No Proclamation without Appeal

The second lesson we must learn from this Biblical coupling together of proclamation and appeal is the complementary one: we must never make the proclamation without then issuing an appeal.  If one had to choose between the two, I would rather have the proclamation than the appeal, but fortunately we are not faced with this choice.  We are to find room for both proclamation and appeal in our preaching if we would be true heralds of the King.  I am not presuming to say what form this appeal should take.  Nor am I advocating any particular evangelistic technique or method.  I am simply saying that proclamation without appeal is not Biblical preaching.  It is not enough to teach the gospel, we must urge men to embrace it.

Naturally, there are many factors which inhibit preachers from making this appeal.  There is a kind of hyper-Calvinism, which regards the call to repentance and faith as an attempt to usurp the prerogatives of the Holy Spirit.  Of course we agree that man is blind, dead and bound; that repentance and faith are the gifts of God; and that men are unable to turn from their sins to Christ without the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit.  The apostle Paul taught these truths.  But this should not stop us from beseeching men to be reconciled to God, for the apostle Paul did this also!  Other preachers have a great horror of emotionalism.  So have I, if this means the artificial stirring of the emotions by rhetorical tricks or other devices.  But we should not fear genuine emotion.  If we can preach Christ crucified and remain altogether unmoved, we must have a hard heart indeed.  More to be feared than emotion is cold professionalism, the dry, detached utterance of a lecture which has neither heart nor soul in it.  Do man’s peril and Christ’s salvation mean so little to us that we feel no warmth rise within us as we think about them? (John Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961], 57-8).

The Highest of All Missionary Motives

John Stott comments on Romans 1:5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”

If, therefore, God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess Him, so should we. We should be ‘jealous’ (as Scripture sometimes puts it) for the honor of His name—troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honor and glory which are due to it.  The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God, verse 18), but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Some evangelism, to be sure, is no better than a thinly disguised form of imperialism, whenever our real ambition is for the honor of our nation, church, organization, or ourselves.  Only one imperialism is Christian, and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire or kingdom . . . Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die (John Stott, The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 53.

The Depth of Total Depravity and the Height of Gospel Liberation

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— [3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV)

The statement that we are spiritually dead is known as “total depravity.”  Total depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he can possibly be.  It does mean that every part of our being is tainted by sin (Stott, Ephesians, 79).  There is another dog in this fight.  Some would argue that we are not dead but in a coma; we are not totally depraved but partially depraved.  Some teach that man is born morally neutral and becomes sinful by imitation (Pelagianism).  However, Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  Others teach that our mind and body are affected by Adam’s sin but not our will.  Consequently, with the aid of God’s common grace, we can choose to be saved (Arminianism).  This was embraced by John Wesley.  Accordingly, it is the official position of the Methodist church.  However, we only need to look at Ephesians 2:3, “carrying out the desires of the body” to discover that our will is tainted by sin and in need of God’s special saving grace to choose Him.  In case that was not compelling enough evidence, Jesus said in John 15:16, “you did not choose me, but I chose you.”  We did not cooperate with God in salvation, we simply responded to the gracious call of God like Lazarus, who was physically dead, responded to the life-giving words of Jesus, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43)!  So the notion of partial depravity falls short of expressing the extent of depravity in Ephesians 2:1-3. 

Total depravity teaches us that we are active participants in sin, not a passive accomplice.  A statement like, “the devil made me do it” expresses a passive accomplice mentality. 

Let them not then say that he who does wrong and sins, transgresses because of demons.  For then he would be guiltless.  Instead, a person becomes a demoniac man by choosing the same things as do the demons: by sinning and being unstable, frivolous, and fickle in his desires—just like a demon.  Now he who is bad (having become sinful by nature, because of evil) becomes depraved.  He has what he has chosen.  And, being sinful, he sins also in his actions.  Likewise, the good man does right (Clement of Alexandria [c. 195, E], 2.502 in A Doctrine of Early Christian Beliefs, 414). 

We live in a world where the reasons to not own up for our sin are legion.  We have this condition, we have this chemical imbalance.  I will not deny that such conditions exist but I will not concede that such circumstances remove our culpability.  We cannot continue to walk lockstep with the world and give in to the notion that sin is treated with a pill rather than the gospel.  It’s like throwing air freshener into a septic tank in the hopes that it will take away the stench.  We need to come to terms with the depravity that resides within us.  Otherwise we cannot experience the liberating power of the gospel.  We will live our lives as victims rather than victors in Christ.

In Ephesians 2:1-10 Paul first plums the depths of pessimism about man, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God.  It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible.  For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace (Stott, Ephesians, 69). 

John Stott on the Swoon Theory

The swoon theory was advanced by the German theologian and Biblical critic Heinrich Paulus (Miller, Jesus Christ is Alive, 38). This idea asserts that Christ suffered terribly on the cross, He suffered from shock, and swooned but did not die. The disciples thought he was dead (and apparently so did the Roman guards and Dr. Luke) so Jesus was buried in haste due to the approaching Sabbath. While in the cool air of the tomb, Jesus awakened. John Stott responds,

[Can we really believe] that after the rigours and pains of trial, mockery, flogging and crucifixion he could survive…in a stone sepulcher with neither warmth nor food nor medical care? That he could then rally sufficiently to perform the superhuman feat of shifting the boulder which secured the mouth of the tomb…without disturbing the Roman guard? That he could appear to the disciples in such a way as to give them the impression that he had vanquished death? … Such credulity is more incredible than Thomas’ unbelief (Stott, Basic Christianity, 49).