Martin Luther on John 6:44-45

We had a wonderful discussion on the “drawing” of the Holy Spirit today in class, and so I wanted to follow up with a quick post because I just came across what the great reformer Martin Luther had to say on the passage, and I thought it was really good.  Here’s what he said:

John 6:44-45 “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 will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me,”

As we mentioned in class, the drawing of men to God is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father (see John 6:45).  To be “taught of God” is to have God work in your heart to awaken you to the things of God and “implant” in you (to use MacArthur’s wording) a new desire – a desire that you would not otherwise have.

Luther says this, “He declares (in John 6:44), not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws.”

And commenting on Paul’s writing on the matter, Luther says, “Luther says, “Paul’s whole aim is to make grace necessary to all men, and if they could initiate something by themselves, they would not need grace…”free-will” it utterly laid low, and nothing good or upright is left to man; for he is declared to be unrighteous, ignorant of God, a despiser of God, turned away from Him and unprofitable in His sight.”

It is most difficult for us to take all of this in.  But Christ understood this because His own disciples were struggling with it.  Look at the bottom of the passage:

John 6:60-65 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? [63] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus here explains the difficulty that they were having was because of the “flesh” (vs. 63) and that is why it takes the Spirit to discern what is spiritual.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: if this is so difficult to submit to and comprehend as a believer who has the Spirit of God, what makes us think that we were at all capable of making a correct choice for God without any supernatural work of God in our hearts?  The answer is plain – just as we need God’s help in understanding His word, and in our sanctification process, we needed it even more in the process of salvation.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8

UPDATE:

Thanks to Parris Payden for sending along this little ditty by Luther from his (Luther’s, not Parris’) masterpiece The Bondage of the Will:

“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground ; but because even were there no dangers. I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success.¦ But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God.” 

Additional Resources:

Monergism.com has a great selection of Scripture to help the believer walk through the “irresistible call” of God, along with the other Doctrine of Grace. Thank you Parris for sending this great resource along!

R.C. Sproul’s book ‘Chosen by God’ is the classic work on the topic of election and predestination for the layman.  This is the book that helped me initially understand this concept.

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