by Arthur Pink, 1936
Introductory letter, by John Newton
Some think that it is sufficient to preach the great truths of the Word of God in their hearing; to set forth the utterly ruined and helpless state of fallen man by nature, and the appointed method of salvation by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and then to leave the application entirely to the agency of the Holy Spirit, who alone can enlighten the dark understandings of sinners, and enable them to receive, in a due measure, the doctrines of either the Law or the Gospel. And they apprehend that all exhortations, arguments, and motives, addressed to those who are supposed to be still under the influence of a carnal mind, are inconsistent with the principles of free grace, and the acknowledged inability of such persons to perform any spiritual acts; and that, therefore, the preachers who, avowing the doctrines of free grace, do, notwithstanding, plead and expostulate with sinners, usually contradict themselves, and retract in their application, what they had labored to establish in the course of their sermon.
There are others, who, though they would be extremely unwilling to derogate from the free grace and sovereign power of God in the great work of conversion, or in the least degree encourage the mistaken notion which every unconverted person has of his own power; yet think it their duty to deal with sinners as rational and moral agents; and as such, besides declaring the counsel of God in a doctrinal way, to warn them, by His tender mercies, that they receive not the grace of God in a preached Gospel in vain. Nor can it be denied but that some of them, when deeply affected with the worth of souls, and the awful importance of eternal things, have sometimes, in the warmth of their hearts, dropped unguarded expressions, and such as have been justly liable to exception.
If we were to decide to which of these different methods of preaching the preference is due, by the discernible effects of each, it will, perhaps, appear in fact, without making any invidious comparisons, that those ministers whom the Lord has honored with the greatest success in awakening and converting sinners, have generally been led to adopt the more popular way of exhortation or address; while those who have been studiously careful to avoid any direct application to sinners, as unnecessary and improper, if they have not been altogether without seals to their ministry, yet their labors have been more owned in building up those who have already received the knowledge of the truth, than adding to their number.
Now, as "he who wins souls is wise," and as every faithful laborer has a warm desire of being instrumental in raising the dead in sin to a life of righteousness, this seems at least a presumptive argument in favor of those who, besides stating the doctrines of the Gospel, endeavor, by earnest persuasions and expostulations, to impress them upon the hearts of their hearers, and entreat and warn them to consider "How they shall escape, if they neglect so great salvation." For it is not easy to conceive that the Lord should most signally bear testimony in favor of that mode of preaching which is least consistent with the Truth, and with itself.
But not to insist on this, nor to rest the cause on the authority or examples of men, the best of whom are imperfect and fallible, let us consult the Scriptures, which, as they furnish us with the whole subject-matter of our ministry, so they afford us perfect precepts and patterns for its due and orderly dispensation. With respect to the subject of our inquiry, the examples of our Lord Christ, and of His authorised ministers, the Apostles, are both our rule and our warrant.
The Lord Jesus was the great Preacher of free grace, "who spoke as never man spoke"; and His ministry, while it provided relief for the weary and heavy-laden, was eminently designed to stain the pride of all human glory. He knew what was in man, and declared that none would come unto Him, unless drawn and taught of God—John 6:44-46. And yet He often speaks to sinners in terms, which, if they were not known to be His, might perhaps, be censured as inconsistent and legal—John 6:27, Luke 13:24-27, John 12:35. It appears, both from the context and the tenor of these passages, that they were immediately spoken not of His disciples—but to the multitude. The Apostles copied from their Lord—they taught that we have no sufficiency of ourselves, even to think a good thought, and that "it is not of him that wills or of him that runs—but of God who shows mercy"; yet they plainly call upon sinners (and that before they had given evident signs that they were pricked in the heart as Acts 2:21) to "repent" and turn from their vanities to the living God—Acts 3:19, 14:15, 17:30.
Peter's advice to Simon Magus is very full and express to this point—for though he perceived him to be "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity," he exhorted him "to repent, and to pray, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven." It may be presumed that we cannot have stronger evidence, that any of our readers are in a carnal and unconverted state, than Peter had in the case of Simon Magus; and therefore there seems no sufficient reason why we should hesitate to follow the Apostle's example.
You have been told that repentance and faith are spiritual acts, for the performance of which a principle of spiritual life is absolutely necessary; and that therefore, to exhort an unregenerate sinner to repent or believe, must be as vain and fruitless as to call a dead person out of his grave. To this it may be answered that we might cheerfully and confidently undertake even to call the dead out of their graves, if we had the command and promise to warrant the attempt; for then we might expect His power would accompany our word.
The vision of Ezekiel in chapter 37, may be fitly accommodated to illustrate both the difficulties and the encouragement of a Gospel ministry. The deplorable state of many of our hearers may often remind us of the Lord's question to the Prophet, "Can these dry bones live?" Our response, like that of the Prophet's is entirely in the sovereignty, grace, and power of the Lord, "O Lord, You know, impossible as it is to us, it is easy for You to raise them unto life; therefore we renounce our own reasonings, and though we see that they are dead, we call upon them at Your bidding, as if they were alive, and say, O you dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord! The means is our part, the work is Yours, and to You be all the praise." The dry bones could not hear the Prophet; but while he spoke, the Lord caused breath to enter into them, and they lived—but the word was spoken to them considered as dry and dead.
It is true the Lord can, and I hope He often does, make that preaching effectual to the conversion of sinners, wherein little is said expressly to them, only the truths of the Gospel being declared in their hearing; but He who knows the frame of the human heart, has provided us with a variety of topics which have a moral suitableness to engage the faculties, affections, and consciences of sinners, so far at least as to leave them condemned if they persist in their sins, and by which He often effects the purposes of His grace; though none of the means of grace by which He ordinarily works, can produce a real change in the heart, unless they are accompanied with the efficacious power of His Spirit.
Should we admit that an unconverted person is not a proper subject of ministerial exhortation, because he has no power in himself to comply, the just consequence of this position would, perhaps, extend too far, even to prove the impropriety of all exhortation universally—for when we invite the weary and heavy laden to come to Christ, that they may find rest; when we call upon backsliders to remember from whence they are fallen, "to repent and do their first works"; yes, when we exhort believers "to walk worthy of God, who has called them to His kingdom and glory"—in each of these cases we press them to acts for which they have no inherent power of their own; and unless the Lord the Spirit is pleased to apply the Word to their hearts, we do but speak to the air; and our endeavors can have no more effect in these instances than if we were to say to a dead body "arise, and walk." For an exertion of Divine power is no less necessary to the healing of a wounded conscience, than the breaking of a hard heart; and only He who has begun the good work of grace, is able either to revive or to maintain it.
Though sinners are destitute of spiritual life, they are not therefore mere machines. They have a power to do many things, which they may be called upon to exert. They are capable of considering their ways; they know they are mortal; and the bulk of them are persuaded in their consciences that after death there is an appointed judgment. They are not under an inevitable necessity of living in known and gross sins; that they do so, is not for lack of power—but for lack of will. The most profane swearer can refrain from his oaths, while in the presence of a person whom he fears, and to whom he knows it would be displeasing. Let a drunkard see poison put into his liquor, and it may stand by him untasted from morning until night. And many would be deterred from sins to which they are greatly addicted, by the presence of a child, though they have no fear of God before their eyes.
They have a power likewise of attending upon the means of grace; and though the Lord alone can give them true faith and evangelical repentance, there seems no impropriety to invite them, upon the ground of the Gospel-promises, to seek to Him who is exalted to bestow these blessings, and who is able to do for them that which they cannot do for themselves, and who has said "him who comes unto Me, I will never cast out."
Perhaps it will not be easily proved that entreaties, arguments, warnings, formed upon these general principles, which are in the main agreeable and adequate to the remaining light of natural conscience, are at all inconsistent with those doctrines which ascribe the whole of a sinner's salvation from first to last, to the free sovereign grace of God.
We should, undoubtedly, endeavor to maintain a consistency in our preaching; but unless we keep the plan and manner of Scriptures constantly in view, and attend to every part of it, a design of "consistency" may fetter our sentiments, and greatly preclude our usefulness. We need not wish to be more "consistent" than the inspired writers, nor be afraid of speaking as they have spoken before us! We may easily perplex ourselves and our hearers by nice reasonings on the nature of human liberty, and the Divine agency on the hearts of men; but such disquisitions are better avoided. We shall, perhaps, never have full satisfaction on these subjects until we arrive in the world of Light.
In the meantime, the path of duty, the good old way, lies plain before us. If when you are in the pulpit, the Lord favors you with a lively sense of the greatness of the trust, and the worth of the souls committed to your charge, and fills your heart with His constraining love, many little curious distinctions, which amuse you at other times, will be forgotten. Your soul will go forth with your words; and while your affections yearn over poor sinners, you will not hesitate a moment, whether you ought to warn them of their danger or not. That great champion of free grace, John Owen, has a very solemn address to sinners, the running title to which is, "Exhortations unto believing." It is in his Exposition of the 130th Psalm, which I recommend to your attentive consideration.
John Newton, 1770
N.B. We heartily commend the above to the
thoughtful and prayerful perusal of those of our ministerial brethren who
are inclined to be hyper-Calvinistic. The above was written by one who was a
marvelous trophy of sovereign grace, deeply taught in Divine things,
wondrously helped in maintaining the balance of truth, and mightily
used in the blessing of souls. Personally, we have often lamented the fact
that Mr. Gadsby, and later, Mr. Philpot, followed what we believe was the
error of William Huntington, instead of adhering to that path which had been
almost uniformly trodden by the Reformers and Puritans. Had they done so, we
believe that the Strict and Particular Baptist churches would be in a far
healthier and livelier spiritual state than they are now in.
Arthur Pink, 1936
It is the bounden duty of all who hear the Gospel to savingly trust in Christ, otherwise their rejection of Him would be no sin. Many of our readers will be surprised to hear that this self-evident truth is denied by some who are, otherwise, sound in the Faith. They reason that it is "inconsistent" to call upon the spiritually dead to perform spiritual duties.
A certain denomination in England have the following among their Articles of Faith, "We deny duty-faith and duty-repentance —these terms signifying that it is every man's duty to spiritually and savingly repent and believe (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Matt. 15:19; Jer. 17:9; John 6:44, 65). We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God (John 12:29, 40; Eph. 2:8; Romans 8:7, 8; 1 Cor. 4:7).
Therefore, that for ministers in the present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ—or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Spirit, is, on the one hand—to imply creature power; and, on the other, to deny the doctrine of special redemption."
As some of our readers have imbibed this error, we are anxious to be of help to them. We have therefore decided to follow the article by John Newton on "Addressing the Unconverted" in the March issue, by first giving brief quotations from the writings of the Reformers and Puritans, to show how the framers of those Articles of Faith departed from the path and policy followed by so many eminent saints of God who preceded them.
"The mercy of God is offered equally to those who believe and to those who believe not, so that those who are not Divinely taught within, are rendered inexcusable" (John Calvin, 1552, "The Eternal Predestination of God" p. 95). "A slight acquaintance with Paul will enable anyone to understand, without tedious argument, how easily he reconciled things which they pretend to be repugnant to each other. Christ commands men to believe in Him, yet His limitation is neither false nor contrary to His command when He says 'No man can come to Me except it were given him of My Father.' Let preaching therefore have its force to bring men to faith" (Calvin's "Institutes" Book 3, chapter 18, par. 13).
"The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance, and the knowledge of ourselves . . . A man, therefore, is made a Christian not by working but by hearing; wherefore, he that will exercise himself to righteousness must first exercise himself in hearing the Gospel. Now, when he has heard and received the Gospel, let him give himself to God with a joyful heart, and afterwards let him exercise himself in those good works which are commanded in the law" (Martin Luther, 1540, "Galatians," pages 104 and 185).
"When we meet with a precept, we should simply endeavor to obey it, without inquiring into God's hidden purpose . . . . Notwithstanding God's predestination is most certain and unalterable, so that no elect person can perish, nor any reprobate be saved, yet it does not follow from thence that all reproofs and exhortations on the part of God, or prayers on the part of men, are useless" (J. Zanchius, 1562, "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination," pages 49 and 120).
"With the promises there is joined an exhortation or command to believe, which is more general than the promise; because the promise is only made to believers; but the commandment is given to believers and unbelievers also. For the elect are mingled with the wicked in the same assemblies, and therefore the ministers of the Gospel ought indiscriminately to exhort all and everyone to repent." "In very truth, if you go forth of this world being no repentant sinner, you go damned to Hell—wherefore delay not one minute of an hour longer—but with all speed—repent and turn unto God!" (W. Perkins, 1595, Vol. 1, p. 379; Vol. 2, p. 692).
"Let us be stirred up to repent immediately. Does not God now warn you? Is it not dangerous living one hour in a state that we would not die in? May God justly strike us dead suddenly? Do but purpose to live in sin one quarter of an hour; may we not be taken away in that time?" (R. Sibbes, 1620, Vol. 6, p. 212).
"We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises, and under the greatest penalties. This command is that which makes believing formally a duty. Faith is a grace as it is freely wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, the root of all obedience and duties, as it is radically fixed in the heart. But as it is commanded it is a duty; and these commands, you know, are several ways expressed, by invitations, exhortations, propositions" (John Owen, 1650, Vol. 14, p. 223).
"I say there is no pretence at all of God in this—that which He proposes is but this; 'Whoever believes shall be saved, and whoever believes not shall be damned.' He sends His ministers to preach this, and to beseech them to believe, and to be reconciled unto God, yes, all they meet with." "He commands them to preach promiscuously unto all, persuade all, exhort all, unto faith and repentance" (W. Twisse, 1653, "The Riches of God's Love" pages 73 and 169).
"My counsel (to his unsaved hearers) is this—Stir up your souls to lay hold on the Lord Jesus and look up to Him, wait on Him from whom every good and perfect gift comes, and give Him no rest until He has given you that jewel, faith" (Thomas Brooks, 1653, Vol. 1, p. 144).
"This condition of faith and repentance is suited to the consciences of men. The law of nature teaches us that we are bound to believe every revelation from God when it is made known to us; and not only to assent to it as true—but embrace it as good." "Our rejection of Christ, and the way of His appointing, is a high contempt of God . . . . It is a 'making light' of a rich feast of God's providing" (S. Charnock, 1660, Vol. 3, pages 68 and 469).
John Bunyan (1675) in his "The Heavenly Footman"; or a "Description of the man who gets to Heaven," which is addressed to "All the slothful and careless people," being an exposition and application of "So run that you may obtain" (1 Cor. 9:24), closes with, "If you do not know the way, inquire at the Word of God; if you lack company, cry for God's Spirit; if you lack encouragement, entertain the promises. But be sure you begin early; get into the way, run apace, and hold out to the end, and may the Lord give you a prosperous journey."
"Preach the Gospel to every creature—yet this is not the Gospel to be preached—that God has promised to save every creature; though upon promulgation of them, it becomes the duty of everyone to come to Christ, and a command is laid upon men to do it" (T. Goodwin, 1680, Vol. 8, p. 245).
"Fire burns where it meets with matter combustible—but a reasonable creature needs to be exhorted to perform acts agreeable to his principles" (T. Manton, 1670, Vol. 19, p. 247).
"It is our duty to endeavor what is impossible by our own endeavors to attain—so sin has made it; to avoid all sin, to perform perfect obedience, to love with all the heart" (David Clarkson, associate pastor with John Owen, 1682, Vol. 2, p. 131).
"But you will say, if unregenerate men are dead men, to what purpose is it to persuade them to arise and stand up? This difficulty is solved in this very text (Eph. 5:14)—though the duty is ours, yet the power is God's" (J. Flavel, 1680, Vol. 2, p. 423).
"It is the known duty of a sinner under the Gospel to turn to God through Christ; and it is also declared in the same Gospel that none can of themselves turn to God and believe in His Son—without the help of special efficacious grace; it must hereupon be a man's duty also to pray for that grace which may enable him thereto" (J. Howe, 1690, Vol. 2, p. 346).
"This Gospel call contains the command of faith by which all men without exception, to whom God vouchsafes the same, are enjoined to believe in Christ, in that way and manner which is revealed in the Gospel—'look unto Me and be saved all the ends of the earth'—Isaiah 45:22" (H. Witsuis, 1690, Vol. 3, p. 353).
"Neither will this assertion make it a vain thing to preach the Gospel to natural people, and to exhort them to true repentance and faith in Christ for their conversion and salvation" (W. Marshall, 1692, "The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification," so highly commended by James Hervey, p. 121).
"And even not coming to Christ, and believing in Him in this spiritual manner, when He is revealed in the external ministry of the Word, as God's way of salvation—is criminal and blameworthy, notwithstanding men's lack of both will and power" (John Gill, 1735, "The Cause of God and Truth," p. 87).
We could add quotations from others—but the above are
from well known, representative, sound, Calvinistic divines; several of them
high Calvinists. Yet their holding firmly to the spiritual inability
of the natural man, to unconditional election, particular redemption, and
the effectual call of the Spirit—did not tie their hands in preaching
the Gospel freely, pressing upon their hearers their responsibility, and
calling upon them to repent and believe.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"For ministers in this present day to address unconverted persons, or indiscriminately all in a mixed congregation, calling upon them to savingly repent, believe, and receive Christ, or perform any other acts dependent upon the new creative power of the Holy Spirit—is, on the one hand, to imply creature power, and on the other to deny the doctrine of special redemption."
The above "article of faith" is from an English denomination which still has considerable membership and influence. With almost all their other Articles of Faith we are in hearty accord, as with their marked separation from the world, and the simplicity of their worship. Nor have we one particle of sympathy with the delusive errors of creature ability or general redemption, rather do we unhesitatingly brand them both as lies of the Devil.
In his unregenerate state, fallen and depraved man is so completely the slave of sin and the captive of Satan, that he is altogether unable to deliver himself or take one step toward that deliverance; yes, his heart is so corrupt and his mind so at enmity against God, that he has no desire to be brought out of darkness into His marvelous light. Not until the Holy Spirit performs a miracle of grace upon the soul, does its possessor have any spiritual appetite or aspirations; and that miracle He performs only in those for whom Christ died—for God's elect.
Now if we resort to human reasoning it will logically follow that it is quite useless to exhort the unregenerate to turn unto God or come unto Christ; yes, to exhort those who are utterly incompetent to respond, will appear to be most inconsistent and the height of absurdity. But, my reader, the things of God cannot be encompassed by human reason, and the moment we attempt to measure them by the line of our "logic," we open the door for Satan to deceive by his subtleties. He will tell us that if the Lord our God is one Lord—then He cannot be a plurality of Persons; and that if we hold to three Divine Persons—we are most "inconsistent" in affirming the unity of God. Satan will tell us that if God is Love then He will never banish any of His creatures to everlasting woe; and that if we hold to eternal punishment of the wicked we are altogether "inconsistent" in believing in the Divine benevolence.
What, then are we to do? This—repudiate all reasoning upon spiritual things as utterly worthless, and believe with the simplicity of a child whatever God's Word teaches! The Apostles held firmly the revealed truth of a glorious and victorious Messiah, and they could not "harmonize" with that fact a humiliated Messiah that would be crucified—the two things appeared to be altogether "inconsistent" and contradictory. But to them Christ said, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25). That, my reader, should be a lasting warning to us of the utter inadequacy of human logic and philosophizing upon Divine things!
We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Unitarian, and while holding fast to the Unity of the Divine nature, we must also believe there are three co-equal Persons in the Godhead. We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Universalist, and while holding fast to the love of God, we must also believe in the eternal punishment of His enemies. And why? Because Holy Scripture teaches both!
In like manner, we must turn from the vain reasonings (as in the above Articles of Faith) of the hyper-Calvinist, and while holding fast to the total depravity and the spiritual inability of the natural man—we must also believe in his moral responsibility and accountability to God. It is the bounden duty of God's servants to tell the unregenerate that the reason why they cannot repent evangelically—is because their hearts are so wedded to their lusts; that the reason why they cannot come to Christ—is because their sins have fettered and chained them; that the reason why they hate the Light—is because they love the darkness. But so far from this excusing them—it only adds to their guilt! That so far from rendering them objects of pity—it exposes them as doubly deserving of damnation!
It is the preacher's business to show wherein spiritual inability consists—not in the lack of soul faculties—but in the absence of any love for Him who is infinitely lovely. Far be it from us to extenuate the wicked unbelief of the unregenerate!
The compilers of the above Article of Faith were very largely influenced by a piece written by William Huntington in 1791, "Excommunication—and the Duty of all men to believe weighed in the balance." We have space to quote only one paragraph, "When Peter said, 'Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out' (Acts 3:19), He who is exalted to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins, sent His Spirit and Grace with the Word to work repentance and conversion in His own elect. And though they spoke the Word, promiscuously to all, yet He only spoke it to His own. It was sent with the power of the Spirit. It never was sent with the Spirit of Faith to any but His own—'When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the Word of the Lord—and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed' (Acts 13:48). This is the life-giving commandment of the everlasting God, in the mouth of Zion's King. But what effect has it, or what power attends it, from the mouth of Mr. Ryland or the mouth of Mr. Fuller, when they make it the rule of a dead man's duty? Just as much as the adjuration of the sons of Sceva the Jew, when they abused the name of the Lord Jesus in commanding the spirit, who left the man and mastered them; and so these labor for the unconverted until they get into the gall of bitterness themselves . . . . You might just as well go to the gates of the grave and tell the sleeping dust it is their duty to come forth as Lazarus did. Mr. Ryland may just as well do the one as the other."
What a confused jumble is that! Confounding the Word of Power (Heb. 1:3) on the lips of Christ, with the Word of Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, 19) in the mouths of His servants.
What the Lord does, is none of our business. The commission He has given His servants is to preach the Gospel to every creature, and they certainly have not fully obeyed, until they bid their hearers "Repent—and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).
Whom God quickens, is His own affair; ours is to faithfully warn the unsaved, to show wherein their sins consists (enmity against God), to bid them to throw down the weapons of their warfare against Him, to call upon them to repent (Acts 17:30), to proclaim the One who receives all who come to Him in faith. In allowing that Peter "spoke the Word promiscuously to all" Mr. Huntington pulled down what he labored so hard to build up.
To affirm that the ministry of the Apostles (recorded in the Acts) furnishes no precedent for God's servants today, is as foolish, as "inconsistent," and unwarrantable, as it would be to say that Acts 6 supplies no present rule for deacons to be governed by! The physical condition of those in the cemetery is vastly different from the moral state of the unregenerate still upon the earth. The former cannot sin, cannot reject Christ; the latter can and do. The former cannot read their Bibles or call upon God for mercy; the latter should! It is because the natural man possesses the same faculties of soul as does the regenerate that he is an accountable creature, responsible to use them for God instead of against Him.