Elder Beebe: Will you oblige a friend by giving through the columns of your paper, your views on John v. 40? which reads as follows: “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Is not coming to Christ set forth as a condition, the fulfillment of which is requisite to the attainment of the life here mentioned? And can we not reasonably infer that by coming unto him aright, they whom he addressed might have secured this life? And lastly, does not the power of refusing to come unto Christ, herein attributed to his auditors, imply also the possession, on their part, of the power to come unto him?
Reply: We cannot in this number afford the amount of space which a full discussion of this subject requires, embracing as it does substantially the grand issues contested by the advocates of the truth of God on the one hand, and the champions of human power and free agency on the other. This has been the grand point of religious controversy ever since sin entered into the world. The doctrine of the ability of man to stretch forth his hands and help himself to the fruit of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, was first insinuated in the garden of Eden by the devil, and was fully implied by his words to Eve, “Thou shalt not surely die,” and that insinuation was acted out in the transgression of Adam and Eve, and still more fully exemplified by Cain, when he presented the fruits of his own labor, and production of the earth which then groaned under the curse of Jehovah, as a ground of acceptance before God. All the errors and delusions which have prevailed on the subject of religion, from that period to the present, were amply set forth in the type, as Jude declares of all who pervert the truth, “Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain.” - Jude 11. Cain’s way was the very opposite of God’s way, which was signified in the offering of a lamb, which directed the faith of Abel to the Lamb of God, as the only offering which could perfect forever them that are sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus and called.
The carnal, unregenerate Jews, to whom Christ addressed the words of our text, were in the way of Cain, looking for acceptance with God on the grounds of their own works, while they had not the word of God abiding in them, by which all who are born again are quickened, “Of an incorruptible seed, by the word of the Lord which liveth and abideth forever.” These Jesus knew had not that living word in them, therefore they were destitute of eternal life. And yet they thought they had eternal life in the Scriptures. The Scriptures which they had, and in which they believed that they had eternal life, were the Old Testament Scriptures, for the New Testament was not at that time in the hands of mortals, and as they relied on the law or Old Testament for life, they were admonished to search that record, for instead of affording assurance that they had life in the law, or in their works of obedience to the law, all that was written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, (which comprised all of their Scriptures) was written concerning Christ, as he told the two disciples immediately after his resurrection, and as he told these Jews in connection with the words of our text, “They,” namely, the Scriptures in which they thought they had eternal life, “are they which testify of me.” “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Christ is life. “This is the true God and eternal life.” But as Paul bore record of his kindred according to the flesh, that “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, [which is Christ] and going about to establish their own righteousness,” which in another place he says is by the law, or by their own works, they thereby rejected the righteousness of God. Just so in regard to Christ, as the life and immortality of his body, the church, the Jews saw in him no attraction to draw or incline them to him; he was to them as a root out of dry ground, in whom they saw no form or comeliness. All this was, as he told them in the connection, because his word or life was not in them, and no man, either Jew or Gentile, ever had a will to come to Christ for life, until they were quickened by the indwelling of the word of God. None are willing until the day of Christ’s power, for it is God that worketh in his people, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Having made these preliminary remarks we will now attend to the interrogatives stated by Alpha.
1. Is not coming to Christ set forth as a condition, the fulfillment of which is requisite to the attainment of the life here mentioned? We answer most emphatically, it is not. In the connection, as we have already noticed, Christ is not offering to make a bargain or contract with these carnal Jews, nor is he making proposals to them, nor stating terms and conditions, overtures, nor offers of any kind whatever. But he is simply defending himself from the aspersions and blasphemies which the Jews had uttered against him, and in doing so he uncovers the hypocrisy and dishonesty of his accusers, proving that the word of life is not in them, or in other words, that they were in a carnal, unregenerate state, by two conclusive evidences, namely, their unbelief in him, and their indisposition to come to him for life. If they were truly the children of God, as they professed to be, they would believe on him. That Jesus spake of their unbelief, as a testimony that they were not what they pretended to be, is very evident from many expressions. “And ye have not his word in you; for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.” - Verse 38. This was a conclusive evidence that they were not born of God, for he said, “But ye believe not, because ye are not my sheep; as I said unto you, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” - John x. 26, 27. The faith that accompanies salvation is a fruit of the Spirit, and is implanted in the incorruptible seed which produces a new and spiritual birth. Therefore he said, “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” - John v. 24. None therefore believe on him until they are passed from death unto life; consequently faith cannot precede life, nor be a condition on the performance of which life is to be obtained. This then, as we have said, is one conclusive evidence that the Jews, unto whom our text was addressed, were ungodly and unregenerated men.
Another evidence, equally as conclusive, is given in our text: “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” For he that cometh unto God must believe that he is, &c. And without faith it is impossible to please God. Now, as no man can have faith or believe in Christ until he has eternal life in him, and as without that faith and belief in Christ, none have any will, desire or inclination to turn away from the works of the law, to look for life in Jesus Christ, the fact that these unbelieving Jews had no will or disposition to look to Jesus Christ for life and immortality, was another evidence that they had not passed from death unto life.
In further demonstration of the correctness of our position, that coming to Christ is not set forth in our text, or anywhere else in the Scriptures, as a condition, &c., we quote the words of our Lord in this same chapter, John v. 21, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” This text fully defines the manner in which Christ quickens or gives life to the dead, and it is in a way just as independent of conditions, means, instrumentalities and human agencies, as is the resurrection of the dead, so that if we conclude that any willing or doing of the sinner is required as a condition, on the performance of which eternal life is to be attained, we shall be compelled to also believe that the inanimate tenents of the graves will be required to comply with some conditions, or remain in their graves unresurrected for evermore. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, &c., even so the Son quickeneth. And the manner of both is clearly stated in the same chapter, verses 25-29, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,” &c. The quickening and resurrection of them who are in the graves will be effected in the same way that the heavens and the earth were created; the voice of God, who said, Let them be made, and they were made, without any previous means - using on the part of the things which were called forth into existence by the voice of God. So in the resurrection, The Lord shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, and the voice of the archangel and the trump of God shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and all this without any previous arrangements or agency of the dead. And the giving of spiritual life to dead sinners, and their passage from death unto life, Jesus says, is even so. But if the Father raiseth up the bodies of the dead by his own almighty power, independently of any performance on their part, and the Son of God quickeneth dead sinners, on their performance of certain conditions, then the one would not be even as the other, but there would be a very striking contrast. Still another demonstration of our position is found in the express declaration of the Holy Ghost, Romans ix. 16, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Now if the words of the Redeemer, “And ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life,” imply that either their willing or their running or coming to Christ, were conditions, the performance of which was requisite to the attainment of that life, then Paul was mistaken, and is found a false and unreliable witness of God unto us. If life is attained by our willing and acting, why has the Holy Ghost, by Paul, told us in just so many words that it is not so?
Once more. If eternal life and salvation is obtained by anything that men can will or do to secure it, then it is by works, and if it is by works, it is no more of grace, otherwise work is no more work. But the Arminian is effectually headed off at this point, for God, by the apostle, has emphatically declared, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” - Eph. ii. 8-10.
The second interrogative of Alpha seems to imply that there are more ways than one of coming to Christ. He asks, And can we not reasonably infer that by coming to him aright, they whom he addressed might have secured this life? We find no such discrimination in the text, nor is there anything in the book of God to favor the idea that there is a right and a wrong way. Christ has declared emphatically, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” - John xiv. 6. It is totally impossible that this text can imply a possibility for any man in an unquickened state to come to Christ without a palpable contradiction of what he has said, John vi. 44, “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The total inability of all men to come to Christ by any power of will or works that they possess in their lost and helpless state, or until drawn by the Father, is so plainly written that none but infidels will dare to deny it. The power to bring them to Christ is in God, even the Father, and they are unable to move towards Christ until God the Father exerts that power which is exclusively in him. And whenever and wherever God the Father exerts that sovereign power, and draws a sinner to Christ, Christ has pledged his word that he will raise up that sinner at the last day. And this drawing power shall assuredly be exerted in all who are ordained to eternal life, for Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” - John vi. 37. The apostle John testifies to the church of God, that this is the record that God hath given us (the saints) eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” And Paul testifies that this life is hid with Christ in God, and also that Jesus Christ, who is the only and blessed Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, only hath immortality (or eternal life) dwelling in the light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen nor can see, to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen. (1 Tim. vi. 16.)
The third and last interrogative of Alpha reads thus, And lastly, does not the power of refusing to come unto Christ, herein attributed to his auditors, imply also the possession, on their part, of the power to come unto him? As there is nothing either said or implied in the text about his auditors refusing to come to him, we shall only treat it as a baseless quibble. In the whole subject our Lord has denied the claims of these carnal, workmongrel Jews, to the possession of eternal life, and proved their destitution of that life by their utter destitution of either will or power to come to him for life. He neither says nor implies that that life had ever been offered to them, or that they had refused it, for it has never been offered either to them or to any other beings in earth or heaven. It is nowhere called an offer, but he says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give [not offer] to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” - John x. 27.
In conclusion we will say to our unknown querist, Alpha, we have complied with your request; read what we have written candidly, compare our views with the Scriptures of truth, especially those portions of the Scriptures to which we have referred, and if you can finally manage to keep the doctrine of free will and human ability upon the throne, in your judgment, we shall be compelled to regard you as occupying the same position which was occupied by the carnal, workmongrel Jews, who had neither the will nor the ability to come to Christ, that they might have life, who, in their ignorance of God’s righteousness, were going about to establish their own righteousness, a righteousness from which we must be delivered or perish forever.
Middletown, N. Y.
August 1, 1858.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 123 - 130