Evangelism and God’s sovereignty, part 2

Continuing yesterday’s quotation from J. I. Packer’s, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God.  Today’s quote centers on how God’s sovereignty relates to our duty to evangelize.

The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism. Some fear that belief in the sovereign grace of God leads to the conclusion that evangelism is pointless, since God will save His elect anyway, whether they hear the gospel or not. This, as we have seen, is a. false conclusion based on a false assumption. But now we must go further, and point out that the truth is just the opposite. So far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility — indeed, the certainty — that evangelism will be fruitful. Apart from it, there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.…

However clear and cogent we may be in presenting the gospel, we have no hope of convincing or converting anyone.  Can you or I by our earnest talking break the power of Satan over a man’s life? No. Can you or I give life to the spiritually dead? No. Can we hope to convince sinners of the truth of the gospel by patient explanation ? No. Can we hope to move men to obey the gospel by any words of entreaty that we may utter? No. Our approach to evangelism is not realistic till we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make its proper impact on us. When a school-master is trying to teach children arithmetic, or grammar, and finds them slow to learn, he assures himself that the penny must drop sooner or later, and so encourages himself to keep on trying. We can most of us muster great reserves of patience if we think that there is some prospect of ultimate success in what we are attempting. But in the case of evangelism there is no such prospect. Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task. It cannot in principle produce the desired effect. We can preach, and preach clearly and fluently and attractively; we can talk to individuals in the most pointed and challenging way; we can organize special services, and distribute tracts, and put up posters, and flood the country with publicity — and there is not the slightest prospect that all this outlay of effort will bring a single soul home to God. Unless there is some other factor in the situation, over and above our own endeavours, all evangelistic action is foredoomed to failure. This is the fact, the brute, rock-bottom fact, that we have to face.…

[We] must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism upon the omnipotent grace of God.  For God does what man cannot do. God works by His Spirit through His Word in the hearts of sinful men to bring them to repentance and faith. Faith is a gift of God. ‘Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ…to believe on him,’ writes Paul to the Philippians [1:29]. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith,’ he tells the Ephesians, ‘and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.’ [2:8]  So, too, repentance is the gift of God. ‘Him (Christ) did God exalt,’ Peter told the Sanhedrin, ‘…to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.’ [Acts 5:31]  When the Jerusalem church heard how Peter had been sent to evangelize Cornelius, and how Cornelius had come to faith, they said: ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.’ [Acts 11:18]  You and I cannot make sinners repent and believe in Christ by our words alone; but God works faith and repentance in men’s hearts by His Holy Spirit.…

Thus the sovereignty of God in grace gave Paul hope of success as he preached to deaf ears, and held up Christ before blind eyes, and sought to move stony hearts. His confidence was that where Christ sends the gospel there Christ has His people-fast bound at present in the chains of sin, but due for release at the appointed moment through a mighty renewing of their hearts as the light of the gospel shines into their darkness, and the Saviour draws them to Himself.…

Paul’s confidence should be our confidence too. We may not trust in our methods of personal dealing or running evangelistic services, however excellent we may think them. There is no magic in methods, not even in theologically impeccable methods. When we evangelize, our trust must be in God who raises the dead. He is the almighty Lord who turns men’s hearts, and He will give conversions in His own time.  Meanwhile, our part is to be faithful in making the gospel known, sure that such labour will never be in vain.  This is how the truth of the sovereignty of God’s grace bears upon evangelism.

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