Last week, I had an interesting Twitter chat with a couple of Calvinist friends on the issue of the gospel being both a command and an invitation. You can follow it here.
Evidently, the sinner is commanded to repent and believe the gospel. The imperative to both is found in Mark 1:15 while Acts 17:30 "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent" needs no explanation. It is a sin when sinners do not believe on Christ (John 16:9) and the cause of their condemnation (John 3:18/36) This is not the language of a mere suggestion, but a clear command to obey the gospel. The Lord Jesus is coming again to take vengeance on those who know not God and that obey not the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8)
The word invited only appears three times in the Bible. It is never used by God, but once each by Samuel (1 Samuel 9:24) Absalom (2 Samuel 13:23) and Haman referring to Esther (Esther 5:12).
God is a God of love and compassion. When He was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, He is portrayed in the Bible as One who yearns over lost sinners. See Him weeping over the rebellious sinners of Jerusalem and telling us, midst His hot and copious tears, how He would have gathered them, but they would not (Matthew 23:37) I am pretty sure that His words of condemnation in Matthew 23 were delivered in severe tones. We are commanded in Romans 9 to behold both the goodness and severity of God, and a severe tone would do full justice to the words He uttered. However, it can hardly be anything other than right to suppose that His tones in John 7:37 (loud cry notwithstanding) and in Matthew 11:28-30 were delivered with all the sweetness of an invitation.
The wise preacher, who always seeks out acceptable words (Ecclesaistes 12:10), will know when to employ and how to employ both methods of delivery. The great aim is to get the sinner to Christ and to do so by employing Scriptural language. Sometimes he will woo and other times, he will rebuke. Often, in the same sermon, being largely dictated by his text and its subsequent development. I would suggest that he tries to avoid coming to the end of every sermon with a blast of hell fire. Jonathan Edwards might have had the sinners clinging to their seat in fear of dropping into the Hell, but that was in his suitably entitled sermon: "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" based on Deuteronomy 32:35. It seems a bit rough to preach a whole sermon on "God is Love" and then labour at the end for 7 full minutes developing the thought of how hot the undying flames of an everlasting Hell really are.
This business of command and invite reminded me of some words of CH Spurgeon - the great Calvinist evangelist par excellent. In his sermon from Luke 14:23 "Compel them to come in" (Park Street 5 # 227) CHS used the words command in relation to repentance.
But do you spurn it? Do you still refuse it? Then I must change my tone a minute. I will not merely tell you the message, and invite you as I do with all earnestness, and sincere affection — I will go further. Sinner, in God’s name I command you to repent and believe.
Spurgeon developed this theme, concentrating on the fact that his authority for such a command came from God whose gospel he preached. But still, he could anticipate sinners sitting on in their sins. But Spurgeon wasn't for giving up. He seemed to sense that some of the fish he was supposed to be catching (compelling them to come in) were sniffing at the bait. So he changed tactic. He continued:
But do you turn away and say you will not be commanded? Then again will I change my note. If that avails not, all other means shall be tried. My brother, I come to you simple of speech, and I exhort you to flee to Christ. O my brother, dost thou know what a loving Christ he is? Let me tell thee from my own soul what I know of him. I, too, once despised him. He knocked at the door of my heart and I refused to open it. He came to me, times without number, morning by morning, and night by night; he checked me in my conscience and spoke to me by his Spirit, and when, at last, the thunders of the law prevailed in my conscience, I thought that Christ was cruel and unkind. O I can never forgive myself that I should have thought so ill of him. But what a loving reception did I have when I went to him. I thought he would smite me, but his hand was not clenched in anger but opened wide in mercy. I thought full sure that his eyes would dart lightning-flashes of wrath upon me; but, instead thereof, they were full of tears. He fell upon my neck and kissed me; he took off my rags and did clothe me with his righteousness, and caused my soul to sing aloud for joy; while in the house of my heart and in the house of his church there was music and dancing, because his son that he had lost was found, and he that was dead was made alive. I exhort you, then, to look to Jesus Christ and to be lightened. Sinner, you will never regret, — I will be bondsman for my Master that you will never regret it, — you will have no sigh to go back to your state of condemnation; you shall go out of Egypt and shall go into the promised land and shall find it flowing with milk and honey. The trials of Christian life you shall find heavy, but you will find grace will make them light. And as for the joys and delights of being a child of God, if I lie this day you shall charge me with it in days to come. If you will taste and see that the Lord is good, I am not afraid but that you shall find that he is not only good, but better than human lips ever can describe.
I think this change of voice here is simply wonderful! What! The vile, bankrupt sinner sitting in the pew would not be commanded by the glorious God of Heaven and earth! What a great opportunity to thunder out Romans 9:20 "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" But Spurgeon didn't go there. He was determined to (metaphorically) kill the sinner with love. Did he sense the great door of the sinner's heart weakening? To rebuke might well have summonsed other nefarious forces to secure the door. Spurgeon wanted in! And, as we can see, often (under God) he got in.
John Calvin is not our standard, but he is useful to show that Calvinism is not afraid of the invite word in relation to sinners coming to Christ. He wrote in his commentary:
These repetitions describe the patience of God in calling us; for he does not merely invite us once, but when he sees that we are sluggish, he gives a second and even a third warning, in order to conquer our hardheartedness. Thus he does not all at once reject those who despise him, but after having frequently invited them. (Isaiah 55:3)
To go back to Spurgeon again. I never tire of recommending Iain Murray's excellent little book "Spurgeon v. Hyper Calvinism - the Battle for Gospel Preaching." I command you to buy it, and if you don't, I plead with you to do so. Here is Calvinism at its purest and warmest.
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