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An Overwhelming Need

27 July 2011 by Brad Williams

Q. 30. Does God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God does not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his mere love and mercy delivers his elect out of it, and brings them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.

In my mind's eye I can see myself as a younger man, sitting on a pew, listening to the revivalist/pastor preach. I am only a couple of months away from moving on to seminary, and I am only a year out of college. I have taken a job as a summer intern as a youth minister in Lincoln, Nebraska. The pastor's text is John 3:16, and my heart is about to explode.

I know that this man that I work with is basically an Arminian, and I know that because for the past six months I have been reading Sproul, Piper, Pink, and a host of other Puritans. I have also been reading a little C.S. Lewis on the side, and I've managed to get through a few of the Left Behind books as well. My theology, my view of God, has been turned upside down. I have discovered Calvinism. I have memorized the TULIP. It was sweet going down, but it has turned bitter in my stomach.

I am having a crisis of faith as the preacher expounds his text. I know he is a good man who is concerned for the souls of men. He weeps for souls. As he preaches about how "God so loved," I keep hearing Paul say "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction...vessels of wrath prepared for destruction," and I cannot get my mind around the two ideas. In Vacation Bible School, the children sang, "Jesus Loves Me", and I thought, "Does he? Does he love you all?" The crisis of faith I am having is not the kind of crisis wherein I am in danger of losing my faith per se; I feel as if I am about to lose my mind instead, and that in the process, my heart is being ground to dust.

I grew up a typical Southern Baptist, which means I believed in Jesus and eternal security, but that was about it. After my conversion, I met a man who was a pastor of a Primitive Baptist church. He loved Jesus, and he was the only one who would talk to me about Romans 9. This pastor was a hyper-Calvinist, though I did not have a category for such a thing at the time. I testify that such men exist, and not just as boogey-men in the dreams of Arminian evangelists. He was the first man to ever tell me God had no intention of saving every man, and even that God did not love all men. After all, God hated Esau.

I hear the pastor plead with us. He tells us that God will save whoever will come to him, but I know that when he says it he doesn't just mean the elect. This pastor wants all men to come. This pastor believes God might save every man who hears him; he believes that Jesus loves every child in VBS; this man would have pled with Esau even if he had read Romans 9.

I decided that day that I would plead for the souls of men as if God could and would save every man that I talked to about Christ. I decided that God's love for every child is genuine, even if they do not number amongst the elect. I decided that election would be a comfort to me and not a sorrow; it guaranteed the salvation of many, and yet damned no man to hell. Only sin can do that, and every man's sin is not due to his status in election.

It was in this way that I finally began to be Reformed. Not simply by confession or creed, but by an overwhelming need for the gospel to be good news to all men, especially for those that believe.