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WHENEVER THE GOSPEL IS PREACHED

Curtis Pugh

Poteau, Oklahoma

 

            God's man Paul faced much opposition from the Jews. Some of them mocked him by repeating what he preached in a insulting manner. The faithful apostle had this to say by the Holy Ghost: “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice,” (Philippians 1:15-18). Paul rejoiced whenever and however the gospel was preached: even when preached in a mocking hateful way. Why was this and what does this have to do with us today? We think Paul's words have much to do with us today. We live in a specific time period prophesied by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord called this time “the beginning of sorrows,” (Matthew 24:8). As one sign of this time He said, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many,” (Matthew 24:5). In the first eight verses of Matthew twenty-four our Lord gave general signs. While these have been present since apostolic days, they are increasingly present as this epoch draws to a close. Some think that our Lord meant in this verse that false Christs would appear and deceive many. We think not. Rather, it seems that here Christ is saying that many shall come, claiming to have His authority. These shall say that Jesus is Lord, i.e., that He is the Christ or Messiah. In spite of their words these are deceivers and shall deceive many. Why do we take this position? First of all because (1) when prophesying of a later time in the same discourse in this same chapter Christ said, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” (Matthew 24:24). To give the same sign for two different periods of time would not only be confusing, it would be pointless. If there were a duplication of signs we could not know which time period the Lord meant. And (2) we are now living in that very period of time designated by Christ as “the beginning of sorrows.” To those who say this verse means that during this time men will claim to be the Christ we ask: just where are all these people who go around saying that they are the Christ? And where are the “many” whom they are deceiving? Several years ago there was a man who called himself “Father Divine.” He had a small following.  A few others of this sort have arisen from time to time. But none of these men who claimed to be divine deceived enough people to qualify as “many.” What we do see going on in this our day - “the beginning of sorrows,” is this: we see many preachers come claiming to be Christ's men who say that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, but they deceive many. They “come in my [Jesus's] name, saying I [Jesus] am Christ,” [brackets added]. They proclaim the Messiah-ship of Christ, but preach a false gospel. Today we have our Joel and Victoria Osteen and others who deceive many. We have seen Jimmy Swaggart rise, fall and get up again. In our day have come Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Oral Roberts, Pope this and Pope that, Billy Graham, et al. They all have said that they believe Jesus is the Christ. They all require some sort of works in order to obtain God's favor. On the local level (yes, you have them in your town) and on the international level “many” are being deceived by preachers who say Jesus is the Christ. The Lord Jesus prophesied about these people again in Matthew 7:22-23, saying, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” True believers in Christ are beset 'round about with false religionists. They claim to have Christ's authority, i.e., they say they come in His name. They loudly cry “Lord, Lord,” and produce great and “wonderful works.” Crowds follow them. In their future judgment the Lord will not dispute their claim to having miracle-working power. They are popular with the masses who are uninformed as to what the Bible teaches and who “have no light in them,” (Isaiah 8:20). But Christ does not and never has known them.  Therefore they shall be forever cast out of His presence. Theirs is a Christ-less religion in spite of all they say and they, the Lord said, shall have a Christ-less eternity.

            Perhaps someone shall say, “What about 1 Corinthians 12:3? It says that nobody can call Jesus the Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Doesn't that contradict your view? If a preacher says Jesus is Lord, doesn't that mean he is from God?” Let us look briefly at that verse. It says, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Brethren, context! context! context! The context in this chapter is dealing with speaking in unknown or unlearned languages or “tongues.” In apostolic days prior to the completion of the Bible as a witness to the truthfulness of the apostolic doctrine, God enabled some people to speak in unlearned languages by miraculous power. The verse above has to do with men speaking in those real but unlearned tongues. If a man in a miraculously spoken language said that Jesus was Lord, it was the Holy Ghost speaking. If a man in a miraculously spoken language said Jesus was accursed, it was not the Holy Ghost speaking. Rather is was a demon or the devil empowering that man. That is what that verse is all about.

            But how does Christ's prophesy relate to us? In this way: our nation and much of the world is filled with “Christian” preachers who preach a false gospel even though they say that Christ is the Messiah. They always add some kind of work as the way to salvation and to heaven. We  have stated many times that there are only two religions in the world. There is that religion that says that salvation is by grace alone and there is that religion that teaches that works has a part in obtaining salvation. Whether one says make a trip to Mecca or take a dip in the Ganges River or be sprinkled or be dipped: essentially they are all the same. Indeed, today “many” are deceived even among our kin and neighbors: deceived into thinking that being dipped by a particular brand of preacher or having had a little water sprinkled upon them by some Catholic priest or Protestant minister is going to get them to heaven. Most “Christians” are members of baby-baptizing churches – churches that teach that their “baptism” (usually sprinkling) saves. A friend of mine, a well educated and faithful Methodist, told me recently that while the Methodists do not believe that what they call baptism washes away sin, they “...believe you must be baptized in order to go to heaven.” If that is not a false gospel of works then this preacher does not understand the meaning of words. This view is typical of both Catholics and mainline Protestants as well as Restorationist churches of various sorts such as Mormons and Campbellites. All add to the gospel their particular baptismal-regeneration ideas.

            Others among the ranks of “Christian” preachers – even among many calling themselves Baptists – take it upon themselves to teach that a sinner cannot be born again apart from doing this or that or the other. Now we grant that a born again person will do a lot of things, but the new birth does not come about because a person prays or makes a decision or “goes forward” or is baptized. Prayer and scriptural baptism have to do with conversion, but nothing to do with causing the new birth. (The new birth and conversion are not the same thing.) In fact the Bible does not anywhere tell us what it is that a person can do in order to be born again. The Bible says the new birth or regeneration is a work of the Spirit. Our Lord Himself said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” (John 3:6, 7). Why does not the Bible tell us what we must do in order to be born again? Because the new birth does not come about by any act of man! This is made even clearer by John 1:13 which tells us the reason that some people received Christ when He came. That verse says that those who received Christ did so because they “...were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” And yet some believe that a sinner can birth himself into the family of God by doing something. That is saying that the new birth is brought to pass “by the will of man,” but this last verse specifically negates that idea in toto. Not only is the exercise-your-will-in-order-to-be-born-again idea contrary to the metaphor (word picture) which presents regeneration as being a birth, it is in direct contradiction to the plain teaching of the Bible. (A baby is a passive participant in its birth: never causative. The mother labors, not the infant! So with the new birth: the sinner is born again by the Spirit of God not by his effort or exercising his will.) The Holy Spirit, by Paul, said, “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,” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Again in 2 Timothy 1:9 Paul wrote these words, speaking of God, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Did you get that? Grace was given to God's people who were “in Christ Jesus before the world began!” This is one of many verses which takes the new birth out of man's hands, showing us that salvation, including the new birth, is all in God's almighty hands and is a matter or pure unmerited favor. Have you come to see that? Do you believe that salvation comes by merited favor? Merited favor is not grace!

            What we are seeing in the superabundance of works-religion today (whether among the Catholics, Protestants or among some Baptists) is what our Lord prophesied. He said, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many,” (Matthew 24:5). What false preacher on the radio or TV has not boldly proclaimed “Jesus is Lord,” or, “Jesus is the Christ”? Even the “Jesus-only Pentecostals” with their works-for-salvation doctrine assert that Jesus is God and the Messiah. Indeed, “many” around the world are deceived by these preachers who claim to be from Christ. They loudly proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, God's Messiah and then go on to preach that works of one kind or another is necessary for salvation. They teach the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as payment for sins – usually for the sins of all men. Of course, Christ's work is not enough. You must add your faith or decision or baptism, etc., to be saved – according to them. In other words, they preach the powerless blood of a powerless Christ sent by a poor God up in Heaven who would like to save all men, but is powerless to do so! What blasphemy! We do not excuse their misapplication of the blood of Christ when they teach that the blood of Christ is not able to save those for whom it was shed, but the facts of the gospel are at times preached by them. It is their misapplication of Christ's blood, their false ideas regarding the ability of sinners, their additions to the gospel that make it a false gospel. These we cannot condone. Nor can we compromise with any who preach a false gospel.

            Yet Paul wrote that he rejoiced when his enemies mockingly proclaimed the gospel from evil motives – seeking to add to his suffering. We quoted in the beginning of this article his words on this matter. How could he rejoice at unsaved men mimicking his preaching? Ah, Brothers and Sisters, here is where the absolute sovereignty of God enters the picture. Proverbs 20:12 says, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.” Both the natural ear and the spiritual ear, as we say, and both the natural eye and the spiritual eye, God made them.  And while some people only hear and see physically with  natural vision and hearing, others are given “eyes to see and ears to hear,” (Deuteronomy 29:4). Are there not sound Brethren whose first real hearing of the gospel and initial conversion was under unsound preachers? We mean men who added to the Word of God by imposing works as a requirement for the new birth. Do not some preachers demand what no New Testament era preacher ever did? Do they not demand that the sinner “come forward” and “pray the sinner's prayer” in order to be born again? Do they not mistakenly claim that doing this is to “call upon the name of the Lord”? (Romans 10:13). And have not some hearers been regenerated and their conversion begun in spite of such additions to the gospel? Is not God able to cause one to hear the truth, repent and believe even when untrue statements are mixed in with the truth? Is God not able to cause a person to hear what He wants them to hear? Can He not shut their ears and eyes to any admixture of error in a man's sermon? This in no way excuses preachers from mixing error with truth. It in no way means that the members of the Lord's congregations should compromise with works-mongering preachers and churches.

            We have an example in the New Testament of a sinner who heard the gospel from the mocking lips of false religionists. Remember the thief nailed upon a tree alongside the Lord Jesus – the one that repented? Some have supposed that he heard the gospel prior to his being nailed to the tree. We cannot prove or disprove that because the Bible is silent on the matter so we must remain silent too. But what we do know is this: while hanging there beside the Lord Jesus he heard the truth about Christ. Mockers gathered around said, “He saved others...” and “...if he be Christ, the chosen of God,” (Luke 23:35). That thief, as did the other one, heard “saved others,” and “Christ” (Messiah), and “chosen of God.” Not only did this thief hear divine truth proclaimed in a derisive way by those standing around the execution site, he also joined in, repeating the same things. We know this from Matthew 27:44  which says: “The thieves also, which were crucified with him [Christ], cast the same in his teeth,” [brackets added]. Perhaps he had heard the Scriptures read in a synagogue – the verses that say, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law,” (Isaiah 42:1-4). “My servant!” God's “elect,” i.e., the Messiah! “He saved others!” “Christ!” “the chosen of God”! The thief heard divine truth even though he heard it spoken in derision and mockery. He heard the other thief and also heard himself saying the same things. But then something happened. Something the free-will crowd cannot explain. He was made alive by the Holy Spirit of God! And in that new birth the Holy Ghost gave him the gifts of repentance and faith – those inseparable twins! It must have been so for we read these words about saving faith: “...faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8). And again we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is... faith,” (Ephesians 5:22). Faith, that kind which is called “the faith of God's elect,” (Titus 1:1) is not the product of the sinner. Man does not naturally have it and cannot manufacture it. And so it was that one thief was enabled to hear with the spiritual ear. And although he heard the truth preached in a mocking fashion, he was given faith and therefore believed the truth. He was born again and therefore turned (repented) toward God and believed on Christ even in what was seemingly Messiah's darkest hour. He was given faith to believe in spite of circumstances. Probably he did not understand how Messiah could die, but he believed and expected Jesus Christ to come into His kingdom for he said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,” (Luke 23:42). He in so doing confessed Christ as his only hope! His understanding of divine truth, his becoming “light in the Lord,” (Ephesians 5:8), his turning to God (repentance) and his faith in Christ was all brought about by his new birth. Those who boast that it was their faith or their praying that brought about their spiritual birth do not understand 1 Corinthians 4:7. There the Holy Ghost said, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” Are you different from those around you? Have you been brought to repentance toward God? Do you have faith in Christ? Do you dare to think that you produced it? God says you received it!Understanding that all of salvation, including the new birth, is the work of God excludes boasting.

            This preacher often quotes from the old A.D. 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. It is not perfect and obviously it is not the Word of God. In spite of its weaknesses, it expresses very well what old-time Baptists believed about the new birth. More importantly, it expresses concisely, how God saves sinners. It was once the most popular Baptist confession in the Southern and Southwestern United States. The vast majority of older Baptist churches in those parts once agreed with it. Many churches adopted this confession as a statement of what they believed. Many others were organized on the basis of these truths. In spite of this, most Baptists today have never heard of this old confession. It is a sad fact that most of today's Baptists no longer believe what their old Baptist forefathers believed about the new birth. Therefore we include it here as proof of what the old-time Baptists believed and taught – what sound Baptists still believe and teach. Article 7 of that confession says: “We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.”  Old time Baptists believed– and some today still believe - that the Holy Spirit births people into God's family and that as a result of this regeneration or new birth there is a “voluntary obedience to the gospel.”  That is, the gospel is believed. Sound Baptists still believe that the evidence of the new birth is “repentance, and faith, and newness of life.” This is the truth, we believe, and also as the confession states, this new birth “is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth...” Yes, sometimes God causes men to hear “divine truth” with their spiritual ears even when preached mockingly or by one adverse to it – even when the preacher may go on to add his particular “hoop” which he says the sinner must jump through in order to be born again.

            It is evident that no man can save himself. It is also clear from the Bible that if God were not sovereign and almighty – able to do what He pleases in every situation – no man would ever be born again. After all, “the wind bloweth where it listeth [desires or chooses],” (John 3:8) indicating that the Holy Spirit also moves sovereignly, i.e., according to His own will. So like Paul, those who understand something of the sovereignty of God can rejoice whenever the gospel is preached. And just what is the gospel? Boiled down to its essence the gospel was made clear by Paul when he wrote: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Nothing here about God loving all men or trying to save all men if they will only let Him. Nothing here about coming forward or praying some magical prayer. Nothing here about being sprinkled or baptized. Have you “received” the gospel? Is it “wherein ye stand”? Do you “keep in memory” that good news? The good news or gospel is what Christ has done! It is the message of His death, burial and resurrection as God's Lamb. John the Baptist said of Him, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Have you eyes to behold Him? Do you see Him as God's sacrificial Lamb – your only hope? Has God given you repentance and faith? Have you been born again by the Holy Spirit of God? Do you, like Paul, rejoice whenever the gospel is preached? Remember, “Salvation is of the LORD,” (Jonah 2:9). Whenever the gospel of Christ is preached something happens: something that cannot be “revival-ized up.” Hearers either reject the truth or they repent and believe. And no man can stop either of those things from happening. When God is pleased to birth into His family those whom He wills to save, the new birth takes place as the old confession says, “in connection with divine truth,” or as our title says, “Whenever The Gospel Is Preached.” Let us do two things: first of all let us rejoice that God is sovereign and almighty – i.e., well able to birth into His family those who hear the gospel even when preached mockingly and for the wrong reasons. Second, let us be faithful in speaking the “divine truth” - i.e., the gospel to others. By giving, going, praying, preaching and witnessing to lost men and women, let us be busy “pulling them out of the fire,” (Jude 1:23).

 


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