Will All Of The Elect Hear and Believe the Gospel? (Part Two)

Will All Of The Elect Hear and Believe the Gospel?

Part Two

by Curt Wildy

Return to Part One

Introduction to Part Two

My original intent was to have this study posted in only two parts. However, to minimize time between posts, for the ease of posting, and for ease of review, I decided to break it into three (with the possibility of a fourth — but I hope to limit it to three). Before continuing on to answer the Common Objections put forth by those who hold to this regeneration without Gospel conversion error, I wanted to address four arguments often made in support of their claims. Please consider…

The Role of the Gospel and Gospel Preaching.

For this section, I ask that you keep in mind the following verses:

John 6:63  It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I Corinthians 1: 17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

I Corinthians 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet [have ye] not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

II Corinthians 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

II Timothy 1:10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

James 1:16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 

Those who hold to regeneration without Gospel conversion like to emphasise certain points that they derive from the verses above –namely, that (1) there is a difference between the Gospel and the preaching of the Gospel; (2) there is a difference between the divine Word of God (God the Word) and the testimony of Him (the word of God, the Bible); (3) the Gospel does not give life, but only brings life and immortality to light (II Timothy 1:10); and (4) being begotten by the Gospel (I Corinthians 4:15) does not mean that the Gospel is associated with regeneration.

I cannot possibly address all of their reasonings in the space allotted, so I will focus mainly on the more common arguments. Regarding their view of the difference between the Gospel and the preaching of the Gospel, consider a quote from one of their own, Mr. L. Potter (emphasis added): 

“Some people seem not to discern the difference between the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel. The sound of the dinner horn is not the dinner, but is used to announce its preparation. The Gospel is the power of God; while the proclamation of the Gospel is simply the good tidings. Some men claim to carry the Gospel, when it is the Gospel that carries the man. We feel that of such ignorance comes not the Gospel, but a perversion of the Gospel.”

The above quote is typical of their views; they argue that it is the Gospel that eternally saves men and not the preaching of the Gospel. This stance is one of the main reasons why they can so easily believe that one can be regenerate without ever hearing or believing the Gospel proclaimed via the Bible, a live witness, a tract, recording, or any other human means — as purposed and ordained by God. When they encounter verses that clearly declare that the elect are saved through the means of the preaching of the Gospel, they often argue that “time salvation” (conditional time salvation) is in view and not eternal salvation.

The Power of God

The problem with this position is that when it comes to the eternal salvation of elect saints, they fail to realise that Christ, His Gospel, and His Gospel proclaimed are so thoroughly yoked together, so completely intertwined, that they cannot be separated, practically speaking. Please consider the following verses again (emphasis added):

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I Corinthians 1: 17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

I Corinthians 1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

God declares that Christ, the Gospel, and the Gospel preached are all the power of God unto the salvation of sinners. The Primitive Baptists argue “the Gospel preached is only the power of God to a living soul” to which I would respond — “this is true, but you do not understand the truth of it!” The clear meaning of these passages is that they are the power of God unto salvation! True eternal salvation includes both regeneration and conversion; the Bible yokes the two, faithful Baptists of old yoked the two, and all true Christians have yoked the two — but the heretical amongst the Primitive Baptists would have us believe that the two ought not to be yoked. But clearly if Christ is the power of God, He is the power of God unto both regeneration and conversion (though the latter is via God-ordained, human means which He makes effectual through His Spirit). Likewise, if the Gospel  is the power of God, it is the power of God unto both regeneration and conversion (although the former is via the immediate work of the Holy Spirit — it cannot be separated from Gospel conversion if we are to adhere to the biblical testimony). Finally, if the preaching of the cross (the preaching of the Gospel)  is the power of God, it is the power of God unto both regeneration and conversion (for though immediacy is valid, there is no regeneration without Gospel conversion and no Gospel conversion without regeneration — so though the Gospel is not the means for regeneration, it is the means for conversion and you cannot unyoke the one from the other). To the Christian then, it is clear that all three (Christ, His Gospel, and the preaching of it) all work together under the hand of God for the complete and eternal salvation of His people.

The Word of God

We see another instance of such confusion when we consider their views on the Word of God (who is Jehovah the Anointed Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ) and the word of God (His holy Bible). They argue that it is the Word of God that saves people and not the word of God. But this too is a false distinction, as made by them, because both are in view in the salvation of elect sinners. Consider again the following (emphasis added):

John 6:63  It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.

II Corinthians 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life…. 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty. 18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.

James 1:16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

I Corinthians 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet [have ye] not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

I Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received [it] not [as] the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

We know of the Word of God only through the word of God made effectual in our hearts and minds by the Spirit of the Lord. Upon regeneration, we are united experimentally with the Word of God and that union and communion experienced (on this side of the grave) is worked out primarily through the word of God and prayer in light of it. We can see this relationship in the life of a Christian. If, for a prolonged period of time, a Christian neglects the word of God, his felt sense of communion with the Word of God is greatly diminished. However, once he is steeped in the word of God and made to see wondrous things out of it — he then often experiences that oneness with the Word of God that is so desirable and comforting to him. Hence we read in Psalm 119:25 “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.” By which word are we quickened? By both words!  One Word is the Essential (God the Word) and the other is the means He uses to reveal Himself to a quickened soul. If there is no such revealing, no such revelation, then there is no true salvation. You cannot have one without the other; if you are not saved with the word, you are not saved by the Word.  If no Gospel conversion, then no true regeneration. This leads us to the issue of being…

Begotten by the Word

Many of them make much of what an evil it would be if, when Paul stated “for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” he meant that men were eternally saved by His preaching. They argue that such a statement would steal the glory and honour from God and would be setting Paul up to be as God (for only God can regenerate). Thus they argue that, by this, Paul means that he was the cause of their conversion but not of their regeneration — and thus not of their eternal salvation. Consider the following quote from Zack Guess in his work titled “Begotten By The Gospel” (emphasis added):

In the first place, it would have been blasphemy for the Corinthians to refer to Paul as a father in the sense that he was the means of bringing eternal life to them. No man can receive this honor because God alone is to receive the credit and glory for the salvation of His people. Christ instructed us, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matt 23:9). This is one of the gross errors of the Roman Catholic Church by having the priests addressed as “father.” So it is certain that Paul was not the father of the Corinthians in the sense that he, by preaching the gospel to them, had had a part in their spiritual birth….

To sum it all up, what is Paul saying in this passage? He is saying that there were plenty of self-appointed preachers around who didn’t really have a deep concern for the flock of God (the ten thousand instructors in Christ). But, says Paul, there are only a few men who are truly called of God and who are vitally concerned with the spiritual welfare of God’s children (the “not many fathers”). Paul is saying further that he is a father to these Corinthians. By this he means that he preached the gospel to them and turned them from error to truth. He thus became their spiritual teacher and they became learners or disciples. By his teaching he had great influence on them and helped to mold their lives. In this sense he was their father and they were his children. But only in this sense. If they had not previously been born again his teaching would have had no effect on them in a positive way.

Mr. Guess is correct in his position that Paul had no power or ability to regenerate them — however, he errs in believing that Paul “turned them from error to truth.” Only God can regenerate and only God can truly convert. God regenerates without means with the effectual intent to convert through means — but it is still God who does the converting. God regenerates so that he can then convert the regenerated soul via the word proclaimed (in person, via a recording, in print, etc.). Though regeneration and conversion are two separate stages in eternal salvation, they are virtually simultaneous in the life of a Christian. If you rightly understand that conversion immediately follows regeneration and that there is no regeneration without conversion (and vice versa) then you know that  in Christ Jesus (i.e. through His power and effectual working) Paul indeed begat them through the Gospel — while at the same time — we know that it was The Father who, of his own will begat [them] with the word of truth — and yet we have already read that as the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

There is no confusion, no contradiction, no discrepancies except in the minds of those who wax heretical on these matters. Each person of the Triune Godhead is involved in the complete salvation of sinners. Thus, just as we can say that the Father begat, the Word begat, and the Spirit begat, we can also say that though God begat them, Paul begat them as well being the instrument of God to bring about the totality of His salvific work in them. This can only be clearly seen when we recognise that it is error to say that one can be begotten of God unto regeneration but not be begotten of God, via human means, unto conversion. Only in the sense that Paul was the human means by which God converted them (i.e. he was the bringer of the Gospel message that God effectually used to convert the hearers), can Paul say that he had begotten them with the Gospel — but to think for a moment that they would have been saved eternally without such conversion is foolishness. Regeneration is not caused by Gospel preaching, but it is intimately associated with it given that one is regenerated for the express purpose of receiving the True Gospel as it is proclaimed.

Bringing Life and Immortality to Light

A Mr. Glen Williams had this to say on the matter (as can be found here: http://dentonpbc.org/Glad61.htm):

But, one may ask, “Where does the gospel fit into this theology, and of what value is it?” The very next verse in the Bible tells us. “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10, T.M.). The gospel does not bring life and immortality, but it brings life and immortality to light. 

When therefore the gospel finds lodgment in the human heart and wherever it meets with favorable reception it finds it in the heart made soft by the grace of God and is received by a person who has been saved, not according to his works, but by grace. It makes manifest and brings to light the spiritual life, which God has already imparted to that person. Thus, we see, that it is not those who repent and believe that God predestinates, but rather He calls to a state of spirituality those whom He did predestinate.

The above quote is typical of their point of view on the matter. They use II Timothy 1:10 “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” in a manner that differs from the historic viewpoint. They argue that the bringing of  life and immortality to light via the Gospel pertains to a regenerated soul being made aware of their regeneration and interest in Christ. In a real sense, I do not dispute this. Elder Gilbert Beebe, one of the faithful Primitive Baptists of old, had this to say on the matter (emphasis added):

The eternal life of all the church of God was manifested in the person of Christ, by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, rising in immortal life from the dead. The gospel brought this life and immortality to light to the faith of all the Old Testament saints, so that they all had the same clear perception of it in Christ as those to whom the gospel brings it to light now. To the saints individually and experimentally, the gospel brings life and immortality to light by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, when he is manifested to them in the new birth. http://asweetsavor.info/beebe/2tim1_9.html

However, I reject the spin that the erroneous Primitive Baptists put on II Timothy 1:10. In their minds, there can be regenerate people walking about unconverted for twenty years or more, who upon hearing the Gospel, are made to “realise” that though they were in Gospel ignorance for twenty years, the entire time they were  quickened children of God nonetheless… what nonsense. These are they who would put new wine into old bottles (Matthew 9:17), pouring the new wine of the Gospel into their unregenerate minds. They may claim that they have been regenerate all of these months, years, decades, but if they have never repented of their former idolatry, by God’s grace, calling it but dung as Paul did, then they deceive themselves. Though their minds may have been carnally changed to believe superficially (in giving mental assent to the Gospel), they have never been truly saved by the power of God — they have never been quickened and converted by His grace. Though they think that they have been working ‘real works of righteousness,’ their failure to repent of their former dead works of supposed righteousness evidences that they have never truly turned from their former ways; they still cling to their past endeavors in false religiosity.  We see this same type of error in our day amongst those who claim that they are Reformed, or who claim that they believe in Sovereign Grace, yet argue that they were nevertheless regenerated souls when they were actively believing in, walking in, trusting in, and proclaiming the abominable error of Arminianism (see the article Arminian Phobia or Godly Concern for more on the matter). Taken to a further extent, but still part of the same thread of error, such thinking allows those like Sam Bryant, of the Vestavia Primitive Baptist Church in Birmingham , Alabama, to affirmingly print that many in his ‘brothers’ homeland “even among the Muslims, showed evidence that they were children of God because they were bearing the fruits of the Spirit” even though they were “never blessed to hear the gospel and know the truth in this life!” (http://www.vestaviapbc.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10&Itemid=13).

Although I believe that the Gospel does bring life and immortality to light in a regenerated soul, experimentally, I reject the notion that there are regenerate souls out there who have never and/or will never be brought to see the Gospel light in this life (or who will go weeks, months, years, etc. without such light). Moreover, the historic viewpoint of this passage seems to emphasise the experimental revelation less and the objective revelation much more. In earlier commentaries, the passage at issue is interpreted to refer to the fuller revelation of the Gospel in the New Testament era in general and as it pertains to salvation and all that accompanies it amongst the entire Body of Christ.  John Gill had this to say on the matter:

 and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Christ was the first that rose again from the dead to an immortal life; the path of life was first shown to him, and brought to light by him; and though the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was known by the Old Testament saints, yet not so clearly as it is now revealed in the Gospel; and in which is so fully attested the resurrection of Christ, and of many of the saints with him, as well as the general resurrection at the last day: and besides, eternal life, which is the free gift of God, lay hid in his purpose, promise, and covenant, and in his Son Jesus Christ, into whose hands it was put; and which he has brought to light in a more clear manner than ever it was before; by his appearance in human nature, by his personal ministry, by his death and resurrection from the dead, and through the Gospel, as preached by his ministers; which gives an account of the nature of it, shows the way unto it, and points out and describes the persons that shall enjoy it.

 Matthew Henry commented as follows:

 He has brought life and immortality to light by the gospel; he has shown us another world more clearly than it was before discovered under any former dispensation, and the happiness of that world, the certain recompence of our obedience by faith: we all with open face, as in a glass, behold the glory of God. He has brought it to light, not only set it before us, but offered it to us, by the gospel. Let us value the gospel more than ever, as it is that whereby life and immortality are brought to light, for herein it has the pre-eminence above all former discoveries; so that it is the gospel of life and immortality, as it discovers them to us, and directs us in the ready way that leads thereto, as well as proposes the most weighty motives to excite our endeavours in seeking after glory, honour, and immortality.

Elder Gilbert Beebe, quoted above as it relates to the experimental aspect, also had this to say on the general matter (emphasis added):

He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. He laid down his life a voluntary sacrifice, and took it again, and through his resurrection from the dead, life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel. The church lives in Christ’s life, and her immortality is in his immortality, and because he lives she lives also, and because he reigns she reigns with him. Her all and in all, is in him, and where he is there she is also (http://asweetsavor.info/beebe/2tim19.html). 

In light of the above, it is clear that the current viewpoint of the majority of Primitive Baptists is an erroneous, novel, unscriptural one. Note again what Mr. Beebe stated back in 1869.

The gospel brought this life and immortality to light to the faith of all the Old Testament saints, so that they all had the same clear perception of it in Christ as those to whom the gospel brings it to light now. To the saints individually and experimentally, the gospel brings life and immortality to light by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, when he is manifested to them in the new birth. http://asweetsavor.info/beebe/2tim1_9.html

Here we see one of the most prominent and faithful of Primitive Baptist commentators affirming 140 years ago that (1) The Old Testament saints believed the same essential Gospel that the New Testament saints believe (though they had less of the details) and that (2) it is upon (and only upon) the new birth, regeneration, that the Lord Jesus Christ manifests Himself to His elect saints, bringing life and immortality to light for them experimentally through His word proclaimed. These two precepts will be important in the section to come pertaining to the common objections that these Primitive Baptists, and others like them, put forth. Looking forward to Part Three of this series, it is especially essential to note that the Bible is clear that Old Testament believers truly believed the Gospel; it is perhaps this truth that most severely undermines many of the objections put forth by those Primitive Baptists who hold to the Regeneration without Gospel Conversion error.

Summary

We have seen that Christ, His Gospel, and the proclamation of it all serve as the power of God, by God, unto the complete salvation of elect sinners. We have likewise seen that salvation is yoked to both the Eternal Word of God and to the Bible (the word of God) that reveals Him — there is no eternal salvation (no regeneration and conversion) without both the Word and the word. Moreover, it is clear that the spiritual begetting unto salvation is of the Triune Godhead; all Three Divine Persons play a role in the regeneration and conversion of sinners. However, it is also clear that though God alone effectually works Gospel conversion in the lives of His people (an essential aspect of eternal salvation), He does so through the use of human means — whether in person, in print, through a recording, or through the Bibles printed and distributed by men. Thus, Christians are indeed begotten by the Gospel but only in light of the power of God and the means by which He has sovereignly purposed and ordained to eternally save them. Finally, though the Gospel brings life and immortality to light, it does not do so in a vacuüm — nor is it an optional aspect of the Christian experience. God always brings life and immortality to light through the Gospel when He regenerates and manifests Himself to His people, causing them to believe the Good News and to cease from their dead works and will-worship. The true God is a Saviour, the true God saves; He saves His people from false refuges and deadly error. He does not allow or ordain His regenerate people to walk about believing in lies, resting in lies, or proclaiming lies to others. Those who think that they were quickened of God, or that others were quickened of God, even whilst they continued to hold to and walk in a false gospel evidence the fact that they know nothing truly of God, His Christ, His Gospel, or His salvation themselves.

Continue to Part Three

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