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Grace Conferred (6): The Admonitions of the Gospel: More than Repent and Believe

Grace Conferred (6): The Admonitions of the Gospel: More than Repent and Believe

The following is Part Six in the series "Grace Conferred by Means of Admonitions" by Martyn McGeown. Read Part Five here.


Last time I asked, “Is that the only thing—the call to believe, and possibly, repent—that God uses to preserve, continue, and perfect his work of grace in us (Canons 5.14)?”

My answer is absolutely not! God uses the admonition of Matthew 5:24 to confer upon us the grace to reconcile with our brother, even though the calling is very difficult. God confers grace by the admonition. God uses the admonition of Matthew 6:33 to confer upon us the grace to seek first his kingdom and righteousness, even though we are prone to be distracted by worldly cares and concerns. God confers grace by the admonition. God uses the warning of Matthew 7:13-14 to confer upon us the grace to enter in at the strait gate and to avoid the wide gate and the broad road that leads to destruction, even though it puts us in the minority. God confers grace by the admonition. God uses the warning of Matthew 7:21 to confer upon us the grace to do our Father’s will, lest we be found among those who merely say, “Lord, Lord.” God uses the implied exhortation of Matthew 7:24-27 to confer upon us the grace to build our house not upon the sand, but upon the rock, which is Christ Jesus. God confers grace by the admonition.

Preached as bare law, such passages confer no grace at all, but preached as the admonitions, exhortations, warnings, and even threatenings of the gospel, that is, which flow from the gospel, they are effectual means in God’s hands for our salvation. And if we understand that, we will not foolishly clamor for sermons that contain no admonitions, exhortations, warnings, and threatenings, because we will understand our need for them and God’s gracious use of them. A sermon without any application will not move us, motivate us, and stir us out of our sluggishness. It will appeal to our intellect, perhaps, so that we are puffed up with knowledge, but we will not be edified.

If the sermon on the mount seems too legal for some (which is absurd), consider the epistles. “Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Rom. 6:12). When a Reformed man preaches that, what is his message? Is it this: “You cannot avoid serving sin, so sin freely in order that grace may abound”? God forbid. Rather, it is this, “Because of the truth of the gospel, you can and you must take heed to and obey this exhortation.” In fact, God takes that exhortation, binds it to our hearts, and causes us to live in such a way that we do not serve sin. “Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13). A Reformed preacher impresses that word upon the congregation not as legalism, but as a gospel admonition, with the result that the Spirit uses it to impart grace, so that the hearers do exactly that: they yield their members (the parts of their bodies) as instruments of righteousness unto God. The New Testament is full of such exhortations—admonitions of the gospel.

In other words, the gospel that is preached and which God uses as a means of grace is not merely the declaration of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Of course, it is that, and that is its central focus, but the preaching includes, and must include, gospel precepts, gospel admonitions, gospel exhortations, gospel promises, and even gospel threats. From the gospel flow, and must flow, admonitions, exhortations, promises, and yes, even threats. Such preaching contains the whole counsel of God. Such preaching God is pleased to use to stir the hearers to holy activities.

Yes, even threats.

Paul preached gospel threats on his first missionary journey: after declaring, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39) he warned, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (vv. 40-41). The next Sabbath day, he confirmed his warning, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (vv. 46-47). By God’s grace, and as a fruit of election, the Gentiles responded to the same gospel which the unbelieving Jews of Antioch of Pisidia despised (v. 48). Paul did not present dispassionately the mere facts of the gospel. He warned from the gospel itself the seriousness of not obeying it.

The epistle to the Hebrews is full of gospel threats. Hebrews 2 threatens the hearers with dreadful punishment if they neglect to take heed to “so great salvation” (v. 3). Why threats? Because the gospel is so glorious, the despising of it is no ordinary sin. To despise the gospel of Jesus Christ is to “crucify to [oneself] the Son of God afresh, and to put him to an open shame” (6:6); it is to “[drink] in the rain [of the gospel]” and yet “[to bear] thorns and briars” so that one is “rejected and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned” (6:8). To despise the gospel of Jesus Christ is to “[tread] under foot the Son of God,” to “[count] the blood of the covenant…an unholy thing,” and to “[do] despite to the Spirit of grace” (10:29), so that the only thing that awaits one is “judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries” (10:27). God uses such gospel threats to preserve his people in the salvation he has given. He uses warnings to keep us away from sin, to keep us on the narrow way that leads to life. When we hear threats, we take heed, we turn from a sinful, destructive path, and we return to our God from whom perhaps we had been going astray. How we need gospel threats! “Moreover by them [the law, statutes, testimonies and judgments of God’s law] is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them is great reward” (Ps. 19:11).

“The decalogue (the Ten Commandments),” say Canons 3-4.5, “neither points out a remedy, nor imparts strength to extricate [man] from misery, and being weak in the flesh, leaves the transgressor under the curse.” Of course, because that article treats the bare law without the gospel. But when the law is preached as “the exhortations of the gospel” (the exhortations which flow from the gospel) as, for example, when a Reformed preacher expounds the Ten Commandments while preaching the Heidelberg Catechism, then with the preaching God imparts 9 grace to obey, so that out of thankfulness for the salvation expounded to him in the gospel the believer turns from idolatry, blasphemy, and all the other sins forbidden in the law. Otherwise, the only point in preaching the law is to say, “Here is God’s standard; you cannot keep it; Christ kept it for you; so do nothing.” Lost is the urgent calling for the Christian to lead a godly life out of thankfulness. And never forget that good works of obedience in the Christian are never automatic. Otherwise, we would not need to be exhorted to do them.

A gospel-less sermon on the Law is a stone, when the child of God needs the bread of the good news to motivate him to new obedience. The Father does not give his children stones without bread, and preachers must be careful not to do so either. And yet a sermon without exhortations and admonitions makes God’s children lazy. We need both, and by God’s grace he gives us both and uses both. May we seek out preaching that gives both!

Click here or the image below to read more from Martyn McGeown on grace.

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