by J.H. Gosden
“We believe that the invitations of the gospel, being spirit and life (that is, under the influence of the Holy Spirit), are intended only for those who have been made by the blessed Spirit to feel their lost state as sinners and their need of Christ as their Savior, and to repent of and forsake their sins.” As distinct from general invitations and promises of temporal benefits and national blessings, which are conditional, divine gospel invitations and promises cannot be fortuitous, but must surely be determinate (Eph. 1. 11).
If God intends saving good to a person, nothing can frustrate that intention (Rom. 8:28-31). Through the effectual operations of the Holy Ghost, gospel invitations eventually meet with a heart-felt response from those to whom they are given, as being exactly answerable to their condition. They are spoken to definite characters, and usually have attached to them gracious promises of suitable blessing upon compliance. What, for instance, could be more fitting for heavy laden, weary labourers than to be invited to come to the Lord Jesus Christ, who assures them rest in Himself (Matt. 11:28)? But what meaning would such an invitation and promise have for those who never felt the weight of guilt, and were never wearied with labouring without success to keep the whole law of God.
How suitable to thirsty people is an invitation to the all-satisfying waters of divine life and grace, mercy, love and truth which issue from the river of God which is full of water and the streams whereof make glad the city of God (Isa. 55:1, Psa. 46:4)! And what more congruous than for bankrupts, fraudulently insolvent, to be bidden come and regale themselves with wine and milk, and enrich themselves with gold tried in the fire, on gospel terms -without money and without price?” Christ charged on the Laodiceans the folly of an ignorant imagination of independence., and discovered to them their entire wretchedness, before inviting them to “buy” the enriching provisions of His free market (Rev. 3:16-18).
God’s intention does not rest upon the concurrence of the persons invited, but their compliance arises from the divine determination to do them good (Jer. 31 40; Phil, 2, 13). Without doubt there is a concurrence between the inscrutable sovereign will of God (His intention of grace) and the renewed will of a regenerate sinner. Divine power brings this about, according to the important and discriminating word of Christ: “All that the, Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Very definitely the Savior denies that any others ever do come to Him (ver. 44).
Who would say that the invitations and promises are intended for those who never come? Would an all-wise and righteous God invite those from whom He withholds the requisite influence of invincible grace to bring them into compliance with His holy gospel? Or is His knowledge so imperfect that He is unaware who will and who will not respond, and consequently must issue invitations promiscuously? It is surely blasphemy to think thus! Can it therefore be other than misleading for ministers indiscriminately to scatter invitations among a mixed congregation?
True, our knowledge of who are the Lord’s elect people can be but very imperfect and partial. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is a divinely-given rule. Consequently it is imperative first to describe the character of sin, to show the condition of mankind under the law, their need of mercy and salvation; then to preach salvation as accomplished by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to “testify repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20. 21), describing the character of those who are invited – the lost, the lame, the halt, the blind, the sick, and not the whole.
Fitness for Christ’s outstretching invitations and His attractive promises is not in creature merit, but is in an urgent felt need of the very blessings contained in the gospel of salvation.
Hunger and thirst after righteousness is a condition indicative of soul life and health, into which divine grace alone can bring one. These only are the intended objects of gospel invitations and promises; to them God determines and ultimately conveys the blessings of a full and free and everlasting salvation. Similarly, the state of godly mourning for sin, fitting a person for the enjoyment of divine pardon, accompanies free grace, and is pre-supposed in the invitations. Inviting people to repent or to come to Christ, apart from such “breaking up of the fallow ground,” is much like sowing amongst thorns, which appears strangely inconsistent (Jer. 4:3; Hos. 10. 12), Yet we must guard against discouraging a coming sinner by imposing conditions. One hymn-writer puts it very simply:
“All the fitness He requireth,
‘Tis to feel your need of Him:
This He gives you
Its His Spirit’s rising beam.”
Whilst it is solemnly true that in a state of nature NONE of the sons of men will come to Christ for life (John 5:40), it seems most inappropriate to invite such as have no realization of their desperate need to come for what they can have no desire, Let a man be first convinced of his sin and ruin, and shown the all sufficiency of Christ for salvation, then invitations are blessedly fitting, and gospel promises most attractive and amazing. Yet such is the condition of a convicted sinner that the invitation requires almost to take on the nature of “compulsion” to overcome the diffidence frequently felt.
“Why was I made to hear His voice,
And enter while there’s room
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
“‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced me in,
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sin-
It behooves us poor, ignorant, sinful mortals to consider with deepest reverence divine “intentions,” But in-so-far as God has revealed Himself in His Word, it is preposterous to think otherwise than that He intends precisely what He says, and says exactly what He intends. “I saith not to the seed of Jacob. Seek ye me in vain” (Isa. 45:19). When He said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find-, knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Christ was inviting His disciples to importunate prayer, assuring them of success (Luke 11:1-13). For whom would this be intended but for those who felt needy, helpless, outcast and poor? How many fearful, tempted sinners not as yet assured of their interest in the blessings of the gospel, have been emboldened by such divine invitations to venture to ask, seek, knock and to wait with an expectancy based upon the gracious pledge of success! When a minister perceives in his congregation such poor, hungry, guilty, troubled sinners how he will “draw out his soul unto them” (Isa. 58:10) and “compel” them to come in (Luke 14:23)!
But it will be said that that very parable shows many who were bidden but found excuses, and does not that really prove that the invitations of the gospel are intended for them also? We think not, The secret purpose of God concerning every individual of the human race (and every angel and devil), though hidden from us, is determined in the divine mind (Rom. 9:18 2Pet.2:4-5). That many never repent or believe the gospel, who yet come under the outward sound of the Word and hear mention of the invitations, is not in our mind the same thing as God intending to bless them with salvation if only they will concur. That would make gospel blessings contingent on man’s will.
Ultimately all the elect of God are “made willing in the day of Christ’s power” in their own experience, and being then thoroughly convinced of their sin and brought to repentance, the invitations and promises of the gospel are made spirit and life in their producing a heart-felt thankful response.
“Lo, glad I come. and Thou, blest Lamb,
Shalt take me to Thee as I am
Nothing but sin I Thee can give,
Nothing but love shall I receive.”
When the Lord Jesus circulates that broad invitation, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17) His intention was to extend it – and to limit it to those possessed of a willingness. Whence comes this willingness? Divine grace alone produces it, changing that inveterate “will not” of John 5:40 into a sweetly compliant, “Behold, we come unto Thee for Thou art the Lord our God” (Jer, 3:22). Where is a willing sinner but is taught the truth of Hart’s word:
“Death’s within thee, all about thee
But the remedy’s without thee:
See it in thy Saviour’s blood”
In regard to the solemn inexcusability of all who despise the gospel under the sound of which they may be brought through divine providence, the Lord’s own words are’: “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust” (John 5:45). Grace, through faith and repentance – Christ’s own precious gifts – alone can deliver from condemnation. If ye believe not that I AM (He), ye shall die in your sins.” “Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish” (John 8:24. Luke 13:3). Paul strikes a solemn note of warning: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” – an antidote to fatalism, without suggesting a contingent salvation.
“Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and causest to approach unto Thee” (Psa. 65:4), Making divine invitations effectual in the heart’s experience. Eternally blessed they who shall receive that final invitation, that welcome command: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).