Let Not Conscience Make You Linger

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God

The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the urgency of evangelism. Whatever we may believe about election, the fact remains that men without Christ are lost, and going to hell (pardon the use of this tarnished phrase: I use it because I mean it). 'Except ye repent,' said our Lord to the crowd, 'ye shall all...perish.' And we who are Christ's are sent to tell them of the One - the only One - who can save them from perishing. Is not their need urgent? If it is, does that not make evangelism a matter of urgency for us? If you knew that a man was asleep in a blazing building, you would think it a matter of urgency to try and get to him, and wake him up, and bring him out. The world is full of people who are unaware that they stand under the wrath of God: is it not similarly a matter of urgency that we should go to them, and try to arouse them, and show them the way of escape?

We should not be held back by the thought that if they are not elect, they will not believe us, and our efforts to convert them will fail. That is true; but it is our business, and should make no difference to our action. In the first place, it is always wrong to abstain from doing good for fear that it might not be appreciated. In the second place, the non-elect in this world are faceless men as far as we are concerned. We know that they exist, but we do not and cannot know who they are, and it is as futile as it is impious for us to try and guess. The identity of the reprobate is one of God's 'secret things' into which his people may not pry. In the third place, our calling as Christians is not to love God's elect, and them only, but to love our neighbor, irrespective of whether he is elect or not. Now, the nature of neighbor is uncovered, we are to show love to him as best we can by seeking to share with him the good news without which he must needs perish. So we find Paul warning and teaching 'every man': not merely because he was an apostle, but because every man was his neighbor. And the measure of the urgency of our evangelistic task is the greatness of our neighbor's need and the immediacy of his danger. 

The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the genuineness of the gospel invitation, or the truth of the gospel promises. Whatever we may believe about election, and, for the matter, about the extent of the atonement, the fact remains that God in the gospel really does offer Christ and promise justification and life to 'whosoever will.' 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' As God commands all men everywhere to repent, so God invites all men everywhere to come to Christ and find mercy. The invitation is for sinners only, but for sinners universally; it is not for sinners of a certain type only, reformed sinners, or sinners whose hearts have been prepared by a fixed minimum of sorrow for sin; but for sinners as such, just as they are. As the hymn puts it: 

"Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream; 

All the fitness He requireth

Is to feel your need of Him."

The fact that the gospel invitation is free and unlimited- 'sinners Jesus will receive' - 'come and welcome to Jesus Christ' - is the glory of the gospel as a revelation of divine grace. 

Excerpt from Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer