gospel. All men are alike in their depravity. They have all forfeited any claim whatsoever to the favor of God. And if the gospel is preached to them, and they through it are saved, they must certainly acknowledge that this gracious blessing was communicated to them apart from, yea, contrary to their merits. 

And it is certainly at this juncture that the exhortation attached to this article is applicable. It behooves the people of God to acknowledge this great blessing with humble and grateful hearts. That they have the light of the gospel is not at all due to themselves, but only to the good pleasure and gratuitous electing love of God. That they are the objects of the ministry of reconciliation cannot be due to any distinctions inherent in men and nations. Before God all are alike in absolute unworthiness and lack of receptivity for the gospel of grace. It is His good pleasure that sent them the gospel, even as it is His free and elective love that makes that gospel effective in them. Thankfulness, therefore, must fill their hearts; and humility must characterize them when they consider this awesome fact that they are the objects of God’s good pleasure arid unmerited love. And well may the exhortation be added, for how often do we not fail to appreciate the tremendous benefit imparted to us in the preaching of the gospel! On the other hand, it can be only considered just judgment and severe execution of justice that from the rest the gospel is not imparted. Not curiously are we to pry into this distinction, attempting to find a reason apart from God’s own good pleasure as to why it should be thus, and attempting in Arminian fashion to find ground for boasting in our own goodness. But we are to adore the severity and justice of the God’s judgments, acknowledging that He is God, and that He is just in all His ways.

In the second place, we may point out that this Arminian view is directly contrary to Scripture. According to Scripture, it was emphatically not the superior worth of Israel that was the cause of the fact that they from among all nations had the dispensation of the gospel. In this connection we quote, first of all, Deuteronomy 7:6-8: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” The same truth is clearly taught in Deuteronomy 9:4-7: “Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware to thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people. Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord.” The same truth is emphasized in Deut. 32:5-12 

Thirdly, we may note that this view is contrary to the entire history of Israel. For there was no more idolatrous nation in all the world than Israel according to the flesh. And their entire history gives ample testimony to this fact. Israel certainly showed, even while they had the gospel, that they were not at all worthy of it.

But besides, what a strange picture of history we obtain in this Arminian view. How strange it is that all of a sudden, whereas formerly only Israel of all nations was worthy of having the ministry of reconciliation, now all the nations became worthy arid made a better use of their natural light. 

Plainly, therefore, the distinction is not due to man, but to God and His good pleasure. And the Arminian conception as to the reason why the gospel is preached to men is to be rejected.