Afraid of the Gospel (1)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The RFPA recently received a request to reprint this series of articles 'Afraid of the Gospel' on our blog. The RFPA believes these articles are timely and instructive to our blog readership.
This series of articles was written by the late Rev. John Heys. The first article was published in the September 1, 1953 issue of the Standard Bearer.
How could one ever be afraid of the gospel?
Why should we ever be afraid of it?
Even Webster tells us that the word gospel means good news, glad tidings.
How right he is, for the word used by the scriptures and translated in our English by the word gospel literally means good news, glad tidings.
That a man is afraid to open the envelope containing a telegram, that he has inward fright when the telephone rings in the wee hours of the night is to be understood. These things often bring evil tidings, sad news. But the gospel is glad tidings. Why should we be afraid of it?
Did not the angel declare to the shepherds in the fields of Ephrata that their fear was out of place? Fear not, he said, for I bring you the gospel. That is literally what he said.
What is that good news? It is this that unto us is born a Savior. It is this that all our sins were blotted out by his blood on Calvary’s brow. It is this that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. It is this that he arose the third day for our justification, ascended to the right hand of God, received the Spirit and is working in and through all things to prepare the way for his own glorious return when he shall glorify all those given him by the Father and gathered by him out of every nation, tongue and tribe. It is this that no matter how unfaithful we may be, God will never let his faithfulness fail. It is this that we are saved by grace and not by works. It is this that nothing, not even the sins we shall yet commit in the future can separate us from the love of God in Christ. It is this that the God of our salvation is an unchangeable, almighty and eternal God. It is this that God is for us and nothing, absolutely nothing and no one can be against us.
Afraid of such a wonderful message?
Afraid that it is not true?
Not one of us is afraid that this is not true.
Or are we?
There are those who are afraid, actually afraid of that gospel!
You say, impossible!?
Wait a moment. Listen to this!
Are you afraid to preach that gospel? Are you afraid to have it preached to the church of the living God? Are you afraid to have it preached and taught to your children?
There are people who are exactly afraid of the gospel in that sense. And they are not a mere handful of people who have left no mark upon the pages of the history of the church of God in this world. They are legion.
The apostle Paul was troubled by them in his day. They opposed the gospel when he preached it. They ridiculed such a gospel and said that by it you encourage man to walk in sin. The only logical conclusion of such a gospel, they said, is that we should continue in sin that grace may abound. Paul, they said, that doctrine will only give us a good reason for sinning against God. It will never make better men and women out of us. And Paul did not dig out of his own soul that evil slur upon the gospel of free grace and complete salvation through the meritorious work of Christ alone. In his wide experiences he had often met with such a reaction to the gospel which glorifies God as the God of our salvation.
Did the apostle agree that there was a danger in preaching that being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ? Did he agree that you have to be careful when you preach that by a free gift, by the grace of God and by it alone we have eternal life? Nay, he gives the answer of faith. He is not afraid of that gospel, for he has the fear of the Lord. We hope to come back to that presently, but let us state it now that to be afraid to preach the gospel is not the fear of the Lord. Nor is it by any stretch of the imagination, living in his fear. We hope to make that plain presently. But let us first turn to that marvelous answer of the apostle. He says, in effect, be not afraid of such a wonderful message. God forbid that we should. Such a doctrine will not encourage the true child of God into continuing in sin, for that true, regenerated child of God is dead to sin. That is part of the good news of the gospel. That child of God for whom Christ died and through whose Spirit he has been regenerated is dead to sin, so that he cannot live any longer therein. Paul has no fear at all to preach so glorious a gospel. He is afraid to preach anything else. He knows that to preach anything else is to bring man back to the thunderings and earthquakes at Mt. Sinai and take from him all the good news that a Savior has been born, died, arose and is exalted at God’s right hand for the taking away of the sins of those given him by the Father from all eternity.
O, but that did not put an end to this fear. Some still continued to find a certain morbid joy in remaining in the first chapter of the Heidelberg Catechism, which instructs us in the misery of man, and refused to go on to the second chapter which holds before our eyes that gospel, those good tidings of which the angel sang to the shepherds at the Savior’s birth. Or if they did continue into this second chapter, they still could not get rid of the fear that if they said no more, men would become awfully careless and indifferent about serving the living God.
That is why the fathers of our beloved Heidelberg Catechism also ask in question 64, “But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane?” And they can hardly wait to shout out the answer, “By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.” Afraid of the gospel? Some are. But rest assured that to preach it with all your power and convictions, to preach it in all its purity and strength will not make one believer careless and profane. A regenerated child of God may for a time live a careless and indifferent life. But you do wrong if you ascribe it to the preaching of the gospel. In the measure that he does not hear the gospel, in that measure he will be careless and profane. Man is by nature careless and profane. He is that way before he ever hears the gospel. And the gospel never encourages him to continue in it. When he is careless and profane it is because he is following his old carnal nature, not because he is following the truth of the gospel. And even when regenerated children have this fear of preaching the gospel of a full and free salvation that fear is due to the fact that they are following the dictates of their old carnal natures rather than the truth of the gospel. They are allowing their old carnal natures to tell them something about the gospel rather than to let the gospel speak to them. The gospel can no more move the new man in Christ to carelessness and indifference than a telegram to the effect that her son is alive and is returning home in good health can move a mother, who had been grieving because of a former message stating that her son had been missing in action in bloody Korea, could move such a mother to cursing and resentment at this new turn of events. Her grief and love for her son would not allow that. The regenerated child of God’s grief and sorrow for his sin and his love for God will not allow him to walk in carelessness and profanity when he hears the gospel of free and full salvation in Christ. The God who speaks that gospel to him also works in him that sorrow and love.
But there is something harder, more painful to write.
That fear of preaching the gospel is in our midst.
It is dangerous, so some among us say, to preach that gospel without making it conditional. You will make men stocks and blocks and take away their responsibility. You will preach a passive doctrine. You are going to make man careless. You need prerequisites. You need conditions to preach a full-orbed gospel. The undersigned has been told personally that the behavior of some of our young people is to be ascribed exactly to that fact that we hold no prerequisites before them, our preaching is not conditional. It tells them that while they are yet sinners Christ died for us and that ALL our salvation is in Christ and that God is always first in every phase of our salvation, that we never move till God moves us. That doctrine is dangerous, for it makes men careless and fatalistic. So they say.
The occasion of this and the following article(s) in this department is exactly that a brother, in conversing with the undersigned about conditions and man’s responsibility, expressed this fear of the gospel by stating that he would not dare tell his children that all the sins of God’s people which they shall yet commit in the future are already paid for by the blood of Christ. He was afraid of that good news of the gospel. Other remarks which followed indicated that he was afraid that if he would tell his children that truth, then he would no longer be able to admonish them. Then their carelessness and disregard of God’s laws would increase, and he would be helpless to train them. They would not have the proper fear of the Lord. Then he could no longer teach them that they had a responsibility before God.
The brother is wrong! Oh, so wrong! And he, no doubt, does not object to these lines, nor to what follows, the Lord willing in the next article. For he did display a sincere desire for a clarification of this thing that troubled his heart. The theory of conditions confused him. It deceived him. It took away from him the cross and the joy of the gospel.
You may say that it is an extreme case? Not at all. This is the direction in which all this conditional theology is headed and where it will surely land. And the leaders of this conditional theology are going to find themselves helpless in trying to stem it and in trying to restore the joy of a free and full salvation in Christ.
You say, that is an exception! The undersigned would sincerely like to have it that way, but he knows of other evidences that some of our people have lost the joy of the gospel. These he will, if space permits, reveal next time. But let it be said that we must all bear in mind that God cannot be mocked. And when we begin to try to defend statements which in our better judgment ought not be defended, the tragic result is that we begin to believe them ourselves and begin to be ruled by the lie.
Only the pure, unconditional gospel gives joy and peace.
Be careful, lest you lose the cross!