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Popular Phraseology Considered
 
by
 
Charles Breed
 

 

POPULAR PHRASEOLOGY CONSIDERED

 

By Principal C. Breed

 

Being the paper read at the Fellowship Conference of the Strict Baptist Bible Institute on 14th September 1951.

 

 

It cannot be doubted that preachers of the everlasting gospel carry the responsibility of making themselves understood.  If the preacher's language conveys a meaning different from that which he intends, he has failed in one of the primary requirements of his office.

 

The problem involved in making oneself understood has been called the "speaker-hearer" relationship.  Words having a certain meaning for the speaker may have a quite different meaning for the hearer.  It is clear that if A would convey information to B, then (1) A must use a language that correctly expresses what he intends to convey, and (2) the language used must call up in B's mind the same ideas.  If the speaker uses the noun "bicycle" he may intend to convey the general idea of a two wheeled vehicle, propelled by the legs and feet, and balanced by its motion.  The use of the term may then provoke a similar idea in the mind of the hearer, but this is not necessarily the case.  In the sentence, "I have bought a bicycle," the speaker refers to some particular bicycle about which he knows; but in this case the term "bicycle" will tend to provoke in the mind of the hearer, a mental picture of a particular bicycle about which he knows and this will certainly not be the same object to which the speaker referred.  Of course, in such a case, the meaning conveyed may be sufficiently accurate for the speaker's purpose; but this example illustrates the danger involved in the speaker-hearer relationship, and emphasises the need of scrutinising phraseology, particularly where saving and spiritual truth is concerned.

 

Such scrutiny is demanded also in view of two other factors involved in this question.  One is the fact that terms tend to change their meaning with the passage of time.  For example, the words "Bible," "Scripture," "Christian” and even "Baptised Believer" have changed their connotation in the course of history.  The other factor is the regrettable importation into Strict Baptist terminology, of phrases coined by theological systems different from our own.  For example, as used at the present time the phrases to "offer Christ" or the Gospel; "to make a full surrender"; or "to give the heart to Christ" may be fairly regarded as imports from a system of thought which did not arise at Geneva.

 

It would appear that all such terminology as the fore-going can be traced to a basic misconception with regard to the relationship between God and man.  If mankind were now on probation, a proposition or offer concerning salvation would be possible.  If God were resting the future upon the will of a partly fallen humanity, a surrender on man's part might be effective towards his recovery.  The truth is that probation ended in the garden of Eden; mankind is completely and utterly fallen; the human race, taken by itself, is dead in sins; it is not awaiting judgment, for the sentence is already passed; the race is already condemned; man is already lost.  If an unregenerate man should say "What must I do to be lost?" the answer would be, "Nothing, you are lost!”  In these circumstances such language as the above is, to say the least, extravagant and out of adjustment with the facts.  Indeed, such terms are dangerous in their tendency to provoke in the minds of the hearers, ideas that are completely unscriptural.

 

I.  The language and import of "Gospel offers" needs careful attention.  It is true that the phrase "to offer" the Gospel is found in the Reformers, and is used by modern Calvinists such as Hodge and others, but the implications of this language would be denied by these theologians.

 

In its modern popular use, the phrase cannot mean merely the offer of the story of Christ, but must involve the offer of Christ Himself and of salvation.  Thus even Hodge says, "In the general offers of the Gospel, God exhibits a salvation .... sincerely offered to everyone without exception."  The following points at least are
implied and intended in offers of the Gospel:-

 

1. The offer of the Gospel means that grace itself and salvation itself is offered.
2. The offer of the Gospel is intended to mean that free grace and full salvation is offered to all promiscuously that hear, that they might be saved.
3. The offer of the Gospel to all without exception, is intended to imply that the acceptance of the offer is the necessary means of obtaining salvation.

 

Now the offerers of the Gospel must admit, either that all men have a natural ability to close with the offer; or that all men have a natural disability to spiritual good.  In the former case no salvation can be involved, because the "natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).  In the latter case, having a natural disability to spiritual good, how can a sinner close with the offer, before having a change of nature?

 

1.  First let it be observed that offering the Gospel is not preaching the Gospel.

 

(a)  The Apostles were ordained to preach the Gospel according to the commandment of Christ (Luke 9:2; Mark 16:15; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11).  The New Testament has ten verbs and one noun which mean "preaching," but not one of these ever means “offer”.  Again the New Testament has eight verbs and four nouns which mean "offer," but not one of these is ever used of preaching.  These considerations alone seem to shatter the notion that the Gospel is an offer of any kind whatever.

 

(b)  The example of the Apostles and others shows what they understood the Master to mean when He commanded them to preach.  Passages like Acts 2:14-36; 4:17-20; 5:25-32; 8:4-5; 8:35, etc., show the attitude of these preachers with regard to this matter.  There is no command to make an offer to those who are dead in sin, but there is a command to preach the Gospel to them.  Similarly, Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the dry bones, but he did not make them any offer.

 

(cThere is in fact no passage of scripture to show that preaching the Gospel means making an offer of the Gospel.  On the other hand Paul asks, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14).  Then he adds, "faith cometh by hearing (not by accepting an offer), and hearing by the word of God."  In other words, faith where it has been implanted, is stirred to action by hearing the Gospel.  Rahab heard what the Lord had done, and her faith became active.  No offers had been made to her.

 

(dThe difference between preaching and offering is seen again, when it is remembered that Paul preached "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).  This included such themes as the sovereignty of God, the election and predestination of the Lord's people, as witness the epistles of Paul.  But how can the sovereignty of God be offered?  Or how can election and predestination be offered?  From Rom. 4:25, we learn that Christ was delivered on account of our offences, and was raised again on account of our justification.  Clearly there can be no salvation apart from the death and resurrection of Christ.  How can the crucifixion of Christ be offered?  How can the resurrection of Christ be offered?  But both these matters are to be preached.

 

(e)  True preaching exalts the sovereignty of God (Gal. 3:8), it is supreme and comes with authority (Matt. 28:18-19); but offers are servile and debase the majesty of God, they are powerless to do anything but wait upon the acceptance of the sinner.  Preaching is a revealing act (Rom. 1:16-17), offering is a tendering act.  An offer cannot accomplish anything, it cannot produce the desired result; but preaching the Gospel is a means to produce the desired result, for men are born again by the Word of God (I Peter 1:23).  In any case, since it is the Spirit that quickeneth, why not offer the Spirit rather than Christ?

 

(f)  An offer entices a natural man into a conceit of self-ability.  He is encouraged to suppose that he can hold God at arm's length pending an acceptance of the offer.  On the other hand, preaching is not human flattery as chapters one and two in the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians amply demonstrate.

 

2.  Secondly, let it be observed that an offer of the Gospel is not the means of the Spirit's internal work whereby the sinner experiences salvation.

 

(a)  The offer cannot be the means of the Spirit's work, because it is the Spirit Himself who is the author of spiritual ability (Rom. 8:8-9; Gal. 5:18; Phil. 2:13).  There is no means by which the Spirit comes.  He comes sovereignly, and in person to impart life.  Even preaching does not convey the Spirit.  The Spirit is sent (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; Luke 24:49); the Spirit comes (John 16:7 ; Acts 1:8); the Spirit falls (Acts 8:16; 11:15; 10:14); the Spirit is shed forth (Acts 2:23; Rom. 5:5; Titus 3:4-6).

 

(b)  According to Gal. 3:2, the Spirit is received either in connection with works or in connection with faith, but if the sinner lays hold of Christ before the Spirit lays hold of the sinner, then the sinner receives life by works and not by faith.  Yet the fourth Gospel teaches that the Spirit of the Father works in the sinner before the sinner comes to Christ (John 6:45).

 

(c) Rom. 8:9-17 compared with John 5:12 and other passages shows that to have the Spirit is to have Christ.  But the sinner must have the Spirit before he has the faith which the Spirit works; and he must have Christ before he has life to close with the supposed offer.  How then can the offer be the means of giving the Spirit and Christ, who must be possessed before the offer can be accepted?

 

The fact is that offers of Christ and salvation are consistent only with a general redemption and an unfettered human will; but not with a particular redemption and the bondage of the will.  If a man is non-elect how can he close with the offer of a salvation never designed for him?  It may be said that the same thing applies to the non-elect believing the Gospel which is to be preached to all.  Of course!  But the point is that if accepting is the same thing as believing, then offering is the same thing as preaching.  If by offering ministers mean preaching, then let them say what they mean.  Meanwhile, we must believe they mean what they say, and are completely out of harmony with the Free Grace viewpoint and the teaching of the New Testament.  If the foregoing discussion is valid, then offers of the Gospel are ruled out by the Book which commands us to handle the Gospel by the method which is called preaching.

 

II.  Arising out of the conception of a Gospel offer there is a type of phraseology variously expressed as "accepting Christ," or "making a full surrender," or "giving the heart to Christ."

 

(a)  With regard to the first of these, it has already been noticed that acceptance of the offered salvation is treated as essential to the obtaining of salvation.  It has also been observed that the quickening of the Spirit is evidently the actual beginning of an experience of salvation.  Christ made this clear to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  But this new birth is a secret operation of the Spirit for, "the wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, so (like that) is everyone that is born of the Spirit."  The sinner may know the time of his conversion, or when he was first conscious of the Lord's work within, but he does not know the moment of his secret quickening.  The seed may lie dormant a long time before starting into activity.  In short, in the matter of regeneration, the sinner is completely passive; he neither welcomes it, nor opposes it - he knows nothing about it until afterwards.  But it cannot be denied that a regenerate soul is already redeemed, though that fact may not yet be published in the conscience.  If a man is brought into a hospital in an unconscious or dying condition, and is given an injection of some saving drug and recovers, what would be the point of asking whether he accepted what the doctor had done?  If a sinner when dead in sin is quickened by the Holy Ghost, by the injection of a new nature, what is the point of asking his acceptance of the gift of life which he now possesses?

 

(b)  In the case of the other two phrases, the kind of person intended as needing to "surrender" or to "give the heart" to Christ, is clearly not an incompetent sinner, but one who is able to stand alone against the grace of the Spirit.  One popular Arminian preacher declared at a great meeting in the Albert Hall, “The armies of the Lord of Hosts halt at the gates of the city of Mansoul and invite its surrender."  This teaching is open to the serious charge of inventing an incompetent God.  If it should be said, as it has been said, that the Spirit must give the sinner grace to surrender, then the answer surely is, let us be done with this trifling with the truth, and instead of begging the sinner to surrender let us rather beg the Spirit to impart grace to the sinner.

 

III.  Among the terms relating to preaching the Gospel which need scrutiny are the words, "evangelical," "evangelistic," and "evangelise."

 

Many persons who use these terms in a popular and rather thoughtless manner, would do well to study their meaning with the help of an English dictionary.  The verb" evangelise" means simply "to make known the evangel or Gospel."  The adjectives "evangelical" and "evangelistic" mean respectively, "pertaining to the Gospel" and "intended to evangelise."  These terms then have no reference to the preacher's audience, but to his preaching.  If he preaches the Gospel, he is evangelical and he evangelises, whoever his audience may be.  If he does not preach the Gospel, he is not evangelical and he does not evangelise, whatever may be the composition of his audience.

 

Certain services are now being described as an "evangelistic campaign" - a phrase which has been lifted from outside sources.  Why must certain services be designated evangelistic as distinct from others?  Is it that the other services are not evangelistic?  This would be serious for surely every preaching service should be evangelistic.  The fact is that these terms have been dragged from their rightful places and made incorrectly to refer to preaching to the unconverted only, as if the words had reference to the nature of the audience.  By all means let the Gospel be preached, to the unconverted, who can be found inside the Chapels as well outside, but let all preaching be the pure Gospel of Christ.  Only so is it evangelical.

 

The foregoing examples must suffice to illustrate the dangers of the speaker-hearer relation.  Some of these cases are instances of the wrong use of terms which have a correct employment; others are cases of terms which are wrong anyway in a Free Grace scheme of things.

 

The terms and phrases noticed are tending to become current in Strict Baptist language, and as far as those of Arminian origin are concerned, their use has a subtle tendency to convey to the mind almost unconsciously their original import.  Once the terms are admitted, the doctrines they connote are likely to follow.  This would seem to be particularly the case with young people who are not versed in the niceties of theological language.  

 

Calvinism has no need to borrow or import terms from other systems of thought.  It produces its own technical terms and phrases.  It has no need to ransack the theological world for secondhand words or thought-forms.  Once let an Arminian term, like the wooden horse of Troy, be admitted into our thinking and speaking, and the resultant tragedy will be such that another Reformation will be needed to save the Denomination.