Article One: The Gospel
We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.
We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.
Genesis 3:15; Psalm 2:1-12; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; Luke 19.10; Luke 24:45-49; John 1:1-18, 3:16; Romans 1:1-6, 5:8; 8:34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 4:4-7; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-16; 2 Peter 3:9
I expect no objections to Article One for its centering the Gospel in the person and work of Jesus. But the further point of this affirmation and denial is that the salvation proclaimed by this Gospel, though not finally received by all, is in fact available to all. The Scriptures cited support this declaration and argue against the assertions that only some sinners (those elected by God in eternity past) have the opportunity to respond affirmatively to the preaching of the gospel. Below, I cite two noted Baptist Calvinists of the past with differing opinions on the question.
James P. Boyce, the oft cited Founder of Southern Seminary, says, regarding the Decree of Reprobation in his Abstract of Theology:
… that God, in eternity, when he elected some, did likewise not elect others; that as resulting from this non-election, but not as efficiently caused by it, he passes by these in the bestowment of the special favors shown to the Elect, and , as in like manner yet further resulting, condemns men because of sin to everlasting destruction, and while they are in the state of sin and condemnation, he effects or permits the hardening of their hearts, so that his truth is not appreciated, but actually rejected (p. 356. See also his comments regarding the ineffectiveness of the preaching of the Gospel on the non-elect, pp. 367-373, op. cit.).
He asserts, “The choice of some and not of the whole, involves the non-election and thus the rejection of others” (p. 358, op. cit.). In eternity past, God decreed election based on His good pleasure and rejection based on His good pleasure. This decree of reprobation is also called double predestination.
It is my opinion that Boyce would not concur with Article One, particularly the denial. He would affirm the position that God pre-temporally elected certain individuals for eternal life which makes their faith response inevitable while not electing all others which makes their faith response impossible. He deflects objections to this view with an appeal to the sovereignty and justice of God.
Charles Spurgeon, a self-described Calvinist and hero to most Southern Baptists including me, goes to great lengths to separate the decree to elect and the decree to pass by (or reject). His sermon on Romans 9:13 begins: “Do not imagine for an instant that I pretend to be able thoroughly to elucidate the great mysteries of predestination” (The Treasury of the Bible, Vol. 7, p. 89). He affirms that the Bible teaches “that some men are chosen, other men are left,” then basically argues that God’s decision to elect some is alone causative for their salvation but God’s decision not to elect others is not in any way causative for their condemnation.
Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, sovereignly-it is the same thing-created that man with no other intention, than that of damning him? . . . Well, if you can believe it, I pity you, that is all I can say: you deserve pity, that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth forever. You are quite right when you say the reason why God loves a man, is because God does do so; there is no reason in the man. But do not give the same reason as to why God hates a man. If God deals with any man severely, it is because that man deserves all he gets…God had nothing to do with his condemnation…Justice is that which damns a man; it is mercy, it is free grace, that saves; sovereignty holds the scale of love; it is justice that holds the other scale. Who can put that into the hand of sovereignty? That were to libel God and dishonor him (pp. 92-93, op. cit.). . . . “All Glory to God in salvation; all the blame to men in damnation” (p. 93).
Spurgeon seems to be conflicted as to whether any sinner could be saved. He says on one hand, “Though I believe to a degree the Spirit works in the hearts of all who hear…I am sure he works in some so powerfully, that they can no longer resist him” (p. 90, op. cit). Then, he avers, “Oh, sinners, if you perish, upon your own head must be your doom” (p. 94, op. cit.). He concludes that it is not possible or necessary to reconcile the two arguments. He deflects objections to his view with an appeal to mystery.
I have personally dialogued with contemporary Southern Baptist Calvinists who agree with Boyce (double predestination) and those who agree with Spurgeon (single predestination). It would help matters in our current debate if our Calvinist friends would speak plainly on this matter. I believe Boyce’s view is unscriptural. I believe Spurgeon’s view is internally inconsistent.
So, which is true: Is salvation available to any sinner who hears the gospel or only to some sinners (the Elect) who hear the gospel? The Article above asserts the former. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith (which I would word differently in some of its articles) reads in Article 6:
We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel; that it is the immediate duty of all to accept them by a cordial, penitent, and obedient faith; and that nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth but his own inherent depravity and voluntary rejection of the gospel; which rejection involves him in an aggravated condemnation.
We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person.