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"And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Acts 9: 5
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16: 18
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
I Corinthians 3: 9
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8: 31
"I've enlisted in the fight for the cause of truth and right, Praise the Lord, I'm on the winning side!"
- Hale Reever
erilous times had come for the Church of the Living God. During the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, the antagonism towards the unveiling of Old Testament truth in the person and work of our Saviour had been clandestine, concealed behind closed doors at midnight seasons, when unbelieving Jewish authorities held secret counsels to discuss the suppression of this Divine revelation. At that time, the fear of popular opinion had shielded the infant Church and prevented the seething hostility from erupting into unbridled, overt persecution.
But all of that had changed now. The successful crucifixion of the Nazarene Miracle-worker had emboldened the enemies of the Gospel. The unpunished imprisonment and beating of the Apostles had further strengthened their resolve. Now, with the Deacon Stephen publically executed by stoning in broad daylight, all restraints were thrown off. Now there arose "a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8: 1).
Under such extreme circumstances, the modern Church - at least here in the United States of America would have assumed quite naturally that such perilous times necessarily signified the end. The idea that Christ might not return for another two thousand years or more would have been met with ridicule. "Let's just hold the fort and hope for the Rapture", would come the trite response, followed by a hearty belly laugh and another round of jelly donuts before the preaching started. The earnest endeavors of our more serious-minded forefathers - the city-wide evangelistic Crusades, the street meetings, the overt preaching of the Gospel, the public calls to repentance, the aggressive and systematic soulwinning campaigns - would give way to desperate attempts to entice and to entertain unbelievers into the Christian faith. Missionaries would come off of the foreign field and a general consensus that the Church Age would soon "end in failure" would become outright and indisputable ex cathedra.
Thankfully, the first-century Church was not Dispensational in its theology. Rather than whimper off into secrecy and hiding, or resorting to bribery, entertainment and gimmicks in hopes of reaching the lost, these ancient Christian soldiers "went everywhere preaching the word", animated by the same Spirit as old Bunyan's Valiant-for-truth. Within the space of one century, they would have successfully carried the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth and the Christian faith would be spoken of
"throughout the whole world" (Acts 8: 4; Romans 1: 8; 10: 18; Philippians 1: 13; I Thessalonians 1: 8). And they would do all of this without swallowing a single goldfish.
Nor was their confidence misplaced. For just when their chief adversary, Saul of Tarsus, was "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9: 1) and en route to Damascus, bent on the systematic eradication of the church there, the promise of Christ that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16: 18) proved gloriously true, as the Church's Bridegroom (John 3: 29) and Well-Beloved (Isaiah 5: 1), the Captain of her Salvation (Hebrews 2: 10) and the Author and Finisher of Her Faith (Hebrews 12: 1 - 2), the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5: 5) and the Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the World (Revelation 13: 8), the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys (Song of Solomon 2: 1) arose to her defense. Truly it may be said that the Daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at Satan and his host that day, and laughed them to scorn (II Kings 19: 21; Isaiah 37: 22), as their ablest champion lay groveling in the dust, blinded by that light which no man can approach unto (I Timothy 6: 16).
I. DIVINE COLLABORATION IN EVANGELISM
Now the conversion of Saul of Tarsus ought to be a source of great encouragement to us today. It reminds us in the most vivid manner that the responsibility of the Great Commission has not been left to us to accomplish independently. In fact, it reminds us that, ultimately, the Great Commission is not our work, but God's work, though we have a duty to be cooperating with him for its accomplishment. It is not merely that God is laboring with us, but rather that "we are labourers together with God" (I Corinthians 3: 9). We are not alone in our efforts! God himself is engaged in this mighty work of evangelizing the lost! God himself has undertaken to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19: 10)! We are merely privileged (and responsible) to serve as assistants in this endeavor, but, ultimately, it is "God's husbandry... God's building" (I Corinthians 3: 9)! And Christ will build his Church (Matthew 16: 18)! When the whole Church was trembling in terror of Saul of Tarsus, the Lord Jesus Christ himself undertook to save the man that the saints had abandoned as unreachable.
Notice the omnipotent ability of our Almighty Ally exhibited in Saul's conversion. Christ "is able to save them to the uttermost" (Hebrews 7: 25). Here was an individual whose very breath exhaled "threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9: 1), suddenly and miraculously subdued and made "obedient to the faith" (Acts 6: 7; 26: 19).
I think that familiarity has blinded us to the incredible power demonstrated in this dramatic event. But think of the fiercest living adversary to the Christian faith that you can conceive of. Perhaps it is Barack Obama. Perhaps it is Bill Mahar. Perhaps it is Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking. Perhaps it is Brian Warner or Trent Reznor. Now imagine them, not only converted in terms of essential saving faith, but altogether revolutionized, radically transformed into the most in-depth theologians and zealous preachers of the Gospel that the world has ever seen.
That is what happened with Saul of Tarsus. It is a wonderful reminder that not only is God himself undertaking for the salvation of lost souls, but that he is omnipotent, "able to save them to the uttermost". The very men and women who seem unassailable with Gospel truth according to our weak faith may very well be our mightiest allies for the cause of Christ tomorrow. He "is able".
And this is exactly what we find in studying God's mighty movements in revival throughout history. We find that, as with Saul of Tarsus, men and women who had been the fiercest adversaries of the Gospel or who were notorious for their scandalous and licentious character were suddenly brought to their knees in inexplicable demonstrations of utter brokenness under mighty Holy Spirit conviction. It happened in the French Languedoc during the twelfth century under the ministries of Peter of Bruis and Henry of Toulouse. It happened in the Rhineland during the fourteenth century under the ministry of John Tauler. The Puritans witnessed it in the British Isles, and it followed them across the Atlantic Ocean to Northampton, where it erupted so mightily under the preaching of that great Puritan pastor, Jonathan Edwards. And of course at that same time we find it demonstrated in the ministry of that other great Puritan preacher, George Whitefield and the great Pietist preacher, John Wesley. And of course the same phenomena were manifested all over again during the Second Great Awakening, the last revival of that sort to take place in the United States before the Great Dispensationalist hijacking, with its defeatist, pessimistic theology of unbelief and failure.
What is this? It is God breaking through, Almighty God revealing himself in his omnipotence and Sovereignty. It is God reminding us that "the battle is the Lord's" (I Samuel 17: 47), that we do not labour alone or unaided in the harvest fields, but that the Lord himself is our fellowlabourer (I Corinthians 3: 9), and fights with us and for us (Exodus 14: 14), that he will build his Church (Matthew 16: 18), and that he is indeed "mighty to save" (Isaiah 63: 1).
II. DIVINE COMPASSION IN EVANGELISM
Nor should we find such acts of Divine intervention startling. For whether one prefers to emphasize the love of God in relationship to the Elect or to "the whole world" (I John 2: 2), the outcome in this respect is the same for either theological party, namely, that the God who "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3: 16), the God who went to such great extent as to spare "not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8: 32), did not terminate his active and aggressive pursuit of lost sinners at the Crucifixion or the bodily Resurrection or the Ascension of Christ, nor yet with the development of "perilous times", but continues to actively and aggressively involve himself directly in seeking and saving "that which was lost" (Luke 19: 10) today, just as he always has. The love and compassion which moved the Triune God to decree his Covenant of Redemption before the foundation of the world (Titus 1: 2) and to fulfill this pledge in sending forth his Son to be "the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2: 2), must necessarily continue to motivate him today, even in the most perilous of times, just as it always has. After all, is it even remotely reasonable to believe that the very God who went to such infinite sacrificial lengths in accomplishing the redemption would have thereafter relented and slackened his zeal in seeking and saving that which was lost, that which he had purchased at so great a price, in the face of "perilous times"? Shall the Church's unbelief make the promises of God or the love of God of none effect? Of course not. We repeat that the same measureless love and compassion which moved God to decree his Covenant of Redemption before the foundation of the world and to fulfill that pledge at the price of his only begotten Son's unspeakably agonizing blood Atonement and bodily Resurrection and Ascension cannot be slackened by "perilous times", but continues to move him to actively and aggressively involve himself directly in seeking and saving that which was lost. That motivating love and compassion is exhibited in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and in a less dramatic manner in the conversion of Cornelius, and continues to be demonstrated in countries such as China and the Philippines where great revivals are still taking place today.
Let me put to you another way, in terms of a personal illustration. There was a time, about twelve years ago, that I faced a perplexing question. The question was this: if God truly loved me (or anyone else), how could he risk my (or anyone else's) eternal damnation and loss by leaving my (or anyone else's) salvation in the hands of potentially irresponsible Christians who may or may not be faithful in sharing the Gospel? What if they had been unfaithful? What if I had never heard the Gospel? What if I had died in my sins through the unfaithfulness of those whom God had trusted to share the truth of Christ Jesus with me? Is it a demonstration of infinite love to leave someone's eternal damnation in the hands of irresponsible and unfaithful stewards? Of course the answer to this question is that God never leaves the salvation of any whom he has foreknown and predestined (Romans 8: 29) in a position of uncertainty through the unfaithfulness or irresponsibility of his servants. That many of those servants are indeed irresponsible and unfaithful in
the fulfillment of the Great Commission is too notorious to be disputed. But that God himself ceases to labour in the harvest field (I Corinthians 3: 9), that God himself will be thwarted in his purpose or fail in seeking and saving that which was lost is entirely out of the question. This is where Divine Sovereignty and Divine Love are in absolute harmony with one another. If there is anywhere a lost sheep whom God has foreknown and predestined (Romans 8: 29), God's purpose in calling, justifying and glorifying that sinner will not be thwarted, no, not by the grossest negligence on the part of his Church. In other words, if our Saviour himself must appear in his glory to effect the conversion of Saul of Tarsus because the Church is too terrified to witness to him, he will do so. I do not say that God ordinarily or frequently resorts to such extremes. Indeed, God's ordinary and chosen method of converting sinners is through the preaching of the Gospel by his servants (I Corinthians 1: 21; Romans 1: 16; 10: 14), and usually God will raise up a servant who will show himself faithful. But, that being said, God will not allow any whom he has foreknown and predestined (Romans 8: 29) to be lost through the unfaithfulness and irresponsibility of his Church. His love for such an one is too great to allow that one to be eternally damned as a result of the Church's negligence. For confirmation to this great truth I refer the reader to the marvelous testimonies of God's miraculous exhibitions of supernatural power in seeking and saving the lost as witnessed by the great Baptist missionary, Darrell Champlin.
III. DOCTRINAL CENTRALITY IN EVANGELISM
In considering God's love and God's labour in seeking and saving that which was lost (Luke 19: 10), we must beware of theological extremism. And this is certainly one of those doctrines which has polarized the entire body of Christ into two major factions divided by two polar extremes. The one extreme is the view sometimes referred to as "Irresistible Grace", which we will touch upon momentarily. The other extreme however is the more prevalent problem today - the view that essentially bypasses the drawing activity of the Father and the convicting work of the Holy Ghost in the sinner's conversion altogether.
This view treats the salvation of sinners as a sort of game of chance in which God is more a less a passive bystander fretfully wringing his hands and anxiously hoping that soulwinners will do their job and that lost sinners will accept his offer of salvation. The doctrines of foreknowledge, of election and predestination are generally ignored altogether and the fulfillment of the Great Commission becomes simply a matter of developing the most enticing and "effective" marketing strategy in hopes of entertaining and enticing or actually bribing sinners into attending a church service in which the preacher will carefully avoid saying anything that might convict the sinner of his or her utter guilt and depravity in the eyes of an absolutely holy God. Instead of the universal command of God to repent (Acts 17: 30 - 31) and forsake sin (Proverbs 28: 13), the sinner is simply told how he can "have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ", just as though lost men and lost women are actually milling about thinking, "You know, I wonder how I can have a personal relationship with the Son of God" (Psalm 10: 4).
Sinners are not told that their sin is a heinous abomination in the eyes of God which brings the Curse of the Law (Galatians 3: 10) and will eternally damn them to the Lake of Fire (Romans 6: 23; Revelation 20: 14; 21: 8). They are simply told nicely that "sin separates us from God", and anything that sounds condemning or confrontational is carefully avoided.
Now theological extremism is a horrendous problem among independent Baptists today, and this problem has continued to escalate since Baptists first left the solid moorings of their ancient doctrinal position and embraced the teachings advanced in the Satanic and sinful footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible. All across the United States of America influential leaders and churches are drifting off into it and are dragging multitudes of followers with them. They are claiming to offer some deeper insight into doctrine or even to take a "stronger stand" on something which is, when rightly understood, an important issue. Thus we have the "Bible-believer" Baptists or Ruckmanites, led by Peter Ruckman, Gail Riplinger, Sam Gipp, Bill Grady and Brian Donovan advocating radical and bizarre views on the Bible version question and teaching things which cannot be supported by Scripture, such as "double inspiration" and a queer sort of Christian Cabbalism. We have S. M. Davis teaching extreme views on anger and on the home and imposing Middle Eastern cultural customs on the Church and using an allegorical hermeneutic to support his original ideas. We have Tom Strouse teaching Baptist-bride theology and attacking David Cloud for refusing to bow to his extremism. And of course in such instances we find repeatedly that the fruit of this extremism is a bitter harvest of debate and dissension and the most vicious personal attacks imaginable in total contrast with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
So in our understanding of God's drawing ministry, extremism is to be avoided. The term "balanced" is not useful here because that term is being abused today and is being used to browbeat and intimidate Godly Christians into slackening their zeal and adopting a sort of political correctness that refuses to take bold action for the cause of Christ. It also has a lot of baggage associated with it as a result of the Touist Yin-Yang and Wiccan ideology that has permeated our culture through the hippie movement and the Star Wars brand of science fiction. But, that being said, we must avoid extremism and come to a Biblically centered understanding of God's drawing ministry.
In the first place, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus completely obliterates the idea of God as a passive onlooker who is fretfully wringing his hands in anxious hope that soulwinners will do their duty and that lost sinners will accept his offer of salvation. It completely establishes the perspective of God as an active and aggressive Seeker who is directly involved in bringing men and women to himself.
Secondly, it obliterates the other extreme of "Irresistible Grace". For if we will take the word of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as recorded by the Holy Ghost in Scripture over the philosophies of the Synod of
Dort, we must acknowledge that Saul was indeed resisting the Grace of God. God was certainly working in his heart, but he was actively opposing this work. He was still in a state of continued rebellion against God, willfully kicking against the pricks.
Thus we see in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus the Biblically centered view of God as an active and aggressive Seeker, directly involved in bringing men and women to himself, while at the same time we have a candid revelation of the resistance of the carnal mind, the natural man, even to this drawing work. And yet we see that God is not thwarted by this resistance, but that God in his wisdom and foreknowledge knows how to effectually pierce the tender places of the heart and conscience and to skillfully draw even an antagonistic, Christ-reviling, Gospel-hating sinner such as Saul of Tarsus unto himself.
IV. DRIVING CONVICTION IN EVANGELISM
How does God do this? Notice the approach taken by the Lord Jesus Christ here. It is nothing short of an indictment. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" From the very outset, Saul is charged with a crime. In fact, the verdict has already been uttered, and Saul is found guilty. Guilty of persecuting the very Son of God himself.
Nor does our Saviour relent. He continues. He repeats the charge. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest". There it is again. The indictment. The verdict. Saul is found guilty before the High Tribunal of Heaven itself.
Nor is this anything new. All along, the Holy Ghost had been doing this very thing. He had been reproving Saul (John 16: 8 - 11). Saul had been pricked in his heart and in his conscience by the convicting ministry of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost had been making him uncomfortable, even miserable, pricking his heart, pricking his conscience, and Saul had been kicking against it.
How had the Holy Ghost been doing this? He had been using the Law of God to prick Saul's conscience. Saul tells us a little bit about this in Romans 7. He had been going about trying to justify himself by the works of the Law. But what he did not realize is that justification was never the purpose of the Law (Romans 3: 20; 4: 15). The Law itself could never justify him, it could never take away sin (Romans 3: 20;
Hebrews 10: 1, 4). And the more that Saul had tried to keep the Law, the more the Holy Spirit used that Law to condemn him (Romans 7: 9 - 10), to prick his heart and his conscience.
That was always the purpose of God's Law. "The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith"(Galatians 3: 24). That was true in the Old Testament before the incarnation of Christ, and it is equally true today. For when the Apostle Paul writes to the gentiles in Galatia who were living after the day of Pentecost, he applies the same principle to them that he applied to the Old Testament Jews. "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3: 24). He makes no distinction at all. He does not say that the Law was "only for Israel" or that we are no longer under the "Dispensation of Law", but under the "Dispensation of Grace". He says nothing of the sort. He just goes right on and says that the Law of God served as a schoolmaster to bring the Galatian gentiles to Christ just as it did for the Old Testament Jews.
And this is where Dispensationalism has done so much harm to the Church today. The Law and God's whole purpose in giving the Law are completely overlooked because Dispensationalism has relegated them to some bygone "Dispensation". The modern "soulwinner" does not want to prick the heart or the conscience of the sinner. He wants to make them comfortable. He want to be "seeker-sensitive". He just wants to tell them "how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ", without ever mentioning their utter guilt and depravity or their whole position under the Curse of God's Law (Galatians 3: 10) and their sentence of eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire (Romans 6: 23; Revelation 20: 15; 21: 8). Indeed, we may rightly say that Dispensationalism is the cornerstone upon which the modern seeker-sensitive movement is built. And in that blessed day when the hammer of God's Word shall finally shatter the backbone of Dispensational theology, the Seeker-sensitive movement will collapse into total paralysis. Even so, Amen.
Beloved, the Western world has not seen a real revival since the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. Likewise, the great city-wide evangelistic Crusades died with the popularization of the defeatist theology espoused in Scofield's wicked footnotes. Biblical Gospel preaching and the Divinely-ordained call to repentance (Acts 17: 30 - 31) have given way to the seeker-sensitive movement, marketing strategies and a shallow sentimentalism dressed up to look like authentic spirituality.
God's Word, however, is full of optimistic assurances, both in its abundant promises and its supernatural examples. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is just one of many passages bursting with hope and
encouragement for the believer who will let the Scriptures speak for themselves without superimposing Dispensationalism's template of theological pessimism onto the Sacred Text. Let me encourage you to throw aside the blinding presuppositions of that extra-biblical and unbiblical system and to read the Bible for yourself again, with fresh eyes, newly illuminated by the greatest commentator of all, God's Holy Spirit. If you will do so, you will find that "we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8: 37) and that all the promises of God in Christ are yea and Amen, "unto the glory of God by us" (II Corinthians 1: 20).
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