Watch your terms when preaching the Gospel
H. J. Saxelby, Australia
THERE ARE THREE TERMS frequently used in the preaching of the Gospel which, although they do not occur in Scripture, are nevertheless put forth as though they had all the authority of Scripture behind them. They are namely, 'Christ bore your sins'; 'Christ paid your debt'; 'Christ died in your room and stead'. Remembering 1 Thess. 5. 21, 'Prove all things; hold fast that which is good', let us seek to prove these Statements by Scripture. There are three tests at least which we may apply. First by the plain statement of Scripture; second by the parabolic teaching, and third by the typical teaching. By the first test we say definitely that the three terms referred to above do not occur in that form in Scripture. They are human deductions based upon false premises.
The first, 'He (Christ) bore your sins', is probably taken from John 1. 29 where John the Baptist introducing the Messiah to Israel said, 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin (not SINS) of the world'. This does not mean that the SINS of the world are removed or taken away, but that SIN which prevented a holy God in His love from blessing the sinner, would be so dealt with that God would no longer be prevented from forgiving and blessing the repentant and believing sinner. If it meant that the world's sins were taken away, then God could not enter into judgment with a single soul, nor could anyone be lost, and we would have straight out universal salvation; and there is no teaching in Scripture to support such a theory. We do not believe that this Scripture has any reference to individual sins, but to SIN, that evil principle which was introduced into God's fair creation and blighted the whole universe; that sin which Christ dealt with at Calvary when He came to destroy the works of the devil, and which He will ultimately purge and banish from the creation ere He hands the kingdom back to the Father, when He has put down all rule and authority, that God may be all in all, I Cor. 15. 24-28.
On the other hand the statement may have been deduced from 1 Pet. 2. 24, 'Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree'. This does not say 'Who . . . bare your sins' but 'Who . . . bare our sins', that is, Peter's and those of all other believers. Peter here was not preaching the Gospel to the unsaved, but was exhorting the believers to patience and fortitude in suffering, setting before them the example of the Lord Jesus, see v. 21 and context. This passage has no reference whatever to the unconverted, to whom Christ is never set forth as an example.
It may be those who use the expression 'Christ paid your debt' do not distinguish between purchase and redemption, two altogether different things in the Word of God.
The second epistle of Peter, 2. 1, refers to false teachers, who even deny the Lord, and bring upon themselves swift destruction - yet it is said that the Lord 'bought' them.
Purchase is wide and general in its scope and application, whereas redemption is individual and personal.
In the parabolic teaching of Matt. 13. 44 the man (the Lord Jesus) is seen as buying the field (that is the world of mankind, Matt. 13. 38), but this is not redemption. We also read in Heb. 2. 9 that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man, but again this is not redemption, though He, by that death, made redemption available to all mankind. In the epistle to the Ephesians, 1. 13, we learn that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit, that is, those who are redeemed, Eph. i. 7, 'through his blood and have forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace'. It therefore follows that those who are not sealed by the Spirit are not redeemed, as we have in Rom. 8. 9, 'Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his'.
Purchase was a transaction between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Man was not consulted. He was not asked if he was agreeable to it, if he would object, or if he would consent to it. It was a matter between the Father and the Son and was effected independently and apart from and outside of human counsels altogether.
On the other hand, in the matter of redemption man is consulted. He is commanded to repent, Acts 17. 30, and desired and entreated to accept the gift of God which is eternal life in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The individual must yield, submit, surrender and accept the mercy of God in Christ Jesus or he cannot be redeemed.
Thus we learn that purchase is general, whereas redemption is individual, personal, vital contact with the risen Lord, Eph. 1. 7-13.
Finally the term, 'He (Christ) died in your room and stead'. This is probably deduced from the typical teaching of the book of Leviticus regarding the sin offering, where the victim dies in the stead of the sinning Israelite. But here again the teaching has no reference to die unredeemed. Those to whom the ordinance of the sin offering was given were a 'people saved by the Lord'. They were already a redeemed people. They had been sheltered by the blood of the lamb in Egypt. The sinning Israelite who brought his sin offering could not offer it without the services of the priest, and his title to the services of the priest lay in the fact that he had been sheltered (at least representatively) by the blood in Egypt. Moreover, it is generally recognized that the apostles did not preach the Gospel in language borrowed from the sin offering. Furthermore, we conclude that, if anyone can have 'his sins borne by Christ', or 'Christ pay his debt' or 'Christ die in his room and stead', and yet be finally and eternally lost (and those who refuse the Gospel will be lost) then the case is hopeless. There would be no hope for the human race, and the message of the Gospel would be nothing but a farce. But no, a thousand times no, our God is not a God like that. Those who have had their sins borne by Christ, their debt paid by Christ, or Christ die in their room and stead are saved, gloriously and eternally saved. Our Lord taught that there are two roads and two destinies, and it behoves all who preach the Gospel to take care with their terms and the Scriptures they use, lest they lead those on the broad road to assume that they are on the narrow road. How solemn our responsibility.
It may be objected that sinners are saved by the usual defective method of preaching, so why the concern? In reply, we would say 'Thank God, some are saved, perhaps in spite of, rather than because of, such preaching'. The reason is that God is sovereign and where there is a seeking sinner there is always a seeking Saviour, and God will not allow a seeking soul to be lost because His servant cannot, or does not, faithfully represent Him. However, this in no way relieves the preacher of his responsibility either Godward or manward.