* Address delivered before the Young People’s Convention, Aug. 14.
“The Gospel of the Promise” is the theme of this convention. The expression “Gospel of the Promise” is not found in the Scriptures. Nevertheless we may speak of the “Gospel of the Promise” certainly. According to the form of its words, the expression can have two meanings. It can mean: the gospel, namely the promise. If taken in this sense, the thought conveyed is, that the promise and the gospel are one and the same. But the expression can also be taken to mean: the gospel, glad tiding concerning the promise. But we need not choose between the two constructions, seeing that it is the promise with which we here have to do, and upon which we shall have to concentrate.
The sub-theme that was given me is: “The recipients of the gospel of the promise.” I have changed my subject somewhat so as to make it read: “The promise of God is only to the elect, historically the believers.”
Let us see that this follows first, from the content of the promise; second, from the character of the promise; third, from what the people of God are. In the fourth place we shall discuss the objections that are being raised against this doctrine.
First then, that this follows from the content of the promise. Our theme makes mention of promisesingular and not promises plural. This is not incorrect for essentially there is but one promise of God to His people. This one promise was first revealed in paradise immediately after the fall of man and is known as the protevangel, “I will set enmity . . .” The relation of the protevangel to the promises of God of subsequent ages and recorded in the Scripture must be understood. The promise of the protevangel is, so to say, the seed-promise of all the promises of God given thereafter. That is to say, all the subsequent promises of God are the unfolding of the promise of the protevangel. Through the ages God from time to time renewed the promise of the protevangel and through each renewal, new promise, He shed always new and greater light upon the promise of the protevangel, and the result was that it continued to unfold. Truly, there is but one promise essentially. That the Bible speaks also of promises can therefore only mean that the promise of the protevangel is so many sided and includes a variety of riches—riches of His grace—so wonderful that, if it was to be fully comprehended by God’s believing people, always more light had to be shed upon it. And this light was shed by the Lord speaking through the patriarchs and the prophets and symbol and type and finally through His own Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the fulfillment of the promise.
We submit that this one promise, and another promise there is not, was given only to the church of the elect, historically the believers. If it can be shown that this is true of the promise of the protevangel, it shall have to be admitted that this is true of all the promises of God subsequently given, and this for the reason stated above.
The thing for us to do then, is to examine the promise of the protevangel. Let us then get this promise before us. It reads, “And I will set enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; He shall crush thy head, and thou shalt crush His heal.” So reads the protevangel. What is its promise? It is this, that God will bring into being his fallen but elect people—the seed of the woman—a community of saints loving God and hating the devil and his brood; that in the ensuing warfare Christ by His death here indicated by the clause, “Thou shalt crush his heal,” will save His people from all their sins and destroy the devil and his kingdom. Such is here the promise. And to whom was it given? Solely to the seed of the woman, Christ and His people. All that the protevangel contains for Satan and his brood is a prediction of doom and destruction, a doom by which this brood is to be overtaken in the way of its crushing the heal of the woman’s seed, crucifying Christ, the Lord of glory. And certainly predictions of evil are not promises with regard to the one that is to be overtaken by the evil. A promise is a prediction, too. But it is more than that. Because of the good thing that it vows to its recipient and this is always characteristic of a promise. It holds forth a thing that is good, that is considered to be good—a promise is always a glad tiding, good news.
That the promise of the protevangel, better said, that the protevangel as promise; is only unto Christ and the elect, is so plain that it can be denied by no one, and is being denied by no one of all that calls itself reformed. However to maintain themselves in their false position that the promise of God is also to the reprobated, the reprobated baptized ones as well as to the elect baptized, the Liberated distinguish between the prophecies, predictions of the Bible on the one hand and its promises on the other. The protevangel, they say, is prophecy, prediction and not promise, and they agree that it is glad tiding solely to the elect but that it is this as prophecy, prediction and not as promise.
But this whole conception according to which prophecy is one and the predictions of the Bible another, is wrong. Fact is, that all the prophecies, predictions of the Scriptures are either directly or indirectly promises of salvation to the elect, tidings of joy to the believers and either directly or at bottom predictions of doom and destruction to the reprobated wicked.
If the protevangel as promise is only to the elect the same must be true of all the promises subsequently given, and this for reason already stated. Wherever it appears in the Scriptures, in whatever book of the Bible, on whatever page of the book, the promise is always unto the believers, and unto the believers only.
That the promise is to the believers only follows in the second place from the character of the promise. The promise, being God’s promise is necessarily unconditional. The promise of a mere man is always of necessity conditional. This is so, because man is creature. Being creature, he is limited on every hand in countless ways. But to God’s power there is no limit. He does all His good-pleasure. For in Him all things subsist, live, move and have their being. The hearts of kings are in His hands. He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens. To say that the promise is conditional is to draw God down to the level of His creature. If the promise is unconditional it is only unto the elect, seeing that they alone are saved.
That the promise is only unto the believers follows from what the believers are.
First they are the elect of God. Let us consider that election is the supreme cause and fountain of the salvation of God’s people as to its entire compass. It is the cause and fountain of the believers themselves as new creatures in Christ Jesus. And all that they are and ever will be by reason of their election, they are by reason of the promise, so that to say that they are children of the promise is at once to say that they are children of election. If so, it cannot be otherwise but that the promise of God is only unto them.
Further, that the promise of God is only unto the elect, historically the believers follows from the fact that they are the justified ones, and that they alone therefore have the right to the promise, that is to what is promised. God’s people are justified, that is, God pronounced them guiltless and righteous not on the ground of their own good works, for they have none, but on the ground of the good works, the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ as imputed unto them. Being justified of God, they are as guiltless as they would be, had they never committed any sin, and as righteous as they would be, had they all the moments of their life themselves lived in perfect conformity to the law of God both as to their inward and outward man. This being true, God cast all their sins behind His back to remember them no more. “We then having been justified by faith,” says the apostle (Rom. 5:1). And let us take notice of the pronoun “we” in the statement. It is indicative of the entire church of the elect, the body of Christ, of the total of believers of all the ages of the past, of the present, and of all the ages to come as long as the earth endureth, and this with. respect to all the guilt, of all the sins of this vast company, and accordingly with respect to all the guilt of all the sins of the individual believer—the sins of the past and the sins that, against his will, he is still going to commit in the days of his life that remain to him. For this whole vast mountain of moral debt Christ satisfied by His suffering and death upon the cross. Not a penny of it was left unpaid. The entire vast accumulation of guilt wag covered by Christ’s blood, blotted out, and accordingly God justified His people, that is, pronounced them guiltless and righteous in Christ.
Being justified of God, they are restored to the right of God’s love and favor that they had forfeited in paradise through Adam’s transgression and in addition through all their own sins. Restored to the right of God’s love and favor, are His people, but to His love as now revealed in the face of Christ.
Not that God’s attitude toward His people changed from that of hatred of them to that of love. God always loved His people, in Christ. He never hated them. It was in His love of them that He chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before Him in love, predestinating them unto the adoption of children by Christ Jesus to Himself, according to the good-pleasure of His will, Eph. 1:5. And even while they were yet sinners, God commendeth His love toward them in that Christ died for them, Rom. 5:8. But being by nature children of wrath under condemnation, and this according to God’s own justice, they had to be redeemed from their sins by Christ’s blood and thereby restored to the right of His love, to the right to be delivered from all their sins and the power of the devil, and to the right to be conformed according to the image of His dear Son. That right had to be made theirs. God had to make it right for Himself to love them and to save them and to crown them with life in glory. In a word, He had to reconcile them to Himself.
And let us consider that the righteousness of Christ with which God clothes His people, is the memorial basis of all the riches of His grace, of their regeneration, repentance, faith, sanctification, and life with God in glory, so that, as justified, they, His people, and they alone, have the right to all the blessings of salvation. This being true, they and they alone have a right to God’s promises, to the promised salvation. The reprobated have not this right. For they are not justified, and not being justified, they are under condemnation and the wrath of God abideth on them forever. Hence their only right is to be damned. How then can God promise such men salvation? How can He give them the promise, if to its content they have no right?
Let us consider that the content of the promise is Christ Himself with all the benefits of His cross as inseparately connected with His person,—forgiveness of sins; deliverance from God’s wrath legally and actually, eternal life. If this is so, how can God promise such men salvation? How can God promise Christ, that is, to a people for whom, Christ did not die? How can God promise forgiveness of sins to a people for whose sins Christ did not atone? How can God promise deliverance from His wrath to a people from whom His wrath was not appeased? How can God promise reconciliation to a people whom He did not by the death of His Son reconcile to Himself? How can God promise everlasting life to a people for whom this life was not merited? Don’t we see the impossibility of this? Don’t we see the utter wrongness of the teaching that the promises of God are also to the reprobated? Certainly the promises of God are, can and may be only to the elect. Such are the plain teachings of holy writ and our Reformed Confessions as is so plain from our “Declaration of Principles” in which this is conclusively proved by copious quotations from the Confessions.
That the promises are unto the elect and to them only must follow from the fact that they and they alone were raised up together in Christ and made to sit together in Him in heavenly places that they might be made the actual possessors of the content of the promise. “But God,” says Paul, “who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:3-5).
How can the promise be also to the reprobated if, what is stated in this scripture passage is true only of the elect?
Don’t we see how utterly contrary to the Scriptures it is to teach that the promises are unto all soul for soul. This certainly is not the teaching of the Bible, but this, that the promises of God are only unto the elect.
That the promises of God are only to the elect must also follow from the fact that only the elect by faith have access to what is promised, namely to justification and all the right implicit therein and all the blessings of salvation that Christ merited for His people by His death. So we read in Rom. 5:2, “By whom,” that is, by our Lord Jesus Christ, “we also have access to this grace.” The pronoun “we” in this statement indicates certainly only the elect, the believers. They and they only can approach this grace, lay hold on it, appropriate it, which they do through Christ, that is, as brought under the conviction by Christ’s Spirit that in themselves they are lost and undone, they hide themselves in Christ as their only hope and receive in their hearts the witness of Christ’s Spirit that they are forgiven of God and are heirs of eternal life. That the promises are only to the believers must follow from the fact that the Spirit witnesses only with their spirits that they are children of God, that this they possess what is promised, life eternal. Certainly, the promise is God’s unconditional oath to” the elect only, historically the believers.
Let us now discuss with you the objections that are being raised against this true doctrine.
(to be continued)