“Is not Jesus in John 5:40 (“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life”) expressing disappointment or frustration that some refused to ‘come’ to Him? Does not this text express a desire or wish of Christ that these individuals receive Him and so ‘have life’ and be saved (although ultimately these individuals perished)? Does not this verse imply that redemption and salvation were available
to those who perished in their sins, if only they had come to Christ and received Him (i.e., a universal, hypothetical redemption available for all, upon condition of repentance and faith)?”
In the last sentence, the questioner describes a position known as Amyrauldianism. Shortly after the great Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), this error arose in France. It was taught in a somewhat different form in England and this view was represented at the Westminster Assembly by several delegates. It was advocated also in Scotland and is said to have been adopted by the Marrow Men. The view of the Marrow Men was condemned by the General Assembly of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. It was also rejected by the Westminster Assembly, although not by name. The Westminster Confession
says that Christ died for “the elect only” (3:6; cf. 8:8).
The questioner asks whether John 5:40 does not express disappointment or frustration on Jesus’ part that they did not come to Him. Such a view, that of the well-meant offer, which holds that God earnestly desires to save the reprobate, immediately raises the question: Can the incarnate Son of God who is “very God of very God” be frustrated? He created the worlds and upholds them, giving life and being to every creature. He frustrated? He does whatever pleases Him (Ps. 115:3; 135:6)!
The answer to the reader’s question is, even on the surface, a resounding NO. Here Jesus states a simple fact
concerning these hard-hearted Jews: “ye will not [i.e., do not wish or want to] come to me.” In the context, Christ explains that they cannot
trust in Him because they seek honour from men not God (John 5:44), do not have “the love of God in” them (42) and do not even really believe the five books of Moses (46-47).
In brief, as our confessions teach, especially the Canons of Dordt
, the preaching of the gospel comes with two things: 1) the promise that whoever believes in Christ will be saved; 2) the command that comes promiscuously to all men to repent of their sins and trust in the Saviour (II:5). For more, you could read my book, Corrupting the Word of God
, which deals with the history of the well-meant offer, as well as theological and exegetical issues (available from the CPRC Bookstore for £16.50, inc. P&P).
You can ask, of course, “Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in His law that which he cannot perform?” The answer is, “Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own wilful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts” (Heidelberg Catechism
, Q. & A. 9). God does not excuse man from serving Him because of his own foolishness in disobeying God when He had warned him, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
Prof. Herman Hanko (emeritus, PRC Seminary)