We mean, why the emphasis on the Reformed doctrines as the only way to the reviving of the evangelical cause? Is it not sufficient to preach the plain and “simple” gospel without this insistence upon such themes as Divine Sovereignty, Predestination, the Election of grace, and Redemption Absolute and Particular?
The question is a reasonable one. Why indeed, at a time when evangelicals are being called upon to close their ranks to meet a common foe, should there be any disruptive or controversial deviation to complicate the real issue?
We hope to show, however, that this IS the real issue. The object of the gospel is TO BRING US TO GOD (1 Pet. 3:18); and if God is to be worshipped aright; if due reverence is to be commanded by His Name; if the soul is to be humbled before Him in true repentance, God must be seen to be what He is - the Lord God Omnipotent who reigns as the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, who works all things after the counsel of His own will, and against whom there is no wisdom, counsel or might.
In such an age as this when scientific theory has made a Creator unnecessary, and when only a pitiful caricature of God is set up by the trifling theology now current, it is more than ever necessary to present an Absolute God working to an infallible purpose, who is in perfect control of all events, and who will finish gloriously what He planned to do when He made the world out of nothing.
No other God is credible and in the last analysis there is no logical alternative between Calvinism and Atheism. Either God is all or He is nothing.
We use the term Calvinism as a term of convenience only, as representing the clearest and most final statement of Reformation truth.
The gospel does not begin with the sinner. It begins with God in His majestic sovereignty of purpose. The Bible begins where the gospel begins, with the presentation of God as the all-wise Creator of Man whom He formed in His own moral image and likeness, able from the first moment of his history to know God and to worship Him in spirit and truth. The gospel begins where John 3:16 begins -with God in the sovereignty of His creative and redemptive purpose – “God so loved the world that He gave ....”
The gospel begins where Paul began it in his mighty sermon to the philosophers of Greece (Acts 17), presenting God as the Almighty Creator, Lord of heaven and earth, the sustainer of all mankind, the determiner of all times and the arbiter of all history, even to the giving of the bounds of the nations’ habitations, to the end that they might seek after Him and find Him. The sermon proceeds from this presentation of God as Creator, to a solemn warning of the Day of Judgment, and the assurance that that day is both appointed and inescapable, seeing that the appointed Judge has already been raised from the dead.
It is in the light of this information that sinful and rebellious man is brought to see the folly and the evil of his ways and is made aware of the awful responsibility laid upon him to repent.
There is a puerile exegesis which alleges that the sermon in Acts 17 was one of Paul’s mistakes. This kind of exegesis has done fearful damage to evangelical preaching. Instead of robust preaching of the true repentance and thorough conversion there has been substituted a weak and trashy decisionism. This dilution of the evangelical faith has produced conversions in great abundance -conversions with a very low survival rate.
The Evangelical Sickness
The evangelical sickness which is the peculiar feature of this present time has come about precisely because the emphasis has shifted from the solid ground of the Reformed faith to an Arminianized and (if the term be admitted) an Americanized emphasis on the Sovereignty of Human Effort. Though this human effort may be garnished with prayer and laden with pious avowals of utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit, it remains what it is - a theory which exalts human initiative and personality, placing God in a state of subordination.
Any effort to form a sort of united evangelicalism without the radical restatement of the Reformed faith can only consolidate this state of affairs, and is not a remedy but an opiate.
Nothing less than the doctrine of the Absoluteness of God will avail in an age when God is reduced in human thinking to an irrelevancy or even nonentity. Many evangelicals have been seduced into regarding God as little more than an impotent spectator who has abandoned much of His prerogative to man.
An exaggeration? Whence then the idea now so common, that the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice in the field of conversion is largely dependent on the willingness of believers to co-operate with God? The Arminian emphasis represents the Sovereign God as helpless to carry out His own wishes because everything is suspended upon human initiative and consecration. The divine trust in man, rather than man’s dependence on God is self-evident in much of our evangelical preaching, and it produces wondrous results in the shape of pious feelings and bursts of enthusiastic activity . . .
On the other hand we have in mind the Word which declares: “Sit thou on my right hand until I MAKE THY FOES THY FOOTSTOOL”. “Ask of me and I WILL GIVE THEE the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession”. “He shall judge amongst the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies (of his foes); he shall wound the heads over many countries”. “He shall see of the travail of his soul and SHALL BE SATISFIED”. “My word shall not return to me void. It shall accomplish THAT WHICH I PLEASE and prosper in the thing WHERETO I SENT IT”.
(See Psalm 110, Psalm 2, Isaiah 53, Isaiah 55, etc.).
How The Reformed Theology Arose
The Reformed theology had to fight against a thousand years of emphasis on human merit and human initiative in salvation. Luther’s first thesis nailed to the cathedral door at Wittenberg in 1517 stated the nature of true repentance. This, and its corollary, the paramount office of justifying faith, led inevitably to the development of the doctrine of the grace of God as the ground of redemption. The Reformers were quick to perceive (as Augustine perceived a thousand years before) that grace to be grace at all, must be sovereign grace and electing grace, not dependent upon faith but itself conferring faith. They saw that grace was not preceded by human merit as the Roman Church taught; man in his total depravity in sin could not qualify himself for the reception of grace. This in turn led the Reformed theologians to clear and decisive views of the sovereignty of God governing conversion and covering the entire range of human history. “God foreknows because he predestinates”, thundered Luther.
Hence we now speak of these doctrines as Reformed, a term which covers not only the recovery of the true evangelical faith 450 years ago, but also that full-flowering of the Reformed faith in the century following the Reformation, when Puritanism in England and the Covenanting period in Scotland raised the Reformed theology to its clearest and most eminent form.
Such documents as the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643) and the writings of men like Samuel Rutherford and Thomas Boston in Scotland, and John Owen and John Bunyan in England exhibit the Reformed theology in its full development. Their teachings are clearly those of the Apostles and are consistent with the entire glorious range of the Divine revelation.
Since the 17th century - the age of the Puritans and the Covenanters - theology has declined. Though for 150 years afterwards the evangelical faith continued in vigorous activity, it was largely on the sinking capital of the preceding age. Puritanism survived in America after it had been crushed in Britain (by a treacherous and corrupt monarchy), so that it was still possible to find a theologian of the stature of Jonathan Edwards in New England in the middle of the 18th century, but the glory had already departed and the Reformation was hastening on with giant strides to its Nemesis in the shape of a false Biblical science.
The Puritans had no comparable successors in England after the catastrophe of 1662 when they were silenced by Act of Parliament. The Methodism of the Wesley’s in the following century was a new and Arminianized form of evangelicalism without substantial theological foundations, and there were no resources sufficient to meet the shock of the New Thought which seeped into the foundations of Protestantism towards the end of that century.
The Fall Of Protestantism
It is highly significant that this undermining of the Protestant and Reformed faith began a generation or more before the scientific world received its first shock to faith in the shape of the Darwinian theory of evolution. The Biblical revelation was first called into question by theological rationalism stemming from the continental schools and probably beginning with the philosophies of the Jew, Spinoza. While the theologians were rocking on their foundations the way was at last open for the atheistic landslide in science. Theologians who were already uncertain about the divine origin of the Bible were ready enough to compromise with a scientific theory which (as events proved) could well dispense with the agency of a Divine Creator. A few struggled in vain against the evil and subtle two-front attack on the mind and soul of man. The end was inevitable. The age was one of “Enlightenment”. Human knowledge was surging onward. Its triumphs could no longer be arrested by “outdated appeals” to a Book, the total inspiration of which was being questioned more boldly every year by men who were reputed to be leaders of Christian thought. One by one the bastions fell. It took a century or more for the thing to come to full fruition, but there can no longer be any doubt that theological concession to rationalistic criticism of the Bible, in harness with a science which no longer requires an Almighty and Sovereign Creator as its starting point, spells ATHEISM.
It spells more than that. It spells crime, vice, violence, sexual perversion, the reversal of all accepted standards of conduct and decency. It pollutes the human mind and debauches the human soul. The British Parliament has decided that SODOMY is no longer a sin-just a disability. The Sodomite must be accepted as an ordinary member of society - as he was in the days of Lot.
We have now lived long enough to see that the end-product of these twin revolutions in religion and science is atheism. Those who hitherto have compromised with these fatal errors and imagined a way between the two extremes have only succeeded in destroying themselves and all that is distinctive in the evangelical faith.
A type of mind has been produced which can call itself evangelical yet at the same time can broaden its platform till it is wide enough to take in every form of Christian apostasy, and treat the protesting evangelical remnant as the only enemy left.
We have to learn afresh that the only answer to error is the Truth; that the Truth is the Bible in its exclusive and verbal Divine inspiration; and that the key to the understanding of the Bible is the doctrine of God Himself as the Almighty Creator and Redeemer who does according to His will in heaven and earth none being able to stay His hand or call into question the wisdom, righteousness, and truth of His sovereign acts in providence and redemption. (See Daniel 4)
Theological Doubt And Its Camp Follower
The rest of the story is soon told. Protestantism and the Reformation now lie in ruins and two-thirds of mankind is under agnostic dominion. Science, art, education, religion - all have been more or less surrendered to the advancing forces of unbelief, which have come in not so much as an invincible force but as an army of occupation. Biblical criticism has been proved by the event to be the Fifth Column preparing the way for the atheistic hordes, for Atheism is the camp-follower of the Theology of Doubt. Those evangelicals, who in theological colleges and pulpits are now uttering qualifying statements about the entire veracity of the Bible and its providential transmission to us in its original state of perfection, should be warned. The end of that road is ungodliness, and the retribution will be certain and condign.
The answer from the Word of God to the appalling errors of the modern age is the DOCTRINE OF GOD. In no age was it ever more vital than in our own to present God not as the prisoner of Creation but its Master. No god is any longer credible save One who reigns in absolute and glorious omnipotence. The apostasy of the devil and the rebellion of men are under the over-all control of Him who sits upon the throne. The Book of Job shows this most plainly. The only will which must ultimately be carried out is the will of God who has decreed that all Christ’s foes be made His footstool.
The evangelical cause depends for its very existence on a return to that ground, but the so-called “simple gospel” which has done duty so long for the preaching of the divine Word has no place for doctrine of this colossal nature. Yet without this conception of the Almightiness of God, prayer itself is pointless and there is no logical alternative to atheism.
“The Simple Gospel”
The “Simple Gospel” is a term coined to describe the teaching that Christ died for all men, though not in any way to make certain the salvation of any single person. A general amnesty has been proclaimed (say the Simple Gospellers) but it depends entirely on the consecrated obedience of individual Christians whether the message ever gets through to the world. It is likewise held that only through human initiative and earnestness in prayer will the divine message be accompanied by enough divine power to persuade any individual sinner to “decide to accept”.
These friends do not stop to think that if this be true, the doctrine of election to which they object, is only transferred from God to man. The theory admits that God has enough power to convert any number of sinners, with or against their will, provided this power is “released” or “commanded” by the prayer and consecration of Christians.
The following dialogue took place between ourselves and a good man of our acquaintance who was carried away by the spontaneous response of thousands of people (mainly children and teenagers) at a mass Crusade:
“The preaching was no different from yours or mine, and the only thing which could account for the miraculous result was the fact that thousands, indeed millions of Christians were praying all over the world for the evangelist.”
“And don't forget, hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended.”
“True, but you have to have money for these things. If only one soul was saved as a result of spending thousands of pounds, would it not be worthwhile?”
“Nor silver nor gold hath obtained my redemption”.
“But still, these things cost money.”
“You have forgotten your history. How much money did the apostles spend to turn the world upside down? How much did Luther have to alter the entire course of Church History? How much money did Whitefield and Wesley have to turn England inside out? Search and look, and you will find that this is the only age in which God needs fabulous amounts of money to get on with the work of salvation.”
“Another point if you please. About this matter of millions of people praying. How many people does God need to pray before His work can get off the ground? Where does He draw the line? Does all above a certain figure spell success, and all below, failure? the same people who say these things are also fond of telling us about revivals (such as that at the Kirk of Shotts) where the prayer of just one or two ladies was said to be enough to bring down the fire. Since when did God go in for numbers? What does all this talk about ‘volumes’ of prayer mean? Are we trying to say that some sort of power is generated, or some sort of release given to God the Holy Spirit, to do things which cannot otherwise be done? And if this be the case, who is the Sovereign, God or Man?”
Arminianism’s Last Spasm
We venture to predict that the phenomenal spectacle of mass evangelism presented in the last decade is the last spasm of Arminianism which will soon be utterly discredited. Evangelicals will be dismayed and bewildered by the result (or lack of result) of modern evangelistic methods and will perhaps be more willing to give heed to those who for a generation or more have been struggling to make their voice heard against the clamour.
What we have been seeing is the last and most spectacular of all attempts to prove the hypothesis that all that is needed for a great spate of worldwide conversion, is a consecrated outburst of human activity, concentrated prayer, united effort, planning on the grand scale. All this has been honestly and sincerely done. Never has so much money been spent on evangelism since the world began. Never has planning been so prodigious. Never has so much talent been assembled. Never has crowd management been so efficient. Never has publicity been so far-reaching. Never have human ideas been given so much rein. Nothing has been spared. We have seen at last the best and the utmost that man can do ....
It is time to return to the Lord; that is, to the worship and adoration of a God who made heaven and earth; Who gives no account of His matters; against Whom there is no wisdom, counsel or might; to Whom the nations are as a drop in the bucket; Who declares that “the heavens do rule” and with Whom all the potentates, rulers, dictators and tyrants of this world are but His gaolers and hangmen (vide Luther) to discipline unruly mankind.
We visualize that in the stem days now coming upon the earth the Lord’s people will meet oftener and in deep humility. Their first concern will be the glory of the Lord, and worship will be reverent and simple, a true calling upon the name of the Lord. Preaching will set forth the glory of Christ as He is everywhere presented in the Holy Scriptures. A new and profound use will be made of the Old Testament, and the evangelical church will be greatly enriched by consequence. Many hymnbooks will be tossed aside as dishonouring to the divine Name. Conversions may not be so numerous, but they will be real. Young people will not be hurried into snap decisions, but will be encouraged to show repentance and earnestness by quietly and diligently attending on the preaching of the Word, seeking the Lord with all the heart, and praying for the light of truth and grace to be granted to them.
The Evangelical Famine. Broadsheet No. 6