Afraid of the Gospel (2)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This series of articles was written by the late Rev. John Heys. This second article was published in the September 15, 1953 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Were you to assure the man, who was planning to break into an establishment in order to steal, that the night watchman of that building made a practice of leaving that structure at a certain hour every evening to spend one half of an hour seeking a bite of lunch and refreshment in some nearby cafe, you would undoubtedly encourage him to go ahead and perpetrate his crime.
Were you to assure the visitor that the policemen in your city were instructed not to place parking violation tickets on those illegally parked automobiles which had out-of-state licenses upon them, you would undoubtedly encourage him to break those parking regulations.
Were you to set a plate of candy on the table before your children, were you to forbid them the right to take one piece and were you to assure them that, if they did, you would in no way and to no degree punish them, you could well expect to find some of that candy gone when you returned.
How, then, can we maintain what we did last time that we need not be afraid of the gospel, need not be afraid to tell our children that all the sins of all God's people are already paid for and that Christ suffered already all the punishment for which these sins call? How can we maintain that this doctrine of a full and free salvation which from beginning to end is the work of God does not make man careless and profane? How can we maintain that nothing must be put between the elect and the cross, no conditions that must yet be fulfilled, no prerequisites that still stand in the way of their coming to the blessedness already merited by the cross? We find no difficulty here and that for very good reasons which we shall now present.
First of all, let us never forget that it is God who tells his covenant children that glorious message of joy that all their sins are blotted out and that he has done it all for them. It is God who tells his people that “It is finished” on Calvary's brow, and that their salvation is as sure as God is sure. And when he speaks that gospel to his regenerated children, he does so irresistibly and efficaciously. Indeed, were you to tell your children that there is no punishment for their sins and were that the extent of it, your children would live as careless and profane as they pleased and perhaps be more careless after hearing you say this than before. But then your children have not heard the gospel. Paul makes a beautiful distinction in Romans 10:18 between the “sound” of the gospel which is gone out into all the earth and the gospel itself. If all we can say is that your children heard the sound of that glorious gospel, then what Paul says in this passage to the Romans will follow. Your children will not believe it. And as unbelievers you can expect that they will be careless and profane, for that is characteristic of all unbelievers. You can even expect, if they are unregenerated, that by the sound of the gospel they will be hardened into more carelessness and profanity. That is the truth of scripture, and that the unbelievers are hardened by the gospel has always been maintained by the Protestant Reformed Churches. According to Isaiah 55 God’s word never returns void. It always has an effect. It is either a savor of life unto life or of death unto death.
Every time the gospel, and not merely the sound of the gospel, is heard by the child of God, the response is not carelessness and profanity; it is not a jubilant cry of joy that now we can live in sin with impunity; it is not a devilish conclusion that then we ought to sin that grace may abound. But every time the gospel is heard by the regenerated child of God the result is that this child, in the true fear of the Lord, stands in awe before him and says, “O God, how good thou art! Keep me pure! Keep me here in the light, for this is life and this is joy!” That is the true fear of the Lord. But to cringe in fear before him lest you have not fulfilled all the conditions he demands of you, to be afraid that you cannot get to the cross because there are prerequisites to its benefits, things which you must do before God will take you there to enjoy all its blessedness, that is not the fear of the Lord.
To fear the Lord does not mean that we are afraid of him. Shall we, can we be afraid of him who is our heavenly, our covenant Father? Can we be afraid of him who loves us with an unchangeable and everlasting love? Nay, “fearing the Lord” is the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament, “believing in the Lord.” And to be afraid of the Lord is not to believe in him. For he says that nothing—and that also means nothing we can do, no sins, no proud rebellion our old man of sin can yet produce and practice in the future—is able to separate us from his love in Christ. Of course not! For he loves us in Christ, and eternally he sees us in him. He never forgets the cross nor his sovereign election in Christ. He sees, without it ever being hidden from his eyes and mind for one brief moment, that all the prerequisites of our justification were fulfilled by his Son. The fear of the Lord believes all that. Those who fear the Lord believes what the Lord says. The fear of the Lord believes him when he says that “it is finished” on Calvary’s brow and therefore believes him when he says that he is for us and that therefore nothing—not our sins and short-comings—can be against us. That is the glorious gospel which the fear of the Lord embraces and to which those who fear the Lord do not want to add prerequisites and conditions. Let us put it colloquially, we want a salvation that has “no strings attached.” We want the gate of Christ’s righteousness without other little gates we first must go through to get to this all important and wide open gate. Christ is THE WAY, THE WHOLE WAY, not the biggest part of it.
For rather than to be afraid of God, he who fears him LOVES him. Consider that the gospel is nothing less than God’s message to his people that HE LOVES THEM. If your children hear that gospel—and we say again not merely hear the sound of those words but the love of which the sound speaks—they will not be afraid of God. Nor will they want to be careless and to sin against him. What is more, when they hear that gospel, they will love God for it. As John says, “We love him because he first loved us.” And that means that if God had not eternally loved us, it would be impossible for us to love him, but it also means that he causes us to love him by causing us to experience his love.
That is the second element we must not overlook when we speak of being afraid to preach a full and free salvation of God’s grace and work alone. To say that so glorious a gospel makes men careless and that we need to present to men conditions and prerequisites of our salvation in order to avoid a passive doctrine and in order to maintain that those who receive it are not stocks and blocks is to overlook the fact that God works love towards himself in the hearts of those regenerated children when he comes with the gospel. By the efficacious preaching of that gospel of his love God works love for himself in the hearts of his unregenerated children.
And so, covenant parents, tell your children of that wonderful unconditional love. Do not to any degree fear to tell them of it. Tell them that no sins which still remain in God’s people shall keep them from entering the kingdom of heaven for the punishment of those sins has been endured and the guilt of them has been taken away before the sins were committed. And if you say no more than that to God’s regenerated youth—or for that matter adult—you will not by that gospel move him to passivity or carelessness. You cannot make him careless by that gospel. You cannot overthrow God’s work in that child. And if you speak to him of nothing more than God’s love to his people, even though you tell him of none of God’s demands and laws, you still will not make him careless by that gospel. God uses it to work his love in the hearts of his own, and that love always finds delight in serving him. That love always seeks to do what is pleasing in his sight.
We said, that if you say no more than that glorious gospel of an unchanging and unchangeable love of God to his own, that you would not by it move your children to carelessness. That does not mean that you must not say more. You must! You must instruct them in the precepts of the gospel. You must admonish and rebuke them when through the weakness of their flesh they fall into sin. But all this you do not and must not do because there are conditions to the gospel, prerequisites to our salvation or to any phase of that salvation. We plan to write a few things about prerequisites next time, D.V., and show how untenable the position is that God demands prerequisites of us so that an act of ours must precede an act of his. At present we simply want to point out that we do and must hold before our children their covenant obligations and demands because (1) by nature they do not know what pleases him. They must be taught it. (2) Because when they through the weakness of their flesh (not weakness of the gospel) fall back into acts of hatred and rebellion toward God instead of acts of love toward him, God will bring them back again only in the way of instructing them, through you, in the knowledge of their misery and need for this unconditionally free and full salvation in Christ. (3) Because although it is true that all the sins of all God’s people are forgiven and no punishment remains for them, your children may know that they belong to that people of God only by the fruits which God works in them, the fruits of faith, the desire and activity of walking in good works. Then faith, our act of conversion, obedience, repentance and the like are not conditions that first have to be fulfilled by us by God’s grace, but they are God given signs to us that in principle we are saved already and that therefore, because God is unchangeable, we shall also by his power and grace attain to the fullness of salvation in the day of Christ. By God’s fruit in them, which becomes their fruit as his gift unto them, they know themselves as those chosen from eternity to salvation in Christ.
In the light of all the above let us listen to the word of God himself through the apostle John, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” I John 4:18. Conditional theology works a fear which is not fear of the Lord.