A common objection I have heard from people regarding Reformed theology and the doctrines discussed in the Canons of Dort is that it will lead to Christians not sharing the gospel message with other people, as God has only chosen to save some. The Canons of Dort explicitly reject the mentality that the gospel should not be preached indiscriminately and instead call for the bold proclamation of the gospel to all people as noted in Article 5 of the Second Main Point: “Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.” Wherever God sends his people, they are to preach to everyone that if they repent and believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins, they will not perish but have eternal life. Failure to do so is disobedience to the will of God. We read in Scripture that Christ died to save sinners and that we are to proclaim this message to all people, encouraging them to repent and believe. The Canons of Dort see no contradiction between the idea that God has chosen to bring some out of their sin and calls for us to preach this message to all, as it sees both truths in Scripture.
The Reason For Unbelief
That being said, not all who hear this message will believe the good news. This fits our experience and the Word of God, as many reject this message. Just as we saw in the First Main Point of the Canons of Dort, so here in the Second Main Point we see that the cause of people rejecting the message is due to the heart of the individual, as Article 6 notes: “However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault.” They do not reject the message because Christ did not die for them, but rather because their hearts are hardened against the purposes and plan of God. To put it another way, the reason they are not saved is not because Christ didn’t die for them, but because they have rejected God and His purposes for them. While I think we always run the danger of becoming too speculative when we try to explain the order of God’s plan, the Canons of Dort seem to point to an order of the fact that all humanity falls into sin, God then chooses to save some from this sin, and then God makes a plan to save these people through sending Christ. (The Remonstrants would seem to have a view of people falling into sin, God choosing to send His Son to make salvation possible, and then choosing those who have already exercised faith.)
The Reason for Belief
While we can get caught up in explaining why some people do not believe the gospel (the good news of what God has done in Christ), it is always wise to turn our attention to the amazing fact that some people do turn to God in faith. The Canons once again emphasize that this is not because of our any merit or special quality in these individuals but rather the gift of God in Article 7: “But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ’s death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God’s grace—which God owes to no one—given to them in Christ from eternity.” God is under obligation to save no one, and no one is able in his or her own strength to save themselves or to change their hearts.
The Call to Proclaim and Pray
We are called to tell people that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that God has chosen to save sinners by sending His Son to die in our place, with all those who believe this message being saved. Jesus told his first disciples to do that (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8), and this command remains for us. In both of those passages cited, though, Jesus highlights that we do not do this proclamation alone, as he is always with his people to the end of the age and the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus’s followers to enable us to live holy lives and to proclaim this good news to others. The Holy Spirit creates the gift of faith in people, which is why we pray to God that He will draw people to Himself when we share the good news, asking for the Lord to do what the Lord does in Lydia in Acts 16:14 when we hear that God opened her heart to hear and believe. Think about that — if faith is the gift of God, then it makes sense to ask God to give it to people as we share the good news; if faith is something that comes through human power or strength, then praying that sort of prayer makes no sense, as God can’t give them faith.
Therefore, the fact that Jesus Christ came to save sinners does not stand in the way of prayer and sharing the gospel but actually should drive us to share this good news while bathing it in prayer. So perhaps the questions to leave you with are: “Who needs to hear this good news?” and “Am I praying for God to work in them to receive the good news?”
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