Albert N. Martin
Some of you will know that in recent months I have been engaged in a series of expositions of individual texts of the Word of God; texts that in a very focused and concentrated way set forth some of the central truths of the gospel, of the grace of God. I have brought these texts under a heading of a series entitled “Simple Signposts to the Celestial City.”
Taking John Bunyan’s words from the immortal Pilgrim’s Progress in which he describes Heaven as “the Celestial City,” I have sought to take a fresh approach to these biblical texts by likening them to signposts, and reducing their contents to very simple statements that do no violence to the words of the texts, but hopefully have helped to fasten them upon our minds and bury them in our hearts. I have repeatedly stated that my purpose in considering these simple signposts has been twofold.
First of all, I have been fishing. The Lord Jesus said to His followers, “Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” I have unashamedly been seeking—by the means that God has ordained—in the language of the Apostle Paul, to persuade some of you to believe. Again, in the language of the Apostle, I have been, “Entreating you to be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
The second purpose in opening up these individual texts is in keeping the purpose for which God gives pastors and teachers to the church. For according to Ephesians 4:12 He gives pastors and teachers, “To perfect the saints unto service work.” One of the works of service which God has given to us as His people is the privilege of bearing witness to others concerning the salvation of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It has been encouraging to know that at least several of you have found help in these very texts as you have sought to seize opportunities for witness, as God has given you those opportunities in the course of your ordinary experience and context.
We conclude that series of studies on the Simple Signposts not by turning to a specific text as we have done with all thirteen of them, in which we have concentrated on one specific text of Scripture, but by a topical approach to the subject “What is the Gospel?” Hopefully, in each one of those individual messages, some aspect of the very central issues of the gospel have been expounded, pressed upon your consciences, and made the basis of earnest appeals that you would embrace the Lord Jesus Christ.
However the older I get, the more I am convinced that people can hear many texts expounded, they can hear whole books of the Bible expounded in order, yet at the end of the day if they are pressed to give a succinct statement of some of the major themes that have been expounded, they are at a loss to do so. Since I have reportedly been preaching the gospel, heralding the message of God’s good news to sinners in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, I thought it appropriate in concluding this series to ask a question.
If we take the common denominator of all of those various texts—Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” or Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter in by the narrow gate,” or Acts 20:21, “Repentance towards God; faith to the Lord Jesus”—if we take all of them together and seek to reduce them to the common denominators which constitute a full-forged statement of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, what would be left for us to set before men? What would be the result of reducing the various emphases of those texts to their common denominators?
In seeking to answer what is the gospel, I have never found in my own reading anything outside of the Bible which has given a more succinct and helpful summary of the answer to that question than that which is given in what is now considered a classic in our generation, the little paperback by Dr. J.I. Packer entitled Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God; in which Dr. Packer raises the question “what is the gospel?” He answers by saying, “The gospel is a message about..” Then he gives us four heads: God, sin, Christ, repentance and faith.
All of the major categories of concern in the biblical gospel are predicated upon some fundamental realities pertaining to God Himself. The God of the Bible is the awesome, almighty, glorious Creator; He is the righteous, sovereign Lawgiver; He is the strict and exacting Judge of the world.
Then the gospel is also a message about sin. It is the crowning glory of the Christian faith, that it is essentially and fundamentally a religion for sinners! Did not the angel say at the conception of Jesus to Joseph, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He it is that shall save His people away from their sins”? Now, in saving them from their sins He saves them from a thousand other things, but the heart of His mission was announced at His conception! Jesus shall save, deliver, rescue from sin!
It became one of those sanctified clichés. You have five of them in the pastoral epistles called “The faithful sayings.” One of them was this: 1 Timothy 1:15, “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world.” As you’ve been told on several occasions in the past, in the original, the word ‘sinners’ is thrown forward for emphasis. “Faithful is the saying, worthy of all acceptation, Christ Jesus came into the world sinners to save.” You see, there’s the glory of the gospel! It is essentially a religion for sinners, but sinners not left sinners. Sinners rescued by the almighty power of the Lord Jesus Christ! “He came sinners to save.”
When a generation of preachers says, “Well, we’ve got people that are fractured, crippled, wounded, emotionally distraught, psychologically battered. To tell them they are guilty and the God of Heaven has a controversy with them about their sin in Adam, and all of their specific sins—the sin of their nature, the sin of their deeds, thoughts, words—to tell them that they have a fountain of pollution within them, that they are essentially evil and not good, that they are fundamentally what they are as sinners from their very conception (David said, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,”) you will upset people. My friend, if it upsets them enough to go to go to the heavenly Physician to cut out the cancer, and to go to the Heavenly Mediator to settle accounts with the Judge, it matters not how much they are upset.
It appears to me that when Jesus is speaking of the merciful dispensation of the Holy Spirit underscored, the upsetting work of the Holy Spirit is fundamental in His ministry to the world. Did He not say in John 16:8, “And when He is come, He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness, and of judgement come”? That’s not a very sweet, flattering ministry of the Holy Ghost.
Ah, but my friends, apart from that we will never be lead to the fountain open for sin and uncleanness. We will never be lead to the heavenly Physician who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. I came to call not the healthy who have no need of a doctor, but they that are sick.” Sick enough to know that the bandage of pop psychology won’t help them. The self-help pills, and looking in the mirror and saying nice things about yourself won’t help. They’ve tried all of that, and they know it hasn’t touched the deep springs of their true need!
The kindest thing we can do to men is lovingly, tenderly, but accurately and biblically tell them how bad off they are as sinners, and pray that God the Holy Ghost will convince them of how bad off they are. For they will never run to the Saviour until they are convinced of how desperately they need Him. The gospel is a message about God: Creator, Lawgiver, Judge. It’s a message about sin! It’s about universal sin introduced to our first father; sin that leaves us all with a bad record and with a bad heart.
Bible References: 2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Timothy 1:15; John 16:8
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