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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Study Notes 8-5-12

I have re-adjusted this text to include only my notes for verse 45, as that is all we covered last week.  Enjoy!

John 6:45

6:45 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—

There are really two parts to this verse, or at least two ideas that I think are important.  One corresponds with salvation, the other with sanctification.  First I will deal with that which is dealing with salvation and then move onto the upshot of the salvific teaching (sanctification), which is driven by several passages in the Old Testament.

Teaching = Drawing

As we see in verse 44, there’s a sine qua non (a necessary precondition) involved in the act of coming to God.  That precondition is that He first “draw” us to Himself.  In the previous section, I mentioned the “why” as well as the overarching “how” as it pertains to the mode of operation in the drawing process.  Now, with this verse before us, I want to get into more specifics of the “how” operation of the spirit in our lives, and some of the distinctions we need to make to understand this process more accurately.  I think we all want to know “what happened to me?” as John Piper puts it.  We all want to know what it is that God did to change our lives and bring us into His everlasting kingdom.

In the context of this verse, what does it mean to be “taught by God”?  Well the “teaching” that John refers to here is in direct connection to the “drawing” that He mentioned in verse 44 (see also 1 Cor. 2:13, 1 Thess. 4:9, and 1 John 2:20).  As John Piper says, “So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.”

Thus the thrust of verse 45 is that Jesus is explaining more of the how of this drawing. How does He do that?  Well, Jesus seems to indicate that not only is this teaching in coordination with the drawing, but that the teaching of God is effective – it can’t fail.

Piper’s longer explanation for this is as follows:

The answer John gives to how the Father draws people to the Son is by teaching them. “No one can come unless the Father draws him…It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.

And the connection between being taught and coming to Christ is unbreakable. No one is taught and then decides not to come. The teaching produces the coming. You see that most clearly in the second half of verse 45.

Verse 45 says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (This is why I said this verse confirms our understanding of John 12:32.) Not some of them come. All of them come. So Jesus uses at least three phrases to describe how the Father draws people to Jesus. He calls it “being taught,” and he calls it “hearing from” God, and he calls it “learning from” God. “‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Beale and Carson agree with Piper that there is a strong link between the “drawing” in verse 44 and the “teaching” in verse 45, “In light of the Jews’ largely negative response to his message, Jesus points out that while his ministry in fact fulfills the prophetic vision that one day – which has now arrived – all people will be taught by God, this applies only to those who are drawn by the Father (vs. 44), the sender of Jesus and who subsequently come to believe in him as the Messiah.”

Leon Morris mentions that liberal theologian Rudolph Bultmann got it wrong when he said, “any man is free to be among those drawn by the Father.”  The statement itself sounds so ridiculous that it almost need not be refuted. But this is, in effect, what Armenians hold to, when they hold to the complete dominion of man over his fate.  Surely the very thrust of the text here is quite the opposite of Bultmann’s conclusion.  Such is the fate of errant theologians who come to Scripture in an eisegetical (so to speak) fashion.

Calvin agrees, “It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.”

The Old Testament Connection and Fulfillment

In teaching us, the Holy Spirit is “implanting” (as MacArthur says) a new desire and a new understanding of the ways and law of God. This is why Christ says to us that it is “written in the prophets.”  He is saying that in Isaiah and Jeremiah and others, we are promised to one day have the law of God written on our hearts.  As Piper says, “Both Isaiah and Jeremiah explicitly promise the day when the God’s teaching will no longer merely be external on tablets of stone, but will be internal written on the heart.  God will teach us in the New Covenant first by sending Christ as the sum of all truth, the fulfillment of the law, and then by making that truth real to hour hearts.”

Interestingly, MacArthur notes that, “Jesus’ statement was also a subtle rebuke of His Jewish opponents, who prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture. But had they truly understood the Old Testament, they would have eagerly embraced Him (5:39).”

The passage Christ quotes is from Isaiah 54:13 and says:

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.

This also holds a close connections with Jeremiah 31:33-34 which says:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Carson and Beale paraphrase Young by noting that “the greatest spiritual wealth that Isaiah is able to imagine for God’s people is that all their children ‘will be taught by [literally “become disciples of”] the Lord.”

Note especially that Jeremiah says that “they shall all know me”, why?  Because “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  And therefore, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor” – because, as Isaiah says, “all your children will be taught by the Lord.”

So the inward work of the Spirit will help people “know” the Lord.  Calvin says, “The way of teaching, of which the prophet speaks, does not consist merely in the external voice, but likewise in the secret operation of the Holy Spirit.”

What does this mean? What does it mean to “know” the Lord?  To understand this, we must look at the close ties between knowing the Lord, and knowing His law (since Christ is quoting the Old Testament here, we do well to draw our conclusions by first looking at the context in which Isaiah and other wrote). The law was an outward guide and revelation to the holiness of God.  It showed us His standard of perfection, as well as our own sinfulness.  In other words, it showed us who we were in comparison to who God was, and in that way made us aware inwardly of a need to repent and rely completely on God.  Once under the new covenant, we no longer needed to be taught by men, because we had an inward law – one written on our hearts.  The law, which was a schoolmaster (or “guardian”) to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), was now implanted on the hearts of those who are quickened by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

The reason I mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:13 earlier as a reference is because it so excellently reminds us that the great truths of Christ are only able to be discerned by us with the help of the Holy Spirit.   It says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

As He’s wrapping up the discourse here, as we’ll see later, Christ explains why they can’t understand what He’s talking about.  He says in verses 63-65, “‘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. 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.)’ And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

If by now you cannot see the sovereignty of God in salvation then you must not be reading or listening to the Words of Christ – you must not have “ears to hear”, for Christ is saying again and again that from the beginning of time through the end of time, He and the Father have chosen a people, and elect group of people, for themselves.  They have not only determined who these people will be, but have seen to it that by their power, and theirs alone, these people are brought to a saving knowledge of themselves (the trinity).  The operation of salvation is synergistic only in the sense that it is carried out by the three members of the Trinity acting in full knowledge and power, for their own purposes and glory and enjoyment.  The Godhead does not share power for salvation with man.

Conformity

Now I want to look at this inward work of the Spirit as it pertains to being continually “taught” by the Spirit of God and how we were all “taught” of God for a purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Old Testament prophecy that is connected with being “taught” by God has to do with His law being written on our hearts.  Galatians tells us the law “was added because of transgression” (Gal. 3:19) to keep the people of Israel in constant remembrance of the character and standards of their God, that they might conform their lives to His standard (a sort of Old Testament sanctification process minus the Spirit’s help, of course). Now we have that law written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we also have His help to guide us and conform us to Christ’s mind and complete image. This is significant, and ought to lead us to understand how Christ would want us to act, and live. That is part of the Spirit’s grand work in us to conform us to the image of Christ until that day when this work is complete (in heaven).

Taught for a Purpose

Remember, we have been saved not only from something (Hell), but for something (good works and conformity to the image of Christ).  As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Now, as you can see, not only is Christ explaining how we were first quickened and “taught” of God and our deficit before Him, but He is also explaining how we are taught of God continually for the purpose of growth in grace and truth. You were saved for a reason, to become holy.  You aren’t saved so that you can simply enjoy the fact that you aren’t going to Hell. You aren’t saved simply so that you can enjoy heaven with Christ (although that is certainly a part of it – see John 17), but rather you are saved so that you can be made holy.  Why?  So that you can glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Christians today have lost a focus on practical holiness.  We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “how can I be more holy today?”  We have no driving desire to be “taught” of God.  Instead we have minds full of trivial and temporary desires.  We need to refocus our attention as Christians back onto the process and goal of sanctification, and becoming a holy people.

Jerry Bridges says, “But here is a basic truth: We will not grow unless we see our need to grown, we will not pursue holiness unless we see how much we are still unholy, and we will not see our unholiness unless we look at the holiness of God instead of what we perceive to be the unholiness of our neighbor. This is why we must face up to the sinfulness of our sin.”

We also need to remember that when Christ was raised from the dead and was going to go back to heaven, He says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jon 20:17b).  Therefore we now have been included in His family, and must be made fit for the family.  We must be made ready to enjoy this blessing in its fullness.

“Everyone”

In the last part of verse 45 Christ says, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  Note that He purposefully uses the word “everyone” to establish the fact that in the “teaching” or “drawing” of people, God the Father does not fail to bring to fruition that which He planted in the hearts of His elect.

As J.C. Ryle says, “The words do not mean that under the Gospel all mankind, or all members of the professing Christian Church, shall be ‘taught of God.’ It rather means that all who are God’s children, and come to Christ under the Gospel, shall be taught of God.”

Note also that Christ says “the Father” instead of the Spirit, and that is because while it is the Spirit doing the “drawing”, He acts on the eternal unchangeable will of the Father.  From the first, God had intended to “teach” certain people about Himself, and here we learn that “everyone” who is taught of God comes to Christ.  Not one of His pupils fails to come to Christ.  We’ve already talked briefly about why this is, but it doesn’t hurt to go over it again.

God is effective in all that He sets out to do because He is God and His purposes cannot fail.  When He teaches men of Himself (they have “heard” and “learned” of Him) they always come to Christ.  What is He teaching them?  The gospel.  He is teaching them of a (new) covenant (Jeremiah 31) that He is making with them, that if they believe on His Son Jesus Christ, they will be saved. That is why Christ goes on to say in verse 47 that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”  This fact comes with a promise – if they believe, they will be saved and will also (an added benefit) have “eternal life.”

The heart which “hears” this message from God cannot refuse it.  It is irresistible! It is so not because God has cajoled them into belief, but because the sweetness of it is such that they flee to the cross.  Of course there are two elements to learning of the gospel of God.  It is not simply that a man learns of the benefit of eternal life, but that he also learns of his own sinfulness in light of the cross.  This is what inevitably happens when we are taught by God, we learn who He is and who we are in light of His holiness.  This is what happened to Isaiah in chapter 6 of his book.  We see that not only did he learn about who God was and what His surroundings looked like, but he immediately realized who he was in light of who God is.

Isaiah did not see the holy majesty of God and respond by saying “well, since I have free will to choose whether or not to believe in you, and since you seem to have laid out all the proper facts about things, I will make the choice now to believe what you have to say.”  No indeed.  His response was compelled – not forced by God – but he was compelled I say to do the obvious thing, and that was to repent of his utter sinfulness and throw himself on the mercy of God.  This is what happens when men and women are “taught” of God.  They do the obvious thing when their eyes are opened to His holiness, they repent and run quickly to the cross!  This happens without exception, and that is why it is that Christ can use the word “everyone.”