I can’t overstate how helped I was by the messages I heard at T4G this week. I already mentioned Kevin DeYoung‘s in my previous post, but I should mention that the other sessions were edifying as well. On the last day, Lig Duncan put on a clinic about how to preach Christ from the Old Testament. John MacArthur had his usual rigorous exposition of the biblical text, this time focusing on John 6 and the nature of false converts. I could go on and on extolling the other talks, but perhaps it would be best just to direct you to the page where you can download and listen to them for yourself. Also, Bob Kauflin leading from the piano. Does it get any better than that?
Without question, the message that landed on me most powerfully was John Piper’s. He closed the conference. Those who left early missed what was probably the weightiest moment of T4G 2014. Piper’s text was Romans 9. I don’t know how else to describe the message except to say that Piper climbed a mountain and took us with him. The title of the sermon was “Persuading, Pleading and Predestination: Human Means in the Miracle of Conversion” (download here, watch here, or listen below).
It was a fantastic exposition. His burden throughout was to show from the Bible that the doctrine of election should be a fuel for evangelism. Why? Because the same Paul who teaches the doctrine of election in Romans 9 also says this in Romans 11:
Rom 11:13-14 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.
Then Piper zeroed in on the word “somehow.” Somehow is a word that implies means. Paul would plan, strategize, pray, preach, plead. He would use whatever means at his disposal to compel sinners—all sinners!—to come to Christ. The doctrine of election didn’t diminish Paul’s commitment to evangelism. It intensified it.
Piper brought the point home at the end by telling a story about his late father Bill Piper. Bill Piper was an old school Southern Baptist evangelist. When you think of Piper’s dad, think of open-air preaching, tent meetings, and week-long revivals. He was like a “mini Billy Graham” travelling from place to place preaching the gospel. Piper described how his dad would finish a sermon and then call sinners to come to Jesus. With arms open wide, he would face the congregation and plead in behalf of Christ, “Would you come? Would you come?” The music would begin, and they’d sing something like “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling.” Piper sang the words:
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
Piper said that in town after town and in meeting after meeting, sinners would come forward and fall into his Daddy’s arms as into the arms of Jesus. And they would be saved. After Piper finished his story, he looked at us and said, “Will you be those arms?”
As I was pierced through the heart listening to Piper’s words, I wondered if the message was landing on my brothers and sisters the way it was landing on me. I never met Bill Piper, but I have seen the ministry of many Bill Piper’s in my lifetime. And I have sung “Softly and Tenderly” under the voice of a pleading preacher more times than I can possibly count. I knew what Piper was calling us to—what God was calling us to—and I wanted God to renew in me the tender heart of an evangelist.
I could hardly sing the closing songs because of the tears. I composed myself long enough to say goodbye to friends and get to my car. Then I wept all the way home. It was a good heart-wrending, mouth-closing cry. Take-aways? Preach the gospel. Look into the eyes of sinners with arms wide open. Trust the gospel to do its work. And expect God to do the unexpected in bringing people to faith in Christ. The Lord’s arm is not too short to save (Isaiah 59:1). The time is short.