Joel’s Prophecy of Pentecost: Its Scope, Fulfillment, and Significance

Introduction

Joel 2:28-32 gives the highly important prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord and associated events. Four elements of God’s provision according to the prophecy can be summarized: (1) He would pour out His Spirit on all people; (2) He would provide prophecy, dreams, and visions; (3)He would give cosmic signs; and (4) He would deliver a remnant in Jerusalem.

Its Scope

Let us focus our attention on the significant fact that the LORD would pour out His Spirit on all people. The phrase “poured out” connects this to Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29. It also speaks of an inexhaustible abundance, like giving of abundant rain (v. 23). All Israel will receive this, including sons and daughters, old and young men, slaves and women. As Keil mentions,

“The outpouring of the Spirit upon slaves (men-servants and maidens) is connected by vegam, as being something very extraordinary, and under existing circumstances not to be expected. Not a single case occurs in the whole of the Old Testament of a salve receiving the gift of prophecy. Amos, indeed, was a poor shepherd servant, but not an actual slave. And the communication of this gift to slaves was irreconcilable with the position of slaves under the Old Testament. Consequently even the Jewish expositors could not reconcile themselves to this announcement. The lxx, by rendering it ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους μου καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς δούλας μου, have put servants of God in the place of the slaves of men; and the Pharisees refused to the ὄχλος even a knowledge of the law (John 7:49). The gospel has therefore also broken the fetters of slavery.”

Some take this to mean just the national of Israel, pointing to the phrase “your sons,” etc. However, as Keil goes on to point out, “the word all does not do away with the limitation to one particular nation, but merely that in this one nation even the limits of sex, age, and rank are abolished; since it cannot be proved that the specification in Joel 2:2 and Joel 2:3 is intended to exhaust the idea of ‘all flesh’.”

Moreover, as the prophecy of Joel had respect primarily to Judah, Joel may primarily have brought into prominence, and specially singled out of the general idea of kol-bâsâr in Joel 2:28 and Joel 2:29, only those points that were of importance to his contemporaries, viz., that all the members of the covenant nation would participate in this outpouring of the Spirit, without regard to sex, age, or rank; and in so doing, he may have looked away from the idea of the entire human race, including all nations, which is involved in the expression “all flesh.”

While it is interesting to note that the Jews did interpret this to mean only their nation. This is why the Jewish Christians were astonished that the Spirit was poured out upon the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:45. This prophecy must apply to all who call upon the name of the LORD, which MUST be interpreted to include Gentiles, unless we wish to deny the use of this phrase in the NT. This naturally leads us to consider,

Its Fulfillment

When will this prophecy be fulfilled? This passage is finding its fulfillment since the day of Pentecost and will find its further fulfillment in the tribulation period, Second Coming of Christ, and the subsequent national restoration of Israel. The ultimate fulfillment of this passage is found in the millennium.

In connection with its fulfillment, we must note the quotation of this passage by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21); this has engendered no small debate. Some believe that it is best to see the events of Acts 2 as analogous to the predictions of Joel in light of the fact that the first three elements cited above were not being fulfilled at the time that Peter quotes the passage from Joel. The Spirit had only come upon the twelve apostles, not all the people. The speaking in tongues in the passage apparently needed no interpretation and may not constitute prophecy, dreams, and visions. There were certainly no cosmic signs on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, Joel’s prophecy of the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh is yet to be fulfilled. This passage gives what has been called, based upon terminology from Jeremiah 31:31-34, the new covenant that in the latter days will replace the Old Covenant for the nation of Israel. The mention of the day of the Lord in the passage assures that its fulfillment is associated with the end time scenario of tribulation and judgment.

However, the church has seen this as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy since its inception. The best way to see this passage is the beginning of the fulfillment, which is being fulfilled in the present age and come to a completion at the time the Spirit is poured out upon the children of Israel at their conversion. Also, the New Covenant is very much in force, having replaced the old.  Let us then consider,

Its Significance

The significance of Pentecost is seen in empowerment. This is the primary focus of our Lord as well as the book of Acts. While other significances connected with Pentecost, as we have outlined above in the introduction, the NT seems to focus on the element of empowerment. A primary ministry of the Spirit is empowerment for service. It is in this area that we observe a major difference in the Spirit’s work between the OT believer and the NT believer. In the OT, the Spirit imparted this power for service to selected people, such as the craftsmen for the tabernacle, leaders, judges, kings, and prophets. It is with reference to these selective groups of people that reference is made to the Spirit’s activity in the OT. He would come upon them and equip them for service. This was not related to their personal holiness, as demonstrated in the lives of Samson and Balaam, but was for the purpose of carrying out a God-ordained ministry.

At Pentecost all of this changed. Now, rather than just a select few equipped to serve, every believer is equipped to serve. This service falls into two major areas.The first is in evangelism. Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8 make it clear that the Holy Spirit would empower believers to witness to the world concerning the gospel. This was not a requirement for OT believers and therefore they did not need this power for personal witness. This is not to say that Israel was not to be a witness or that certain people were not sent to witness, like Jonah. It is to say that this was not a requirement for every OT believer as it now is for every NT believer.

The second area of service is that of gifts. Whereas in the OT the evidence of spiritual gifts seems to be limited to selected people (e.g., Moses, Joshua, Ezra, the prophets, etc.), this also changed at Pentecost. Now every believer is given gifts (1 Corinthians 12) for the purpose of serving one another.

Conclusion

As the church remembers this vitally important day, the above outline should remind us of what it means to the church. Also, it should cause us to seek the power that we desperately need for this hour. Let us consider the following words of Lloyd-Jones without any fear of becoming Pentecostal as we seek to live in the joy and light of Pentecost:

The greatest need of the hour is a new baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in renewal and revival…The ultimate question facing us these days is whether our faith is in men and their power to organize, or in the truth of God in Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. (The Basis of Christian Unity)

The intercession of the Spirit by Thomas Chalmer


When the Spirit maketh intercession for use it is not by any direct supplication from Himself to God; but it is by becoming the Spirit of grace and supplication in us. The man whom He prays for is the organ of His prayer. The prayer passes, as it were, from the Spirit through Him who is the object of it. Those groanings of the Spirit which cannot be uttered, are those desires wherewith the heart of a seeker after Zion is charged; and which, in defect of language, and even clear conceptions, can only find vent in the ardent but unspeakable breathings. Now these are called hero the groanings of the Spirit, because it is He who hath awakened them in the spirit of man. It is not that there is any want either of light or of utterance about Him; but He doeth His work gradually upon us, and often infuses a desirousness into our hearts before He reveals the truth with distinctness to our understandings. He walketh by progressive footsteps, in accomplishing the creation of a new moral world–even as He did when employed in the creation of the old. He then moved upon the face of the waters, before He said, “Let there be light.” The dark and muddy element was first put into agitation, and the very turbulence into which it was thrown may have just thickened at the first that very chaos out of which it was emerging; and so it often is when the Spirit begins to move upon the soul. There is labour without light–a busy fermentation of shadowy and floating desires and indistinct feelings, whether of a present misery or a future and somehow attainable enlargement. There is perfect light and liberty with Him. But when He comes into contact, and especially at the first, with a soul before dead in trespasses and sins–when, instead of doing the work separately and by Himself, He does it through the opaque medium of a corrupt human soul–we should not marvel, though the prayers that even He hath originated, be tinged with the obscurity of that dull and distorted medium through which they have to pass. We know that to the sun in the firmament we should ascribe not merely the splendour of the risen day, but even the faintest streaks of twilight. It is because of the gross and intervening earth that, though something be seen at the earliest dawn, it is yet seen so dimly, and the eye is still bewildered among visionary and unsettled forms, while it wanders over the landscape. And, in like manner, it is the Spirit to whom we shall owe at last the effulgence of a complete manifestation; and to whom also we owe at present even the misty and troubled light that hath excited us to seek, but is scarcely able to guide us in our inquiries. And this imperfection is not because of Himself, in whom there is perfect and unclouded splendour. It is only because of the gross and terrestrial mind upon which He operates. There is the conflict of two ingredients, even the light that is in Him and the darkness that is in us; and the result of the conflict is prayer, but prayer mixed with much remaining ignorance. It is the mixture of His intercession with our unutterable groanings–an obscure day that precedes the daylight of the soul–a lustre that cometh from Him, but tarnished with the soil and broken with the turbulence of our own nature. And, therefore, to comfort all who are labouring among the disquietudes of such a condition, we affirm that the heavenly visitant may have made His entrance, and have begun the process of a glorious transformation on the materials of their inward chaos. The spiritual twilight may now be breaking out as the harbinger of a coming glory, as the dim flickerings of that light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. There is an example remarkably analogous to this in the old prophets. They spake only as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; and though He, of course, knew the meaning of all that He had inspired Himself, yet they knew but little or nothing of the sense that lay under them. And, accordingly, they are described as prying into the sense of their own prophecies (1Pe_1:10-12). So holy men of the present day, and more especially at the outset of their holiness, might feel the inspiration of a strong desirousness from above, and yet be ignorant of the whole force and meaning of their own prayers. But this state of darkness is not a desirable one to be persisted in. One would not choose to live always in twilight. Labour after distinct and satisfying apprehensions of the truth as it is in Jesus. Seek to know your disease; and seek to know the powers and the properties of that medicine which is set forth in the gospel. Study and search with diligence, and by a careful perusal of Holy Writ, in the economy of a man’s restoration. Even in this work, too, you must have the Spirit to help your infirmities. For He is the Spirit of wisdom, as well as of prayer, and gives you revelation in the knowledge of Christ. You increase by Him in acquaintance with God; and though at the beginning of His work, and perhaps for some time afterwards, there may be a sore conflict of doubts and desires and difficulties–yet such is the process of this work, that you will at length come to experience that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is light–where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Rejoicing and Grieving with God: A Lesson in the Pursuit of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

“The Lord shall rejoice in his works.” Psalm 104:31

The entire Psalm is an utterance of praise for God’s creation and preservation. “The structure of the psalm is modelled [sic] fairly closely on that of Genesis 1, taking the stages of creation as starting-points for praise. But as each theme is developed it tends to anticipate the later scenes of the creation drama, so that the days described in Genesis overlap and mingle here” (Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 368).

In the phrase that I am seeking to underscore there is the idea that God finds pleasure in the contemplation of His own works, in the beauty and order of creation, and in the happiness which He sees as the result of His work of creation. “There is no impropriety in supposing that God finds pleasure in the manifestation of the wisdom, the power, the goodness, the mercy, and the love of his own glorious nature” (Albert Barnes).

Yet, there is an implied joining with God in this. Ellicott states, “The poet still follows Genesis in representing God as looking on His finished work with pleasure, but he says nothing of a sabbath. But it is possible that the thought of the sabbath hymns of praise led him to join man with the Divine Being in celebrating the glory and perfection of creation.”

The idea of the Sabbath was a day of rest for God to enjoy His creation. It was not that He ceased from His work, for all things are sustained by His power. But it was a rest in order to delight. And we are to join into this delighting. We rejoice in the true, beautiful and good of creation.

As I gaze upon the beautiful array of colors at sunset, marvel at the piercing lights of sunrise, stand in awe of powerful storms racing across the plains, or hypnotically reflect upon the placid waters of a lake, I am looking upon the very things that God rejoices in, and I can and should rejoice with Him.

This has larger implications, too. God rejoices in all that all the true, good, and beautiful things of this world. They display His glory. They point to His power, eternality, goodness, and wisdom. When I discover these, I should also rejoice. This is found in art, music, prose, poetry, etc.

Yet, God does not rejoice over the corruption of His earth, and He does not rejoice over man’s rebellion. In verse 35 of this same Psalm, the Psalmist calls upon God to consume sinners. On this VanGemeren notes, “The psalmist is not vindictive in his prayer against the wicked but longs for a world fully established and maintained by the Lord, without outside interference.” Ellicott expands upon this, as it relates to the overall idea of the Psalmist:

The harmony of creation was soon broken by sin, and the harmony of the song of creation would hardly be complete, or rather, would be false and unreal, did not a discord make itself heard. . . . In reality the power of sin to interfere with God’s pleasure. in His universe is present as an undercurrent of thought in Psalms 103, as well as 104. In the former it is implied that forgiveness and restoration are requisite before the harmony of the universe (Psalm 104:20-22) can become audible. The two psalms are also closely related in form.

Picking up this same theme, A. F. Kirkpatrick comments:

Modern thought would say, ‘May sin be banished’: but Hebrew thought is not abstract but concrete, and moreover the form of the prayer reminds us of the solemn truth that sin is a personal thing, which cannot be separated from the sinner, but has its existence through his perverted will. It may be noted that the intensive form of the word for sinner implies obstinate and incorrigible habit.

While God rejoices over His creation, calling us to join Him in this, there is something that grieves His heart: rebellious men, “who infect the world, and so cause it to be that God cannot rejoice in his work” (Geneva Annotations). Genesis 6:6: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”

“I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I lay reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran
And much it grieved my heart to think
What Man has made of Man.”

Wordsworth, “Early Spring.”

God does not like where His truth, goodness, and beauty are defiled or obscured, and this is done by man, who has also brought all creation into a state of futility. Art, poetry, music, etc. are brought into a state of lies, ugliness, and badness. These should be abhorred by the lovers of God.  Let us be those who oppose the corruption of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness. While this is in the opposition of sin and the avoidance of the rebellious, it is also found in refusing to glory in their obscuring of the true, the beautiful, and good. It should grieve our heart when God’s glory is diminished, even as it should cause our hearts to rejoice when God’s glory is manifested.

It is a wonderful thing to be able to rejoice and grieve with God.

Teaching Children About Redemption Through the Catechism: A Manual for Parents -Part 4

3. Redemption is effectually applied to believers by the Holy Spirit.—Ezek. 36:27. I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

This passage will be dealt with later in more detail. However, at this point, it is important to underscore the role of the Spirit in our redemption. This passage is closely related to Jeremiah 31.  While Jeremiah speaks of the law being placed in the inner man, Ezekiel speaks of the Spirit being placed within the person.  There is a cause and effect: the Spirit causes the law to be written on the heart in a way that parallels Ezek. 11.  “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19).

The Spirit creates a disposition for the law so that one may love the law and be subject to the law.  One can easy see that the first verses of Romans 8 speak to this same truth.  There is no compulsion to obey, but there is a free and spontaneous desire created in the heart by the Spirit of God to obey.[xiii]

The Spirit of God is placed at the center of the New Covenant.  The age of the New Covenant will be an age of the Spirit of God and holiness. Every member of the New Covenant will possess the Spirit and thus have the characteristic of holiness.[xiv]  This holiness is produced by the Spirit as He applies the work of redemption in us.

Endnotes:

[xiii] “Care has been taken in this section to show that the doctrine maintained secures for man in regard to the will, the recognition of the active and the passive in its operations and condition. Man remains passive until quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit. But the new man possesses the renewed will, and by the exercise of this new power he is able to give a hearty response to the call, and to embrace the offered grace. The theologians at Dort (1618) give in their canons a clear definition of this doctrine, avoiding the extremes that in the interests of grace deny freedom, or in the interests of freedom practically ignore divine grace. ‘ As man by the fall has not ceased to be man, so also this divine grace of regeneration acts not on man as on stocks and stones, nor takes away his will and properties, but makes him spiritually alive, heals, amends, and bends him in a way which is alike gracious and potent; so that, where previously the violence and resistance of the flesh exercised an absolute sway, now a voluntary and sincere obedience of the Spirit begins to rule.’ The doctrine of our Confession is highly reasonable. We acknowledge that the Spirit must be received before any act can be done by us well-pleasing to God. Then our receiving the Spirit in His first operation of grace cannot be regarded as an act on our part, otherwise we would have done something at the very outset toward our own salvation. In this sense the human spirit is described as altogether passive before experiencing the quickening and renewing influence of the Holy Spirit. Thus we hold that the Spirit, which is the free gift of God’s grace, has been already received before any gracious act is performed by man. . . . Grace is rightly called irresistible in its action upon those predestinated unto life. This does not imply any overbearing force that works outside of, or apart from, the human will, but it indicates an effectual working in and through the will, which in the end assuredly produces the aimed-at results. Resistance may be long continued, but at last the corruption of will is overcome, the rebellious spirit throws down his weapons, and yields himself in willing surrender.” Macpherson.

[xiv] “That since, besides our inclination to sin, we complain of an inability to do our duty, God will cause them to walk in his statutes, will not only show them the way of his statutes before them, but incline them to walk in it, and thoroughly furnish them with wisdom and will, and active powers, for every good work. In order to this he will put his Spirit within them, as a teacher, guide, and sanctifier. Note, God does not force men to walk in his statutes by external violence, but causes them to walk in his statutes by an internal principle. And observe what use we ought to make of this gracious power and principle promised us, and put within us: You shall keep my judgments. If God will do his part according to the promise, we must do ours according to the precept. Note, The promise of God’s grace to enable us for our duty should engage and quicken our constant care and endeavour to do our duty. God’s promises must drive us to his precepts as our rule, and then his precepts must send us back to his promises for strength, for without his grace we can do nothing.” Henry.

The Twofold Revelation of God: A Practical Exposition of Psalm 19 -Part One: General Revelation

Introduction

Unless God reveals Himself, we would not know about God. This is a fundamental axiom of Christianity. Phillips Brooks said, “Call your opinions your creed, and you will change them every week. Make your creed simply and broadly out of the revelation of God, and you will keep it to the end.” John Wesley confessed this, when he said: “When I was young I was sure of everything; in a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before; at present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”

Gratefully, God has revealed Himself in a twofold way. David observed in this Psalm that we learn from creation that manifests God’s wisdom and power. Likewise, people learn about God from His Law. In view of this dual revelation, in nature and in Scripture, David prayed that God would cleanse his life so he would be acceptable to God. And this is the way that we should respond to this twofold revelation of God.

For this reason, let us consider,

The Revelation of Nature (vv. 1-6)

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. (Psa 19:1-6)

The Psalmist here represents all nature as a preacher of the glory of the Creator. In this, let us notice the subject of the revelation. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” This counters two trends of our day. On the one hand, there is the trend to take denounce God as the creator. Is this not the core idea of the philosophical materialism of our day? Is not John MacArthur right, when he says,

Evolution is simply the latest means our fallen race has devised in order to suppress our innate knowledge and the biblical testimony that there is a God and that we are accountable to Him (cf. Romans 1:28). By embracing evolution, modern society aims to do away with morality, responsibility, and guilt. Society has embraced evolution with such enthusiasm because people imagine that it eliminates the Judge and leaves them free to do whatever they want without guilt and without consequences.

But, on the other hand, there is the trend to deify creation. But as the conservative Lutheran scholar of another generation rightly said:

“The contemplation of the glory of nature must not lead to the deification of nature; it should lead up beyond the entire world, and beyond all the heavens, to the knowledge of the glory of God mirrored therein, and excite to the adoration of the Almighty Creator declaring Himself therein. The expanse of the heavens which cannot at all be surveyed by man, has yet received its limits from Him who is alone Infinite and Almighty. Even the sun, which is worshipped by so many nations as the king of heaven, receives the measure of its motion, and the revolution of its course from the same hand, whose government and work disclose themselves in all things as by the hand of a Master, whom all His works praise” (Moll).

Now, this leads us to a vitally important lesson. We must not stop with nature, but we must see the signs of Divine existence and certain attributes of His in the forces and glories of creation. The heavens reflect the Divine glory in their own glory. Nature declares the wisdom, power, love, and faithfulness of God. Expressly, Paul said: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

Now, notice the characteristics of this general revelation, as depicted in Psalm 19. First, it is abundant. The idea of “uttereth speech” means that creation “pours forth speech.” There are abundant evidences of God’s power and glory. Herman Bavink said:

Heaven and earth and all creatures, herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea and all things declare God. There is not an atom of the universe in which God’s power and divinity are not revealed.

Isaac Watts put it like this:

I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.

Second, it is constant and perpetual. The heavens are declaring—always declaring. “Day unto day. . . night unto night” In this we see that there is a perpetual witness of God’s glory. Delitzsch staets, “The words of this discourse of praise are carried forward in an uninterrupted line of transmission.” It never ceases.

Third, it transcends all languages and cultures. “Their ‘voice is not heard” because they have a language of their own; one that can be classed with any of the dialects of earth. As one man said, “They have a voice, but one that speaks not to the ear, but to the devout and understanding heart” (Perowne).

The heavens articulately shine,
And speak their Architect Divine.

Fourth, it is universal (vv. 4-7). “Their line,’ which is to say their measuring line, extends to the limits of the earth. The glorious sun declares the glory of God all over the earth. These characteristics underscore that this revelation of God is something that every man and woman may have. It is set before there eyes, if they would but look.

But this leads us to consider the limitation of this revelation. This revelation of God cannot tell me how I might be saved. On this point, B. B. Warfield contrasts this revelation to the revelation of God in His Word: “The one is addressed generally to all intelligent creatures, and is therefore accessible to all men; the other is addressed to a special class of sinners, to whom God would make known His salvation. The one has in view to meet and supply the natural need of creatures for knowledge of their God; the other to rescue broken and deformed sinners from their sin and its consequences.” As Ryland noted,

“There is this great difference between God’s book of nature and His book of grace. The one, splendid and glorious as its Almighty Maker, was formed for man in innocency, and is imperfectly adapted to a fallen state; the other is suited to a corrupt nature, and, telling of mercy, addresses itself to its wants, and speaks with a Divine power which refuses to be silenced or passed by.”

It is here that we must understand that there is a real limitation to natural revelation. It is general, but man can never be saved by it. In fact, all that it can do, since the fall of man is to leave him without excuse. Calvin rightly observes, “It is beyond dispute that some awareness of God exists in the human mind by natural instinct, since God Himself has given everyone some idea of Him so that no one can plead ignorance.” Sam Storms elaborates,

The revelation of God in creation and conscience is sufficient to render all men without excuse, sufficient to lead to their condemnation if they repudiate it, but not sufficient to save. No one will be saved solely because of their acknowledgment of God in nature, but many will be lost because of their refusal of Him as revealed there. In other words, general revelation lacks redemptive content. It is epistemically adequate but soteriologically inadequate. It makes known that there is a God who punishes sin but not that He pardons it.

Now, as come to a conclusion on this matter of general revelation, I want to draw out a few lessons. First, general revelation leaves men and women without excuse. We have already noted this form Romans 1:20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” While there is not enough within general revelation to direct a man to be saved, there is enough in general revelation to condemn him or her. Man is without excuse for not believing in God because of the witness of creation. All of creation will rise up to witness against mankind. The sun, the moon, the stars, the trees will all stand as witnesses declaring that man did know about God and his divine nature (cf. Psalm 19:1, Rom 1:20).

But mankind will also be condemned because of the witness in their heart, which they have denied. Jesus will judge men in the last days based on the secrets of their heart as their conscience affirms and accuses them (cf. Rom 2:16, 1 Cor 4:5).

Again, general revelation is not enough to save a person, but it is enough to condemn a person for not believing in God and living up to the revelation given.

Second, general revelation tells us that we ought to seek God. Listen to what Paul says to the people living in Athens in Acts 17:24-27:

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.

Paul says that this God, who created the whole earth, gives every person life, breath, and everything else (v. 25). He created all the nations from one man (v. 26). He determined the times when the nations would live, where they would live, and the whole purpose of these things was for mankind to seek him (v. 26–27). The heavens, the earth, and all of the blessings God has given to man were given for the purpose of man seeking God. The date a person was born, the time, the family, and the country, were all part of God’s infinitely wise plan of helping mankind pursue a relationship with him. Certainly, it may be easier for some than others based on their circumstances; however, the truth is the same for everybody. God wants mankind to seek him, and He has left His witnesses for us. Let us make sure that we are seeking to know God, even as Calvin underscores,

Therefore, let us remember that those men do wickedly abuse this life, and that they be unworthy to dwell upon earth, which do not apply their studies to seek him; as if every kind of brute beasts should fall from that inclination which they have naturally, which should for good causes be called monstrous. And, surely, nothing is more absurd, than that men should be ignorant of their Author, who are endued with understanding principally for this use.

Lastly, let me assert that this teaches us that we must give the gospel to the nations so that they might be saved. We have seen that general revelation cannot save anyone. Yet, while it should draw people to seek God, we do not want to know God. As Calvin said elsewherethe manifestation of God that He gives forth in creation is choked and thwarted by human superstition and ignorance. For this reason, he rightly observed,

For as rashness and superficiality are joined to ignorance and darkness, scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God. Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this or that about God himself.

Notwithstanding this truth, and really because of this truth, a great burden is placed upon Christians to share the gospel with others. The gospel of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins is a part of “specific revelation,” Christ himself has given each Christian a call to share the gospel to the ends of the earth in Matthew 28:19–20. We must go to the nations and share the gospel, for general revelation is not enough to save anyone. General revelation helps prepare the hearts, but it places the burden on us to sow the seed (Matt 13:3-8, 18-23). Listen to what Romans 10:14–15 says:

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

How can people believe in Christ and be saved unless we share the message? God has sent each one of us to preach his good news so that all will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as each one of us were saved through someone sharing the gospel, our faithful witness will be used by God to save others as well.

Teaching Children About Redemption Through the Catechism: A Manual for Parents -Part 3

2. Redemption must be applied to believers.—John 1:12. As many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.

There are several points that need to be underscored from this passage. First, the word “received” speaks of faith.  In true faith, the believer appropriates or takes Christ as his own Savior.  In this light, in exercising of true saving faith, the believer does not merely believe facts about the Savior, though they may be precious, but he takes the truths about the Savior and applies it his own condition.[viii]

Second, the phrase “as many as” underscores the universal applicability and availability of Christ.  It does not matter if a person is Jew or Gentile, they may see in Christ a suitable and sufficient Savior.

Third, idea of becoming sons of God does not concern regeneration; rather, its meaning here is adoption.  Men do not become regenerate because they believe, but they believe because they are already regenerate.  The person who believes that Jesus is the Christ has already been born again. That is the force of the words in 1 John 5:1.[ix] John is focusing his attention upon the great privilege of being called the sons of God, speaking of our adoption.[x]

Fourth, not all have this privilege of adoption. It is a pernicious doctrine that teaches that all men are God’s children. Only faith in Christ secures our adoption into the family of God.[xi]  Christ gives us the power or privilege of this adoption, but it is received by faith alone.[xii] And the object of this faith is Christ alone.

Endnotes:

[viii] “It is only another form of the expression at the end of the verse, ‘believed on His name.’ To receive Christ is to accept Him with a willing heart, and to take Him as our Saviour. It is one of many forms of speech, by which that justifying faith which unites the sinner’s soul to Christ is expressed in the Bible. To believe on Christ with the heart, is to receive Him, and to receive Him is to believe on Him.—Paul says to the Colossians, ‘As ye have received Christ, so walk ye in Him. Col 2:6.” Ryle.

[ix] “The main verb in the sentence is “born” and the phrase everyone who believes is its subject. This means that the believer is the child of God the Father, for God causes the spiritual birth of his child. The believer’s faith in God is irrefutable evidence of his spiritual birth. He knows that Jesus is the Christ because the believer has been born of God. Faith in Jesus Christ is inseparably bound to love for God’s children.” Hendrickson.

[x] “Another solution, still more plain and easy, may be offered; for when the Lord breathes faith into us, he regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. For since faith, as we have said, receives Christ, it puts us in possession, so to speak, of all his blessings. Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed — that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.” Calvin.

[xi] “There is no sonship to God without living faith in Christ. Let this never be forgotten. To talk of God being men’s Father, and men being God’s children, while they do not believe on the Son of God, is contrary to Scripture. Those are not children of God who have not faith in Jesus.” Ryle.

Expositional Preaching is Cheating? A Protestant Rejoinder to Andy Stanley

My response to this statement by Andy Stanley in a post in a closed group:

“Cheating”? Hm. Possibly, he and I think of that word differently. We are to feed the flock, and giving the Scriptures the priority in their context simply can’t be cheating.

Neh. 8:8: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” The reading of Scripture publicly for the instruction of the people became, from this time of Ezra, a constant practice in the Jewish synagogues. The practice was continued in our Saviour’s days, and those of his apostles. “Moses of old time.” (Acts 15:21). And together with the reading of Moses was united that of the prophets (Acts 13:15, 27). The propriety of this practice might be inferred from our Lord’s custom (Luke 4:16). The utility of the practice may be inferred from the fact, that to this practice has been attributed the preservation of the Jewish people from the idolatrous usages of the neighbouring nations.

The practice thus observed in the Jewish Church was continued in the Early Christian. Apparently recognized by Paul (1 Thess. 5:27; Col. 4:16). “On the day,” states Justin Martyr, “which is called Sunday there is an assembly of all those who live either in the cities or in the country, and those things which are written of or by the apostles, and the writings of the prophets, are read as long as time will permit.”

Upon this primitive practice is founded that of liturgy of both the Western and Eastern Lectionary in the Church. Since I am in a Reformed community, I will note the Westminster’s Directory of Worship on this. After prayer follows the reading of the Scriptures—ordinarily one chapter of each Testament at every meeting, and all the canonical books (and only the canonical books) being read over in order “that the people may be better acquainted with the whole body of the Scriptures.” As has been the practice of many both modern and ancient times, expository comment goes along with the reading, but “regard is always to be had unto the time, that neither preaching, nor other ordinances be straitened, or rendered tedious.” 
The Reformers returned to the primitive practice; moreover, they followed the practice of the preaching through books of the Bible as best exemplified by Chrysostom in the primitive church. They believed that true preaching was an exposition of the living Word of God. “A man’s word is a little sound that flies into the air and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God, and endures everlastingly” (Luther).  Speaking of Calvin, T. H. L. Parker wrote, “Sunday after Sunday, day after day, Calvin climbed up the steps into the pulpit. There he patiently led his congregation verse by verse through book after book of the Bible. . . . Almost all Calvin’s recorded sermons are connected series on books of the Bible.” The editor of Calvin’s sermons on Ephesians summed up Calvin’s approach: “The subject to be taught is the Word of God, and the best way to teach it … was by steady and methodical exposition, book after book.”
This expository preaching, with its long history to confirm it, is the best  method  for the following reasons: 1.) It roots the message in the authority of God, not the cleverness of men; 2.) It manifests the proper place of ministers as ambassadors who give the divine message as it was given and not embellished to make it more entertaining; 3.) It covers the whole counsel of God, not merely the hobby horses of the minister, the political issues of the day, or the means of obtaining and keeping an audience; and 4.) It feeds the people as no other method. As such, expositional preaching is not cheating; it is the best method that has a long history to prove its effectiveness. Likewise, when it has been abandoned, the church has felts its want.