The Christian faith is not focused on the self. Sure, there are points of application and obedience to what God has revealed, but ultimately, the gospel is not just for our good. It is for the glory of God and God alone.
When we turn the gospel man-centered, we cannot help but begin to think that the gospel is something we could have come up with ourselves. Of course we know better than to ever say that. But how many churches do we see that have speeches that inspire sinners rather than sermons that glorify God? If we think of the gospel as something primarily about us, we will lose focus on God.
The Confession continues, The revelation of the gospel to sinners, made in divers times and by sundry parts, with the addition of promises and precepts for the obedience required therein, as to the nations and persons to whom it is granted, is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God; not being annexed by virtue of any promise to the due improvement of men's natural abilities, by virtue of common light received without it, which none ever made, or can do so; and therefore in all ages, the preaching of the gospel has been granted unto persons and nations, as to the extent or straitening of it, in great variety, according to the counsel of the will of God.
The point here is that the gospel is all of grace and is rooted in the sovereignty of God. Salvation “is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God.” Our mindset must be aligned with this fact. Nothing in us earned God’s good pleasure. In fact, eternal separation in the lake of fire is what our deeds have earned. We want God to be fair, right?
We cannot improve ourselves enough to warrant salvation. The sins have been committed. And what God requires is sinless perfection. “From this point on” is not the same as perfect. We need to be made a new creation. Murderers can promise from the bottom of their heart never ever to murder again, but they are still guilty of murders previously committed. They can never be perfect on their own.
And the gospel has always been the same “in all ages.” Even before Israel knew the name of Jesus Christ, they knew of the promise that God would send the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent, the seed of Abraham, the son of David. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment, the completion, of those promises. That is the gospel believed in all ages.
We know that God especially revealed himself to Israel with the law and the prophets, both of which cast a shadow of the gospel. “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 147:20).
God always permitted foreigners and travelers to join in the company of the Israelites if they participated in the festivals in the same way as the Israelites. But at other times, God did not permit Gentiles to hear the gospel. In his sovereign purposes, he sometimes withholds for a time. Famously, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wanted to preach in Asia but were prevented by God himself. “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7). Great is the mind of God!
Finally the Confession writes, Although the gospel be the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God.
When the gospel does reach the heart of men, it is not only the heart of men at work. As Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Dead hearts do not accept or believe the gospel on their own.
If you believe the gospel, be sure that you do not believe it because of your own ability, intelligence, or power. We were all dead in our sins, and it was God Almighty who stooped to our low condition to bring us to life.
Jesus says as much in the gospel of John. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44). Jesus is more than capable to save, but we are not capable of coming to him. We must be drawn by the Father to the redeeming blood the Son. Our only hope is that God loves his enemies and draws us to his Son so we will look upon him and so be saved.
Until the time that Christ saves us, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are blind. We are dead. We are lost.
But when the Father calls, we will see Christ for who he is, in all his radiance, glory, and majesty. We will call on him, throw ourselves at his feet, and worship him forevermore.
The gospel and the extent of the grace thereof is beyond our comprehension. Glory to God alone!
Next time, we will look at the freedom that every believer has under the gospel of grace.