Impartial Grace: Luke 2

There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

(Luke 2:8-11, emphasis added)

Shepherds in a field are blessed by an up close and personal birth announcement. It’s a beautiful story and it is Truth revealed to us. Shepherds were in a field tending their flock. An angel appeared and the glory of the Lord was all around them. The shepherds were frightened, not just shaken, but “filled with great fear.” The angel spoke to the shepherds saying, “a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” is born. The Truth is the “good news of great joy will be for all the people.” This great news of a savior born is not for just a few who choose Him or for only those chosen by Him. This great news of a savior born is “for all the people.” Our free will does not trump the “good news of great joy that will be for all people.” What is the “good news?” It is that a Savior is born? What is the great joy? It is that a Savior is born. “Good news” and “great joy” are for “all the people.” Who is excluded from this “great joy?” Who is excluded from the “good news?” No one.

Adam Clarke is a 19th Century theologian. He took forty years to complete a commentary on the Bible. He was Methodist and was opposed to Calvinism. He did not believe in predestination, but in the free will of a man to choose to believe. Dr. Clarke writes these verses are applied “to the Jews first and then to the human race.”1 It is a blessing to the whole world. He says, “The good news is to you, – and not to yourselves exclusively, for it is to all people, to all the inhabitants of this land, and to the inhabitants of the whole earth.

John Calvin preaches predestination. According to Calvin’s doctrine God has determined before the foundations of the earth who will and who will not be saved. Those not saved are not chosen and consequently will endure eternal torment. Parenthetically a theology exists that is centered on Dr. Calvin’s teaching; Calvinism. Dr. Calvin describes this verse “which will be to all people.” 2 The angel is speaking directly to the shepherds in the field. “The message of salvation he brings is of wider extent.” Dr. Calvin assures his audience the blessing given by the angel is joy “common to all people, because it was indiscriminately offered to all.” He then goes on to explain, “God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few.”

It is unfortunate Dr. Calvin adds, “When the angel says that this joy shall be to all the people, he (Luke) speaks of the chosen people only.” Dr. Calvin is adding to the scriptural text. The offer of joy is “common” to all. He declares the Jews deprived themselves of the joy of knowing Christ because of “their unbelief.” Dr. Calvin also states that Gentiles are not grateful for the gift of saving grace and therefore God’s gift of grace will be “…enjoyed by few.” Dr. Calvin writes, “When the angel says that this joy shall be to all the people, he speaks of the chosen people only.”

Albert Barnes is a Presbyterian Pastor, Preacher, Author and Scholar. He is widely held in high regard. He prepared a commentary entitled “Albert Barnes Notes On The New Testament.” 3 His sermons have been published and many can be read online. In one sermon he spoke to the serious condition of the world. He says, “When I look on a world of sinners and sufferers-upon death-beds and graveyards – upon the world of woe filled with hosts to suffer for ever: when I see my friends, my family, my people, my fellow citizens when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger-and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them, and yet he does not do so, I am struck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark to my soul, and I cannot disguise it.”

Dr. Barnes may have been conflicted and thoroughly sorrowful for what he believed was to be the fate of many people he loved. About these verses he tells us “the gospel will bring peace.” All of the chaos and confusion, strife and violence will be brought to end. “Jesus came to make peace.” Dr. Barnes tells us Christ accomplished His work. He brings peace “by reconciling the world to God by His atonement.” Second, Christ gives the mind of the sinner peace in the freedom and comfort of knowing his place in Christ is secure. Third, Christ brings peace “by diffusing the principles of universal peace among nations.” Christ causes mankind to see each other not as enemies, but as brothers. He leads us to see our neighbors in need and striving to help them. There is an absence of self. Lastly, Christ brings peace as “all nations will be brought under the influence of the gospel…and the world will be filled with peace.” Dr. Barnes is seemingly advocating universal reconciliation in this commentary.

Take only the plain meaning of the text, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Take nothing from these words and add nothing to them. Drs. Clarke, Calvin and Barnes are notable men. They are strong and eminently educated. Their knowledge is grand compared to my own and many others in the world. However, their interpretations and commentaries do not seem to be in agreement with the plain meaning of these scriptures.

Allow this reiteration of these verses. This is the testimony of the birth of Christ Jesus. Shepherds tending their flocks at night are overtaken by the glory and light of the Angel of the Lord. The shepherds, I think naturally so, are deeply frightened. The Angel of the Lord calms their fear and declares the Gospel to the lowly shepherds. The Gospel is “for all people.” The whole world, all of creation, is impacted by the Good News. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” A Savior of the whole world is born. The Christ is born. His Name is Jesus which means “God Saves.” There are no distinctions in this Gospel between those who believe He is the Christ and those who do not. There are no distinctions in these verses about the Gospel between those who heard the Good News and those who have not. It is the will of God that none be lost that all are saved.

These verses build a sermon leading to hope for all who have ever been created or who will be created. The doctrine of universal reconciliation teaches we have a King. He is Christ. The most heinous man will be reconciled to Him Who created him. This is Impartial Grace.

1 Adam Clarke. “Adam Clarke Commentary (Luke 2).Study Light website. Publication date unknown. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/luke-2.html. Date accessed: 04/01/2018.

2 John Calvin. “Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible, Luke 2.” Study Light web site. Publication date unknown. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/luke-2.html. Date accessed: 04/01/2018.

3 Albert Barnes. “Albert Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible.Study Light website. Publication date unknown. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb.html. Date accessed: 04/01/2018.