E. R. Harper
It was the purpose of the Lord from the beginning that the world should be converted by the gospel (Eph. 3:5-11). That is why He commissioned the apostles to, “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15 emph. ERH). “It pleased God,” Paul declares, “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Paul further said, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I have preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-4 emph. ERH).
The Lord said, “It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (John 6:45). By this we see that conversion is not brought about under circumstances like those provided by modern evangelists. I once heard Gypsy Smith say that he was saved in a gypsy tent, where the Bible was unknown—saved by the direct power of God. Men have said that they “got it” at the mourners’ bench, and out in the fields, away from the word of God, as if conversion were something mysterious and apart from the gospel.
But ours is a taught religion, and conversion is not a hysterical, emotional outburst of feelings. It is not a “better-felt-than-told,” but a told religion. The teaching is in the gospel. Without the gospel no man will be saved. It is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16). If it is the power of God to save, then away with the teaching that saves a man before he learns the gospel! If Paul’s statement is true, there is no salvation without the gospel. This strikes hard at our friends who claim that men are “totally depraved” and “cannot” please God until they received “another power to save”—namely, the direct operation of the Spirit. Men must obey the gospel.
Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Pet. 1:23). And in verse 25 he declares that this word is the gospel! James says, “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). The climax to these scriptures is found in Paul’s statement that Christ will come “taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8 emph. ERH). The gospel of the Lord must be respected and obeyed if we expect to be saved, born again, please God, and dwell with Him in heaven.
The Lord has decreed that by the gospel man should believe and be saved, and that the church should send this gospel to the world (2 Cor. 4:1-7), with the “woe” of heaven upon us if we do not (1 Cor. 9:16). Salvation, then, is an intelligent process based upon the revelation given through inspired men, which can be taught and understood. It is not like the emotional, hysterical type preached and practiced today. We are able to “know” from whence our faith cometh, why our rejoicing, and we are able to “stand” with a hope that reaches within the city of God, to that inheritance that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us who are “kept” by the power of God, “through faith” unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day. The gospel is our hope and stay.
There has not been a conversion since the day of Pentecost where the gospel was not preached, and man’s hopes based upon the things taught in it. In Acts 2, Peter declared that the Old Testament prophecies were being fulfilled; that Christ had come and had returned and was seated on the throne of David. He admonished the Jews to, “know assuredly” that God had made Him both “Lord and Christ.” Many of them believed this; and being cut to their hearts, as all truly converted people must be, they cried out, “What shall we do?” Guided by the Spirit, Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
“But,” says one, “I cannot understand that complicated question and answer.” I shall give you a simple one to help you: “Repent and be baptized for $100,000.” You would not misunderstand when you were to “receive” your $100,000. If we were just as honest in religion as we are in finances, we could learn the truth and save our souls. Why not do it, friend? Not only is your soul to be considered, but that of your child also.
But what is this which Peter preached? Was it the gospel of Christ? Yes, it is the gospel by which the world is to be saved. How do I know? The Lord told Peter in Mark 16:15 to preach the gospel, and Peter is doing just the thing commanded him by the Lord. How do I know that I must obey this gospel or be lost? Paul said that if you do not obey the gospel you “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). What shall become of me if I fail to preach this same gospel? The curse of heaven will rest upon me (Gal. 1:8-9).
The apostles preached that men must believe, repent, and be baptized for the remission of sins. They were then converted to Christ—saved. The last verse of Acts 2 says, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” When you obey the gospel you are saved, born again, a child of God, a member of the church the Lord built (Matt. 16:18), and an heir of heaven.
The beauty of it all is that every man who was preaching the gospel—preaching Christ, preaching the kingdom of heaven—was preaching the same thing. If all today were preaching the gospel of Christ, all would be preaching the same thing; the results would be the same, and there would be no divisions among those claiming to be the saints of God.
Let us follow Philip to Samaria. Acts 8:5 says that he “preached Christ unto them.” In verse 12, the record says that he preached, “the things concerning the kingdom of God.” What did the Samaritans do who heard him? They “believed” and were “baptized,” just like those on the day of Pentecost. Philip was “filled with the Spirit,” and went from the church at Jerusalem. He carried the same gospel to them that Peter preached in Jerusalem on Pentecost. In verse 35 we read that he “opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” What did the eunuch do when “Jesus” was preached unto him? What does it mean to “preach Jesus?” Verses 37-39 show that he believed, confessed Christ, was baptized, and went on his way rejoicing.
Why this rejoicing? He had obeyed the gospel; he had believed and been baptized, just as the Lord commanded in the commission (Mk. 16:15-16). It is evident that to “preach Jesus” is to preach the gospel, obedience to which involves faith and baptism and a penitent heart that will melt the stubborn will and bring it into subjection to God.
The book of Acts records the conversion of Saul (Acts 9, 22). The same gospel was preached and obeyed in the same manner. Peter preached to the Gentiles (Acts 10, 11). This was a repetition of Pentecost. The same sermon in principle was preached, the same obedience required. The church at Corinth was begun in the same way (Acts 18:8). The church in Macedonia (Acts 16:30-35), the conversions in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10), and all others recorded in this book conform to the same pattern. All began with the gospel being taught, and men believing, repenting, and being baptized.
So it is today. Conversion begins in hearing the gospel, is carried on by believing the gospel, and is consummated by obeying the gospel!