Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, in A Puritan theology: doctrine for life, outline some of the human impediments in the way of a person coming to Christ for salvation.
1. Neglecting the Christ of the Bible.
Some people fail to come to Christ because they pay little or no regard to the Christ of the Bible. They seek a Christ of their own imagination; they seek Christ on their own terms. We do not urge such people to read the Bible as a mere duty, or because in doing so they will have some kind of mystical experience. We encourage people to read the Bible because it is there that the Holy Spirit reveals Christ as he really is, and the true way of coming to him for salvation.
Other people may read the Bible, or listen to Bible-based messages, but they do not apprehend its true meaning or import. They look to the Bible to ‘inspire’ them, or to guide them through life’s daily challenges. But they fail to see that the Bible points to Christ as the Saviour of sinners and the only means by which we may come to God. Thomas Watson wrote that the Bible is the box in which we find Christ, the jewel; the Scriptures are the dish on which is Christ, the food.
2. False Conversion
Some people do not come to Christ for salvation, because they think they are already converted. They may have acquired some knowledge of the Bible, they may refrain from gross sins, made a profession of faith, perform religious duties. They may have turned over a new leaf, but they have not received the new life which is the essence of faith in Christ.
3. Despair Due to Great Sins
Some people think that they are beyond hope of salvation, that their sins are too great to be forgiven. But the cross itself demonstrates both the exceeding sinfulness of sin and also God’s willingness to forgive the sinner. Do not slight God by thinking and behaving as he isn’t capable of making full provision for your sin. Great sin is cancelled out by a great Saviour.
4. Spiritual Complacency
Some people are spiritually lazy. They intend to consider the claims of Christ upon their lives, but they are content to put it off until another day. They are pre-occupied with everyday concerns and pleasures. They prefer the supposed ease of unbelief compared with the imagined burden of following Christ. The do not realise that unbelief brings only misery in the end, and that God in Christ offers the only real and lasting happiness.
5. Despair Due to Backsliding
Some refuse Christ because they suppose that they are disqualified from doing so by their backsliding. They think that they were once true believers, but have now lost all hope because they have slipped so far away. They need to know that there are no exceptions to the promise: “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” If Christ teaches that we must forgive a brother over and over again (Mt 18:22), then we can believe that he will do the same himself. The divine standard of forgiveness must exceed the human standard.
6. Confusion about Election
Some people will not come to Christ because they do not think that God has elected them to salvation. This, however, entails a serious misunderstanding of the doctrine of election. We must not let our election decide our coming, but rather let our coming decide our election. Alleine wrote, “You begin at the wrong end if you first dispute about your election. Prove your conversion, and then never doubt your election.… Whatever God’s purposes be, which are secret, I am sure His promises are plain.… Do not stand still disputing about your election, but set to repenting and believing.”
7. Ignorance of the Gospel Call
Some people have never heard the command to come to Christ. They need to learn of Christ, and trust in him, while there is yet time to do so.
All of the above impediments – and many more that could be mentioned – spring from unbelief. Calvin wrote, “The blindness of unbelievers in no way detracts from the clarity of the gospel; the sun is no less bright because blind men do not perceive its light.… Unbelief makes us rebels and deserters; [it] is always proud.… Our own unbelief is the only impediment which prevents God from satisfying us largely and bountifully with all good things.” Matthew Henry said, “Nothing is more offensive to God than disbelief of his promise and despair of the performance of it because of some difficulties that seem to lie in the way.… Unbelief may truly be called the great damning sin, because it leaves us under the guilt of all our other sins; it is a sin against the remedy.” And J. C. Ryle said, “No sin makes less noise, but none so surely damns the soul, as unbelief.”