Salvation: The Gift of God - Rev. Hugh Cartwright
“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
It is one of the remarkable features of inspired scripture that a portion of truth which confounds and condemns one, comforts and encourages another. Indeed, the same scripture can come to the same person at different times and produce different effects. The Word of God prospers in the thing whereto He sends it and if, at times, it acts as a sword “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:‘2), at other times, it is a balm which brings relief to the wounded soul and comfort to the broken heart. The Lord’s sermon recorded in this chapter was full of hard sayings to hypocrites, but disciples, indeed, were constrained to exclaim: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6 : 68).
Many of those to whom the Lord was speaking refused to acknowledge the claims which He made for Himself and refused to rest upon Him for salvation. But “what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Rom. 3:3)· Jesus assures His hearers that, although they would go in unbelief to a lost eternity, He will not lose His people. His sorrow over the Jerusalem that rejected Him was the sorrow of compassion and pity, not the sorrow of frustrated desire and overturned purpose. All the elect of God shall come to Christ for salvation. He will lose none of His people. He will lose none of His glory. This is a blow to the pride of unbelieving men. It is a truth which has solemn implications for them. “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves” (Luke 23:28).
But what comfort is in these words for the sinner who is coming to Jesus - no matter at what stage of “coming” he may be! They tell that the grace of God is behind his coming, in his coming and awaits his coming. This word of grace is a joyful sound to the awakened sinner. The news that God in His grace has provided a complete and effectual salvation is good news indeed to one who has learned by experience the sinful helplessness of man.
We shall endeavour briefly to underline the main aspects of the doctrine of our text, noting:
(I) The source of a sinner’s salvation
“All that the Father giveth me. .. .”
Here, our Lord traces the salvation of a soul - the coming of a soul to Christ for salvation - to the sovereign, electing purpose of God the Father, as it came to gracious expression in the Covenant of Redemption. The river of life flows from the throne of God.
The Father is, as Dr Kennedy of Dingwall put it, the representative of the supremacy of the Godhead and the fallen human race is in the hands of God, as the clay is in the hands of the potter. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Rom. 9:21)· Fallen man had no claim upon God, but God did not lose His claim upon man and God must press that claim, in whatever way pleases Himself and is in conformity with His own character. He must be glorified in man. Why is God not going to be glorified in the eternal perdition of the whole race? He will be glorified in the eternal condemnation of some, but He is going to be glorified in the eternal salvation of others. Why does God show mercy to any and why does He show mercy to those to whom He does show mercy? The ultimate reason revealed to us is that it pleased Him to do so. It is for Him to show mercy or not to show mercy just as He wills, until He commits Himself to do so. And, having purposed to show mercy, it was for Him to choose its objects. No man can claim God’s favour on the ground of justice. And no man can claim that, because God is merciful, He must be merciful to him. “For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom. 9:15) “God having, out of His more good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer” (Shorter Catechism, 20). God’s purpose to save, and His choice of those He was to save, was bound up eternally with the purpose to save them through Christ. God never thought of salvation or of those He was to save, apart from Christ. He was “set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Prov. 8:23)· And His people were “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The purpose to save included the provision of Christ as the Saviour.
The entire Godhead is involved in the salvation of a soul. This verse shows the distinction between the Father and the Son and, yet, the perfect harmony which exists between them in the work of salvation as in everything else. Christ did not take the work of salvation upon Himself in opposition to the will of the Father. It is not the work of Christ that makes the Father willing to save. The whole work of Christ for His people stems from the fact that the Father devised this way and committed this work into the hands of the Son. God put His people into the hands of Christ, that He might be and do all that was necessary for their salvation. As Calvin says, “the donation of the Father is the first step in our delivery into the charge and protection of Christ”. “Behold I and the children which God hath given me” (Heb. 2:13).
We tend to think of God’s giving of His people to Christ as an act of the past, but, here, the present continuous tense, “giveth”, is used. There is no past, present or future in eternity, and this decree is eternal. This emphasizes the permanence of the decree or, perhaps, that the decree is manifest or comes to fruition in the present, in the coming of sinners to Christ. That God gave His people to Christ to save them carries with it the guarantee that they shall come to Him to be saved. “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever” (Ps. 33:11).
The main point to note is that the sovereign good pleasure of God the Father lies behind the provision of a Saviour and the coming of sinners to Him. Salvation has its origin in God, in eternity. At its fountainhead, salvation is of grace.
(2) The means of a sinner’s salvation
“... Shall come to me.”
Christ was proclaiming Himself as the bread which came down from Heaven - as God’s provision for the desperate need of those who are dead in sins. As bread represents what is essential to physical life, Christ is claiming that He is essential to spiritual and eternal life. And, as abundance of bread will do no good to one who refuses to eat, so no sinner will receive life from Christ without coming to Him and receiving Him. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). See that you are not looking to your own works for salvation. But make sure, also, that you are not presuming upon some general kind of mercy in God, for God’s mercy flows to sinners only through Christ.
Christ alone meets the need of the soul because Christ alone meets the requirements of God. Do not think of Christ as just a means of making people happy and of salvation as merely deliverance from human misery. To be saved is to be saved from sin - to be reconciled to God - to be restored to harmony with God and obedience to His will - to be brought to glorify Him and enjoy Him for ever. To enter into this relationship with God, there must be deliverance from the guilt of sin, there must be a positive righteousness in the place of that guilt and there must be a breach with sin in heart and life. The chief aim of salvation is the glory of God: “that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23)· Indeed, salvation is so bound up with the glory of God that the Christian who is looking forward to the consummation of his salvation is said to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2)· It is obvious, then, that God cannot save in a way that is inconsistent with His glory - that does not reveal the perfection of His character and the harmony of all His attributes. He cannot just overlook sin. Justice, as well as mercy, must be given full expression if God is to be God. And it is in the Person and Work of Christ that these requirements are met. In the sacrifice of “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), “mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). In His life and death, the law of God has received infinite obedience and satisfaction. Justice, as much as mercy, must demand that those for whom Christ acted be set free from guilt and accepted by God. And the glory of God is secured in meeting this demand.
Only in Christ can this salvation be secured. As a man, He had the necessary relationship to us to be able to act for us, and He had the capacity to suffer and to sympathize. His divinity gave infinite and eternal value, and efficacy, to all He did as Mediator. And that He is the Christ - the anointed, commissioned Servant of the Father - shows that all His work is in accordance with His will and satisfies His requirements. Thus, Christ, alone, is able to save.
But, to be saved, the sinner must come to Him. Those who are saved by Him are those who are given to Him. That is one side of the matter. The other side is that those who are saved by Him are those who come to Him (John 6:39, 40)· “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). There must be personal appropriation of Christ and of what Christ has done. The sinner must realize that he needs to be saved and that the salvation he needs is in Christ alone. There must be an abandonment of every other scheme of salvation and a willingness to be saved by Christ alone. There must be repentance, forsaking the wicked way, desiring Christ and resting upon Christ alone for salvation. What is required is not just intellectual acceptance of the truth that Christ saves, but the casting of oneself upon Him for salvation. “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47).
(3) The sovereignty of grace in a sinner’s coming to Christ for salvation
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.”
There are two sad facts which Christ records of all men in their natural condition: they will not come to Him for life and they cannot come. Christ is presented in the Gospel, in all the glory of salvation, as the Saviour who is suitable and free to all. To every lost soul to whom the Gospel comes, He cries: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3)· But, without the grace of God, sinners have neither the will nor the ability to come to Christ. No matter what pressure is brought to bear upon them by the promises of the Gospel and the threatenings of the law, and no matter how much their emotions may be worked upon, without the grace of God in operation there will be no turning to Christ. The sinner is spiritually dead - not just unable to move towards God or Christ, but an enemy of God. He neither will nor can come because his nature is diametrically opposed to God. Only the almighty, life-giving, renewing grace of God can bring a sinner to Christ.
The grace that gave a people to Christ will bring them to Him or they would never come. This truth does not limit the Gospel or put a barrier in the sinner’s way, as some allege, but gives effect to the Gospel and ensures its success. Of all men without grace it will ever be true that they will not and cannot come, and theirs is the guilt. But grace will bring all whom the Father gives to Christ. They were as dead as others. Some came from strange places and through strange experiences. The devil opposes their coming with all his power. Their sins, which should make them run all the faster to Christ, keep them back. They feel condemned and excluded. They may have many setbacks. But come to Christ every one of the elect shall, and the sovereign irresistible grace of God is the only explanation.
Coming to Christ is the evidence of election. There is much variety in the details of Christian experience and in the feelings of Christians, but it is true of them all that always they come to Jesus - even when they have to say, “Saw ye Him whom my soul loveth?” (S. of S. 3:3)· If you have come to Christ, it is because the Father gave you to Christ in an everlasting convenant and, by His Spirit, persuaded and enabled you to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered in the Gospel. The honour of your salvation is His alone. And you know and are glad it is so.
And let those who are still away from Christ remember that it takes the sovereign grace of God to bring a soul to Christ. That is not putting any question mark against the ways of God, but against the condition of your own soul. Man is so depraved, so hostile to God, so unable to do any spiritual good, that, although confronted with the awful reality of an eternal hell and, although presented with Christ in all the glory and freeness of the Gospel, he will not flee to the Saviour, but when drawn by grace. If you are going to be saved, it is only as a debtor to grace for every part of your salvation.
“Rabbi” Duncan put it in a nutshell when he said: “The propositions that grace is necessary, and that it is sovereign, sum up my belief regarding it.”
(4) The certainty of salvation for every sinner who comes to Christ
“And him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
The harmony of the Godhead in salvation is the guarantee that every poor soul who comes to Christ will be welcome. When He says emphatically that He will in no wise cast him out, He is showing the certainty of the believing sinner’s acceptance and how different this is from what he deserves. He mentions what the sinner deserves, only to put a double negative on it for all those who come to Him.
To be “cast out” is what every sinner deserves - cast out from all blessing and hope, cast into hell - by the Lamb in the midst of the throne. And that is the destiny of every Christless soul. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment’’ (Matt. 15:46).
But, on no account, will those be cast out who come in faith and penitence, as sinners to Christ. “This man receiveth sinners” (Luke 15:2), “O matter how great sinners they have been. Look at the welcome the returning prodigal received. No tongue can express the wonder of the provision that God has made for those who come to Christ. But we know enough when we know that Christ will take them in, for they are complete in Him. To be received by Christ is to “be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation” (Isa. 45:17)· And this is the encouragement for sinners to come to Christ, which the Gospel holds out.
There are two promises in this text: the first gives meaning to the second. For those who believe in the total depravity and inability of man, preaching the Gospel would be a most depressing task if they did not rest in the assurance that the purpose of God shall stand, that all that the Father gives to Christ shall assuredly come to Him. Yet, let the sinner who hears the Gospel remember that what he has to do with, first of all, is not the decree of God, but the promise of the Gospel. The first part of the text should keep men from presuming that coming to Christ is something within their own power. You must come to Christ and whether you can come or not makes no difference to your obligation, or to the sincerity and freeness of the call. But the fact that you cannot come to Christ, apart from the drawing power of grace, confirms your culpable helplessness and lostness. The second part of the text should keep the awakened sinner from despairing on the ground of the decrees. As C. H. Spurgeon says, “never fear that there is anything in the secret purposes of God which can contradict the open promises of God”. Here is all the warrant you need for coming - and remember that this is the language of the One Who is exalted “a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5 : 31) .
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
Rev. Hugh Cartwright was formerly minister in Urquhart and a Professor in the Free Church College. He is now minister of the Free Presbyterian Church in Edinburgh.