Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Different Responses to God's Word

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
Why are there very different responses to the preaching of God's Word? Is not often the same Word preached? How is it possible that one bows before God's Word while another rejects this same Word? This is a tremendous reality, which we see already in the Bible. Just think of Cain and Abel. Consider the line of the generations after Seth over against the generations coming from the line of Cain. After Noah we see the difference between the line of Shem and the line of Ham. Later we see the same with the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael. Esau and Jacob are other examples.

Both lived under the same Word. Why does one respond favourably and the other negatively? What is the cause of theses different responses? We are faced here with the relationship between man's responsibility and the sovereignty of God. Although man is fully responsible, at the same time, in an unfathomable manner, we see God's sovereign dealings with man.

Cain was sincerely called. Ishmael lived under the reality of God's offer of salvation. Esau was called. But they were all indifferent. They rejected God's offer of grace. God didn't reject His offer to them, but they themselves rejected GodÕs offer. Esau sold his birth right and Cain rejected God's dealings with him.

Thomas Boston said somewhere that the most difficult word spoken to a sinner by God is the word: ÒCome. ÒYet God proclaims throughout all Scripture that He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner. God calls sinners to salvation. He invites them to come to salvation. The Lord Jesus weeps over impenitent sinners, but He also punishes them. Christ, hanging on the cross with outstretched arms, is an illustration of the Gospel. See Ezekiel 33:11, "As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"

God's Word shows us that there is a two-fold calling with a two-fold effect. Among those who hear the Word there are those who turn to God and believe, while others reject God's Word in unbelief. Some Scripture references are Acts 14:2; 19:9; 1 Peter 2:8; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Hebrews 2:4; as well as Acts 13:48; Ephesians 2:8, etc.

The difference is only to be explained in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit. If the Word of God is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, He penetrates the heart with His Word. Our hearts are so hardened that we cannot turn to God, unless God's Spirit applies His Word to our hearts. Then and only then sinners are brought to conversion and led into communion with Christ. In such hearts the Image of God is renewed and the beginning of the restoration of that Image takes place.

The deepest reason for this two-fold response to the Word of God is God's sovereign election. Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore hath He mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth." In His Word God refers to His decree of election, but this matter of election is not a barrier to salvation, but the gate to salvation. Election opens the way to salvation.

Election is not referred to as a starting point, but as an end point. Election is brought into the way of salvation in hindsight. God does not approach lost guilty sinners with election, but with His willingness and ability to save them. When people receive the rich blessings in Christ, they are led back to their election in Him, as we see for instance in Ephesians 1.

This special work of God's Spirit in the heart is also called the internal call. Wilhelmus ‡ Brakel describes as follows. It is

the internal call which in Scripture is called a heavenly calling
(Heb.3:1), a calling according to God's purpose (Rom.8:28), the
opening of the heart (Acts 16:14), a resurrection from the dead
and a quickening (Eph.2:5Ð6), God's drawing (Jn.6:44), a
deliverance from the power of darkness and a translation into the
kingdom of Christ (Col.1:13), and a calling out of darkness into
His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). All this phraseology gives
expression to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit who, in
conjunction with and by means of the Word of God, operates upon
the inner man, that is, his intellect, its eyes being enlightened
eyes (Eph.1:18). Furthermore, He operates upon the will,
inclining it toward love for the heavenly benefits to be found in
Christ Jesus, and to the very act of receiving Christ (Phil.2:13).

How does this internal working of God's Spirit in the heart take place? This is how Brakel explains it:

When God calls someone internally, this rarely occurs suddenly as
appears to have been the case in the conversions of Zacchaeus,
the murderer on the cross, and others. Albeit that for some the
act whereby a sinner is translated into the kingdom of heaven and
made aliveÑthat is, being dead one moment and alive the next
moment (there being no intermediate state)Ñthe Lord generally
uses some internal and external preparations, such as poverty,
tragic occurrences, loss of property or loved ones, earthquakes,
war, pestilence, danger of death, illness, or other things. This
causes the person to become unsettled; he begins to contemplate
repentance, the Word of God takes hold, he is convinced of sin,
and he begins to perceive what eternal condemnation is. He also
becomes acquainted with the Lord Jesus and with the blessedness
of believers, and he desires to be in such a condition. He reads
the Word, prays, joins himself to the godly, escapes the gross
pollution of the world, etc. These matters are but common
convictions which are experienced by the unconverted as well as
the elect. Many such individuals turn back and depart from the
way upon which they first seemed to have entered. When the time
arrives, however, the Lord will translate His elect into His
kingdom by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.

The Word of God comes to all hearers. Some repent and believe the Gospel and we conclude that in their hearts there was an internal call. God's Spirit penetrated their hearts with His Word. They are saved by God's gracious electing love.

Others hear the same Word, reject it and cast it away in unbelief. In their lives the call was only an external call. From God's side the call through His Word was sincere and well meant. It was a genuine offer of grace, but they rejected it in unbelief. They are fully responsible for their refusal of the Gospel.

This is how we must view these mysteries, for otherwise we fall into the snare that we blame God for our unconverted state. Then we say: It was only an external calling, so I really couldn't do anything with it anyway, and we make excuses. But fact is that we have no excuse whatsoever. All are called. If we don't come to faith and conversion it is not because of God, but because of our own guilt and unwillingness. On the other hand, if we have come to faith and do repent, that is not because of our willingness but because of God's pure mercy and grace in our life.

Man is to be blamed for his unbelief, but God receives the honour when there is faith in our life. That is how God's Word explains the different responses to God's call. This explanation is beyond our understanding. We may not reason here, but listen to God's Word.

Man is stubborn and unwilling to bow before God, but by GodÕs irresistible power hearts are broken and sinners are saved by His grace. God is under no obligation to work that grace. It is free grace. On the other hand there is no one who should say: I may not come; the Gospel is not for me. You may never say that. You are to be focused upon the Word of God as it comes to you. The Canons of Dordt (III/IV, 8,9,10 ) tell us that God unfeignedly calls all who are under the Gospel and to whom are extended the promises of His grace in the preaching of the Word.

Let us never forget that God's Word is a good Word. We should never say: ÒI am only under the external call of the Word.Ó We all are under the full and sincere Word of God! You are never allowed to say: ÒI am just under the external Word of God and if God wants me He will convert me.Ó Such talk makes God the cause of your unbelief. The Lord tells us to bow before Him and to seek His grace. He promises to hear the sinner who calls upon Him through Christ Jesus.

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