When we consider the doctrine of salvation, what relationship do grace, duty, and gospel preaching sustain with each other? Are grace and duty compatible in the matter of salvation, or does the existence of one automatically exclude the other? And what is the aim of gospel preaching? Is it to all upon the unregenerate to perform certain duties by which they are to be regenerated, and thus be saved? Or is it to call forth the elect unto repentance? To answer these questions, let us consider the following.
First, we must consider the subject of grace. To begin with, what is the signification of grace? In soteriological terms grace signifies unmerited divine favor. We have an excellent example of this in 1 Cor. 15:10, where Paul notes that "by the grace of God I am what I am." Here Paul ascribes his status as a Christian and apostle, not to anything in himself, but to the unmerited favor of God. And this signification of grace demonstrates the following two important facts. First, since grace is an unmerited divine favor, we see that God himself is the origin or source of saving grace. Grace does not originate or find its well-spring within man. It is wholly without him. For this reason does Paul declare in 1 Cor. 15:10 that the grace by which he was a Christian was God's grace. In 2 Tim. 1:9 saving grace is described as God's own, that is, "his own purpose and grace." We also find in every Pauline epistle the apostle's wish for "grace and peace" upon his readers (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; etc.). And where does this grace come from? Paul, as well as every other New Testament writer, knew of but one origin for saving grace, namely, the Lord God.
Secondly, we see that saving grace is an unmerited divine favor. And this unmeritorious nature of grace indicates two critical things concerning man. First, no man can merit saving grace by anything he thinks, says, or does. Texts like Eph. 2:8,9 and 2 Tim. 1:9 declare emphatically that sinners are saved by grace and not by works. And the reason sinners cannot merit God's grace is on account of sin. The sinful nature of every human being renders each utterly incapable of earning God's saving favor. Everything they think, say, and do has the stain of sin upon it, and hence, sinners can ever only "fall short of God's glory" (Rom. 3:23). But the sinful nature also reduces man to the point where he has absolutely no desire for God's grace. Every sinner, while unregenerate, does not "seek for God" (Rom. 3:11). Secondly, not one human being is worthy of God's grace. Saving grace is not merely unmeritorious with respect to man's inability to procure it by works, but it is also unmeritorious with respect to man's absolute unworthiness of it. The sinful nature of man renders him utterly obnoxious and loathsome to God, so that God cannot but "hate all who do iniquity" (Ps. 5:5). All are sinners before God, and are but useless and worthless, not worthy of the least of his mercies, let alone saving grace (Rom. 3:12; Gen. 32:10). Indeed, what every sinner is truly worthy of is only eternal damnation.
We shall consider next the extent of grace. Is salvation all of grace, or only partly of grace? Does grace extend to every component of salvation or not? In having just discussed briefly the signification of grace, wherein we saw that God is the source of saving grace, and that man has no desire for, is incapable of meriting and is unworthy of God's grace, we cannot but conclude that salvation must be completely of grace from beginning to end. Now salvation is a process consisting of many parts. It has its beginning in eternity before the foundation of the world, is made manifest in the course of time, and reaches its culmination at the end of the age. Now it is critical to note here, in considering the extent of grace, that it is impossible to speak of salvation, as a whole, as being of grace while simultaneously denying grace extends to every part of salvation. Let us elaborate on this point.
When it is argued that salvation is wholly of grace, then every part which makes up salvation must also be wholly of grace. What then are the parts being spoken of here? These parts include such things as election, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. We must also include such things as repentance, faith, obedience, conversion, and prayer. In short, every single aspect of salvation, whether it be passive or active, is grounded in the unmerited favor of God. Thus, to ground any part of salvation in something other than the grace of God is to deny salvation is wholly of grace. Consider the following two examples. For someone to maintain that election is grounded upon foreseen merit is to deny election is of grace. Or, if someone argues that the act of saving faith is the work of the unregenerate, by which salvation is procured, is again to deny that saving faith is of grace. And yet, do not a great many professing Christians believe and argue in this very manner, all the while contending that salvation is all of grace?
But the Scriptures do not acknowledge the absurd and impossible position that salvation is of grace, while the very parts which make up this salvation are grounded in something other than grace. We have in Eph. 2:8,9 a comprehensive statement declaring that salvation is of grace and not of works. Yet Paul is not speaking of merely one part of salvation at one point in history, but is speaking of the entire process consisting of all its parts. Election is of grace, grounded in God's love, and executed according to the counsel of his will (Rom. 11:5; Eph. 1:4,5,11). Justification is the work of God, and is grounded in his grace (Rom. 3:24; 8:33; Tit. 3:7). Repentance and faith are of God's grace, gifts which are granted, not owed (Acts. 5:31; 11:18; Phip. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25). There is no part of salvation that we might consider which is not grounded in God's grace. The question of the extent of grace is all-important. As James notes that the breaking of one law is as good as breaking the entire law (James 2:10), so too, the denial of one part of salvation being grounded in grace is as good as denying the whole of salvation is grounded in grace.
We move on to consider another aspect of grace, namely, its objects. Upon whom does the unmerited favor of God terminate? Does every single human being represent an object of God's grace? The Scriptures answer this question negatively. God's word clearly delineates that none but the elect are the objects of the grace of God. In Matt. 1:21 the purpose of the incarnation was to "save his people from their sins." In John 10:10 the Lord declares that he "lays down his life for the sheep," and not for the goats. In John 17:9 the Lord prays not for everyone in the world, but only for those who had been given to him. These are but three examples of many which clearly demonstrate that the grace of God is restricted to the elect. Were it true that every human being was the object of divine grace, such distinctions as "his people," sheep," and "those whom you have given me" would be pointless. The distinction "his people" implies there are such who are not Christ's sheep (Mt. 25:32,33; John 10:26). Such who are "given to Christ" implies there are those who are not given to Christ.
And the argument based on such words as "all" and "world" do not make every soul the object of divine grace. Does the "whole world" of 1 John 5:19 include the apostle John and all other Christians? Does the "world" of John 12:19 include the Pharisees who used the term? Does the term "all" in Luke 21:17 have reference to fellow Christians? The answer to each of these questions is an obvious no. Why then do professing Christians force an unwarranted universal concept upon the words "world" and "all" in such texts as John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, and 2 Cor. 5:15? The very idea that these texts prove every human being is the object of God's favor is contradicted throughout the Scriptures (in addition to those listed above) by such limiting and qualifying terms as "many," "the children of God,' and "the elect" (see Mk. 10:45; John 11:52; Rom. 8:33).
Further, contextual considerations show that the "world" referred to in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 designates God's non-Jewish elect scattered throughout the nations (Rev. 5:9), while the "all" of 2 Cor. 5:15 refers to the all who live no longer for themselves, but for Christ. And these can only be the elect. Indeed, the very doctrine of election, which is grounded in, and proceeds from God's grace, demonstrates that grace knows no other objects but the elect. This very distinctive presupposes the existence of such who are non-elect. And certainly, reprobation is not a matter of grace but justice, and hence, the reprobate cannot be the objects of grace. And such a fact will figure prominently when we come to consider the aim of gospel preaching.
Secondly, we shall consider the subject of duty. Are grace and duty compatible in the matter of salvation? From what we have seen concerning both the signification and extent of grace, we must answer this question negatively. Indeed, the very existence of grace forever excludes duty from the matter of salvation. The following three points will establish the veracity of this. First, the Scriptures declare that salvation is of grace and not of works (Eph. 2:8,9). But does this fact entail that all works are excluded in the matter of salvation? From what we learned concerning the extent of grace, wherein we saw that every component of salvation from beginning to end is the result of unmerited divine favor, it is clear that any and every sort of work which might be contemplated can have absolutely no place in the scheme of salvation. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to argue that salvation is wholly of grace, only to insist in the same breath that sinners must perform certain duties in order to be saved.
For example, when professing Christians insist that things like repentance, faith, and prayer are duties the unregenerate ought to perform in order to be saved, such a view represents a denial that salvation is of grace. Repentance, faith, and prayer are in such a scheme removed from the process of salvation (and thus from the realm of grace), and are denuded of their status as gifts of grace. They are made into salvation meriting duties which the unregenerate can perform at any given time, should they desire to exercise their powerful free will. Such a view not only forms the very quintessence of Arminianism, but is even held by many who pretend to believe the doctrines of grace. But such a view ultimately represents nothing more than the dogma of salvation by works. The Scriptures evince that repentance, faith, and prayer are gifts of grace, and not the products of unregenerate effort. And thus the Scriptural truth that salvation is of grace and not of works condemns as absolutely heretical any attempt to manufacture a work or duty out of such things which God's word relegates solely to the realm of grace.
Secondly, the Mosaic Law demonstrates that duty has no place in the matter of salvation. The apostle Paul speaks of the Law as a tutor (Gal. 3:24), and with respect to our theme, the Law instructs us on two critical points. First, it illustrates the total depravity of man. When we take a panoramic view of the Old Testament history of Israel, the Sinaitic covenant witnesses time and time again the sinfulness of the Israelites. From the time they came up out of Egypt, to the time of their exile, and upon their return from captivity, the depravity of the Israelites is always made manifest in the light of the Law. But this very manifestation of the Israelites' depravity was in fact one reason why God gave the Law unto Israel. In Romans 5:20 Paul writes that "the Law came in that the transgression might increase." Now the Law which God gave to Moses was both perfect and holy, and it represented a duty-ridden system. Well what was the outcome when this duty-ridden system was given unto Israel? It only exposed their depravity in that not one soul was able to keep the Law perfectly. The Law made manifest man's natural enmity toward God, and consequently, the transgressions of the Israelites only increased, precisely as God had intended. And the grand lesson here is that the Law, in exposing man's depravity, points him away from himself, and away from the performance of duties.
Secondly, the Law illustrates the absolute necessity of grace in salvation. In Gal 3:24 Paul writes that "the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." We just saw how the Law exposes man's depravity, and that it points sinners away from both themselves and the performance of duties. The apostle Paul notes that this very Law directs sinners unto Jesus Christ. It is Christ alone, the God-man, who was able to both keep the Law and offer himself up as a propitiatory sacrifice in the stead of his elect. In demonstrating both man's depravity and inability to save himself, the Law shows forth the absolute necessity of God's grace, and thus points to Christ who alone is the all-sufficient Saviour of his people. The Law does not point sinners away from one set of duties only to direct them to another set of duties.
Neonomianism, however, actually propounds just such a view. This heresy posits that the gospel is a new law based on easier terms (or duties). But such a view misunderstands the purpose of the law, and destroys the very truth that salvation is all of grace. For in replacing one set of duties with another set of duties (the duties of repenting, believing, etc.), one still ends up with salvation by works, the very thing the Mosaic Law intended to direct sinners away from. Further, since the Law only exposes man's depravity, so that transgressions only increase, and points him unto Christ, how can the introduction of a new law, based on supposedly easier terms, possibly improve the situation for the unregenerate? The Law however, points sinners to Christ, and not to duties of any sort. And thus it reveals that duty has no place in the matter of salvation.
Thirdly, the concept of duty represents the very essence of all man-made religions. All religions, excepting the true one of the Bible, teach in one form or another that salvation is grounded in works. And works are nothing more than the performance of stated duties. At the center of any works system is man and not God. The emphasis is on what man has the ability to do, and not on his inability. Professing Christians who propound that the unregenerate have the ability to perform certain duties by which they might be saved are, notwithstanding their claims to the contrary, proclaiming the heretical doctrine of salvation of works. Their emphasis is on man and his supposed ability, and not on God and his efficacious grace. To speak of such things as repentance and faith as duties of the unregenerate is to make them into works. And such a procedure represents a blasphemous contradiction to the Scriptures which declare that salvation is of grace and not of works. This being the case, duty can never have any part in the matter of salvation.
The third subject we shall consider is the aim of gospel preaching. And we will look at the two questions asked in the introduction. First, is the aim of gospel preaching to call upon the unregenerate to perform certain duties by which they are to be regenerated, and thus be saved? Though this is undoubtedly the prevailing view among such who profess to be Christians, the Scriptures declare emphatically that this is not the purpose or end of gospel preaching. First, the signification and extent of grace prove that the aim of gospel preaching cannot be to induce the unregenerate to perform salvation-meriting duties. The signification of grace teaches us that the divine favor is an unmeritable favor, wherein man is discovered to be, on account of his sinful nature, unworthy, incapable of earning, and undesiring of saving grace. The extent of grace instructs us that every component of salvation, from beginning to end, is grounded in the unmerited favor of God, and thus includes such things as repentance and faith.
Secondly, the Scriptural truth that duty has no place in the matter of salvation also evinces that the intent of gospel preaching is not to get sinners to do this, that, and the other thing in order to be saved. God's word proclaims that salvation is of grace and not of works. And the term works is all-embracing, so that not one has any Scriptural right to transform such gifts of grace as repentance and faith into salvation-earning works. The Mosaic Law also reveals what sinners can accomplish when a holy and perfect duty-system is presented to them. They can only sin all the more, thus demonstrating their total depravity, and consequently, the absolute necessity of saving grace. Both the signification and extent of grace, along with the Scriptural truth that duty has no part in the matter of salvation, show that the aim of gospel preaching cannot be to call upon the unregenerate to perform certain duties in order to be saved.
But what about all the duty-demanding texts one finds in the Scriptures? Did not John the Immerser and the Lord Jesus call upon sinners to repent and believe (Mt. 3:2; Mk. 1:15)? Did not apostles like Peter and Paul exhort sinners unto repentance and faith (Acts 2:38; 16:31; 26:20)? The answer to these questions is an obvious yes. However, we need to answer another important question concerning this fact. Are the repentance and faith of these passages to be construed as the causes or effects of grace? From what we have learned concerning the extent of grace, we know that repentance and faith are grounded in God's unmerited favor. We have also seen that the unmeritorious nature of grace demonstrates that man is not only unworthy of God's grace, but is also neither capable of earning nor even desirous of God's grace. What these facts tell us is that such things as repentance and faith are not even in the possession of unregenerate sinners, and thus, they cannot but be the effects of grace.
What then does this fact exhibit concerning the exhortations unto repentance and faith? Since repentance and faith are the effects, and not the causes, of grace, they are clearly not matters of duty binding upon the unregenerate. And since repentance and faith are the effects of saving grace, all such who actually do repent and believe in Christ must do so because they are already regenerate, and thus already have the ability and desire to do such things. If we exhort a man to eat and drink, does his compliance with the exhortation cause him to live? Not at all. Rather, it is because he is already alive that he can comply with the exhortation. Eating and drinking are not the causes of life, but are rather the effects of life. So too, the ability to comply with the exhortation to repent and believe does not represent the cause of spiritual life, but is evidence that one is already in possession of spiritual life. And hence, the so-called duty-demanding texts do not support the notion that repentance and belief are duties by which the unregenerate can be saved.
This leads naturally to the second question, namely, is the aim of gospel preaching to call forth the elect unto repentance? The answer is yes. And two particulars will bear this fact out. First, it has just been shown that the purpose of gospel preaching cannot be to induce the unregenerate to perform salvation-meriting works. This fact demonstrates the following two things. First, it reveals that the unregenerate cannot be the intended subjects of gospel preaching. The unregenerate, according to the Scriptures, are neither capable of procuring, nor even desirous of salvation. Indeed, they do not so much as even possess repentance and faith. Consequently, it is but ludicrous to think that a true gospel preacher would exhort unto repentance and faith such who not only do not possess the gracious gifts of repentance and faith, but who also have neither the ability to procure, nor the desire for saving grace. Many professing Christians often remark that God does not command sinners what they have not the ability to perform. This is in actuality quite true when we are speaking of the gospel. But just who has the ability to repent and believe? Certainly not the unregenerate? And it is in fact the regenerate who represent the intended subjects of gospel preaching, for they alone are such who are granted the ability to repent and believe.
Secondly, the performance of salvation-meriting works is not the aim of gospel preaching. And why? Because salvation is of grace and not of works. When a gospel preacher proclaims the facts concerning the person and work of Christ, and notes that the whole of salvation is of grace, it is absolutely inconsistent after this that a preacher should insist upon repentance and faith as duties by which the unregenerate might be saved. This is making repentance and faith the causes, and not the effects, of saving grace. What then is the intent of an exhortation unto repentance and belief? It is to call forth the regenerate unto grace-evidencing acts. When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth (John 11:43), did Lazarus comply as a dead man or as a living man? Clearly, as a living man. Thus Lazarus' obedience was not the cause, but the evidence of his being raised from the dead. So too, none but the spiritually living can comply with the exhortation to repent and believe. When the jailer asked Paul and Silas, "what must I do to be saved?" And they responded, "believe in the Lord Jesus" (Acts 16:30,31), the fact that he and his household did believe in Christ is evidence that they were already spiritually alive. Indeed, the gospel is not "Do and live" (Lev. 18:5), but "Live and do" (Acts 13:48). Thus it can be seen that it is the aim of the gospel preachers to call forth the elect unto repentance.
The second particular which evinces that the purpose of gospel preaching is to call the elect unto repentance is the fact that the elect alone represent the objects of grace. It was noted earlier that Matthew 1:21 teaches that Jesus Christ came into the world to "save his people from their sins." Since the very purpose of the incarnation is restricted to the elect, how then can gospel preaching, which is an explication of the person and work of Christ, possibly extend any further than the elect? When Peter proclaimed that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved," he certainly did not intend this to include any more than "as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself" (Acts 2:21,39). Paul was also called to preach the gospel, but everything he endured in the prosecution of his calling was solely "for the sake of the elect" (2 Tim. 2;10). Why then does Jesus command that the gospel be preached to every creature (Mark 16:15)? Two reasons. First, because the gospel was no longer to be restricted to the Jews as it had been (Mt. 10:5), and secondly, because gospel preachers know not who the elect are until they come forth in repentance and faith. Indeed, the elect themselves are unaware of their status until they are born again, and are thereby enabled by grace, through the hearing of the gospel, to repent and believe in Christ. But the aim of every true gospel preacher is ultimately to call only the sheep of Christ to repentance.
The preaching of the gospel is God's intended means by which he gathers his elect unto himself in time. And salvation is a matter of pure grace, not something conditioned upon the works or duties of the unregenerate. This we have seen to be the case as we have briefly considered the subjects of grace, duty, and gospel preaching. Grace excludes duty in the matter of salvation and terminates upon the elect, and reveals that the elect alone are the intended subjects of gospel preaching.