There were faithful sayings which became part of the spiritual language of the Christian church within the lifespan of the Apostles. 1 Tim. 1.15, 4.9. 2 Tim. 2.11. Titus 3.8. Their proclamation of the gospel produced a Christian phraseology; their exposition of the Old Testament embedded the Christian sense of Old Testament words, like sacrifice and atonement, in the hearts of all believers, both Jew and Gentile.
In a similar way, through the centuries and amongst believers of differing languages, there have been phrases and sentences which have become part of the heritage of the true church. These short phrases or sentences express, briefly and simply, the convictions of the Lord’s people. They are readily understood and become a kind of abbreviated testimony to the faith of the church. The language used by believers is deeply significant and influential and for that reason amonst others, it is very important that the church’s phraseology be both Biblical and understandable. In the most healthy periods of the church’s life this phraseology has been that which greatly honoured the Sovereign Lord God and expressed a profound sense of man’s sinfulness and complete dependence upon a gracious Saviour. Paul in Galatians 1.15, expressed this attitude very clearly when he said that ‘it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen’. Believers since then have likewise spoken of being ‘called by grace’. The emphasis is very clearly upon the divine initiative in salvation. ‘Ye must be born again’ is so evidently a description of God’s work and not man’s, and this too, in spite of its modern abuses, has been a phrase expressive of the believer’s sense of the grace of God in producing a change of such momentous consequences.
It is sad to hear the contrast today. Appeals to ‘give your heart to the Lord’ and to ‘decide for Christ’, to ‘accept salvation’ and to ‘let Jesus into your heart’, together with frequent exhortations to ‘let God’ do this or that good thing, direct the attention away from the Almighty, Holy, Sovereign Lord and place the emphasis upon man’s decision and imply that, in salvation, the initiative lies very much with the sinner addressed by the gospel rather than with the Lord whose gospel it is, who has said, ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out “.
To speak of God ‘wanting’ men to do this or that seems to be another movement in the same direction, presenting a picture of a sad frustrated god who is helpless in the face of men’s unwillingness to repent and believe rather than the true God who has holy desires and a sovereign purpose by which those desires are most certainly accomplished, and One who is ‘exalted … to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance … and forgiveness of sins’, and who now commandeth all men every where to repent’.
The mystery of the absolute sovereignty of God and its relation to the truth of man’s accountability before his Creator is beyond the wit of anyone fully to understand or explain, but it is vital to maintain the balance of Scripture in expressing both these truths and to have this expressed in the common phraseology of believers. Not to maintain this balance is to produce a serious defect in the minds of those who hear such phraseology leading on the one hand to an attitude not far removed from complete fatalism; but on the other hand leading to the danger of making a god in the image of man and even of making man his own saviour.
It would be a great blessing to hear on every side an unashamed declaration of the great truths of divine and sovereign grace in phraseology which is unmistakeably Biblical and clear. What a joy and privilege it is to be able to say, ‘I was “dead in trespasses and sins” and the Lord “quickened” me; I have been “born again”; I was Â•’called by his grace”; I was “converted”; “He loved me and gave himself for me'”. Such language expresses the thankful praise of the sinner who knows his own helplessness but who also begins to know the wonder of God’s graciousness.
‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’.