Many times I have heard from Reformed Christians, even pastors, that the doctrines of sovereign grace ought not to be preached to unbelievers or young Christians. It is usually said that these are dangerous doctrines. But I have yet to hear a scriptural argument in favor of that proposition. I cannot properly refute a statement that is a mere assertion; nor is any mere assertion worth dignifying by a refutation.
And yet, because this assertion is widely accepted, and because of its pernicious character, it must be addressed. And the only way to address it is to defend the opposite proposition. This I now undertake to do.
And first, I would ask if there are any other biblical doctrines that ought to be reserved for certain audiences? Are there secret doctrines in Christianity, like those of the old mystery cults and the Masonic Lodge, that are only for initiates, and not to be divulged to anyone on the outside? Does not the Bible lay out all its doctrines openly, for all to read? No, I must protest that the doctrines of grace ought to be preached freely and indiscriminately to all audiences, like every other doctrine of the Bible.
And practically speaking, is not every public meeting of a mixed character? If the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation is not to be preached except to mature believers; how is this to be accomplished? Should an announcement be made that doctrines are now going to be preached, which are for spiritually mature audiences audiences only? Are the rest to be require to leave the sanctuary, or to go home? Are secret meetings to be held, to which only certain members of the congregation are invited? Or ought the attendees to a service be vetted at the door , and all children, immature Christians and unbelievers turned away? If these proposals are absurd, then what is left, but to reserve this teaching to private conversations with persons deemed worthy to hear these “dangerous” doctrines? What biblical warrant is there for this?
On the contrary, our Lord Jesus did not reserve these doctrines for the spiritually mature. He knew that there were unbelievers in His audience (John 6:26, 36, 64) when the conversation recorded in the sixth chapter of John took place. Yet He openly and explicitly preached the doctrines of election (v. 37), the special call(vss. 44,45), man’s inability(vs. 44), and the security of the believer(vss. 39, 40, 44, 47) to people whom He knew were only going to be offended by these doctrines, and would subsequently abandon him (vs. 66).
Did Paul jealously guard these doctrines, when he sent his epistles to the churches? Did he tell them that there were some elements of Christianity which they must wait to learn until he could come and instruct them privately? Let us see.
The epistle to the Romans is the first one we meet with in the NT, and in the very first chapter, verses 6,7 he speaks of the special call of God as if it needed no explanation. How do we know that this was the special, and not the general call? How could it be used as a mark of distinction, if it was a call issued to all in general? And yet that is clearly the way it is used, as a mark of distinction “the called”, in distinction from those who were not called.
In chapter eight, verse 28, the same expression “the called” is used. It is well known that what follows is one of the most explicit passages in all the Bible about the free and sovereign grace of God. There we see the “golden chain”, stretching from eternity past to eternity future — with the links of foreknowledge (election), predestination, calling, justification, and glorification.
In chapters 9-11, the whole predestinated plan of God for Jew and Gentile is expounded and celebrated, all built upon the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in His dispensations of grace.
Is there any warning on the front page that some of the material in this epistle may not be appropriate for spiritual minors? Is it not meant to be read openly in the churches, though there are some things in them which are “hard to be understood” as Peter confesses (2 Peter 3:14-16). Peter does not chide Paul for exposing these doctrines to all, even though he deplores the fact that “they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [Paul’s words] as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
I could go on to show example after example of the open declaration of the doctrines of grace indiscriminately to saved and unsaved alike, but I desist. For every place in the Bible where God is said to be the absolute sovereign is naked and exposed to the whole world. It is not written in code, or in invisible ink; but emblazoned upon the pages of Holy Scripture as if in letters of fire!
Why then do so many pastors who name themselves “Reformed”, or others who admit (in private) to believing in the doctrine of sovereign grace, not preach it? Perhaps it is because they sincerely believe that it is a “dangerous “doctrine. Perhaps they feel that they do not know how to preach it, having doubts about its consistency with the free offer of the gospel. One must have sympathy with these men.
Or perhaps they do not preach it, out of fear that it will start a controversy; which may lead to a church split (as it sometimes has done) or the ejection of the offending pastor. To them I humbly offer the following remarks.
Were Peter and Paul afraid of starting a controversy which might cause them trouble? Was Peter afraid of controversy or personal difficulties when he preached the famous sermon on the day of Pentecost? How did he respond when he was dragged before the authorities and beaten (Acts 5:40-42)? What happened when Paul preached the gospel of grace in Antioch, in Pisidia (Acts 13:42-51)? Did he ever shrink from the possibility of persecution? Did he not know that the Jews would hinder him in any way that they could, everywhere that he went? “None of these things move me.” he said, when he was warned against going up to Jerusalem. Remeber Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison, singing and praising God?
Is it following Jesus to decline the cross? Is it faithfulness to hold back a part of the whole counsel of God to protect your own interests? “God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”, Paul said to young Timothy.
You may say that the doctrines of grace are not essential to salvation; and so need not be preached. But your argument proves too much. In general, all that must be believed for salvation is that I am a sinner, and Christ is the savior. Isn’t that right? So, does that mean that there is no need to preach anything else? When Paul was giving his parting address to the elders of the Ephesian church, he said this:
“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:25-27)
And to Timothy he wrote:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2Timothy 3:16-17)
There is danger in preaching the doctrines of grace, It is dangerous for the “unlearned and unstable” who, as Peter said, “wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” There is danger to the preacher, of persecution. But if he does not preach it, there is danger that his flock will not receive the benefits which the doctrines are designed to impart. There is danger that he will fall into the habit of holding back things that he should be preaching. In that case, there is danger that he will be judged unfaithful in the last day, and that the work which he has done will be consumed by fire.