“Faith is represented as something to be done, in order to salvation; and pains are taken to show that it is an easy thing. Better far than this would it be to see to it that those with whom they deal are truly convinced of sin, and to labor to set forth Christ before them in his glorious completeness as a Saviour. To explain faith to them, that they may do it, is to set them still to work, though setting an easier task before them. I know well the tendency there is, at a certain stage of anxious inquiry, to ask, “What is faith, that I may do it?” It is a legalist’s work to satisfy that craving; but this is what is done in the “Inquiry-room”. “Who is he, that I may believe in him?” was the question asked by one who approached the dawning of a day of salvation. Explanations of what faith is are but trifling with souls. How different is the Scripture way! The great aim there is to “set forth” the object, not to explain the act, of faith. Let there be conviction, illumination and renewal, and faith becomes the instinctive response of the quickened soul to the presentation by God of His Christ; and, without these, no explanation of faith can be helpful to any one. The labor to explain it is too often adapted to the craving of a legal spirit. It were wiser to take pains in removing ignorance and error regarding God, and sin, and Christ. Help them to know these, if you would not build them up with “untempered mortar” in a false peace. If you would be wise, as well as kind, work in that direction, rather than in the hurrying of them to belief.”
That was 19th century evangelist John Kennedy quoted by Ian Murray in his essay “The Invitation System”. Two sentences stand out to me in Kennedy’s analysis:
The great aim there is to “set forth” the object, not to explain the act, of faith.
The labor to explain it [how to exercise faith] is too often adapted to the craving of a legal spirit.
Kennedy’s claim, as is Murray’s point in his essay, is that too much time is spent on convincing people to do a physical act of “coming forward” rather than helping people to see clearly their sin, how Jesus has resolved the issue, and the covenant Jesus makes available with the Father through Him and Him alone. Or put another way, it’s easy in gospel proclamation to minor on the biblical theology of the gospel and instead to major on the gospel’s demanded response. Or put yet another way, it’s tempting in gospel proclamation to dwell as little on sin, Savior, the cross, resurrection as possible, and to dwell as long as possible on response.
As a preacher, it’s always humbling to re-evaluate how I present the gospel. How much of my gospel presentation is a presentation on “how to respond” and how much of my gospel is a presentation on Jesus? How many people walk away feeling
Wow, I just needed to go forward
as opposed to
Wow, I just need Jesus
The difference is subtle (or not so subtle), but the repercussions for authentic faith and lasting faith is real. The plea of the gospel is not “come forward” nor “pray a prayer.” The plea of the gospel is “see Jesus and believe on Him.” May my preaching reflect that priority proportionately!