Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election (17)

  1. Its Proclamation, cont’d

Another reason why the truth of predestination, and preaching in harmony with this biblical fundamental of the faith, is absent from so many pulpits is because of a love for popularity.  A preacher so enamored aims to please his auditors.  He wants all his pulpit ministrations to be to crowded audiences.  He intends to conform to public opinion, because he would rather hear, “welcome to the club!” than to over-hear the remark after sermon, “What can he possibly be talking about?” If I may borrow from Bunyan, although he probably goes by another name, in reality it is Rev. By-Ends.  He is from the town of Fait-Speech, a pagan cultural center, for the two-faced Janus is worshipped there.  His family tree bears such branches as Mr. Smoothsayer and Mr. Anything. He is a favorite with the young people being some-what of a sportsman, a sculler, proficient at looking one way and rowing another.  The minister in his hometown was a Dr. Two-Tongues.  From his he soon learned the art of using two tongues with one mouth.  He made a fortune as a result of his socially acceptable marriage into the long-standing family of the Feignings.  Before every church service he dials the weather bureau.  He must always know which way the wind is blowing, for he never preaches against wind and tide.  He always sculls with the current and down the center channel. He is a very warm pulpit orator whenever Religion goes in his silver slippers.  He is often seen walking with him on the avenue when the sun is shining, and during parade riding his float when the people are applauding him.  He was able to build a struggling church into a thriving cathedral with a great following because, as he humbly puts it, he always had the luck to jump in with the present way of the times, whatever it was, took his chances and came out tops. You ask him why he never finds time to preach the truth of election, and he will inform you that he could easily prepare a sermon on the subject fifteen minutes before retiring on Saturday night, but that at the only and eleven o’clock Sunday service his people would not know what he was talking about.  Besides, he adds, “I shall never desert my old principles, since they are harmless and profitable.” By this he means that for the question posed he cannot stand the sight of you, and must hurry off to those who will be honored by his presence and glad of his company.  If you should call after him the word of the inspired apostle, “For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10), he will retort, quickening his pace, that he is used to all manner of evil speaking against him falsely, for Christ’s sake.  One thing he never learned, either from his finished education or his fashionable connections—the difference between suffering as a Christian and being a scandal to the very name of Christianity! Nor can he honestly say, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.  For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God… Wherefore… I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:20, 27, 26).

This truth is not proclaimed where the modern so called “co-operative” evangelism prevails.  In the last two generations, the revival-evangelists never referred to it accept perhaps to deal it a backhand slap.  The mass evangelism of today preaches the humanistic religion of “free will.” Modern evangelists regard those as naïve and narrow who charge that their “co-operative evangelism” is “compromise evangelism.” They claim that they can co-operate with Romanists, Modernists, Jews, Unitarians, atheists, and nihilists “without any compromise of my message.” That may be so, especially underscoring the word my.  But what of the message? For the Gospel is so badly compromised and so poorly presented, if not sorely misrepresented, that the present generation hardly knows what is it.  Years ago, the popular evangelists thought the primary object of the calling of the church was the salvation of souls.  Everything must conform to that end.  Today converts must be made from the Romish, the Jewish, the Christian Scientist and the Modernist communions.  But these converts, according to one crusade-ministry, are not instructed to follow Christ out of the false church into the true church; they are to remain where they are as witnesses to Christ.  To show surprise or shock at, or refusal to go along with, such practice is to elicit the rebuttal that our viewpoint reveals a great lack of faith in the Holy Spirit.  What this anti-predestinarian evangelism does is to by-pass the church, ignore the maintaining of a scriptural discipline, and drive the sheep out of the oasis into the desert.  Consequently the churches are becoming an ecumenical one world church with a membership of mere natural men.  Preaching is hardly devotional, let alone instructive.  It may have a smattering of Scripture throughout, but is not according to the current teaching of Scripture.  This means that neither is it according to the historic, doctrinal standards of the church.  We hear the flattery of man, not the Misery of Man.  We hear the love of God, not the law of God.  We hear “Only believe-ism” and “decision-ism” but not the mortal effects of the fall of man and his total depravity.  A weak and helpless Christ is proffered to a people who were never prepared to see and feel their desperate need of any Christ.

The preaching of Jesus, as in the Nazareth synagogue, or as in His Bread of Life discourse, or the preaching of Paul as in Romans Nine, is rarely heard any more.  The love of the sensational has supplanted such preaching.  Rev. By-Ends has one finger in the air and one ear to the ground.  This keeps him posted so that he never preaches anything that makes his hearers uneasy in their sins.  Such people, he believes, must not be driven from the churches, but must be catered to, and given that which will inflate their ego, flatter their flesh and tickle their ears.

Men who advise us to “preach Christ and never mind theology” do not preach Him as God’s Elect (Isa. 42:1) with whom God has made the covenant (Ps. 89:3).  They preach an effeminate, sentimental, reactionary Christ who never takes the initiative, who is not found in the norm of Scripture, but only in their own imaginings.  But the Christ of Holy Writ is Jehovah’s Elect Servant, the Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19f), the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), the One set for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel (Luke 2:34), the Stone of stumbling and the Rock of offence (I Peter 2:8), as the crucified, risen and ascended Lord in whom all His people died to sin, have been raised together with Him and made to sit together in the heavenly realm in Christ.  They preach a caricature of Christ.  We preach Christ according to the eternal counsel of God.

But doctrinal preaching is extremely unpopular, which makes the doctrine of election a particular aversion to modern tastes.  Sermons on election are not only not understood by the average church-goer, way over his head, but are vehemently denounced and bitterly resented.  Back in September 2, 1855, Spurgeon said, “…there seems to be an inveterate prejudice in the human mind against this doctrine, and although most other doctrines will be received by professing Christians, some with caution, others with pleasure, yet this one seems to be most frequently disregarded and discarded.  In many of our pulpits, it would be reckoned a high sin and treason to preach a sermon upon election, because they could not make it what they call a ‘practical’ discourse. I believe they have erred from the truth… There is nothing in Scripture which may not, under the influence of God’s Spirit, be turned into practical discourse; and free-grace practice is the best practice…” (Sermons on Sovereignty, Elections, p. 51).  This is the way it was over a hundred years ago.  It is much more extreme today.  In many Reformed and Calvinistic churches, where Predestination is found in the doctrinal standards, the bare mention of this heart-line of the Gospel makes many see red.  Ministers who still preach this fundamental are either regarded as disturbers of the peace (bulls in a China shop) or untactful menaces long out of touch with reality.  Self-righteous hypocrites still think they have every right to the pew while they deny this truth to the pulpit.  Faithful pastors, who are contenders for it, are indeed very few.

So deeply imbedded in Scripture is this doctrine that to extract it from thence would be to destroy the organism of Scripture root and branch, to tear the heart of the Gospel out of the bosom of the church. This is what many a modern revivalist has done in certain coast-to-coast radio broadcasts, denying this truth.  They say that even if it had biblical support, it ought not to be preached, on the ground that it creates division and schism.  This is the Romish argument against putting the Bible in the hands of the people in their own language, and against putting the Word of God in the pulpit and the study class.  An argument heard more in Protestant circles, but just as Romish, is that predestination and election are mysteries, secret things which belong to the Lord, and are therefore not to be meddled with.  But this essential of the faith is no secret, since it is everywhere and plainly revealed in Scripture.  It is indeed one of the mysteries of the faith.  But so are the doctrines of the trinity, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the creation and the resurrection of the dead.  It does, indeed, have its origin in the secret counsel of God.  But much of that counsel is revealed in the holy Gospel.  When it is objected that election preaching kills missionary endeavor, then the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and the Lord himself were all useless servants of God for they preached it continually and fully.  When it is objected that the doctrine has the effect of driving to despair any who attempt to grasp its teaching, we have a sophism which could as warrantably be brought against the doctrine of regeneration, for it is no easier to determine whether truly born of God than to make personal calling and election sure.  These are some of the difficulties encountered in the proclamation of this glorious truth.

(To be continued, D.V.)