Copyright 1945 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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Incline your ear, and come unto me. -- ISA. 55:3.
We are discussing the theme: "Whosoever will may come." And before we proceed, it may be expedient to consider these words from the well-known hymn somewhat more closely than we did thus far. We said that they were biblical provided they were properly interpreted, and given a biblical sense. We must bear in mind that they are nowhere literally found in Scripture. The text to which they most probably refer, Rev. 22:17, reads: "And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." And the apparently slight alteration of these words in those of the hymn may lead to serious misunderstanding and error.
What is meant by "whosoever will may come?" The plain implication of these words is, evidently, that whosoever will is permitted, has the right to come, and need not be afraid that he will be refused. And to this we wholeheartedly agree. No one ever seeks without finding; no one ever asks without receiving; no one ever knocks in vain. No one that will come to Jesus shall ever find the way barred: he will surely be received. But the further question must be asked: why is this true? How do you explain that whosoever will has the right to come, and that he may be assured that he will not be cast out? The answer that many give to this question, and that expresses most likely the meaning attached to the words of the hymn by the majority of those that sing it, runs somewhat as follows. All men have the right to come, if they will only take it, and insist upon their rights. Christ died for all men as far as God's intention is concerned, and, therefore, he obtained the right of salvation, the right to come to Him, for all. Moreover, all men have the power of will to come to Christ, if they will only use it aright. It is in their power either to accept or to reject Jesus. This it is that must be proclaimed to them. Men must be told that they have the right and the power to come to Christ, and the preaching by men must persuade them to make the right choice. Christ did all He could. And now He stands at the door of men's hearts and knocks, and He pleads and begs that the sinner will let Him in. But the key is on the inside. He cannot come into men's hearts unless they let Him. Salvation is for all, but it is up to man to take it. Whosoever will may come!
This interpretation of the words of the hymn is a serious error, as I hope to make plain. Serious the error is, because with a Christ that merited salvation for all men but who cannot actually save the sinner unless the latter permits Him, salvation is utterly impossible. And over against this false doctrine we maintain that the saving grace of God, changing the heart of the sinner, precedes the will to come to Christ. The latter is the fruit of the former. Only where the irresistible and efficacious grace of God changes and radically turns about the perverse will of the sinner can the latter will to come to Christ. And no man has this will of himself. We must investigate what is implied in the will to come. And in order to do so, we must first of all ask the question: to whom must the sinner come ?
Perhaps, you will say: the answer to this question is quite simple. It is that we must come to Jesus. And this is quite true. But it is by no means a superfluous question: and who is this Jesus to Whom we must come? According to the impression that is left by many a preacher in our day, Jesus ought to be the most popular man in the world. He is someone who offers to save you from death and the eternal tortures of hell, and who will take you to a beautiful heaven after you die. It pays to come to Him. He is a wonderful paymaster, who pays the highest wages in the world. Besides, He leaves it entirely up to you, whether you will accept Him or not. It is in your power to do either. And you can make your choice any time, if only you do so before you die. Now, what could be more appealing to man than such a Jesus? And what could be more flattering to the sinner's pride than a Christ that is entirely in his power to accept or to reject? Surely, he must feel that he does Christ a great favor when he accepts Him, that he is a pretty good man to let Jesus in his heart, much better than others who reject Him, and that He makes a profitable bargain when he exchanges the services of the devil for that of this wonderful paymaster! And if he is only consistent, he ought to say in his prayers: "O God, what a good thing it was that I am not as other men, and that I was good enough to make it possible for Thee, and for Thy Christ, to save me!"
But on the very surface of things, it would seem plain that there is something fundamentally wrong with this presentation of Jesus. For as far as mere men, natural men, are concerned, there never was a more unpopular man in all the world than the Christ of the Scriptures. From the time that Cain murdered Abel till the present day, all the world as "world" always hated Him. It was for His sake that, in the old dispensation, they killed the prophets, and stoned them that were sent by God to preach Him. And when He Himself tabernacled among us in the days of His flesh, it required only three years of public ministry to arouse the popular disgust and hatred against Him to such a pitch, that they cast Him out as the lowest criminal, and nailed Him to the cross. He Himself declares that the world hates Him, that they will hate His people, and that His Church is always only a little flock. On the very face of things, therefore, it would appear that there is something radically amiss with the presentation of a Jesus that appeals to the natural man, and whom all men have the power to accept.
What then? To whom must we come?
The ultimate answer to this question is this: we must come to GOD!
This is the teaching of the Word of God. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall all men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed." Isa. 46:22-24. "Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live. Isa. 55:3. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isa. 55:7. "0 Israel, return unto the Lord, thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord: and say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips." Hos. 14:1, 2, "Therefore, also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even unto me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." Joel 2:12. "Seek ye me, and ye shall live," and again, "Seek the Lord, and ye shall live." Amos 5:4, 6. The Lord Jesus teaches us, that He is the way to the Father's house, and that no one cometh unto the Father, but by Him. John 14:6. And Christ is able to save them to the uttermost, that come unto God by him. Heb. 7:25.
O, indeed, we must come to God. "Whosoever will may come," means "whosoever will come to GOD may come to Him." We must come to God, not merely in order to obtain salvation, but to come to Him is salvation. It is not merely a means to an end, it is the end itself. We must come to God who is GOD, that is, not to a god of our own imagination, which is always an idol, but to the true and living God, as He reveals Himself to us in His Word. To God we must come, Who dwelleth in the light that no man can approach unto; Who is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all; Who is good, that is, the fullness of all infinite perfections, righteousness, holiness, truth, and grace, and in Whose presence there is fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore! To God we must come, Who is too pure of eyes to behold iniquity, Who loveth the righteous, but Who is angry with the wicked every day, and Who is a consuming fire, the great, the glorious, the terrible God! We must come to Him, that is, we must enter into His blessed fellowship, into the secrets of His friendship, into His most intimate communion, so that we dwell in His house as friends with their Friend, taste that He is good, know Him as we are known, see Him face to face, walk with Him and talk with Him, love Him as we are loved, have our delight in His will, and glorify His name forevermore. O, yes, to be saved is to be delivered from hell, provided you understand that the torture of hell is exactly that there one feels the wrath of God, and his being utterly forsaken by Him! To be saved, to be sure, is to go to heaven, and heaven is a beautiful place, a glorious house with many mansions, a new creation, and a new Jerusalem, with streets of gold and pearly gates, provided you understand that the heart of it all, and the very essence of it all is that God is there, the Father, and that there we shall forever walk in the light of the glory of God that fills the city! For to know God is life eternal. John 17:3. To come to God,--that is our salvation! For:
"To live apart from God is death;
'Tis good His face to seek."
And this stands to reason.
Man was originally so created that this true knowledge of and perfect fellowship with the ever living God is his very life, and that apart from this blessed fellowship there is no life, but only death and hell for him. In his very being he was so constituted that his nature was adapted to bear the image of God, to be, in a creaturely sense and measure, like God. And not only so, but with the likeness of God he was endowed. After the image of God, in true knowledge of God, in perfect righteousness, in spotless holiness, he was created. And thus he was capable of knowing God, of dwelling in His blessed fellowship of friendship, of loving Him and being loved, and of serving Him in freedom with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. That was man's life and bliss.
But man did not regard his bliss. He departed from the living God. He disregarded His Word, to heed the word of the devil. He violated God's covenant and transgressed His commandment. He proposed to seek his life and bliss far from the living God. And he became guilty, the object of God's just wrath, damnable and liable to death. The death sentence was executed upon him. He became darkness, corrupt in heart and mind, a slave of sin and of the devil, an enemy of God. That is man's misery. And, therefore, to God, to the living God, he must return, and to come again to Him is his salvation. "Whosoever will may come," indeed, provided you understand that this means nothing less than to come to the living God!
But how shall we come to God? We may not come to Him, for we are guilty because of our sins, we can only increase our guilt daily, and we have lost every right to dwell in the Father's house. We are exiles from the home of Father, neither have we the right to return. We dare not come to God, for He is holy and righteous, and He is terribly displeased with sin and with the workers of iniquity. How dare we come to Him, Who is a consuming fire? We cannot come to God, for we are corrupt by nature, and the natural man is enmity against God. With God is the eternal light, and we love the darkness rather than the light. And because of our foolishness and hatred of God, we will not come to Him, but seek our happiness far from Him in the way of iniquity. How then, shall we come to the living God and be saved?
The answer to this question is: God has revealed Himself as the God of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord! Hence, the answer to the question: to whom must we come? has not changed; it still is: we must come to God, to the living God; but it has assumed a new form: we must come to God through Jesus Christ, for He is able to save to the uttermost those that come to God by Him! To Jesus we must come, in order to come to God! For Jesus is the revelation of the God of our salvation!
And let it be emphasized that it is to Jesus Christ of the Scriptures that we must come, and not to any Christ of our own imagination. Many, indeed, are the modern Jesuses, all of whom are characterized by this: that in order to come to them the sinner does not have to renounce the pride of his sinful heart. He is the great Teacher, whose instruction we are good enough to receive, especially as it is embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, and whose precepts we must keep. Or He is the good example, who Himself walked in the light, that we might follow in His steps. And so, we must ever walk and live with the question before our minds: what would Jesus do? Or He is the one who was deeply God-conscious, who was conscious of the truth that man is the son of God, and who revealed to us, that we, too, are sons of God. We must, therefore, believe in the Fatherhood of God, and establish the brotherhood of man in the world. We must build Christian character. We must establish the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus has shown us how good we really are, and what a power for good we have, and we can work ourselves into the favor and love of God. All this modern trash that flatters the pride of sinful men has nothing to do with the Christ of the Scriptures.
We must come to Jesus. And Jesus leaves us nothing but the confession that we are sinners, damnable and corrupt, as far as we are concerned, sinners that must be and only can be saved by pure and sovereign grace. The Christ of the Scriptures is He that came into the world, the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, as a helpless Babe in the manger of Bethlehem, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, from the virgin Mary. He is the One that tabernacled among us, and by His Word and work revealed unto us the Father, the God of our salvation. The Christ of the Scriptures is He that died on the cross of Calvary, not for His principle, not as a noble example for us to follow, but because He was delivered for our transgressions, and in our stead brought to God the perfect sacrifice for sins, fully satisfying the justice of God with respect to all our transgressions. He is the One that was raised on the third day because of our justification, raised to glorious, transcendent, victorious life; death hath no more dominion over Him. He is the Christ that ascended up on high, was exalted at the right hand of God, received all power in heaven and on earth, and received the promise of the Spirit. He is the quickening Spirit, the Savior, the mighty Lord, who has the prerogative and the power to save sinners, that is, to bring them back to the living God, to lead them into Father's house, that they may have life, and have it more abundantly than ever before! In Him we behold the Reconciler, the Justifier of the ungodly, Who does not impute transgressions unto us. He is the Bread of life, which we must eat; the Fount of living water, from which we must drink. He is the way to the Father, and to come to Him is to come unto God by Him!
But who wants to come to God ?
Does the natural man, of whom the Scriptures say that he is dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 1:2; that he is darkness, that he loves darkness rather than light, and that he hates the light, neither cometh to the light, Eph. 5:8; John 3:19, 20; that he does not seek after God, that there is no fear of God before his eyes, and that his mind is enmity against God, Rom. 3:11, 18;8:7;---doesthat man, I say, have the will to come to God by Jesus Christ? To ask this question is to answer it: he will never come to the living God of himself.
But all the more sure it is that "whosoever will may come." For he that thirsts after the living God, has already been drawn by the Father. And it anyone will come to God through Christ, his mind has already been enlightened, and his will has been marvelously changed by the almighty grace of God, who called the things that are not as if they were, and who quickens the dead. Let him not doubt that he will be received, for Christ Himself assures him: "All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out !"