Preaching the Gospel with Precision

I decided to read a couple of Spurgeon’s sermons today. It’s been some time since I have done so, but I think it is a good habit to read and to learn from those who are considered to be the best. Spurgeon was indeed a great preacher. Some would say the “Prince of Preachers”, and a highly effective evangelist at that. In reading his sermon,”The Death of Christ”, I was struck by how careful he was in choosing his words when speaking of the atonement and its effect.

Telling of the crucifixion, Spurgeon says,

“And now the soldiers lift the cross, and dash it down into the socket prepared for it. His bones are every one of them dislocated, and his body is thus torn with agonies which cannot be described. ‘Tis manhood suffering there; ’tis the Church suffering there, in the substitute. And when Christ dies, you are to look upon the death of Christ, not as His own dying merely, but as the dying of all those for whom He stood as the scape-goat and the substitute. It is true, Christ died really Himself; it is equally true that He did not die for Himself, but died as the substitute, in the room, place, and stead of all believers. When you die you will die for yourselves; when Christ died, He died for you if you are a believer in Him.”

This is indeed the proper way to talk about the atonement. Christ died as the substitute for all who would believe in him. To say that Christ has died as the substitute for all, as so many do today, is misleading and contrary to scripture. If He has died as the substitute for all, then all have their sins covered, the price of their sin having been paid! If in our evangelism we say, “Jesus died for you“, without the qualifying statement, “if you are a believer in Him“, we mishandled the gospel.

Preaching a sloppy gospel, contrary to the gospel of Christ and the apostles, carries serious implications. In the worst case, we would be heard as saying that Christ’s work has universal effectiveness; He served as the substitute for all, therefore, no response is needed! In the best case, people would rightly understand that repentance and faith is required, but great damage is done to the biblical teaching concerning the effectiveness of the atonement.

The Bible teaches that when Christ died he paid for sins effectively. If we are in Christ, our sins were paid for on the cross which is why Jesus was able to utter the words, “it is finished.” To teach that the atonement is available to all and yet only effective to some is to undermine the clear teaching of scripture that Jesus finished the job on the cross. We do not somehow activate the atonement through faith. The atonement is definite and precise, accomplished as a real event in real history. This is why Jesus says in John 10:15, “I lay down my life for my sheep”, and in John 17:19, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you [the Father] have given me, for they are yours.” This is why the writer of Hebrews says that, “After making purification for sins, He [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3), and “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).

To say to the non-believer, “Jesus died for you”, or “Jesus loves you”, without any qualifying remark is actually a hindrance to the gospel, though it might at first seem to take the edge off in a beneficial sort of way. Jesus did not preach this way. The apostles did not preach this way. Given the biblical teaching on the effectiveness of the atonement, to say, “Jesus died for you”, is to say “your sins have been paid for!” Similarly, to say, “Jesus loves you”, is to say, “you are good where you are at; no need for anything to change!” Clearly this is not the gospel. Search through the book of Acts; never is the gospel preached in these terms.

We are tempted to preach the gospel this way because it does take the edge off a bit. The gospel presented in this way is a bit softer; it goes down a little easier. But therein lies the problem. The gospel is not supposed to be soft. Its effectiveness in bringing people to repentance is due, in part, to the fact that it is offensive. The offensiveness of the gospel is used by the Holy Spirit to awaken men and women to the reality and severity of their situation before God. Paul acknowledges that the gospel is offensive, but nevertheless, he preached it with precision because “it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16).

The gospel is not, “Jesus loves you”, in an unqualified sense. It is actually quite the opposite. In succinct terms the gospel is, “you are an enemy of God and Christ because of your sin; you are under His wrath; judgement awaits; but Christ has provided a way according to the scriptures; repent, therefore, and believe for the forgiveness of sins.”

The gospel is not, “Jesus died for you”, in an unqualified sense. But rather, “Jesus has atoned for the sins of all who believe. Repent, therefore, and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” Of course tact is needed in presenting these truths, and it always must be in love; but we are not free to change the message.

This is the way that the apostles preached the gospel. Please, look through the book of Acts and see for yourself. It is probably the best place to look, given that it tells us all about the acts of the apostles and the gospel they preached. We are called to preach the same gospel, not an edited down, and softened version.

It seems to me that Spurgeon is a good example to us in that he was a man deeply committed to the proclamation of the gospel, deeply passionate about seeing people saved, and yet his passion did not lead him to preach a sloppy gospel. He handled the gospel with precision and care, speaking about the substitutionary atonement in careful terms. We would do well to follow his example both in passion for the gospel preached and the precision with which we communicate it.

In His Grace,


via Preaching the Gospel with Precision « On the Road to Emmaus.

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