WHAT IS THE HIGHEST PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST?
Tom Henry is pastor of Bible Baptist Church of St. Louis, Missouri. Bible Baptist Church hosts an annual Fall Sovereign Grace Bible Conference. He is himself a conference speaker and served as a past Chairman of the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship.
Joshua White serves as the bivocational pastor of Reformed Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He took part in the founding constituting of the church. His schooling included mentoring by the elders of Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas.
Q. Since the glory of God is the primary reason for all of the creation, is this also the highest purpose of the Gospel?
A. Tom Henry: “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal person, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world and all things therein.” This statement is taken from chapter four of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. All things were created for the manifestation of God’s glory, and for His pleasure. (Psa. 19: 1; Rom. 1: 20; Col. 1: 16; Rev. 4: 11)
We would all agree that the crown jewel of God’s creation was saved until last. After having made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, after His own image. (Gen. 1: 27) He created them with rational immortal souls, having His holy law written in their hearts, which, in their holy and righteous state, they had power to fulfill. However, left to the liberty of their own will, they transgressed that law, even the expressed commandment of God not to eat of the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 3: 1-7) Thus man, by his own willful act, fell from his high and holy state into sin and death. Man, who was created in God’s image, and for God’s glory, lost the Divine image to sin, and ever after fell short of the glory of God. Adam’s sin and the consequent death was passed on to all mankind. (Rom. 5: 12; 3: 23)
It is therefore the high purpose of the Gospel to regenerate men and women, who, as a result of the fall, are dead in sin, and through regeneration to restore to them the lost image of the Creator. (I Pet. 1: 23-25; Eph. 4: 22-24; Col. 3: 8-10) The good news of the Gospel is that which was lost through the disobedience of the first Adam is restored through the obedience of the second Adam. (Rom. 5: 18,19) “The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” (I Cor. 15: 45) As sons and daughters of the first Adam, we are living souls. (Gen. 2: 7) But also as descendants of the first Adam we are spiritually dead. (Rom. 5: 12) In the second Adam, which is Christ, who is the last Head, in respect of grace and spiritual regeneration, He was made a quickening spirit. In His resurrection body Christ ascended up into heaven clothed with power, as to quicken souls with spiritual life, and also to quicken our mortal bodies at His second coming. (I Cor. 15: 45-49)
Christ came according to the eternal purpose of grace, to destroy the works of the devil and to redeem the chosen race. This God declared He would do when He first announced the coming Redeemer. (Gen. 3: 15) The purpose for Christ’s coming was man’s redemption and restoration, but more than that, it was to give him a standing that is even dearer than he had before, and that is absolutely secure. He redeemed us that we might receive the adoption of sons, and because of this, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying Abba Father. (See Gal. 4: 4-7)
In all of this the chief end is the glory of God. As in the first creation God made man for His own glory, so also in the new creation. And as God created all things for His pleasure (Rev. 4: 11), we can be sure that He is well pleased with the work of His Son in the new creation. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” (II Cor. 5: 17) Through regeneration, man is renewed. Scripture says the new man is after God, i.e. after the image of God, created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4: 24) In fact, the new creature brings greater glory to God, in that, first, he is in Christ, and therefore beyond the realm of possibility of ever falling again, and second, he is in the Beloved, and is therefore, beloved as the Son. (Eph. 1: 6) Every soul that is brought to faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit is to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1: 12-14)
A. Joshua White: Far too few professing believers have been confronted with that wonderful catechism question and answer, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” While it is not a popular thing to say in the day and culture in which we live, from the creation of all things, the whole of salvation history, this gospel age, and the consummation of all things was, is, and will be for the eternal glory of God. God-Triune eternally decreed that a fallen people would be redeemed to Himself through Christ for His glory (Colossians 1:16). Contrary to what we hear so often today, the Lord Jesus Christ did not come to redeem me for me.
While the individual believer experiences the benefits of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, the eternal point of salvation is not the individual, but Creator God’s glory. Put another way, if we were created for the glory of the Creator, and our purpose is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, then the regenerated heart longs to do this now in time and space, while having an eternal hope in Christ of engaging in the glorifying of our Creator in righteousness for eternity. To worship and glorify our Creator is the heartbeat of all who have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is God’s glory that is in fact our eternal inheritance.
If we are being honest, there is no such thing as a “man-centered” gospel. There is either a God-centered biblical gospel, or there is no gospel at all. There is either good news that relates to our salvation and eternal hope in Christ, or there is bad news that can only end in eternal damnation. A man-centered message is a message that seeks to rob God of His glory by making the grace of God in the salvific work of the Lord Jesus Christ about himself. This flies in the face of what the Lord Jesus Christ so clearly expressed to His Father when He prayed, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).”
Ever since Adam chased after the lie that we could be as gods, mankind has pursued the theft of God’s glory for himself. We are glory thieves. In our day and age, the rugged individualism of the west has seeped into every facet of our thinking. I submit to you that the individualism that we see in our world has become a festering stain on the fabric of the American church. In Scripture we see the same thing, it is just that different wording is used. Most people within evangelical America would never agree that they are doing “that which seemeth right in their own eyes,” but this is precisely what is evident in the lives of so many professing believers.
The man-centered gospel, or the bad news that carries with it damnation, is precisely what the individualistic society in which we live so desires. The God of Scripture has been turned into a god who is a divine “big-box” store, able to provide the most luxurious things that the wicked heart desires at the most affordable price. So then, such “praise” songs as one I heard recently entitled “I am broken and its beautiful,” speaks to the heart of the religious masses because God may damn the truly wicked, but surely, He has only good things for me. If we are centered on a message like this, and we truly believe that God loves me just the way that I am, then God’s glory takes a back seat to our desires as we glorify ourselves and live in complete idolatry.
The true gospel of Scripture, however, calls upon us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, give our all, and die to self. The gospel of Christ requires this of us as we seek to glorify our Creator through Christ Jesus. The work that we have been predestined to do is that work which denies our own glory for the glory of our Creator. Both in Scripture and throughout church history, we find that the redeemed of the Lord gave their all in obedience to the true gospel, the God-centered gospel. Saints throughout history have been willing to give their all because they understand that the glory of God through Christ is in fact their own greatest good. It is no longer we who live, but Christ Jesus living in us (Galatians 2:20). Again, the redeemed of the Lord who have had that miraculous new birth by the work of the Spirit of God, have been granted that glorious desire to live fully for their chief end, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Q. Since salvation is of God, how does God-triune bring salvation to hell-deserving sinners?
A. Joshua White: Truly, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit possesses for us certain mysteries. It is right to say “God is but one only living and true God, infinite in being and perfection, whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; and yet within this divine and infinite Being there are three persons- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit- of one substance, power and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided (1689 LBCF).” Trying to grasp a full understanding of the eternal realities of this statement, leaves us behind in a fog of finiteness. Nevertheless, the truth of the Godhead’s gracious salvation of sinful men is a truth that carries with it great encouragement, and cause for our undying praise and adoration of our Creator.
We know from Scripture that God has redeemed to Himself a people through the Person and work of the Son. Here and now we experience the benefit of salvation through Christ even as we join together with a body of believers in which we experience communion, love, and fellowship. We must never forget that this community we now have in Christ Jesus did not begin with us. What we now experience is eternally and perfectly embodied within the Godhead. In other words, communion, love, and fellowship all have their origin in the holy and eternal perfection of the Holy Trinity.
The Lord Jesus Christ’s public ministry began at His baptism by John the Baptist. The unity within the Godhead concerning the redemption of men that was about to take place through the work of the Son, is clearly demonstrated as the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the Father proclaimed, “Thou art my Beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).” What was about to take place within time and space was precisely what the Triune God had determined would take place to bring glory to Himself through the Son.
It is God the Father Who sent His eternal Son to glorify Himself through the redemption of a people whom He gave to His Son, and it is the Father Who keeps that for which the Son gave Himself (John 17:1-11). In terms of our own relationship to God the Father, it is He Who has adopted us as heirs through the Lord Jesus Christ because of the work that He has done (Romans 8:15). By the revelation of God the Father, those who have been redeemed by His own dear Son are brought into filial love that can only be experienced between a child and his father. In other words, we experience the love of the eternal Father and we are caused to praise and glorify Him (Matthew 6:9).
It is in and through the Person and work of the Son of God Incarnate that we have redemption. The Lord Jesus was chosen within the Godhead to do precisely the work that He would do to glorify the Godhead by redeeming a fallen race by His own efficacious death on the cross (1 Peter 1:19-21). It is the Son of God incarnate Who has become the first fruit of those who will rise victoriously from the dead in Him (1 Corinthians 15:23). It is the Son of God Incarnate who will return for His own (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
It is God the Spirit Who has secured for us the experience of redemption in time and space. Through the regenerating power of God the Spirit, we have been given hearts even now that desire the glory of God. The operation of being “born again” is the work of the Spirit of our Lord. The redeemed of the Lord are marked by the fruits of the Holy Spirit, sent to us by Christ Jesus to strengthen us to those good works to which we were predestined (Ephesians 2:10).
A. Tom Henry: God the Father is the Author of the covenant of grace. Man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, could never have attained unto life except by some voluntary condescension on God’s part. (Gal. 3: 10;Rom. 3: 20, 21) It therefore pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him in order to be saved. (Rom. 8: 3) God’s grace goes beyond the provision and invitation to provide those who are ordained to eternal life the necessary willingness and faith to receive it. (Ezek. 36: 26, 27; John 6: 44, 45; Psa. 110: 3) This covenant is revealed in the Gospel, first of all to Adam in the promise of a Redeemer by the seed of the woman. (Gen. 3: 15) This promise, after further development, came to fulfillment in the New Testament in Christ, the virgin born Messiah. It is founded in the eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son in which a people were given to the Son, a people that the Son covenanted to redeem. It is by the grace of this covenant that salvation comes to any of Adams fallen race. (II Tim. 1: 9; Tit. 1: 2; John 6: 37)
Christ Jesus the Son is the Mediator of the Covenant made between Himself and the Father. He is the Mediator between God and man. (I Tim., 2: 5) When the time was come the Eternal Son took upon Himself man’s nature (John 1: 14) and though He was fully man in every respect, yet He was without sin. (Heb. 4: 15) The Lord Jesus in human nature that was united with the Divine nature was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure. Having in Himself the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, He was fully equipped to execute the office of mediator and surety.
This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, and did perfectly fulfill. He bore the punishment due to us, and suffered, being made a curse for us. He was put to death, bearing the just penalty for our sins, yet He rose on the third day and ascended into Heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. (See Rom. 8: 32-34) The Lord Jesus Christ, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, has fully satisfied the justice of God, secured reconciliation, and obtained an everlasting inheritance for all of those whom the Father has given unto Him.
The particular work of the Holy Spirit regarding the covenant of grace is to make the Father’s counsel, and the Son’s mediation effectual unto the souls of the elect, to the praise of the glory of the grace of God. John Owen says of the work of the Holy Spirit, “It is not an original, but a perfecting work. Some things it supposeth, and bringeth all things to perfection; and these are: 1. The love, grace, counsel, and eternal purpose of the Father; 2. The whole work of the mediation of Jesus Christ, for it is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit to make those things of the Father and Son effectual.” (The Works of John Owen, Vol. 3, p. 189)
In the work of the new creation, God intends to reveal the particular roll of each person of the Divine Trinity, each one, in their peculiar and distinct operations, all of which tend ultimately to the manifestation of the glory of His nature. Therefore God plainly declares that the foundation of the whole was laid in the counsel, will, and grace of the Father. (Eph. 1: 3-6) He then made way for the accomplishment of His counsel and will, so that it might be brought forth to the praise of His glory by the mediation of the Son. There yet remained the actual application of all to the souls of men, that they may be partakers of the grace designed in the counsel of the Father, and prepared in the mediation of the Son, and herein is the Holy Spirit manifested and glorified. Thus all three persons of the Divine Trinity are to be glorified, adored and worshipped in this wonderful salvation.
Q. How does the greatest act of humility, Christ crucified, bring the highest glory to God?
A. Tom Henry: The Prophet Isaiah in foretelling the humiliation of the suffering Messiah said, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief: When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” (Isa. 53: 10) The pleasure that the Lord took in Christ’s sacrifice was not in the agony that He endured, but rather in the fruit of His travail. “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa. 53: 10b, 11) The meaning is that He would see the salvation of all those for whom Christ suffered at His hand. God was therefore glorified in the results of Christ’s suffering and death.
In the original covenant promise, God declared that the Seed of the woman (the promised Redeemer) would bruise the head of the serpent, but in doing so His own heel would be bruised. (See Gen. 3: 15) The bruising of the heel speaks of Christ’s agonies and the humiliation that He would endure, by means of which He would deal the death blow to Satan. Thus in the Hebrew epistle we read, “For it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering…Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were…subject to bondage.” (See Heb. 2: 10- 17) In this passage we see the Seed of the Woman, as Captain of our salvation, bringing glory to God by destroying the devil. This He did in fulfillment of the original covenant promise.
It was through death that the great Redeemer destroyed the enemy, but according to Isaiah’s prediction, the Lord has prolonged His days, and the pleasure of the Lord does prosper in His hand. This is seen in the fact that God raised Him up, and He has ascended back to the Father, having spoiled the enemy of his prey, leading captivity captive. (See Eph. 4: 8-10)
In the Philippian letter Paul put it this way: “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2: 6-11) It is clear from this passage that it is because of Christ’s humiliation that the Father receives glory in His exaltation.
In John 17 Jesus, just before going to the cross, prayed, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee…I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17: 1,4) Clearly, our Lord’s chief motive in the work of redemption was the glory of the Father. It was for this reason that He condescended to come to earth; to take human flesh; to assume the roll of a servant; to suffer and bleed and die. It was in this way that He destroyed not only the works of the devil, but the devil himself, and delivered God’s chosen people who were held captive by him. All of this He did to the glory of God the Father.
A. Joshua White: The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly revealed to us in Scripture, not as One to Whom we may simply turn to if we have a desire for better things in this life with the promise of an escape from eternal torment. Peter writes that the Lord Jesus Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1Peter 1:20). Before man was formed from the dust of the earth, it was determined in eternity past to redeem a people to the glory of the Creator through the incarnate Word Himself. To this point, Paul writes that all things were created by the Lord Jesus Christ, for the Lord Jesus Christ, and that it is by His power that all thing consist (Colossians 1:16-17).
This is the very Christ, Who in submission to the will of His Father, obeyed even unto the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8). There is certain mystery here, but the Lord Jesus Christ is the One Who was chosen within the Godhead to bring about the redemption of mankind according to the perfect will of God the Father. The will of God concerning the redemption of sinful men dates back to the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) and has been providentially brought about in time and space by Creator God’s own hand.
According to the will of God the Father, the Son took on flesh to become the Son on man. He was tempted at every point as we are and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He became that which our first father failed to be (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). The Lord Jesus Christ became flesh, learned obedience, took on the sin of those the Father had given Him, and died on the cross according to the will of God. That very same will of God which had been rejected by sinful man.
The greatest act of humility in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ brings the highest glory to God because it is the fulfillment of the eternal and perfect will of God. It is the fulfillment of the will of God to which sinful and fallen man could not attain. God is glorified in Christ Jesus’ humiliation because it is the obedience which Creator God required of man, and it is through the obedience of Christ Jesus that man is brought to a place in which he is able to glorify his Creator (Philippians 2:9-11).