by W. F. Bell
Free Grace Broadcaster
March-April 1988 - Issue 124

    "Knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel" (Philippians 1:17). These words of Paul give us an insight into Paul's understanding of doctrinal Christianity. He goes on to say to the Philippian church: "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (1:27). The gospel was so important to Paul as to call forth all our energies for it in "standing fast" and "striving together" for its "faith."

Why must the gospel be defended? Why must we labor in preaching, warning, and teaching to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:28)? Is it really worth all the striving and sweating? Is it really worth it to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3)? "Contend," yes, but how do we do this in a day of ecumenicalism?

Our Lord clearly said to his disciples: "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Matthew 10:22). And again, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). So, when we declare the gospel of Christ in its purity and power, we most definitely will encounter the hatred of the world, even the religious world. Yet, at all costs, to each and every new generation, we must proclaim loudly the doctrines of the New Testament!

The Sad Departure of the Modem Church

    Sadly, our contemporary church situation finds us in a radical departure from essential Bible doctrines. As Erroll Hulse has stated, "The resounding heresy of this age is Modernism which Kuyper described as 'bewitchingly beautiful.' Rampant Arminianism, not to say Pelagianism, is the heresy of modem day evangelicalism while Modernism is the foremost destructive force of Christendom" (Reformation Today, Number 68,1982, p. 1). All the major denominations have embraced modernistic/liberal views concerning God, the Bible, Christ, sin, salvation, practical holiness, and proper church order. Religious presses turn out thousands of pieces of literature directly encouraging unbelief in doctrinal Christianity. Radio preachers, television preachers, and many pulpiteers join this army of scoffers daily, belching out the venom of free willism, Arminianism, dispensationalism, antinomianism, and humanism.

We must be clear and precise as to what we really believe! The gospel has not changed! It is timeless! Many today make the plea, "Don't preach doctrine to us. Just preach Jesus." This may sound pious and good to modern ears, but it is fatally deceptive, and actually anti-Biblical. There is no way to preach the Christ of Scripture without preaching doctrine! Others hide behind the saying, "Christ is our creed," but this too is a watered-down version of true Christianity in many cases.

The Grace-Oriented Gospel

    The true gospel of God's Word is the gospel of grace. By this we mean a definite body of revealed truth that announces in no uncertain terms that "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). Not that God merely "tries" to save men, but that from first to last the Almighty has planned, purposed, purchased, and procured the actual salvation of an innumerable multitude of Adam's fallen race. This body of doctrine has been nicknamed "Calvinism," but this is not a good term, for it is both unscriptural and confusing. John Calvin did not originate this doctrinal position, but rather it came from the apostles. The term "Calvinism" means different things to different people, some thinking it means that if one calls himself a "Calvinist," then this person must believe everything that Calvin taught and did! How untrue this is. We do not subscribe to all the teachings of Calvin, or to any other mortal. Our doctrinal convictions must lie in the inspired writings of the apostles, and if they cannot be found there, we do not have true Christianity.

    There has been a rich heritage of grace-oriented men and women through the ages of the true church. We feel this gospel of grace came to its greatest expression in the days of the Puritans and Reformers. For sure, there were those who believed these doctrines before the Puritans, but it was only after the dawn of the Reformation that doctrinal lines were clearly drawn between the true and false church. Our position is unashamedly that of the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, and of its later counterpart, the London Confession of Faith of 1689 (and in America, the Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742). These Presbyterian and Baptist documents need to be rediscovered by the modern church. Thankfully, many have rediscovered them to their spiritual edification and benefit.

This is not to say that we accept any "Confession" as being equal to Scripture. It goes without saying that we would never do that. All we admit is: we need something that clearly defines our doctrinal beliefs, and in the above named Confessions we feel this has been done. As B. B. Warfield said in 1892: "It is not a time in which to whisper the truth in doubtful phrases, but to shout it from the housetops in the clearest and sharpest language in which it can be framed. Distinctive Calvinism must be upheld against both Arminianism and the subtler Arminianism which the German mediating theology is giving such vogue among us. . ." (The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, April 1892, pp. 329-330). These words were written with special reference to the controversy of the late 1800s within Presbyterianism to revise the Westminster Standards. Warfield was an able theologian who opposed such revision. For further insight into this controversy see the recently reprinted book, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed by W. G. T. Shedd (Banner of Truth, 1986).

Some Doctrinal Giants in Theology

    We must ever learn from the past, especially church history. We look hard to find men in our day who even remotely resemble
the doctrinal giants of yesteryear. Such men as Calvin,
Luther, Owen, Edwards, Thornwell, Dabney -these all shine brightly among true theologians. We thank God for the recent lives and testimonies of such men as Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Murray also. Among the Baptists we rejoice to name John Bunyan, C. H. Spurgeon, J. C. Philpot, J. L. Dagg, James P. Boyce, and Arthur W. Pink. Probably our greatest theologian among Baptists was John Gill, whose massive works continue to be unequaled. These were great theologians, and we owe a great debt to them, under God. There have been numerous "lesser lights" also, such as Augustus Toplady, John Newton, George Whitefield, William Huntington, John L. Girardeau, and Robert Webb. Indeed, "The lines are fallen [to us] in pleasant places; yea, [we] have a goodly heritage" (Psalm 16:6).

    Let one of the above men speak to us, in his own powerful way:

     "Is God's will the sole rule of right? Some have seemed to find this question very intricate, if we may judge by their differences. Let us discriminate clearly then, that by God's will here we mean His volition in the specific sense, and not will in the comprehensive sense of the whole conative powers. The question is perspicuously stated in this form: Are the precepts right solely because God commands; or does He command because they are in themselves right? The latter is the true answer. Let it be understood again, that God's precepts are, for us, an actual, a perfect and a supreme rule of right. No Christian disputes this. For God's moral title as our Maker, Owner and Redeemer, with the perfect holiness of His nature, makes it unquestionable that our rectitude is always in being and doing just what He requires" (R. L. Dabney, The Practical Philosophy, 1897, p. 287; Sprinkle Publications, 1984 reprint).

     "The moral perfections of God, along with His attributes of omniscience, wisdom and power, entitle Him to our admiration and trust. Since we all transgress His will, the duty of sincere repentance follows as a necessary inference. That this repentance must prompt reformation, is too plain to need argument" (Ibid., p.517).

Are these words from a prince among theologians too deep for us today? Living in a time when even preachers deny "moral absolutes," we know this is directly traceable to a rejection of the absolute sovereignty of the infinite-personal God. In other words, our "theology" is so faulty and unscriptural, in consequence we do "dispute" Dabney's arguments that "God's precepts are, for us, an actual, a perfect and a supreme rule of right. "

Coming to the doctrine of election, listen to J. L. Dagg:


"All who will finally be saved, were chosen to salvation by God the Father, before the foundation of the world, and given to Jesus Christ in the covenant of grace (Eph. 1:4,5; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2:9; John 6:37; Rom. 8:33; John 10:27-29). . . . The Scriptures clearly teach, that God has an elect or chosen people. . . . The Scriptures teach expressly, that God's people are chosen to salvation. . . . The Scriptures plainly teach that the election of grace is from eternity. . . . The Scriptures teach that election is of grace, and not of works. . . . From the views which have been presented, it necessarily follows, that election is not on the ground of foreseen faith or obedience. . . . The discriminating grace which God bestows, is not on the ground of faith and obedience previously existing, but for a reason known only to God himself. This  unrevealed reason, and not foreseen faith and obedience, is the ground of election. . . . Election is ascribed to God the Father, redemption to God the Son, and sanctification to God the Holy Spirit. . . . Those who are not included in the election of grace, are called, in Scripture, 'the rest' (Rom. 11:7), and 'vessels of wrath' (Rom. 9:22). . ." (Manual of Theology, 1857, pp. 309-313; Sprinkle Publications, 1982 reprint).

    When we listen, however, to modem preaching, for the most part this doctrine above affirmed is totally denied and rejected. Because men cannot supposedly "reconcile" the doctrine of election with their concept of the invitations and commands of Scripture, God is charged with insincerity! But, as Dagg said, "We ought to remember that we are worms of the dust, and that it is criminal arrogance in us to judge and condemn the infinite God."


The Doctrine of Scripture Essential

    We must remember that the first priority of God's Word is for "doctrine" (2 Timothy 3:16). The preacher-teacher must be first and foremost a teacher of "sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). Without this solid foundation we have nothing on which to build the Christian faith or the Christian life.

    Let us return then to "the old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16) of the great doctrines of God's eternal Word. Let us thunder forth anew divine sovereignty, the holy and righteous character of the triune God, as well as the complete and successful work of the Mediator, along with the effectual grace of the Holy Spirit. God is still God; he is not "trying" to do anything. He DOES according to his sovereign will, and no creature can resist him (Daniel 4:35). Christ Jesus is Jehovah's "mighty arm," bringing salvation to the ends of the earth (Psalm 89:13; Isaiah 59:16). The Holy Spirit is not "trying" to convict and regenerate men, but calls effectually all the blood-bought children of God: "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).

    Let us renounce humanism and reliance on free will. Let us embrace in living, vital faith the Lord Jesus Christ for who he really is-our Prophet, Priest, and King. "To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen" (Romans 16:27).