I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Jehovah-Shalem, The Lord send peace. Judges vi. 24.
by William Cowper (1731–1800)
Jesus, whose blood so freely stream’d
To satisfy the laws demand;
By thee from guilt and wrath redeem’d,
Before the Father’s face I stand.
To reconcile offending man,
Make Justice drop her angry rod;
What creature could have form’d the plan,
Or who fulfil it but a God?
No drop remains of all the curse;
For wretches who deserv’d the whole;
No arrows dipt in wrath to pierce
The guilty, but returning soul.
Peace by such means so dearly bought,
What rebel could have hop’d to see?
Peace, by his injur’d sovereign wrought,
His Sov’reign fastened to the tree.
Now, Lord, thy feeble worm prepare!
For strife with earth and hell begins;
Confirm and gird me for the war,
They hate the soul that hates his sins.
Let them in horrid league agree!
They may assault, they may distress;
But cannot quench thy love to me,
Nor rob me of the Lord my peace.
—from Olney Hymns. Book I: On select Passages of Scripture.
Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Truths of the weightiest importance follow each other in rapid succession in the chapter we are now reading. There are probably very few parts of the Bible which contain so many “deep things” as the Sixth Chapter of St. John. Of this the passage before as is a signal example.
We learn, for one thing, from this passage, that Christ’s lowly condition, when He was upon earth, is a stumbling-block to the natural man. We read that “the Jews murmured, because Jesus said, I am the bread that came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?”—Had our Lord come as a conquering king, with wealth and honours to bestow on His followers, and mighty armies in His train, they would have been willing enough to receive Him. But a poor, and lowly, and suffering Messiah was an offence to them. Their pride refused to believe that such an one was sent from God.
There is nothing that need surprise us in this. It is human nature showing itself in its true colors. We see the same thing in the days of the Apostles. Christ crucified was “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness.” (1 Cor. i. 23.) The cross was an offence to many wherever the Gospel was preached.—We may see the same thing in our own times. There are thousands around us who loathe the distinctive doctrines of the Gospel on account of their humbling character. They cannot away with the atonement, and the sacrifice, and the substitution of Christ. His moral teaching they approve. His example and self-denial they admire. But speak to them of Christ’s blood,—of Christ being made sin for us,—of Christ’s death being the corner-stone of our hope,—of Christ’s poverty being our riches,—and you will find they hate these things with a deadly hatred. Truly the offence of the cross is not yet ceased!
We learn, for another thing, from this passage, man’s natural helplessness and inability to repent or believe. We find our Lord saying,—“No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draws him.” Until the Father draws the heart of man by His grace, man will not believe.
The solemn truth contained in these words is one that needs careful weighing. It is vain to deny that without the grace of God no one ever can become a true Christian. We are spiritually dead, and have no power to give ourselves life. We need a new principle put in us from above. Facts prove it. Preachers see it. The Tenth Article of our own Church expressly declares it,—“The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.” This witness is true.
But after all, of what does this inability of man consist? In what part of our inward nature does this impotence reside? Here is a point on which many mistakes arise. Forever let us remember that the will of man is the part of him which is in fault. His inability is not physical, but moral. It would not be true to say that a man has a real wish and desire to come to Christ, but no power to come. It would be far more true to say that a man has no power to come because he has no desire or wish.—It is not true that he would come if he could. It is true that he could come if he would.—The corrupt will,—the secret disinclination,—the lack of heart, are the real causes of unbelief. It is here the mischief lies. The power that we want is a new will. It is precisely at this point that we need the “drawing” of the Father.
These things, no doubt, are deep and mysterious. By truths like these God proves the faith and patience of His people. Can they believe Him? Can they wait for a fuller explanation at the last day? What they see not now they shall see hereafter. One thing at any rate is abundantly clear, and that is, man’s responsibility for his own soul. His inability to come to Christ does not make an end of his accountableness. Both things are equally true. If lost at last, it will prove to have been his own fault. His blood will be on his own head. Christ would have saved him, but he would not be saved. He would not come to Christ, that he might have life.
We learn, lastly, in this passage, that the salvation of a believer is a present thing. Our Lord Jesus Christ says,—“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Life, we should observe, is a present possession. It is not said that he shall have it at last, in the judgment day. It is now, even now, in this world, his property. He hath it the very day that he believes.
The subject is one which it much concerns our peace to understand, and one about which errors abound. How many seem to think that forgiveness and acceptance with God are things which we cannot attain in this life,—that they are things which are to be earned by a long course of repentance and faith and holiness,—things which we may receive at the bar of God at last, but must never pretend to touch while we are in this world! It is a complete mistake to think so. The very moment a sinner believes on Christ he is justified and accepted. There is no condemnation for him. He has peace with God, and that immediately and without delay. His name is in the book of life, however little he may be aware of it. He has a title to heaven, which death and hell and Satan can not overthrow. Happy are those who know this truth! It is an essential part of the good news of the Gospel.
After all, the great point we have to consider is whether we believe. What shall it profit us that Christ has died for sinners, if we do not believe on Him? “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John iii. 36.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.