Article 6: The Saving Power of the Gospel
What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.
How then, do people come to faith in Christ, if the light of nature only serves to render those of every race, tribe, and tongue without excuse (cf. Romans 1:20)?
Furthermore, how do people come to faith in Christ if the law was given, in part, to be the means of exposing our wickedness and inciting us to sin all the more, thereby demonstrating to us that we are guilty sinners who desperately need a savior?
Recall that under the first head of doctrine the authors of the canons were very careful to point out that if there is nothing good which resides in us which motivates God to act on our behalf and deliver us from our sins, then the only reason why any of us come to faith in Jesus Christ is to be found solely in God’s own goodness and graciousness and not in ourselves. We have also seen that God elects to save a multitude of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam so vast that no man can count them, and then delivers them from the guilt of their sins.
This means that the only reason why any of those who are rendered without excuse by the light of nature and demonstrated to be guilty through the law, come to faith in Christ at all, is to be found in God’s decree to save those he has chosen based upon reasons known only to himself.
But God not only ordains the ends—that is, who will be saved—he also ordains the means by which he will save them. God graciously calls his elect to faith in Jesus through the foolishness of the preaching of the gospel—the very point being made here in article six.
The gospel is not found in natural revelation, nor is the gospel somehow hidden deep within the Ten Commandments. Rather, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the gospel is the account of the saving work of Jesus Christ—his death, burial and resurrection according to the Scriptures. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 1:18 and Romans 1:18, the gospel is the revelation of the power of God. In the gospel, Christ’s righteousness is clearly revealed. The gospel is not given to us in the sunset, nor is the gospel given in the command that “we shall not have any other gods than the one true God.”
Rather, the gospel is recorded for us in the historical events in the New Testament regarding the doing and dying of Jesus Christ—which is hidden in type and in shadow in the Old Testament, and made then clear, when in the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4). The gospel is therefore, only revealed in the Scriptures and cannot be found in nature or the law.
Given the fact that we are born in sin, guilty for Adam’s act of rebellion in Eden, totally depraved and unable to believe, that we are turned in upon ourselves, darkened in our understanding, unable and unwilling to submit to God’s law, the question quite naturally arises, “how then, are any saved?” Here the canons affirm without equivocation that salvation is entirely of the Lord. This is God’s doing, not ours! Since God has ordained the ends (those who will be saved) and the means (the preaching of the gospel) this indicates that it is through the message of reconciliation (the preaching of Christ crucified) that God the Holy Spirit calls his elect to faith in Jesus Christ.
In other words, redemption has been decreed by God. In addition, satisfaction for our sins has been rendered by Christ upon the cross, and now, we are told that God himself ensures that all those who the Father has chosen and for whom the son has died, will indeed come to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit does this, we are told, by working through the word, specifically, through the message of reconciliation, which is simply the proclamation of the gospel.
The canons, therefore, are careful to point out that the persons of the blessed Trinity work in unison to provide for the salvation of sinners. The Father elects, the Son redeems and the Spirit calls—redemption decreed, accomplished and applied. The Arminian, on the other hand, ends up with God wanting to save all but not being able to bring it to pass, the Son dying for everyone yet saving no one in particular, and the Spirit calling all those who are willing to let him have their way with him. This certainly does not accord with Paul’s conception of this as spelled out in Ephesians 1:3-14.
The canons go on to point out that there is one only gospel, that it is found only in Holy Scripture. In fact that gospel runs from beginning to end—from Genesis 3:15-Revelation 22:21. This means the Scriptures are about Christ the mediator and Christ the reconciler, and that it is only through the message of reconciliation that God’s elect come to faith in Christ. This is accomplished not by the power or ability of the human will—which is, as we have seen, enslaved to the guilt and power of sin—but through the action of God the Holy Spirit in calling God’s elect to faith in Christ through the message of the gospel.