I have been listening to the latest Connected Kingdom podcast from “the odd couple,” David Murray and Tim Challies. I was intrigued to hear them discussing the fall-out from Rob Bell’s new book, and asking whether or not the wider church really believes in hell anyway. Surely, they reason, if we really believed in hell we would be doing more to take the gospel to the lost?
Over the last few days I have been putting the finishing touches to the manuscript of what I hope will be my next book, with the working title The Broken-Hearted Evangelist. I finally submitted that manuscript to the publisher yesterday, and – though I have no idea how long it will be before it is available – it is intended, at least in part, to address the issue of a right response to the realities of judgement and salvation.
As a taster, here is the draft preface of the current manuscript. Not sure how much of it will survive the editing process, but hopefully it will give a sense of the nature and scope and direction of the book. I will keep you posted on progress, God willing.
There is nothing that more glorifies God than the accomplishment of His saving purposes in His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you know and believe that? There is nothing more important to a man than the destiny of his immortal soul. Do you know and believe that? There is a heaven to be gained and there is a hell from which to flee, and our relationship to the Lord Jesus is the difference between the two. Do you know and believe that? Only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Do you know and believe that? The saints of God are sent by God into the world in order to preach that gospel by which sinners are saved. Do you know and believe that?
It is easy to answer such questions with a gutless orthodoxy. Lively faith in Christ grasps spiritual realities in a way that galvanizes the believer. All truth – whether of God’s grace to us or of our duty to God – bears fruit in us only insofar as we are connected to Christ by faith. This being so, says John Owen,
he alone understands divine truth who doeth it: John vii.17. There is not, therefore, any one text of Scripture which presseth our duty unto God, that we can so understand as to perform that duty in an acceptable manner, without an actual regard unto Christ, from whom alone we receive ability for the performance of it, and in or through whom alone it is accepted with God.
John Owen, Christologia in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 1:82.
We cannot pretend that we have understood divine truth unless we are living it. We cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men and souls and heaven and hell and salvation unless it is making a difference to the way in which we think and feel and pray and speak and act.
A vigorous and practical concern for the lost, growing out of a desire for God’s glory in man’s salvation, is an eminently Christlike thing and a hallmark of healthy Christianity. By such a standard, there are many unhealthy churches and unhealthy Christians; by such a standard, and to my great grief, I am not well myself.
While I accept that there can be an unbalanced and crippling expectation and even unbiblical obsession with some aspects of evangelism and “mission” (as the portentous modern singular would have it!), there is an opposite and perhaps, in our day, greater danger that believers and churches enjoying possession of a great deposit of truth nevertheless do not know it. If they did, they would be doing something.
It is very easy to be up in arms, for example, about current assaults on what can so calmly be described as the doctrine of hell. “Of course there is a hell!” we protest, offended and disturbed that someone could deny what is so plainly written in the Word of God. Is there a hell? What difference has it made? What have you done differently because there is a hell? Is its reality driving our thoughts, words and deeds? Many of us who have entered the kingdom have come perilously close to the flames of the pit. We have felt its fire, and yet we have, perhaps, forgotten that from which we have been delivered. The urgency with which we fled to Christ ourselves has perhaps been replaced with a casual awareness of spiritual reality that never energizes us to do anything for those who are themselves in danger of eternal punishment.
The same could be said of heaven, of Christ’s atonement for sinners, of God’s grace and mercy, of the freeness of the gospel, of the excellence of salvation. “Yes, yes, yes,” the monotonous ticking off of doctrines received continues. But what difference does it make to you and to me?
It is my heartfelt contention that the truths we believe ought to make the people of God broken-hearted evangelists. My prayer for this book is that the Lord Christ would make its author and its readers truly to understand the gospel duty which God has laid upon His church, and therefore to make us willing to perform the work we have been given to do, and by His strength to make us able to do it, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.