The Gospel According To John (MacArthur)—Part 13

Many years ago, at an ecclesiastical meeting, there was a worship service. The minister preaching was retired but something of a hero in the denomination. He and others had stood for the truth when many others had taken an easier and more comfortable path. According to a friend with whom I was sitting, the minister was also in the habit of preaching one text and one sermon with some some frequency which was, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” (Rom 1:16a) and that was his text and sermon for that worship service. My friend remarked that though the preacher was not ashamed of the gospel, he did not always remember to tell them what the good news is.

So it has been with GAJ. I keep waiting for the author to tell me what the good news is, and what is good about the good news for sinners. It has been a few years since I read GAJ, and the title of chapter 10, “He Offers A Yoke of Rest,” looked promising. MacArthur’s foil in this chapter, however, is that form of evangelical piety focused on gaining, as people say, “decisions” for Christ. Think of the big evangelism rally where people are called to come forward to the stage to “invite Christ” into their hearts, etc.

In contrast, MacArthur says, “Scripture never once exhorts sinners to ‘accept Christ.'”129 In a footnote he says, “Receiving Christ in the biblical sense is more than simply ‘accepting’ Him or responding positively to Him.” “The gospel invitation,” he writes, “is not an entreaty for sinners to allow the Savior into their lives. It is both an appeal and a command for them to repent and follow him. It demands not just passive acceptance of Christ but active submission to him as well.”130 All the confessional Reformed agree with him when he writes, “The great miracle of redemption is not that we accept Christ but that He accepts us.”131 He is certainly right to say that the portrait of a “would be redeemer. . . anxiously awaiting an invitation to come into unregenerate lives” is quite contrary to the biblical portrayal of Christ.132

His antidote to what is essentially an Arminian approach to evangelism is to turn to Matthew 11:25–30, where our Lord prays and says,

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

MacArthur calls this an invitation to salvation, and so it is. The prayer, with which our Lord begins this passage, acknowledges God’s sovereignty, which much (Arminian) evangelism denies. We agree with MacArthur that “God himself is the determinative factor in salvation.”133

Still, as I read his account, as much as I agree with him there is something missing: Jesus does really make what the Reformed call a “well-meant” or “serious” or “genuine” (serio) and free offer of the gospel to all. This was the language of the Synod of Dort:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (2.5).134

As many as are called by the gospel are sincerely called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe (3/4.8).135

Synod spoke of “the promise” of the gospel, but MacArthur, in his zeal to refute the Antinomians, speaks mainly of the commands. To be sure, there is a command to repent and believe, but there is also a promise and an offer to all who do believe. To them he promises, as we confess, “rest of soul and eternal life.” In Reformed ears, MacArthur’s rhetoric sounds or reads more like that minority in the Reformed world that rejects the free offer of the gospel as Arminian, which is strange given that the Synod of Dort both refuted the Arminians and taught the free or well-meant offer of the gospel.

In the free, well-meant offer, we publish the good news to sinners everywhere, in all languages, sincerely, genuinely, that whosoever will may come. We call them as Jesus called them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest from what? From weariness and burdens. As Calvin explained in his Harmony of the Evangelists, Jesus was speaking here to those who know the greatness of their sins and misery through the law. The burden here is the load of guilt and the crushing weight of the wrath of God. There are many who are not interested in that rest, and Calvin catalogues different types. The offer is intended specifically for those “who are overwhelmed by their sins, who are filled with alarm at the wrath of God, and are ready to sink under so weighty a burden.”136

As concerned as Calvin was about the antinomians and hypocrites of his day, he also remembered “those whose consciences are distressed by their exposure to eternal death, and who are inwardly so pressed down by their miseries that they faint . . . “137

Thus far, in this work, MacArthur has shown virtually no awareness of that class of persons. Indeed, over the years I have become aware of a number of people, whom I take as representatives of a much larger group, whose consciences have been greatly burdened by this aspect of the Lordship Doctrine. So anxious have its advocates been to refute the antinomians in their midst that they never asked themselves what it was that created the antinomian movement in the first place.

Are all antinomians merely licentious persons looking for some sort of cover of respectability? There surely have been that sort, and it might have been plausible to think that a temptation under a state church or even a prevailing Christian-looking culture, but is it so in 2023? In my experience, with a few exceptions, those tempted to antinomianism are those who have been beaten up, figuratively, and burdened by legalism in the doctrine of salvation and/or legalism in the Christian life. By the former I mean a doctrine teaching justification or salvation through sanctification and law-keeping. By the latter, I mean the imposition of man-made laws without any foundation in Scripture as a measure of the Christian life.

We should agree with MacArthur when he writes, the “contrast between the wise and the childlike is actually a contrast between works and grace. The Galileans who rejected Christ were oriented to a system of works-righteousness.”138 His list of five elements of true conversion, though, is lengthier than that of the Reformed. We speak of two elements of conversion, mortification and vivification (Heidelberg Catechism, 88–90). MacArthur lists humility, revelation, repentance, faith, and submission.139

All of these are certainly virtues that God works in his elect as he regenerates and sanctifies them, but this list seems to confuse the order of teaching (ordo docendi) with the order of the application of the redemption to the elect by the Holy Spirit ordo salutis (e.g., he speaks of faith as the “flip side” of repentance).140 There are modern Reformed writers who have spoken this way but it is not quite so. It is believers who repent. There is a logical order. There is no such thing as an impenitent believer. Impenitence is the chief mark of unbelief. Believers submit to the Lordship of Christ, but this is a part of the outworking of our mortification (the putting to death of the old man) and our vivification (the making alive of the new). This is the work of the Spirit which necessarily accompanies and follows the life-giving work of the Spirit.

Some of the difficulty may be terminological. When the the Reformed churches speak of conversion, we are speaking of the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling. We are not speaking of a single moment.

One final note, and this is not even peculiar to MacArthur, but I could not help but notice that when he writes of salvation by grace through faith (122) he omits the “alone.” Perhaps this is a little thing. I remember talking with Carl Trueman when he used the same language (without the alone’s), and I added them for him and he said, “I forgot I was talking to Scott Clark.” Fair enough, but it always seemed to me that the old White Horse Inn rule where they would unfailingly say “grace alone” and “faith alone” was a very sound rule indeed. It is rather necessary in this discussion, especially when the question of our salvation is directly in view.

Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light because he has sustained the burden of God’s eternal wrath and redeemed us from it (HC 14, 17). He alone has been given to us for “complete redemption and righteousness” (HC 18). The good news is that God the Son has come, he has obeyed in the place of all his people, he has satisfied God’s wrath, he has been raised from the dead, he is interceding for us, and he is coming again to consummate all things. Insofar as we are united to him, we are covered by his righteousness and God is no longer angry with us. The Spirit is working in us and he will complete his work so that, at the consummation, we shall be glorified. He forgives our sins and he does not abandon us, even as he works in us to put to death in us the old man and make alive the new.

There are real consequences for those who bear the name Christian, but our life begins not with the law but with the gospel, which truly is sweet news to needy sinners.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

The series so far.


  1. GAJ, 116.
  2. GAJ, 116.
  3. GAJ, 116.
  4. GAJ, 116–17.
  5. GAJ, 117.
  6. Cæterum promissio Evangelii est, ut quisquis credit in Christum crucifixum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam. Quæ promissio omnibus populis et hominibus, ad quos Deus pro suo beneplacito mittit Evangelium, promiscue et indiscriminatim annunciari et proponi debet cum resipiscentiæ et fidei mandato.
  7. Quotquot autem per Evangelium vocantur, serio vocantur. Serio enim et verissime ostendit DEUS verbo suo, quid sibi gratum sit, nimirum, ut vocati ad se veniant. Serio etiam omnibus ad se venientibus et credentibus requiem animarum, et vitam æternam promittit.
  8. John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2.42.
  9. Calvin, Harmony of the Evangelists, 2.43.
  10. GAJ, 119.
  11. GAJ, 118–23.
  12. GAJ, 121.


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  1. The Rev. John Newton described something I think is common in the christian life experience. He says: “It was not till after perhaps several years that I gained some clear views of the infinite righteousness and grace of Christ Jesus my Lord=that I had a deep and strong apprehension of my state by nature and practice; and perhaps till then I could not ave borne the sight, so wonderfully does the Lord proportion the discoveries of sin and grace. For he knows our frame, and that if he were to put forth the greatness of his power, a poor sinner would be instantly overwhelmed and crushed as a moth.” He continues: :…”Now as on the one hand, my convictions were very moderate, and far below what might have been expected from the dreadful review I had to make, so, on the other, my first beginnings in a religious course were as faint as con well be imagined. I never knew that season alluded to (Rev.ii:4) usually called the time of ‘first love. “

  2. Excellent article. Loved your final paragraph. Needed to hear that today. It is full of great comfort and assurance. And, I loved the opening sentence of your second paragraph, “So it has been with GAJ. I keep waiting for the author to tell me what the good news is and what is good about the good news for sinners.” I kept waiting as well. For the four years I was at TMS/GCC, I never heard the good news of the gospel for Christians who sin. Not one time. Not even implicitly. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No comfort. No absolution. No assurance. And that was exactly why I walked off the campus of GCC in 1997 and drove off and never, to this day, went back. I was 100% sunk under the weighty burden of my sin and had no idea what to do about it. That is the legacy of Lordship Salvation and TMS and GCC.

  3. My experience was similar to John’s. I went to The Master’s College for four years (though I only visited GCC and did not attend there). During that time I very much wrestled with these issues and I remember scouring resources by MacArthur and finding nothing but discouragement. At the very least, whatever encouragement I could find in one place seemed to be contradicted and taken away in the next.

    Sure wish I’d found the Heidelblog back then.

  4. Either Christ is our complete Saviour, or no Saviour. Heidelberg Q and A 30. Only in looking to his perfect righteousness, imputed to us, can we be certain of acceptance with God. The idea of looking to our sanctification as a partial requirement for acceptance with God is a Satanic deception, that actually robs one of Christ’s salvation, which must come exclusively from trusting in Him alone. How tragic that it appears, again and again, as the stumbling stone that prevents trust alone in Christ, in the show of false piety that ultimately fails to trust in Christ alone. Rom, 9:32

  5. “Our faith itself, though it be the bond of our union with Christ through which we receive all His blessings, is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord. Nothing that we are and nothing that we can do enters in the slightest measure into the ground of our acceptance with God. Jesus did it all.”

    “There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God… It is always on His blood and righteousness alone that we can rest.”

    We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only ‘when we believe.’ It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing…”

    “Christian, You Can’t Move ‘Beyond’ the Gospel”
    ~ B.B. Warfield

    “…and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on Faith,”
    Philippians 3:9

    For Christ is the end of the law, for righteousness to everyone who believes. Rom 10:4

    “I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.”
    M. Luther, Commentary on Galatians

    “To mix Law and Gospel not only clouds the knowledge of grace, it cuts our Christ altogether.”
    M. Luther

    “Whoever is not satisfied with Christ alone, strives after something beyond absolute perfection.”
    J. Calvin

    On my deathbed, I pray there is a Pastor that will deliver to me, once again, the Gospel and Chief Article of the Faith – Justification, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus. Christ in His active and passive obedience for me, removing my sin as far as East is from the West, and clothing me in His Alien Righteousness. It should be heralded every Sunday.

    • Amen!!!! Thank you, Jason for this message. Having just survived a heart attack, where I didn’t know if I would live or die, that was my comfort! Knowing that Christ alone has done all for my acceptance with the Father. It hardly mattered to me if I died, or if God would have me survive. I am at peace because of Him alone. Heidelberg 1

  6. Wow Angela,

    We will pray for your complete recovery and enduring strength. You have much left to give, blessing and edifying the Saints with your Proclamation and Defense of the Gospel. In the meantime, thank God our lives are Hidden in Christ, awaiting His Glory and the New Heavens.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in Heaven for You. 1 Peter 1:3-4

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