THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE -A TESTIMONY
The purpose of this article is not controversial. The writer is acutely aware that much disagreement surrounds these doctrines. What is expressed here is simply the testimony of one who has found that what one believes concerning the Word of God, has vital effects upon one’s spiritual experience.
My early Christian years were spent in evangelical churches whose ministry of the Word was far from systematic. A variety of speakers brought a variety of sermons on numerous texts, the result of which was occasional blessing but no regular consistent instruction. During this time a Christian friend introduced me to ‘Reformed’ beliefs, indicating the shortcomings of the varied ministry so prevalent in evangelical churches today.
The outcome of this friend’s advice was that I read through John Owen’s “Death of Death”, a work which convinced me completely of the unscripturalness of the Arminian position. This led me to read many other writers, particularly the Puritans, and by comparing these writings with the Word of God, I came, by the grace of God, to see a little of how far the preaching so common today is removed from the great truths of the Gospel revealed in the Word of God, and how much of what troubles the church in these days arises from this fact.
With this doctrine we are at the root of all true religion. If we do not see what the Bible teaches about man’s condition, our understanding of Christianity will be suspect from the beginning. My early Christian life was based on the teaching that when the Bible says that man is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2 v.l), this means that man is spiritually sick. He could still believe in Christ if he so chose. However, in seeing that man, who is spiritually dead, cannot do anything spiritual, I found that I had to make great changes in my thinking and attitude as a Christian.
In the first place, I came to have a much clearer and deeper sense of the power of God in my salvation. I saw that I believed on Christ because of what God had done in me by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, apart from which I would never have detested sin and desired Christ.
Secondly, a knowledge of this doctrine has brought a greater compassion for the unsaved, who are absolutely helpless to please God and who are led captive by Satan at his will (2 Tim. 2. v. 26). It is impossible to feel true compassion and pity for someone who possesses the answer to his own problem but who refuses to use it.
Thirdly, this doctrine led me to see that in evangelism, total dependence must be put on the Lord and not upon our own ability to persuade or convince. This in turn leads to a closer communion with God to give the increase to the believer’s sowing and watering of the Word (1 Cor. 3 v. 6). Because of this, greater attention is given to the Word of God as the incorruptible seed, whereby faith
comes (Rom. 10 v. 17) and by which the Holy Spirit brings newness of life (1 Peter 1 v. 23).
In my early Christian years I rarely heard mention of election and then it was always a conditional election in which God’s choice was based upon His knowledge of future faith. God knew who would believe and therefore He chose them. For some time I was numbered among those who sincerely believed that God’s purpose is in the hands of man to allow or thwart, and that the Almighty God has to work as man permits Him. To me, an understanding of the biblical teaching on the doctrine of election has again had certain consequences.
Firstly, it has brought a much greater awareness and appreciation of God’s mercy. If one believes himself to be chosen because of his faith, he sees God as under some obligation to save him. The truth is otherwise and when one sees that one’s salvation is because ‘it pleased God’ to save him, then he begins to understand something of the infinite debt of gratitude he owes to God’s mercy.
Secondly, this doctrine vitally affects the Christian’s attitude to the world. In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel were chosen by God to be a distinctive people separated unto God from the other nations. The election of God puts a difference between people, and the Israelites were condemned for blurring the distinction that God had made. Even so, the New Testament Israel are an elect people separated from the world by God’s Grace. It is the Christian’s responsibility, therefore, to preserve this distinction and it is to be expected that where the doctrine of God’s election is forgotten, so the distinctiveness of the elect is neglected. So it is today, that so much of the world’s standards and outlook is to be found amongst professing Christians both individually and collectively. To me one of the greatest spurs to progress in sanctification, is this doctrine that I have been chosen by God not because I wanted God, but because God wanted me.
Thirdly, I would suggest that the doctrine of election has a vital bearing upon the question of Christian fellowship. In this realm, this doctrine implies that a Christian’s closest human relationships should be with fellow Christians. If Christ’s words about hating mother and father mean anything, surely they have respect to this area of Christian behaviour. How often do Christians cultivate relationships with unsaved friends or relatives at the expense of fellowship with other Christians. This, of course, will mean sacrifice and raise problems, but this is required of Christians and demanded by the doctrine of election. How much stronger would local churches be if they regarded themselves not so much as a group of people who believe in Christ, but as a group of people whom God has called out of the world and joined together. This surely is the basis of Christian unity. This surely underlies Paul’s affirmation that he endured all things for the elect’s sake (1 Tim. 2 v 10).
For a considerable time, I found myself numbered with the multitude of sincere Christians who fail to see that the Atoning Work of Christ must be subject to some kind of limitation. As Spurgeon pointed out, it must either be limited in extent or it must be limited in power. For this reason, the term as it stands, is a little misleading and ‘Particular Redemption’ is to be preferred, more so as this emphasises the point which has made the doctrine such a blessing to me.
It is generally assumed by many evangelicals that to believe that Christ died for every single person is the only possible interpretation of the love of God and the only basis upon which the unsaved can be approached with any assurance. It has been my experience that this is not the case.
To believe in the universal intention of the work of Christ, in a real way, reduces that intimate personal nature of the love of Christ, “who loved me and gave Himself for we.” (Gal. 2 v. 20) The doctrine of Particular Redemption led me to see that my salvation is rooted in the love of Christ for me personally. I am free from condemnation because Christ bore away my guilt. This blessed knowledge could not be received apart from the doctrine of Particular Redemption for if Christ gave Himself for every single person including those who perish, then clearly salvation does not issue from the atoning work of Christ, which, in fact, ceases to be an actual atonement.
It is my testimony that an understanding of this doctrine has brought a dimension into my spiritual experience that a belief in a non-particular redemption would not permit. The love of Christ becomes real and meaningful because it is personal and effectual.
As might be expected, I was taught as a young Christian, that the ultimate cause in salvation was man’s ‘free-will’. God, I was assured, would never force anyone to be saved. If the sinner would not yield, God was helpless to do anything. It is not difficult to understand how often evangelism led to despair, and testimony produced pride – “I accepted Christ,” “I let the Lord Jesus in,” etc. I wish to testify to the blessings which knowledge of the truth has brought.
First in the realm of evangelism, how encouraging to witness with the knowledge that the hardest of hearts is not too hard for the Spirit of God to change. For there is nothing too hard for the Lord. How it should be a spur to us to know that the salvation of sinners is not dependant upon the way we put our arguments or the tone of our voice, but on the power of God.
Secondly, how destructive of our pride to know that unless God had first begun a good work in us (Philippians 1 v. 6), we would never have been saved, for truly He is able to subdue all things unto Himself (Philippians 3 v. 21); and as Christ said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me (John 6 v. 37). Many
Christians, in considering their spiritual experience, only go back to their response to the Gospel. The doctrine of irresistible grace opens up a realm of truth denied by this. The sinner comes to Christ yes, but why? Here lies the blessedness of this doctrine “In the beginning God …”
In my early Christian life, I was taught the ‘Eternal Security’ of believers, usually expressed as ‘once saved, always saved’. Not all Christians believe this and in this form it is rather misleading as it emphasises preservation without reference to perseverance. Because of this, my early experience was nurtured in a situation in which much false assurance was given, a position which, alas, abounds still.
It is, of course, a great comfort and blessing to know that the work that God has begun He will perform until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1 v. 6) and those who deny this, deny themselves much. On the other hand, it has been my experience that many who do believe in ‘Eternal Security’ have little or no grounds for its comforts as they show no signs of the perseverance which this doctrine demands. It is to the outworking of this doctrine that I wish to make mention here.
Simply stated, the doctrine maintains that those who God unites to His Son, He keeps by the power of His Spirit in the way of obedience. It is upon this last point that the repeated charges to ‘examine yourselves’ and ‘prove yourselves’ are to be found in Scripture. It is my testimony that realisation of this has been the means of a greatly enriched spiritual experience resulting, as it must do, in a closer communion with the Godhead. I suggest that many Church and individual problems would be solved or avoided if this doctrine and its implications were to be more frequently and purposefully taken up.
I have tried, in this article, to do two things. Firstly, to give testimony to the blessings that have accompanied the revelation of these doctrines to myself personally. To give some indication of how one’s spiritual apprehension without these truths is, of necessity, limited and misleading. Perhaps one of the most important consequences has been the revelation of the beautiful unity and harmony of the Word of God, of which these doctrines provide an essential basis for a true interpretation.
Secondly, I have tried to show that these doctrines have vital practical implications which cover all facets of the Christian experience. Above all, however, I believe that these doctrines are the basis for all true praise and worship of God. This is the effect that these doctrines always produce when they are truly believed. So often, however, I have known these precious truths to be received with a formal nodding of the head and a general comment of approval because the right things had been said. This must be a
hateful thing in God’s sight. These truths were meant for the heart, not just the mind. It is in a man believing in his heart that saving and living faith consists (Romans 10 v. 9). Today we hear much spoken against emotionalism, very often rightly so, but is it not equally serious when these great and precious truths from the Word of God leave us unmoved?
May God grant that by His Holy Spirit we receive not only a clear sight of these glorious truths, but also, that through a knowledge of the truth, we shall be set free to serve Him to the praise of His Glory.