Part IV: Election and Evangelism
What to Preach
difficult to be convincing when speaking to someone personally
about the Lord if, in the interest of truth, it is improper to
speak with assurance about the love of God for him as an individual.
What precisely does one say? Congregational evangelism presents
fewer problems, for there is an element of remoteness vis-à-vis
the individual that resolves the difficulty. Yet even here it
seems more telling to be able to preach the Gospel without consciously
having to avoid such phrases as "Christ died for you."
And what does one do when the situation is intensified by personal
confrontation in a question period afterwards, or when talking
privately to a friend?
1 of 14
It is noteworthy, I think, that
among all the records of sermons or fragments of sermons in the
New Testament (exclusive of the Lord's), such personal statements
as "God loves you" or "Christ died for you"
are not to be found. These sermons were never impersonal; neither
were they ever so formulated as to compromise the absolute truth.
The New Testament will be found to contain sermon materials in
the following places: Peter's sermons Acts 2:1415.;
3:1226; 4:912; 5:2932; and 10:3443; Paul's
sermons Acts 13:1642; 17:2232, and 22:121;
and Stephen's sermon Acts 7:253.
It has been argued that we do not
find expressions like "God loves you" because such
a personal way of speaking as we currently employ in evangelism
was not then in vogue. This is not strictly true, however. In
the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus said, "This
is my body which is given for you," and "This cup is
the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you" (Luke
22:19, 20). It is true that the "you" in both these
passages is in the plural not the singular form, but it is equally
certain that the Lord Jesus was directing his words to each one
of the individuals present when He spoke. It is important to
remember that Judas had already left the circle of those thus
addressed (John 13:30), for it was not until after supper was
over that the memorial was instituted (1 Corinthians 11:25).
Were it not for Paul's inspired statement in his letter to the
Corinthians which tells us that these
words were spoken after
and not before supper, we could not be sure that Judas was excluded.
If Judas had still been present, the Lord's inclusive address
to his disciples (when He spoke of his sacrifice as being applicable
to them all without discrimination) would have been inappropriate.
Here Scripture has thus been marvellously hedged about. Jesus
was able to say "which is shed for you [plural]" because
all who were then present to whom He addressed his words were
chosen vessels of his grace. The distinction between the disciples
and Judas is underscored with the characteristic precision of
Scripture when we are told that during the first part of the
meal Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples, including Judas,
whom He however set apart by himself, though He did not identify
him when He said (John 13:10): "He that is washed needeth
not save to wash his feet but is every whit clean: and you are
clean but not all." And John makes this comment (verse 11):
"For He knew who should betray Him, on which account He
said, You are not all clean."
The details of the Last Supper
are elucidated by Alfred Edersheim in his Life and Times of
Jesus the Messiah, where will be found reconciliation of
the details given in the Gospels which at times appear to be
in conflict. (1)
A.T. Robertson in his Harmony of the Gospels orders the
various portions of the biblical text in the four Gospels and
in 1 Corinthians in a way that very nicely dovetails with Edersheim's
Certainly there is no justification here for arguing that the
Lord Jesus addressed those who were elect to salvation and one
who was not in the same direct and personal way. He did not say
to Judas, "which is shed for you"; for Judas was not
present when He made this statement.
the most common criticisms of those who hold the Augustinian-Calvinist
position is that their theology of Limited Atonement tends to
weaken the incentive to evangelism. I believe it would be better
to say that the cause of any lack of zeal we may have lies more
deeply than in our theology. The fact is that many of us lack
courage when it comes to personal evangelism, and we find it
convenient to cover our timidity by pleading a certain confusion
as to the form of our message when we are brought face to face
with the individual. But if we cannot sincerely say to an unsaved
friend, "Jesus died for you," because we cannot know
that it is true, are we then left without any message at all
that could honestly be termed "Good News!" that
is, the Gospel?
Manifestly the answer is, No! We
are not left without any message for the individual. The message
for the individual is both a general one and a
1. Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Tmes
of Jesus the Messiah, New York, Herrick, 1887, vol.II, pp.504509.
2. Robertson, A. T., Harmony of the Gospels, New York,
harper & Row, 1950, p.19396 (sections 147, 148).
particular one. First,
that "this is a true saying and worthy of all acceptation,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1
Timothy 1:15): this is the general truth. And secondly, the particular
truth is: "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of
life freely" (Revelation 22:17); "Behold, I stand at
the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door,
I will come in to him" (Revelation 3:20). Such open invitations
to the individual are characteristic of God's Word to
man in both the Old Testament and the New: "Ho! Everyone
that thirsts! Come to the waters, and he that has no money, come.
. ." (Isaiah 55:1). It is a personal invitation (Luke 14:17).
This invitation is to come. "Come unto Me, all you whot
labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew
11:28). The message that we are to take to the individual is
personal, addressed to him who hears and not merely them who
hear: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he who hear my word
and believes on Him Who sent Me has everlasting life" (John
In Reformed theological circles
there has been considerable discussion about the difficulty of
knowing precisely what is to be offered when the Gospel
is preached. In the Canons of Dort (IIIIV. 14) it
is stated that "faith is therefore to be considered as the
gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man,
to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is
in reality conferred upon him. . ." What then is
it that we are offering when we preach the Gospel? Herman Hoeksema
proposes that according to the Canons it is not grace, but
Christ that is offered. (3) And in order to separate these two clearly, he points
out that in the Latin text of the Canons it is not said that
we offer Christ but that we "present" Christ. That
is to say, Christ is presented, displayed in the Gospel. This
presentation is held by Hoeksema to be objective and descriptive
in character. It cannot mean that God is giving an invitation,
for He gives a true invitation only to the elect. The command
to believe and be converted is proper, but it is general, addressed
to all men. In a word, preaching appears in a slightly different
light. It is no longer invitation but declaration.
The justification for presenting
such a declaration is that if the hearer is among the elect he
will receive the message as a personal invitation, and will respond
in a God-ordained way. Because this is God's ordained way of
leaving the non-elect without excuse and of saving the elect,
it will not be necessary to preach "with the enticing words
of man's wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:4). Here the word enticing
in the Greek means, literally, "persuasiveness."
Paul in this passage also underscores the fact that in order
to be fruitful the Word of God cannot merely be parroted but
must be presented "in demonstration of the Spirit and of
power." So two things are required: 1). that we remain very
close to the words of Scripture, presenting them "in the
Spirit" and 2). that God be pleased to germinate the seed
thus sown. If, on the other hand,
3. Hoeksema: Quoted in G. C. Berkouwer,
Studies in Dogmatics: Divine Election, translated by Hugo
bekker, Grand Rapids, Eerdman's, 1960, p.222.
the hearer is not among
the elect, he will not be deceived, for he will not even hear
the message with his inner ear, no matter how persuasive we are.
He will neither receive nor understand. He gains nothing by the
encounter, but in the Judgment the Judge may justly say, "You
were invited, but you did not hear the invitation because you
did not want to hear it." Hereby is the justice of God exhibited.
The grace of God in electing and bringing to salvation does not
conflict with the wonderful truth that whosoever will may come,
for it is the hearing of the truth that makes the Election of
God effectual. It is the hearing of the truth that guarantees
that whosoever may, will come. And in the hearing of this we
may play a part by being allowed of God to proclaim the Gospel
(1 Thessalonians 2:4).
But there is no doubt that if persuasiveness
is left in our hands we are likely to try to reinforce persuasion
by polishing our techniques. And so the emphasis inevitably comes
to rest upon the method rather than upon the message itself.
By contrast, if persuasion is entirely in God's hands through
the Holy Spirit alone, then we are more apt to be driven to our
knees in preparation for a fruitful ministry of evangelism whether
congregational or personal. But having adopted the more appropriate
emphasis of being on our knees, we ought not to hold back from
engagement within the world by retreating behind the all too
familiar excuse for inaction, "We must pray about it."
There is a time for prayer, but there is a time when prayer is
no longer an appropriate exercise if it becomes a substitute
for confrontation. The Lord once said to Moses, "Wherefore
do you cry unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they
go forward" (Exodus 14:15).
It must always be borne in mind
that there is no difference between the Gospel preached to those
who are not among the elect and those who are assuming
that both are yet unsaved. The message is precisely the same
for both parties. We are commanded to proclaim the message, not
to attempt an assessment of the suitability of the individual
to whom we address it. Nor are we to neglect anyone simply because
he seems an unlikely prospect, for God often delights to confound
our best judgments. The most hostile and antagonistic individuals
(like Paul before his conversion) are often chosen vessels. And
remember that the gestation period with some is much longer than
I have friends whom I have worked
with for years, who never fail to attend any seminars I hold
or lecture series I give, who are ready and willing at any time
to talk freely about their need of salvation without hostility
or brashness, and yet who admit frankly, "I am not a Christian."
They seem no nearer to the Lord today than after our first serious
discussion some eighteen years ago. Such people seem to be "ever
learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth"
(2 Timothy 3:7). If ever there was proof of the fact that the
time of coming to birth is in the Lord's hands and not ours,
it is in such cases as these. On the other hand, others, upon
a very first
meeting, may turn seriously
at some point in the conversation and say simply and openly,
"Help me in." And they mean it; and they are wonderfully
I remember being in a room with
about sixty young people from seventeen to twenty-one years of
age. I had been talking with one of them who was already a child
of God, and I quoted Revelation 3:20 at one point in the conversation
as an illustration of how simple the passage from death unto
life can sometimes be. Being born again requires almost no explicit
theological understanding. About ten minutes later, a young girl
who had a beautiful singing voice came up to me and said very
quietly, "You know when you said just now, 'Behold, I stand
at the door and knock; if any man will open I will come in,'
well, I overheard that and I did and He did!" And
her face showed that marvellous glow of the newborn in Christ.
Later that afternoon when it was time to close our meeting, I
asked her to pray. She prayed for the first time but without
hesitation, and I shall never forget the atmosphere created by
that short prayer. What a miracle this is! And how can one possibly
account for the immediacy of some conversions when others seem
to be postponed for years and years? It cannot be our earnestness,
nor even the skill with which we handle the Word of God. It is
plainly and simply a matter of the Sovereignty of God's Grace.
Only God can germinate the seed, but we are invited to be busy
Why then do we have so much difficulty
knowing how to approach our unsaved friends? Perhaps if we had
followed faithfully the exhortation of Paul's Epistles and left
the matter of germination entirely in God's hands, while we trained
ourselves rather as successful sowers of the seed, the problem
would never have arisen. But when we depart from Calvinism with
its emphasis upon the Sovereignty of God's Grace and the total
helplessness of man, we tend to constitute ourselves not merely
sowers but germinators, with the power to give life. And this
we simply cannot do.
We are merely to make sure that
we are in the Lord's way and that our seed is pure and good,
unmixed with other seed (Leviticus 19:19) that will be incompatible
with it even though these other seeds may appear to make
the sowing easier. To be saved, a man does not need to know the
theology of salvation, only the facts of its possibility through
the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some men are curious
and like to have a measure of understanding in order to clear
away supposed difficulties, but there is no need to attempt the
clearing away of difficulties that have not been raised. A man
has only to recognize his own personal need and to be assured
that that need can be met in the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed if
a man does recognize his need of a Saviour, there is a sense
in which he is already among the elect, for no man discovers
he is dead unless God has first germinated life within him. Yet
the gestation period may be distressingly prolonged and great
patience is required.
"formula" for salvation is not set forth in Scripture
in a single pattern. In some cases we are told that it is enough
that a man simply call upon the Lord (Romans 10:13). There is
surely a minimum of theology here! I was talking with one friend
about four years ago, sitting quietly beside an open fire. He
was not a Christian but the Lord was certainly dealing with him.
A few days later he told me that as he sat there that evening
he suddenly said in his heart, "Lord, save me!" And
the Lord did indeed, that very night though we did not
know it at the time. A few weeks later he was involved in a terrible
car accident and totally paralyzed from the neck down. He still
is. But his witness since that accident has been truly remarkable,
as his hospital nurses and friends testify unhesitatingly. There
is no bitterness and no looking back. Though his old way of life
was totally destroyed, a new life has replaced it. It is wonderful
what the Lord can do!
The Calvinist, acknowledging the
true spiritual deadness of the unsaved individual, knows only
too well that no man can come unto the Lord unless the Father
draws him. No man will believe unto salvation unless he is resurrected
from his spiritual deadness and made alive and granted saving
faith. It is not our concern to ask, "Is this man elected
to be a member of God's blameless family?" It is rather
our privilege to tell him what is possible because of what the
Lord has done to save sinners, and, as far as we are able, to
do this using the words of Scripture. Thus a seed may be planted.
Whether it germinates or not is beyond our responsibility. But
if it does germinate by the power of God, then indeed our responsibility
is enormously extended. It becomes our privilege and duty to
water it, cultivate it, nourish it, and protect it until it has
developed to a point where the fellowship of others in a more
general way will ensure its continued growth. So much then for
our responsibility in the matter.
But the question may still
be asked, How can God command men to do things to repent, for example
knowing that obedience is quite impossible for man in his fallen state?
Is it reasonable that God should make such demands and then condemn the
individual for not meeting them? It is a perfectly proper question, and
there is a perfectly satisfactory answer to it. God's commands are
not an expression of his expectations but of his requirements.
As Thomas Boston in his justly famous book, Human Nature in Its
Fourfold State*, has rightly put it, it is man's duty to repent of
his sins because God has commanded him to do so. And God's command, not
man's ability, is the measure of man's duty.
Of this important truth Scripture
supplies innumerable illustrations. Just the simple command to
"repent," repeated again and again in Scripture (cf.
Matthew 3:2; 4:17, Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; Revelation 2:5;
and so forth), is given with a full realization that man as a
fallen creature cannot obey this command unless God in his mercy
first of all undoes some of the spiritual
* Boston, Thomas, Human Nature in its Fourfold
State, London, Religious Tract Society, 1720, p.164
damage of the Fall. Where
salvation is the end in view, repentance is a divine gift, not
a natural capacity of man (cf. Psalm 80:3,19; Jeremiah 24:7;
31:18, 19; Lamentations 5:21; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).
As Romans 2:4 assures us, it is the goodness of God, not the
goodness of man, that leads to repentance. In spite of his command
to do so, we do not turn ourselves to God unless He first turns
us. Even in such a basic thing as repentance, God's command is
not predicated on man's assumed capability of obedience but is
an expression of what God requires of man.
Many such commands are set forth
in Scripture. Declared to be God's requirement rather than his
expectation, these commands are then followed by an assurance
to the effect that He Himself will make the obedience possible.
Without such enabling there is never any fulfillment of the command.
Thus in Ezekiel 18:31 God's command is set forth: "Cast
away from you all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed;
and make you a new heart and a new spirit." But the fulfillment
of this requirement was to be realized only when God Himself
acted sovereignly and without waiting for man's co-operation,
as set forth in Ezekiel 36:25, 26: "I will sprinkle clean
water upon you, and you shall be clean. . . . A new
heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within
you." Similarly, Israel was commanded: "Circumcise
therefore the foreskin of your heart" (Deuteronomy 10:16);
but this was never achieved by anyone until the Lord Himself
stepped in and performed it for him. "And the Lord thy God
will circumcise your heart . . . that you mayt live" (Deuteronomy
Isaiah 45:22 records the familiar
words, "Look unto Me, and be saved." But how can the
blind look unto Him until they have first received their sight?
We turn to the Lord only when we are turned by the Lord. Psalm
80:3 reads: "Turn us again, O God, and cause your face to
shine; and we shall be saved." So also we are commanded
to love God (Matthew 22:37) but we love only after He has first
loved us (1 John 4:19). We are told that if we will only open
our hearts to his knocking, He will come in and fulfill both
Himself and us (Revelation 3:20); but we learn from the example
of Lydia "whose heart the Lord had opened" (Acts 16:14)
that such opening is made possible only by the Lord. The fact
is that we simply do not hear his knocking any more than a corpse
in a coffin hears the mourners who bewail his passing. We are
told that if we but call upon his name we shall be saved (Romans
10:13), but Psalm 80:18, 19 makes it clear that we shall never
call unless we are first made alive by his grace: "Quicken
us, and we will call upon your name. Turn us again, O Lord God
of hosts, cause your face to shine; and we shall be saved."
A man must be alive before he can exercise saving faith (John
11:26: "Whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die"
lives and believes, in that order).
Jesus Christ graciously gave the invitation, "Come unto
Me, all you who labour" (Matthew 11:28); and yet the same
Lord said, "All that the
Father give Me shall
come to Me. . . . No man comes unto Me, except the Father
who has sent Me draw him" (John 6:37, 44). Consequently,
so long as the Father does not open a man's ears to hear the
call he simply cannot respond. How can any man respond to a call
which by nature he is not attuned to hear? As Jesus said, ''You
will not come to Me, that you might have life" (John 5:40).
And why not? "You therefore hear not, because ye are not
of God" (John 8:47). We thus see that many invitations
to salvation are set forth in Scripture in such a way as to express
a command that simply states God's requirement of man, if he
is to be saved. But such commands manifestly do not represent
his expectations, for in every case Scripture goes on to say
that God Himself must intervene in order to make obedience to
the command possible.
One reason why we view this as
unfair is that we fail to realize that man unsaved is truly spiritually
dead, and the dead are both unseeing and unhearing. It is a mistake
to suppose that men actually do hear the voice of the Lord and
honestly desire to respond affirmatively but are somehow unable
to do so, as though they were actually willing but not allowed.
No man is ever denied what he wishes in this respect, Whosoever
will, may. But the natural man, like the wholly untuned radio,
"receives not the things of the Spirit of God. . . neither
can he. . ." (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is a total impossibility
until his ear is opened by the Lord, an opening which is an act
of pure grace. God must tune him before he will receive the message.
Men hear sounds but do not
recognize the significance of them. The message of the Gospel
is a noise, not a communication, until God tunes the set of man's
heart. The distinction between noise and message or more
scripturally, between sound and voice is illustrated quite
often in the Word of God. God speaks to a child of his but all
the bystanders hear only a sound like thunder. What is a message
to one is strange and disturbing and unintelligible to the rest.
This happened when the Father spoke to his Son (John 12:29) and
those who stood by said, "It thundered," while others
supposed an angel had spoken to Him. For the words were not addressed
to them personally. At the time of Paul's conversion a similar
thing happened (Acts 9:7), though the King James Version has
masked the circumstances somewhat by rendering the Greek word
for sound (phone) as "voice." Acts 22:9
and 26:14 show that what his companions really heard was only
the sound: they did not hear the message. Only to Saul did the
sound appear as a voice articulating words which brought conviction
to his soul.
I think the Gospel which when clearly
presented is to the believer so meaningful, is virtually meaningless
to the unbeliever unless communicated to him by the Holy
Spirit. People who have been spoken to plainly and clearly on
many occasions, without apparently being influenced in any way,
often say later on, when they have been born anew, "Why
didn't you tell me before?" I have one friend of keen intelligence
and mature mind who
was shown the way of
salvation in a manner so plain and straightforward that it is
impossible to believe the message did not get through to his
mind. Yet after he was very beautifully saved some months later,
he explained that on the previous occasion the truth, which he
now grasped perfectly, had not penetrated his thinking at all
and had made no sense to him whatever. He himself marvelled that
he had not been able to see it or understand it when it was first
presented to him. Experience constantly reaffirms that natural
man is simply not tuned in to receive spiritual truth, no matter
how clearly it is stated. To the child of God rejoicing in his
salvation, the meaning of the command to repent and believe seems
self-evident To the unbeliever it has no meaning whatever. Yet
it is God's requirement, and it must be obeyed, if man is to
be saved. And when it is obeyed man is saved. The crucial factor
in this equation is obedience. There is no unfairness on God's
part in giving the command because there is no other appointed
When the rich young ruler (Luke
18:1823) asked the Lord what he must do to earn eternal
life, the Lord in complete fairness told him that if he would
earn eternal life he must keep the commandments. The principle
is well established in Scripture. It is stated categorically
in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:5; Ezekiel 20:11) and repeated
several times in the New (Luke 10:27, 28; Romans 10:5; and Galatians
3:12). If a man does indeed keep the Ten Commandments he will
indeed earn eternal life: "The man that doeth them shall
This had to be true. Any man who
never once broke any of the commandments of God, who was never
disobedient in any smallest way who always and without fail did
only those things which pleased the Father in heaven (John 8:29),
would be worthy of eternal life and would always enjoy it. Thus
the Lord Jesus Christ. having throughout his human life preserved
his faultlessness in the sight of God, thereby became free to
surrender that blameless life as a substitute for sinners. But
the catch for all natural-born men is that partial fulfillment
is not good enough. Only 100 percent fulfillment will do; for
as James 2:10 has put it, Whosoever shall keep the whole law,
and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. It is indeed
a case of all or nothing. And the Lord, in dealing with the young
man to whom He was especially drawn by his earnestness, had to
send him away saddened. For he had suddenly recognized that eternal
life was quite unattainable to him on the terms he had supposed.
Yet the promise itself of eternal life earned by good works was
a perfectly genuine one, and so is the promise of eternal life
to all who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour,
or who will call upon the name of the Lord, or will take of the
water of life freely or will open the heart's door to the Lord,
or will simply come to Him for refuge and rest. All of these
are genuine offers, yet equally impossible of attainment, apart
from the grace of God.
However the offer is presented, it is perfectly genuine.
We can without hesitation make such invitations in just such
clear and simple form: Christ died for sinners. We need not use
such a misleading appeal as "Christ died for you";
but if we wish to be entirely personal it is quite proper to
say, "If you will call upon the name of the Lord,"
or, "If you will open your heart to the Lord," or,
"If you will accept Him as your Saviour." For an affirmative
response to any of these will bring assurance of salvation. But
we ought not to use such a misleading appeal as "Christ
died for you" because we cannot apply this to any man indiscriminately
unless we know he is to be counted among the elect, a knowledge
which we surely cannot have with certainty. But presented in
any other way, the invitation itself is open. Whosoever will
may come. And we have every assurance that whosoever is enabled
of God will indeed come. In the meantime we have many alternative
forms of invitation which are entirely scriptural and in no way
compromise the truth.
Thomas Boston stated the case effectively
when he wrote: (4)
Upon very good grounds may we,
at the command of God who raiseth the dead, go to their graves
and cry in his name, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise
from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 514).
And seeing that the elect are not to be known and distinguished
from others before conversion, as the sun shines on the blind
man's face and rain falls on the rocks as well as on the fruitful
plains, so we preach Christ to all and shoot the arrow at a venture,
which God Himself directs as He sees fit.
But there still
remains one aspect of the presentation of the Gospel which troubles
many people. This is the apparent exclusiveness of the love God.
If God does not love everyone indiscriminately, what then is
his attitude towards those who are not the objects of his love?
Does He hate them? Even to ask the question seems improper and
out of harmony altogether with our concept of the nature of God.
Yet we have a few passages of Scripture which seem to state in
no uncertain terms that God does hate some of his creatures.
One of these passages is Hosea
9:15, which reads: "All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for
there I hated them. For the wickedness of their doings I will
drive them out of my house, I will love them no more." There
seems to be justification here for the complete turnabout in
God's attitude towards his people. But even so, the idea of hatred
seems repugnant. The classic passage which has caused no end
of discussion is to be found in Malachi 1:2, 3, where the crucial
words, which have been quoted in Paul's Epistle to the Romans
(9:13), are these: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I
To say that the word hate (miseo)
does not mean in this instance what we mean by the word hate
is an evasion which will not do, for both the word
hate and the word for love in this verse are the
routine words used for
4. Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold
State, London, Religious Tract Society, 1720, p.164.
human and divine love
and hate elsewhere in Scripture. Indeed, the word love in
this passage is the strongest of the Greek words for love
in certain respects, and one must assume from its apposition
in this sentence that the word hate must signify an attitude
of equal intensity. The word hate is the word used
in John 15:25, "They hated Me without a cause," a hate
which was strong enough, when humanly expressed, to lead to murder.
The word love is the word which appears in John
All attempts to soften such a passage
must inevitably appear, to those who seek to attribute gross
injustice to God, as being no explanation at all but merely an
effort to "explain away." Nevertheless, we cannot but
struggle with the problem and try to find some temporary resting
place for our thoughts until a better understanding emerges in
God's own time.
I have personally come to wonder
whether perhaps there might be a clue in the fact that God is
declared in Scripture not merely to love but to be love
itself, whereas, even more importantly in the present context,
while He is declared to hate, He is never said to be hate.
The difference may appear at first to be inconsequential but
it seems to indicate that hatred is not simply the antithesis
of love. In some mystical way love emanates out of God, originates
with Him. He is the source of it. He does not just express love,
but He is love. By contrast none of this can be applied
to hate. It will be helpful perhaps to think for a moment of
love and hate analogously as light and darkness, two terms which
are used in Scripture in a remarkably parallel way.
Scripture tells us that God is
not only love, but that He is also light. This affirmation is
reinforced by telling us also that "in Him is no darkness
at all" (1 John 1:5). Now darkness is not simply the antithesis
of light. It is rather the absence of light. It is not something
that is "there" but the result of something which is
not there. Light emanates from God but darkness does not, for
there is no darkness in Him. In the very nature of the case light
and darkness cannot co-exist. Where there is light darkness is
banished; where there is darkness there is no light.
Would it be true, then, to say
that hate is not something which emanates from God, but something
which is the consequence of the withholding of love? If we wish
to understand how God could love Jacob and hate Esau, perhaps
we first have to ask whether the explanation lies not in God
at all but in Jacob and Esau themselves, and of course in every
man for whom Jacob and Esau stand in this situation.
When we speak of God's love for
ourselves as something which we experience in our daily lives,
is the reality of which we speak evidence of some kind of response
in our own souls rather than something which exists in the heart
of God? Perhaps we could return to the analogy of light for a
moment. When the power flows freely through a light bulb, the
glow itself is proof of a vital connection with the power source,
though the glow is not in
the power source but
in the lamp. If the switch is turned off, the glow is no longer
apparent; but the power may still be as available at the source
as it ever was. The darkness of the lamp results from a disconnection,
a broken relationship, not a power failure.
Analogously, the love of God, would
then be a true expression of his power, even as the glow of the
lamp is proof of the reality of the power source. If there is
another lamp in the room that for some reason is not alight,
the darkness of that lamp does not originate from the source
of the light in the other lamp. The darkness is inherent so long
as the lamp is disconnected from the source of power. The difference
in the relationship between the two lamps and the source of power
is what makes the one experience light and warmth and the other
darkness and cold. The power source itself is the same in both
Now all men without exception at
some point in their lives switch off the connection and leave
themselves in darkness. But in the matter of salvation, the One
who is the source of power Himself, for reasons known only to
Himself, undertakes to turn on the switch of some but not of
others. The result is the sudden creation of light in some and
the continuance of darkness in others. The love which flows through
to the elect and lightens them does not reach the others but
permits them to continue in darkness. Perhaps the only way to
describe the relationship of the latter is by saying it is opposite
to that of the former. If love characterizes the first relationship,
hate must characterize the second. Since in both cases the situation
is an all-or-nothing situation, we must speak of light or darkness,
life or death, love or hate. The three alternatives (darkness,
death, hate) are not positive emanations but withdrawals, fatal
So when we read in Scripture of
divine hatred it seems necessary that we not consider it as an
active principle, vindictive in its nature and destructive in
its expression. It is simply that no light goes on, no life results,
no love is experienced. Darkness overwhelms the soul, and death
and hatred. As the love of God is without the sentimental
element of human mercy, so the hatred of God is without the vindictive
quality of human hostility.
However, we would not make the
mistake of saying that the power of God and the love of God are
to be equated. What we are suggesting is that God's power is
expressed most completely in the form of love. In a real sense
the power of God which is witnessed in the creation (Romans 1:20)
will always be, to the child of God, an expression of his love,
and accordingly, the absence of his power in the life of
any man must be an expression of his hate.
The analogy we have proposed is
oddly appropriate in certain ways to those passages of Scripture
which speak of men's hearts being darkened (Romans 1:21; Ephesians
4:18). We are told that at one point in the earth's history God
commanded the light to shine to dispel darkness (2 Corinthians
4:6). The same
principle is to be observed
in 1 Peter 2:9. Light brings with it life and warmth; darkness
entails cold and death. Moreover, here and there in the New Testament
are sentences in the original Greek which, if they are construed
literally, have an extraordinarily modern ring to them apropos
of this analogy. For example, Ephesians 3:7 has the phrase, "by
the effectual working of his power," which in the most literal
translation could very properly read as "by the energy of
his dynamo." This is almost a transliteration of the original.
The light of the lamp, our lamp,
is what we experience as love; the darkness of the other lamp
is what that lamp experiences as hate. The power at the source
remains unchanged, and is actually capable of producing only
light. The difference in the end result for the two lamps stems
from the connection or disconnection with the power source. The
man in fellowship with God experiences God's love; the man who
is cut off experiences God's hate. Jacob and Esau represent the
two kinds of people who experience God in two opposite ways.
Of the first, everything in his own life tends to reinforce his
view that God loves him, whereas, of the other, everything in
life supports the view that God hates him. The actual attitude
of God to the latter must surely be one of pity or anger, both
of which reactions are possible without any hatred; but effectively
it must appear to him as the opposite of love.
We are tending increasingly to
ignore the other side of God's love towards his creatures. Sermons
more and more emphasize the love of God to the exclusion of his
justice, and to speak of God's hate is completely unacceptable
to our sensitive ears. Yet there is one passage of Scripture
which ought to be introduced before we leave this subject.
In 2 Chronicles 19:2 we have a
revealing statement made by a godly prophet named Jehu. Under
divine guidance this prophet was called upon to rebuke a misguided
king, Jehoshaphat, for not hating a wicked king, Ahab. "Jehu,
the son of Hanani, the seer, went to meet Jehoshaphat, and said
to the king, 'Shouldt you help the ungodly and love them who
hate the Lord?' Therefore is wrath upon you from the Lord."
Here we have a man not merely rebuked
but condemned for loving one of his fellow men. Would he thus
be condemned if he were doing that which by popular fancy it
is believed the Lord Himself always does? If God rebuked Jehoshaphat
and held him accountable for loving a wicked man like Ahab, can
we suppose that God loved this wicked man Ahab? Is it not more
likely that with God neutrality is impossible? When the Lord
said, "I wish that you were either hot or cold. So then,
because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am disgusted
with you" (Revelation 3:15, 16), was He not saying in effect
just this, that neutrality is impossible?
The solution I am offering is not
wholly satisfactory by any means but it might help towards a
satisfactory solution by the further questions it poses.
As Lord Wardour put it in speaking of one of his own
tentative ideas over a century ago: "It may yet, by opening
out fresh views, contribute light to minds of greater precision
who may thus be enabled to hit upon the exact truth."
Our Gospel is
tending increasingly to be "another Gospel" and not
the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We have presumed
to improve upon Revelation by modifying it to suit our enlightened
sense of what is proper for man's new self-esteem. The supposed
inherent kindness of the human heart is not to be offended by
any reference to God's anger and hatred of man's sinful nature.
We take care not to outrage our listeners by drawing attention
to man's bondage and Total Depravity. We picture God as even
more sentimental than man now is. After years of subjection to
an increasingly unreal tinsel civilization man has almost wholly
destroyed his ability to distinguish between sentiment and sentimentality.
We present a God whose lack of discrimination is even greater
than our own, whose willingness to compromise is broader than
ours, and whose indifference to justice is similar to fallen
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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But what does it do to man's inner
being when he re-creates his God in a form even less admirable
than himself? Such worship cannot but debase him. He learns to
worship something less than himself and destroys the very thing
which makes him human the power to exercise righteous indignation
and the ability to make moral judgments, even about his own behaviour.
The message we have is indeed good
news, but it is good news to the penitent, to the lost, to the
defeated and fearful, to the poor in spirit. The message is that
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to save his
people from their sins, to save the lost, to heal the broken
in spirit, and to satisfy those who long after righteousness.
The message is not for the healthy but for the sick, not for
the righteous but for the unrighteous. That there is not one
righteous man alive is an undeniable truth, but until a man admits
his need he might just as well be counted among the healthy,
the righteous, the strong in spirit for whom Christ's offer
of mercy and forgiveness and healing and grace is simply irrelevant.
Men must be made aware of their sinfulness; men must be awakened
to their need of a personal saviour and then presented with that
Saviour in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is evangelism, whether personal
or congregational. The theology of it all is not always a necessary
or even an appropriate part of evangelism. Just when and where
and how the wonderful truth which underlies the Gospel, the rationale
of the plan of salvation, is to be presented is the third problem
to which we now turn.