IX. The Act of Coming
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. -- John 6:37.
Thus far, in our discussion of the theme: "Whosoever will may come," we tried to find an answer to the question: to whom must we come? The answer is: we must come to Jesus. And as we elaborated upon the meaning and implications of this answer, we found that the Scriptures present Jesus as the revelation of the God of our salvation, as the giver of rest, the water and the bread life, the liberator, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life. The will to come to Him, therefore, must be motivated by the desire to come to God, the longing for rest, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, a yearning after true freedom, love of the light, and the earnest desire to be delivered from death, and to be quickened unto a new life.
But what does it mean to come to Jesus? We have become so accustomed to hear this phrase that we probably consider it quite superfluous to give ourselves a clear account of its meaning. Yet, it is important that we answer this question. Before a person can heed the call to come to Jesus, and in order to be sure that he did obey that call, he must have some understanding of its implications. Now, it should be plain that the phrase coming to Jesus is somewhat figurative. In the physical sense no one can come to Christ. When He was on earth, and preached in the cities and villages of the land of Canaan, it was, indeed, possible to follow up the call to come to Him literally, to approach Him, to speak to Him, and to touch Him. However, even then, if anyone would have understood the call in this literal, physical sense, the Lord would no doubt, have instructed him that such a coming could be of no avail, that one must come to Him spiritually, and that, before this could be fully realized, He must go away, through death and resurrection, in order that He might return in the Spirit, and thus become the bread of life for all that come to Him. When the bread seeking multitude at Capernaum murmured at His saying that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, in order to have true life, He said unto them: "Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing." John 6:61-63. To come to Jesus, therefore, is a spiritual approach to Christ, the Son of God come into the flesh, crucified and slain, raised on the third day, and exalted in the highest heavens, as He is revealed in the gospel.
And well may we pause for a moment to consider what is implied in this act of coming to Jesus. What is implied in this spiritual approach to the Christ of the Scriptures? What does one do when he comes to Jesus? And how is it possible for a sinner to come to Him?
All the more peremptory it is to inquire into the meaning of coming to Jesus because of the abominable travesty of it that is presented by many a modern self-styled evangelist and revivalist. And it is high time that the Church, that is the custodian of the gospel, and to whom alone is given the commission to preach the Word, should raise her voice aloud in protest against the widely practiced evil of hawking Jesus, and of presenting Him as the cheapest article on the religious market, that may either be procured or rejected by the sinner at will. To come to Jesus is, according to a very usual phrase, to accept Him as our personal Savior. And this would not be so objectionable if it were not for all the misrepresentations that are connected with it. All emphasis is laid on that word "accept." One must accept Jesus, that is all. And to do this lies within the power of every sinner. On this acceptance of Jesus by the sinner everything depends. For this act on the sinner's part the Savior must wait. It is the signal which the sinner gives Christ that He may go ahead and save him. It is the act whereby the sinner opens the door of his heart to a Christ that stands and knocks at that door, but who is unable to enter, unless the sinner permits Him. O, indeed, they admit that salvation is of grace, and some of these hawkers of salvation even prattle of sovereign grace; but this grace is, nevertheless, presented as enervated and paralyzed if the sinner refuses its saving operation!
And this gives rise to all the evils of which Arminianism gone wild affords daily demonstrations from pulpits and over the air. The sinner's power to accept or reject Jesus receives all the emphasis, and the result is that the act itself of coming to Christ is presented as something natural and very simple. All that is required of the sinner is to raise his hand, or to come to the front, or to kneel down by the radio, and repeat after the preacher: "I accept Jesus as my personal Savior," and the matter is settled. If the sinner will only do this, the Holy Spirit will come into his heart and make him a new born child of God. And seeing that the thing is so natural, and that it lies within the power of every sinner to accept Jesus, very natural means are employed to persuade the sinner to take this step, and to let Jesus come into his heart. Hence, the highly sensational altar call, climaxing the sermon, in which the preacher is done with expository preaching, and can say what he wants. All that is calculated to arouse mere human emotions is now brought into play. Sentimentalism replaces the sound preaching of the Word. The audience is asked to bow their heads in silent prayer. The organ softly plays, or the choir gently sings: "Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling," or "Just as I am without one plea." And in the meantime the preacher begs and pleads, and with a voice full of emotion asks sinners to raise their hands, to come to the front, to let Jesus into their hearts, and to accept Him as their personal Savior. He speaks of a God that begs for the privilege to come into their hearts, of a Holy Spirit that longs to make, newborn children of God of them, and of a sinner upon whom alone depends the decision of life and death, of hell and heaven, of the whole matter of salvation, and of the very glory of God in Christ! And the result is as natural as the means that are employed. Instead of the new birth the emotions are aroused; a sentimental tear of self-pity is mistaken for true repentance; and a temporary elation of the soul is erroneously called joy in Christ!
The result is that churches that are built upon this unstable foundation of emotionalism are constantly in need of more and greater emotional stir to maintain themselves, and to keep their auditoriums filled. Preachers try to draw a crowd by announcing the most extraordinary and silly sermon topics. Besides, they are in need of periodical revivals, and for this purpose some extra sensational evangelists, men or women, are employed, and their coming is advertised in the daily papers and on billboards with the promise of special thrills and extraordinary excitement. And these revivalistic campaigns are said to be successful. Hundreds and thousands of souls are converted by these men. And it is to be feared, and the ultimate result usually shows that it was, indeed, by the preachers, rather than by the Spirit of Christ that they were converted.
Against this evil of sentimentalism and freewillism gone wild I raise my unqualified protest. There is no example of it in the preaching of Christ and of the apostles. And I would call upon the Church to return to sound preaching and sound doctrine, to instruct young and old in the truth of the gospel, and to preach a mighty Christ and a poor, helpless sinner, a sinner that can come to Jesus only by the power of His Spirit and grace! It is through such preaching that Christ will gather His Church, and that sinners will be saved and grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!
What is it, then, to come to Christ? It is a spiritual act, not a mere natural deed. It is an act that proceeds from the heart, whence are the issues of life; not from the superficial and quickly changing emotions. It is an act of the whole man: with all his heart and mind and will and desires and strength one comes to Jesus. It is an act, not of the natural man, but of the spiritual man; of the one that is heavy laden and weary with sin, and seeks rest; of the one that hungers and thirsts after righteousness, and seeks the bread that never perishes, and the water of life; of the one that bemoans his darkness, and seeks the light; of the one that cries out of the depths of death for the resurrection. And being a spiritual act by a spiritual man, it does not condition grace, but is already the fruit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is an act, lastly, that is never finished, as if a man could say that years ago he came to Christ and that is the end of it; but that is the daily need and delight of the new man in Christ to perform. To these various aspects of the act of coming to Christ I would like to call your attention.
First of all, then, let us try to analyze the act of coming to Jesus itself. What does a man do, when he comes to the Christ of the Scriptures? I think that we may distinguish four elements or steps in this spiritual act which I will call: contrition, recognition, aspiration, and appropriation.
First of all, there is the element of contrition. This is a true sorrow after God, caused by the fact that man has obtained a true spiritual knowledge of sin as sin, and of himself as a sinner before the face of God. This does not mean merely that he knows and acknowledges that there is something wrong with him; nor that he is sorrowing because of the evil and bitter results of sin for himself; nor that he is sorry because of certain bad habits. No, this sorrow of true contrition goes to the root of the matter. It means that the sinner consciously stands before the bar of divine justice, that the pure and penetrating light of the righteousness of God exposes him in his true worth as a sinner, that in the light of inexorable justice he beholds himself, his nature, his work, his imaginary goodness, his piety and religion, and discovers that there is nothing good in him, that all is corruption, defilement, iniquity, rebellion, violation of God's law; that he hears the divine verdict of guilty, and the sentence of his condemnation. But it means more. It means, O wonder, that now he takes God's side in this judgment against himself and in his own condemnation, that he hates his own sin, acknowledges the justice of God's sentence, and prostrates himself before the bar of justice in dust and ashes. He sees that as sinner he cannot enter into God's fellowship, and confesses that as far as he is concerned there is no way out. He is filled with sorrow according to God!
Secondly, there is in the act of coming to Christ the element of recognition. By this I mean a true, spiritual knowledge of Jesus Christ as the revelation of the God of our salvation. I say, spiritual knowledge, in distinction from mere natural, intellectual knowledge. It is knowledge of the heart, rather than of the head. It is experimental rather than theoretical knowledge of the God of our salvation in Christ. It is personal rather than abstract. I do not make this distinction in order to disparage doctrinal knowledge of Christ. On the contrary, without intellectual knowledge of what God has revealed to us, spiritual knowledge is impossible. But mere theology is not sufficient unto salvation. One may know all about Christ without knowing Him. Saving knowledge of Jesus is to behold Him as the fullness of our emptiness, as the true water and bread of life which we need, as the light in our darkness, as the resurrection that is able to overcome our death. It is a personal knowledge of Him as the One that is made unto us of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It is such a knowledge of the Christ as causes us to realize that we are deeply concerned with Him, and that to possess Him is a question of life and death.
From this contrition, this sorrow according to God, this realization of our own condemnation in the judgment of God, and this true knowledge of the Savior as the revelation of the God of our salvation, arises the third element of which we spoke, that of aspiration or longing. Seeing Him as the fullness of our emptiness, as the righteousness of God that is able to blot out all our unrighteousness, as the light that can dispel our darkness, as the life and the resurrection that is able to vanquish our death, as the bread that can satisfy our hunger and the water that can quench our thirst, we long for Him, and for all His benefits: forgiveness, the adoption unto children of God, knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. We hunger and thirst for Him. We want to possess Him. We cannot live without Him. We ask, we seek, we knock. For we yearn to be delivered from the guilt and the dominion of sin in order that we may have peace with God, and enter into His blessed fellowship. And as the hart panteth after waterbrooks so panteth our soul after God, after the living God as He reveals Himself in the riches of His grace in Jesus our Lord!
And this leads to the final step: appropriation of Christ and all His benefits and blessings of grace. This implies that I know with a certain knowledge that He is mine and that I belong to Him by God's unfathomable grace over me. It means that I am confident that He died for me, and that now I wash my garments in His precious blood by faith, laying hold of the forgiveness of sins, and of the righteousness of God in Him. It means that by faith I live out of Him, as He lives in me, and that I draw out of Him grace for grace, that I eat and drink Him, and that through Him I draw near unto God and enter into the fellowship of His covenant. And now "I count all things but loss for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." Phil. 3:8.
Such are the implications of the spiritual act of coming to Jesus. The circumstances and the manner in which one comes to perform this spiritual act are not always the same. Sometimes one is suddenly called out of darkness, and he is very vividly conscious of the change whereby he is impelled to cast himself upon the mercies of the Lord. Thus it was with Paul on the way to Damascus. In a moment he turned about from persecuting the Church to acknowledge the Jesus he persecuted as his Savior and Lord. More often one is gradually instructed and inducted into the knowledge of Christ from infancy, and when he comes to years of discretion he cannot remember any particular moment when he came to Christ. Thus it must have been with Timothy. And thus it normally is with those that are born and brought up in the Church. But whether in one way or another, always the act of coming to Jesus contains the elements of contrition, spiritual knowledge, aspiration, and appropriation. Nor is the act ever finished. Always again we come in sorrow after God, in the acknowledgment of His fullness, with the longing and thirst in our souls for the God of our salvation, in order that daily we may drink of the water of life freely.
Whosoever will may come! How a sinner can thus come to the Savior we must consider another time. If now it only has become plain that the will to come to Jesus is motivated by true repentance and sorrow for sin, is enlightened and directed by the true spiritual knowledge of Christ as the God of our salvation, is impelled by the mighty longing after the living God and His grace, and expresses itself in appropriating Christ and all His spiritual blessings. And he that so cometh to Jesus shall never be ashamed. For He is included in the word of Christ: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." John 6:37.