What Shall We Say
by Max A Forsythe
- "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
- He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
Next to the Gospel of John, I think that this chapter is one of my most used Scripture portions. Over the last twenty years I have preached on this chapter more than a dozen times. In the last month, it has been a real struggle to amend the studies of many years and to consolidate those meanderings into a coherent whole. In my short preaching career there have been many challenges and struggles to maintain my grasp on the integrity of the Word. From my very first sermon, at a sunrise service in the spring of 1963, through the long wilderness years in the liberal church, there was opposition to the content and application of my understanding of what the Word contained.
Early on I had to develop the habit of writing complete sermon notes to defend myself against wild accusations of irresponsibility and ignorance. After all, according to the psychologists and liberal theologians, I was not responsible for leadership because I was rigid in my theology and uncompromising in my confession. I had a terrible habit which still infuriates our contemporaries. I have always compared my thoughts and ideas against those of the historic confessions and creeds, and have refused to impose contemporary wisdom on their essential orthodoxy. I also adopted the habit that C.S. Lewis always advocated. That is, the reading of an old book for every new book, so that a proper perspective of thought might be maintained, consistent with the understandings of the great Doctors and Teachers of the faith once given to the saints.
One of those biblical teachers is Charles Hodge, whose writings might now be considered ancient, since he wrote over a hundred years ago. In his comments on the verses before us he makes some very encouraging observations. As we consider our calling to witness, “what shall we say” in response to all that has gone before? Not only is God for us, as Paul declares, He who is “determined to save us ...allows nothing to separate his children from himself....The very purpose and promise of salvation includes the fact that its participants shall be preserved from apostasy and deadly sins.”
Now, let me assure you that holding fast to the essential doctrines and practices of orthodoxy is no easy task. There are temptations that come from the competition of the interdenominational mega-church movement, worldly standards of competence, and comparative statistics by which success is measured in the ministry. More than once in the last year or two I have wondered -- what can we do, what can we say, to increase the rate of growth here in Christ Covenant. Your elders, whose combined wisdom I rely on very much, have been very helpful. They have had to listen to more than one hair-brained scheme that I have laid before them in the last year. Even as we ask anew the question on Paul’s heart,“What shall we say?” the plain truth of Scripture shines out as our essential message.
Verse thirty-two must focus us on the heart of the gospel: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all...” This is the essential hope of the gospel message for the elect. If we will but continue in our belief in that hope, Paul calls us to consider “how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” In the last century Charles Hadden Spurgeon held firm in the essentials of the faith and went on to enjoy the blessings of the Lord for holding fast instead of modernizing his message as some of his contemporaries were more apt to do, as the foundations for our century were being laid. Even though Spurgeon’s career was cut short by an early death, his faithful writings are read more widely than any of his more worldly contemporaries. Even though the worldly mocked him, and his books were hidden away in the liberal seminaries, no substantive charges could be conjured up.
I remember having to stand before a liberal presbytery where my views were unpopular. The worst charge dreamed up was the fact that I believed that Isaiah was written by one author. I guess that five year experience of intense persecution and the doubts of many relatives and friends drove me deeper into the wisdom of the confessions and their reflection of the essential doctrines of the faith. After all, who are we to fear -- the God of heaven, or the worldly crowd? I am thankful that the worldly persecutors of our day are content with only ruining careers instead of burning “heretics” at the stake. Thus, those of us who are called to preach the truth can continue, as the Lord assembles His elect in new congregations and new denominations. Like Paul, the martyrs and all the rest we need to comprehend the comforting teaching in verse thirty-five: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” And with this comfort, there is the assurance that Paul wants us to be convinced “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So shall we struggle on in our calling in the faith.
Now, there is one verse here that only recently have I gained assurance that the promise is being worked out. Providentially, our consideration of this passage was delayed for a week so that I might experience that assurance. Look carefully at verse thirty-seven: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” I know that I have never been overconfident in the success of Christ’s true church in our day.
I remember a story told by the theist Ben Franklin, whose political career was ending when the constitutional convention met in 1787. After a hot summer’s debate on the issues and structures facing the assembly in Philadelphia, he strode up and, invoking the providence of our Creator, noted that most of the summer he had looked at the carved sun on the headboard of Washington’s chair. He said that he had often wondered if the sun carved there were a rising or a setting sun. Finally, at long last, he affirmed that he was convinced that it was a rising sun.
So, too, have the latest trends encouraged me that our cause here at Christ Covenant and our sister Reformed congregations as well, are rising. This encouragement is fourfold. First, at our recent Presbytery meeting, the delegates chose twice to rein in the irresponsible spending of the church growth crowd, and the new person coming in to encourage our Midwestern growth may have a more solid head on his shoulders than the person who previously held that job. Second, very many of the worldly professionals that I know are finally beginning to realize that their ideas and programs have led to disaster rather than success. Third, the funding of their causes is under intense attack at the national level, and if the latest news articles are true, the very future existence of some liberal political parties may be in doubt.
Fourth, the young people in our humanistic schools are hungry for spiritual instruction. Just this week one class insisted on discussing sexual ethics from my perspective. I refused three times, before I realized that they were all serious in wanting to know the what the commandment in this area really meant. And this is only one of several spiritual encounters just this fall.
May we hope that the gospel will once again be in season? I hope so, and I believe we should all be praying for a solid reformation and revival of all of Christ’s churches. Several years ago, I commented on the sudden appearance of stress as a national problem. Very many of the people most affected were Christians. Now, with the increasing financial frenzy, and with the realization that the course of government and society have failed, people are slowly realizing their utter emptiness -- an emptiness that only the knowledge of Christ can fill. Yes, there is still a long way to go, and as God slowly strangles the life out of our liberal predilections for sinful solutions, there is a growing opportunity for the conquest of the Spirit in our country. For the first time in my life, I am cautiously hopeful. May we pray earnestly that the Lord will accomplish the necessary changes, for His own Glory and Honor. May the worldly ways of the wicked come to their just deserts. And may many of the lost be saved within the providential purpose of our Lord and our God.