Since the passing of Billy Graham on February 21, 2018, I have been thinking a lot about the current state of evangelism. Unfortunately, it is not good. A slew of factors, including the rise of the “prosperity gospel,” a growing hyper-Pentecostal movement, and an obsession with politics have cast a shadow on the church’s evangelistic mission.
Combine this confusion in the church with an ever-rising secularism in our culture’s most powerful institutions and establishments, and it seems that we are in the midst of a perfect storm that rages against the advance of the gospel.
The Covenant of Redemption
It is during this perilous time that I have been reminded of an important truth. An ancient truth. A biblical truth. A truth the Reformed faith has emphasized particularly during times of renewal and revival. A truth that has fueled evangelism and missions for the past two thousand years.
It is the truth Paul mentions in Titus when he says that God promised “eternal life . . . before the ages began” (1:2).
It is the truth that John references in Revelation 13:8 when he mentions that those who will worship the beast are the ones “whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”
It is the truth sometimes called the covenant of redemption. It is the glorious doctrine that before the cosmos was created, our Trinitarian God covenanted to redeem a people for the honor and glory of His name—the Father choosing who would be redeemed, the Son agreeing to purchase their redemption, and the Holy Spirit agreeing to apply Christ’s redeeming work to the elect.
It is this truth that carried Paul, Peter, and the other Apostles to the ends of the earth, knowing that God has chosen an elect people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation who must come to faith through the preaching of the gospel (Acts 13:48; 18:10; Titus 1:1).
Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century British preacher, centered his evangelistic ministry in the covenant of redemption. He described the covenant of redemption this way:
It is a noble and glorious thought, the very poetry of that old Calvinistic doctrine which we teach, that long ere the day star knew its place, before God had spoken existence out of nothing, before angel’s wing had stirred the unnavigated ether, before a solitary song had disturbed the solemnity of the silence in which God reigned supreme, he had entered into solemn counsel with himself, with his Son and with his Spirit, and had in that council decreed, determined, purposed and predestinated the salvation of his people.1
The covenant of redemption is pivotal for regaining needed evangelistic footholds for a number of reasons. I’ll briefly mention two.
The Lostness of Mankind and the Certainty of Salvation
Francis Schaeffer once remarked that if he were given an hour to present the gospel to the person sitting next to him on a plane, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes explaining man’s bondage to sin and his state before a holy God before explaining the gospel itself in the remaining five minutes.
In a culture where the greatest taboo is not affirming someone else’s chosen identity, we often have a lot of pre-evangelism work to do before we are able to present the gospel, as Schaeffer modeled in his own day.
The covenant of redemption is helpful on this point because it reminds us that first, we should not be surprised by the fact that we are facing cultural lostness—mankind has always stood in need of God’s intervention for salvation (2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Peter 2:10); and second, that despite how godless and secular the culture, God has chosen to redeem a people for Himself, a people that must come to faith through the preaching of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:26–28; Eph. 1:3–10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).
Yes, we face great evangelistic obstacles, but the Father has chosen a people, the Son has purchased them, and the Holy Spirit is drawing them to Himself.
This is good news, because it means that not only is our victory certain in the midst of great difficulty, but that we have the privilege of taking part in the unfolding fulfillment of the covenant that God made before time began.
The Preaching of the Cross
Perhaps most importantly, the covenant of redemption also steers us back to the great message of the cross, for it is there that salvation was achieved once and for all. Christ purchased His bride, which the Father had promised Him. Christ redeemed a people. It is Jesus who saves and no one else. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him” (8.5).
Reformed evangelists have always rested in this fact—Christ’s redeeming work is finished. There is no need for the sacrifice of the Roman Catholic Mass. Nor can we view faith as a work to which we add onto what Christ accomplished. Rather, faith is a gift given by the Spirit as a result of the great covenant of redemption.
Because of the covenant of redemption, we preach a whole Christ and a whole cross. There is no room to say, “Christ did His part; now you do your part.” No—Christ did all of it.
As the late Westminster Theological Seminary professor John Murray once said: “It is the very doctrine that Christ procured and secured redemption that invests the free offer of the gospel with richness and power. It is that doctrine alone that allows for a presentation of Christ that will be worthy of the glory of his accomplishment and of his person. It is because Christ procured and secured redemption that he is an all-sufficient and suitable Saviour.”2
A Lighthouse on the Rocks
So in the midst of the turbulent cultural tides and evangelical upheaval, we have a beacon high above the rocks, drawing us back to doctrinal certainty and evangelical confidence.
Our mission’s success lies in the fact that in eternity past an all-powerful Trinitarian God covenanted to save a people. The Father chose a people. Jesus saved them. And the Holy Spirit draws them. That is certain. That is reason for confidence in difficult times.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on September 4, 2019.