Thursday, December 16, 2010

God's Command to Repent and Believe (49)

Dear Forum members,

We were considering the confessional proof offered by the defenders of a gracious and well-meant gospel offer; more particularly, we were considering the proof offered in Canons 2.5, which we quoted last time.

The article establishes the truth that the gospel proclaims that all who believe in Christ will be saved: “. . . whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” I pointed out earlier that this language does not give the opportunity to claim that faith is a condition to salvation. The language used is, first of all, Biblical (John 3:16); second, the language emphasizes that faith is that gift of God by which the elect lays hold on Christ crucified and appropriates him for his own; and third, is part and parcel of the other part of the gospel: “the command to repent and believe.”

It is that command to repent and believe that is often interpreted as a gracious offer. But anyone can see the difference between the two. One who is offered something has it within his power to accept it or reject it. One who is commanded to do something, on the other hand, must do what he is commanded to do, or suffer the consequences of disobedience. That is indeed a very great difference.

To repent and believe in Christ is commanded of all in the gospel. Man is placed by the gospel under solemn obligation to repent of his sin and believe in Christ.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, man is commanded to repent of his sin because God maintains his righteous demands that were placed upon man in Paradise. God must do this to remain a holy God. The fact that man no longer obeys God and, indeed, is unable to do it, makes no difference at all. Man’s inability is brought upon him by his own refusal to obey God. God is not to be blamed for man’s total depravity; man despised God’s command and chose rather the evil promises of Satan.

To believe in Christ is also man’s obligation. God has provided the way of escape from sin and death; God has sent Christ into the world as the only one under heaven by whom man can be saved. Surely, God did not need to provide salvation, but he did. And now God commands men to believe in Christ as the only way he can be saved. But man will not, for he hates God and Christ and would rather go to hell than obey God and believe in Christ. His hatred of God’s command is manifested in his crucifixion of Christ. It is a terrible depravity, which man brought upon himself. And it is a terrible sin to refuse to obey God’s command to believe in the one through whom salvation is possible.

But the objector will say: Man can do nothing else but repudiate Christ. True. But man’s inability is a terrible state that man brought upon himself; and he alone is to be blamed for it.

But the objector will say: But God does injustice to man for demanding of him that which he cannot do. Lord’s Day 4, 9 answers that question: “God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.”

It is interesting to note, rather parenthetically, that both Arminians and Antinomians agree that God does not demand of man that which he cannot perform. The Arminian says, “Man can perform obedience to God’s command, because man has a free will. The Antinomian agrees that man cannot obey God, but dodges the issue by claiming that God does not demand good works; the imputed righteousness of Christ is sufficient. This same antinomian position is often the position of the Hyper-Calvinist as well.

Again, the objector will say that man has to have some sort of ability to choose to do good or evil before he can be punished for his failure to the good can be held against him. This is the Arminians' argument for free will. The Arminian claims that only a man with free will can really be punished for doing wrong. The confessional answer is the same: Yes, but God made him capable of doing the good; capable of choosing between good and evil; and it is his own fault that he lost the ability to pay the debt that he owes to God.

God’s insistence that man repent of sin and believe in Christ is rooted in his own holiness. God would deny himself if he was to listen to the Arminians. The Arminians try to tell God that he would show an abundance of mercy and love if he would simply overlook man’s terrible sin, forget man did such dastardly things, excuse man for a moment’s recklessness, and so act as if sin had never been committed.

God’s insistence that men obey him is not another will in God that is contradictory to his decretive will to save only some. I am aware of the language that is often used in this respect: the will of God’s decree and the will of God’s command, or something similar. But if such terminology leads to the conclusion that there are two wills in God, the terminology ought not to be used. Even more so, if the terminology leads to the notion that the will of God’s command is a gracious and loving offer, the terminology is yet more deceptive.

It seems to me to be better to speak of the holy demands of God’s law that he maintains throughout all history, regardless of the moral state of man. God’s will, on the other hand, is His ultimate determination to save from the sin into which they plunged themselves and for which they are responsible, those whom he has chosen eternally in Christ and to punish those whom he has determined to damn for their sins as manifestations of of his holiness and justice.
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The gospel accomplishes that purpose. God, through Christ and by means of the church, proclaims that all those who believe in Christ, set forth in the gospel, will be saved, and those who reject the gospel and remain in their sins will be damned. That gospel is heard wherever the gospel is preached, by elect and reprobate alike. It is heard by all to whom the gospel is sent according to God’s good pleasure.

Accompanying that gospel is the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ who works faith in the hearts of the elect so that, when they hear the gospel of Christ crucified and salvation in him, along with the command to repent of their sins and believe in Christ, they turn from their wicked ways and flee with their sins to the cross. But when the wicked hear Christ crucified, they do just as the wicked Jews of Jesus’ day and crucify him again in mockery and scorn.

God reveals in the righteous who come to Christ the riches of his grace, mercy and love; God reveals in the wicked his just judgment and holy hatred of sin. The wicked have not only walked in the ways of evil; they have shown how truly evil they are in their crucifying of Christ. Just as in Jesus’ day, the gospel of the cross rips away any mask of piety and religion the wicked might have to cover their terrible sin, and their wickedness is revealed for what it truly is: a hatred of God and of his Christ.

God’s purpose is sovereignly accomplished and God’s perfections are revealed and shown to be the only perfection there is.

With warm regards,
Prof. H. Hanko

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