Friday, January 29, 2010

We're Back!

Hello everyone! After some deliberation, the authors here at Reason From Scripture have decided to return here to our home at Blogger. We will no longer be using the new Wordpress site that we announced last week. If you made any comments on posts at the Wordpress site within the past seven days, please re-direct those comments to the matching post here on Blogger. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. We hope you like the new look of this site. Welcome home!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Refutation Of Monothelitism

The issue of the historical heresy of monothelitism has been giving me issues for the past few weeks. Specifically as to why should it be rejected given that I did not know the basis of such a rejection and along with this lack of knowledge, how/why could we attribute a single person(Christ) with two wills. With the help of Nate and the information in Michael Horton's prolegomena lectures I came to the conclusion that it is something that is clearly rejected by scripture.

A key verse in this is Hebrews 2:17 which states :

"Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

This verse seems pretty straight forward in informing the audience that Christ's experience on earth was that fully of a human(apart from sin). This also would seem to mean that Christ's will was like that a human's also. A question that stems from this is: is the 'will' of a divine person different from that of a human person so as to require the possession of two wills within the person of Christ? The answer to the question seems to be yes given a qualitative difference between the human and divine. A proof of such a thing can be seen in texts such as Isaiah 40:25 and 46:5 which state:

"To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One."

"To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?"

If the divine is so different it then seems to follow that His will would also embody this difference. Thus for the verse in Hebrews 2 to be correct a human will must have also been assumed. This argument may be formally written as:

1. If no difference between the human and the divine will can be found then monothelitism.
2. A qualitative difference between the human and the divine will exists.
Therefore, monothelitism is not the case

I will happily take critiques of this argument or any suggestions you may have.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We Have Moved!

Greetings faithful readers! For a number of reasons, the authors here at Reason From Scripture have decided to switch from Blogger to Wordpress. Here is our new address:

We look forward to seeing you all at our new home, and continuing the great discussions and debates!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Teaching of Westminster Regarding the Salvific Significance of Infant Baptism

The Westminster Standards contain a robust doctrine of baptism. The Confession of faith and the Directory for Public Worship as finally set forth by the Assembly of divines propound several instructive statements regarding the salvific significance of the sacrament as administered to infants. Over the past 160 years, however, there has been much disagreement amongst Presbyterians representing denominations confessionally subscribing to the doctrine of the Standards concerning their teaching on this matter.
In the mid to late 19th century, notable American Presbyterian theologians espousing differing views regarding the salvific significance of infant baptism adduced their filial Westminster Standards in support of their respective positions. J. H. Thornwell of Columbia Theological Seminary held that the baptized children of believers were externally members of the visible church and enjoyed a special relation to the covenant of grace, but that they were to be considered spiritually at enmity with God, and unregenerate. Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary held that the baptized infants of believers were members of the visible church in full standing and to be recognized and treated as true children of God and heirs of all of Christ’s salvific spiritual benefits, and presumably among the elect. In a work originally published in 1940 and recently brought back into print, Lewis Bevens Schenck, former Bible and religion professor at Davidson College, sought to show that the Westminster Standards may be brought into line with a number of historic Reformed authorities in teaching that infants of believers may be presumed to be regenerate and therefore ought to be baptized. In recent years, David F. Wright of New College, University of Edinburgh has published an article discussing the teaching of the Westminster Standards on the subject of baptism wherein it is asserted that the Confession of Faith teaches that elect infants are ordinarily regenerated in the administration of baptism.
Thesis: This paper will demonstrate that the Westminster Standards 1) ascribe spiritual salvific efficacy to baptism in the case of elect infants, 2) do not teach presumptive regeneration, and 3) do not teach baptismal regeneration.

To explain and defend this thesis I will, for each statement of the thesis, a) clarify the statement and demonstrate its factuality based on exegesis of the Standard documents, b) outline other views respecting Westminster’s teaching on baptism that are relevant to the statement, and c) evaluate these other views.

1) The Westminster Standards ascribe spiritual salvific efficacy to baptism in the case of elect infants.
a) By this statement I mean that the Westminster Standards teach that beyond signifying (that is visibly showing) and sealing (that is confirming as with an oath) the saving benefits of Christ, the administration of baptism entails the actual giving of these saving benefits in the case of the elect (whether infant or adult).
The Confession of Faith in Ch. 28.1 - On Baptism, states,
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.[1]

Here it is taught that besides initiation into the visible Covenant community, the true spiritual saving benefits of Christ are signified and sealed for recipients of baptism.
The Confession elucidates further as to the mode of dispensation of God’s gracious work in connection with the sign and seal. In Ch. 27 of the Confession of Faith - On the Sacraments, it is taught that in virtue of the inseparable sacramental union of the sign with the thing signified, worthy receivers are promised benefit by the right use of the sacraments. Furthermore, in the Confession of Faith Ch. 28.6, On Baptism this statement is given:
The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time[2]

The Confession’s statement that “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred” indeed intends a strong sense of efficacy. This becomes evident from the debate over the wording of the Confession of Faith on Baptism from Jan. 5 1646 as recorded in the minutes General Assembly. The subject matter of the debate is designated in the minutes “Debate upon baptism, ‘the grace of God bestowed sometime before.’” Jeremiah Whitaker opens the recorded discussion saying of baptism,
That it doth confer grace I do not find, but our divines do hold it. When they oppose the papists they say it is more than a sign and seal. Chamier saith the grace that is signified is exhibited; so it is in the French confession: it doth efficaciter donare. I conceive that it doth not confer it ex opere operato.[3]

For Whitaker the language of conferring and exhibiting intends something beyond signing and sealing. Whitaker’s appeal to the Chamier and the French confession shows that by grace “conferred and exhibited” we may understand grace efficiently given. This is distinguished from ex opere operato (the Roman Catholic view of baptismal efficacy) although detail as to the points of distinction is not provided. From the Confession’s statement, it may be surmised that the difference from Rome lies in that not all who receive the sacrament are thought to be regenerated but only those to whom the grace belongs – i.e. the elect. Also the efficacy is not tied to the moment of administration.
Whitaker goes on to note the strong language of Scripture in describing baptism as an ordinance prescribed to effect salvific ends. He also poses arguments from comparison of baptism with the Word and the Lord’s Supper, both of which seem to him to serve as instrumental means of grace. Herbert Palmer responds to Whitaker’s statements, countering the first point by replying “when Scripture speaks of the efficacy of baptism it speaks of those that are grown up,” and on the other points, denying the suggested consequence of Whitaker’s strict parallel of baptism with Word or eucharist. Palmer seems to indicate that he understands baptism to convey grace to those only who have already received grace of regeneration. Yet he admits that the sign and seal of baptism are not “naked.” He concedes to Whitaker, “a further union in the sacrament, it is such a union as that whatsoever is promised by the word, that is granted unto him by participation in the sign.”[4] So though there was disagreement as to the nature and temporal nuance of the work of grace conferred with baptism’s sign and seal, it seems agreement must have emerged that spiritual grace is “conferred and exhibited” or efficiently given to the elect. The clearest evidence that agreement was reached on this point is, of course, the inclusion of the language in the Confession. [5]
b) J. H. Thornwell claimed the Westminster Standards to teach that baptized infants of believers and unregenerate. Thus it could be called into question whether he held the Standards to teach that the administration of baptism entails the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ.
Thornwell conceived of the church as subdivided into two classes respecting the covenant. The first class he delineates as “the true children of God, among whom alone exists the genuine communion of the saints.” This class consists of adult professing members of the church. The second class he calls “heirs apparent of the kingdom.” [6] This class consists of the children of professing members who are accepted into church membership in expectation and confidence based on the gracious promise of God that they will one day, upon the condition of faith and profession, enter into the true communion of the saints. Their baptism signifies and seals the saving benefits which will accrue to them if the condition of faith is fulfilled.
Thornwell is clear, however, in stating that until profession is made they are by no means to be regarded as having a part in the true communion and they are known by the Church to be “dead in trespasses and sins.”[7] Of the baptized children of believers Thornwell posits “in heart and spirit they are of the world.” Therefore the church is to treat them “precisely as she treats all other impenitent and unbelieving men.”[8] For Thornwell, the thought of subjecting non-professors already by nature outside the communion of the saints to discipline or excommunication is misplaced. Rather their conversion is to be sought through teaching and persuasion in the context of an external covenant. Thornwell appeals to the Westminster Standards and the larger body of Reformed confessions and theologians to corroborate his position.[9]
c) On Thornwell’s view, the salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of elect infants could be upheld. The baptism of infants could, for Thornwell, entail the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ in the case of the elect. Thornwell would then be correct in claiming his view to be consonant with the Westminster Standards in this regard. Yet, it would need to be stipulated that even though the fact of their givenness is entailed and certainly anticipated in baptism, these benefits typically are not actually given until profession of faith is made. This stipulation would bring Thornwell into contradiction with the Confession of Faith 28.6 (cited above) which plainly states that the saving benefits are exhibited and conferred “to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.” So Thornwell would be wrong in claiming Westminster to deny that saving grace can be generally conferred and exhibited to infants.
Charles Hodge affirmed Westminster’s teaching of the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect. Hodge also opposed Thornwell on his views which held baptized infants to be presumably unregenerate and to be assigned a second-level status as church members. Rather, Hodge claims that they are church members of equal status with adult professors of faith, and similarly ready recipients of spiritual grace. He says
The status, therefore, of baptized children is not a vague or uncertain one, according to the doctrine of the Reformed Churches. They are members of the Church; they are professing Christians; they belong presumptively to the number of the elect. These propositions are true of them in the same sense in which they are true of adult professing Christians. [10]

Thus Hodge could affirm the teaching of the Westminster Standards that the administration of baptism entails the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ in the case of the elect without having to stipulate contrary to Westminster that for baptized elect infants the actual giving of the saving benefits must be generally deferred until profession.[11]

2) The Westminster Standards do not teach presumptive regeneration.
By this statement I mean that the Westminster Standards do not teach that the infant children of believers brought for baptism are to be judged by the church to have been regenerated from birth.[12]
The Directory for Public Worship devised by the Westminster Assembly directs pastors, in instructing the congregation as to the institution, nature, use, and ends of baptism before administering the sacrament to an infant, to say “that they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.”[13] In the minutes of the General Assembly from July 16, 1644 debate is recorded over the meaning of this phrase and specifically of the word “holy.” In this debate Thomas Goodwin appears to present a view which approximates a doctrine of presumptive regeneration.
Goodwin’s is the first statement recorded in the debate as he begins thus
I do not know what distinction you will make betwixt federal and real holiness. It is such a holiness as if they die they should be saved. Whether a holiness of election or regeneration I know not but I think it is they have the Holy Ghost. [14]

He is called into question at first by Lazarus Seaman and qualifies his claim saying, “I do not affirm that they are actually saved, but we are to judge them so.”[15] Therefore Goodwin affirms that of infants born into the Covenant of Grace and brought for baptism, it is to be judged by the church that they are saved and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit before baptism (although he confesses he does not know whether this implies they are to be judged regenerate, or simply elect).
Goodwin is opposed, however, by almost all of his fellow divines whose statements are recorded in this debate. First Stephen Marshall responds thus to Goodwin’s statement
But for that said, we must judge that they are saved, I conceive we are not bound to judge that they are saved, for if so, that I must judge of them all singly that they are saved, I have no warrant. It is sufficient to believe in the general, that the infants of believing parents are federally holy. [16]

Marshall denies that the judgment of charity ought to involve presumption regarding the salvific status of infants born to believing parents brought for baptism. Samuel Rutherford then enters to speak of the distinction, which he seems to understand as commonplace, between federal and real holiness:
There is an ordinary distinction or real and inherent and federal holiness; I did not think to hear that real and federal holiness are one and the same. Where there is real and inherent holiness there must be a seeing of God, and being in the state of salvation.[17]

Rutherford confirms that in judging an infant federally holy, the matter is not adjudicated as to the infant’s salvific status which, in distinction, only real holiness concerns.
Goodwin maintains his side in the argument insisting he has been misunderstood and offering various clarifications and qualifications. He restates in several speeches that his aim is by no means to utter infallible pronouncement as to the reality of the matter, or to claim all Covenant infants to be saved. Rather he means only a judgment as to their real holiness which answers to the promise “I am thy God and the God of thy seed.” This he takes as an indefinite (not universal) proposition. Yet, he is opposed on every side as each of the rehearsals of his position is reproached from another quarter.[18]
Stephen Marshall, one of the more vocal opponents of Goodwin in the recorded debate, composed a polemical treatise directed against the baptistic doctrine of John Tombes which was entitled A Defense of Infant-Baptism, and was printed in 1645 during the progress of the Westminster Assembly. In this tract Marshall explains the Covenant of Grace in the “large” sense to include many who are not regenerate. [19] All who are members of the visible church, namely professors of the true religion and their children, are said to belong to the Covenant of Grace in this sense and to enjoy the administration of grace in outward ordinances and church privileges. [20] Of all of these he asserts “they are to be accounted his [God’s], to belong to him, to his Church and family, and not to the Devils.”[21] Yet it becomes evident that in accounting thus all who are fitted for membership in the visible church, Marshall means not to enter unto judgment as to their salvific status. He says of those christened with the denominations just listed “few of those many so called are elected.”[22]
Certain statements of Samuel Rutherford, in his tract The Covenant of Life Opened from 1655 also aid us in deepening our grasp of the issues involved in the debate over the wording in the Directory. Here Rutherford sharpens the distinction between the “federal or Covenant holiness” and “real holiness.” Federal holiness by which infants are qualified for baptism is “holiness of the seed, society, family or nation which is derived from a father to son.” Real holiness, on the other hand, is “not derived from a believing father, to make the son a believer… nor is it internal and effectual confederacy with God, that, by which one is a son of promise.” Real holiness, for Rutherford is the holiness of election, in the divine dispensation of which individuals are either chosen or passed by in God’s secret wisdom and providence. To the eye of the church, the presence or absence of federal holiness is manifest, and that of real holiness is hidden.[23]
In all, both Marshall and Rutherford remain reticent concerning judgment as to the salvific status of Covenant members (whether infants or professors). And if it is the case, as it appears to be from the statements of Marshall and Rutherford, that a distinction is to be made between federal holiness and real holiness such that judgment can be decided regarding the federal holiness of a person without it affecting or involving judgment regarding his or her real holiness - so do the Westminster Standards. The Standards give no statement as to whether a positive judgment is to be made by the church concerning the spiritual salvific status of infant children born into the Covenant of Grace presented for baptism.[24]
b) Lewis Bevens Schenck held that the Westminster Standards do teach presumptive regeneration.
Schenk produced a dissertation for Yale University in 1939 published in 1940 under the title The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Baptism in the Presbyeterian Church in America. Schenk’s intent was to call the American Presbyterian Church in the dissolute state of her position regarding the significance of infant baptism back to the “glorious doctrine” of presumptive regeneration to which she was heir. In his analysis, he plots the development of Reformed dogmatic conceptions of the significance of infant baptism with respect to salvation and the Covenant of Grace starting with John Calvin down to his present day. No slight emphasis is given to the statements of the Westminster Assembly as Schenck seeks to expose the deviation of subsequent Presbyterian theologians from the true doctrine of their Standards. The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Directory of Public Worship along with various extramural writings and historical commentaries are cited in order to demonstrate that Westminster’s teaching with regard to the significance of infant baptism was of a piece with Calvin’s. He cites the phrase referenced above from the Directory of Public Worship which says of which says of infants brought for baptism “that they are Christians and federally holy before baptism” as proof of his claim.[25] Schenk writes of the Reformed consensus -
Membership in the invisible church meant vital union with Christ, or regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Since the word presume meant to admit a thing to be or to receive a thing as true, before it could be known as such from its phenomena or manifestations, the presumption that an infant was a member of the invisible church meant that it was believed to be engrafted into Christ and regenerated before it gave any ordinary evidences of the fact.[26]

Schenck held that Calvin, and the Westminster Assembly in following him unswervingly, spoke to the effect that baptized infants are to be judged members of the invisible church from the womb, meaning by this to assert that they presumably enjoyed vital and saving union with Christ before baptism. Thus, Schenck thought that in the Westminster Standards, infant baptism signifies and seals the salvific benefits of Christ which infants of believers presumably possess before the rite is administered.
c) Schenck’s claim that the Westminster Standards teach presumptive regeneration is mistaken. The Statement from the Directory of Public Worship which Schenk cites as proof of his claim has been shown from the minutes of the Assembly and the writings of Marshall and Rutherford, to intend no judgment as to the infants’ spiritual salvific status. The Westminster Standards and the writings of the divines here examined appear to withhold judgment as to the salvific status of infants presented for baptism.
Robert S. Rayburn, in an article reviewing the Reformed doctrines of covenant children, covenant nurture, and covenant succession, gives a more guarded assessment of the Standards’ teaching as to the church’s judgment regarding the salvific status of infants brought for baptism, but finally expresses broad agreement with Schenck. In assessing the statements of the Directory for Public Worship pertaining to the issue of the church’s judgment of Covenant infants’ salvific status, Rayburn mitigates his statement but proceeds to support Schenck’s thesis saying, “this, I admit, is less than might have been said and less than Calvin did say. But it is his doctrine of covenant succession in its broad outline.”[27] In light of the deeper analysis of the minutes of the Assembly and the writings of individual divines, Rayburn’s claim too may call for revision. It is another question whether Calvin taught presumptive regeneration. He speaks strongly of the inclusion of infants in the membership of the church before baptism and argues that they are by no means excluded from regeneration and justification in virtue of their infancy.[28] Yet, neither are Calvin’s claims without qualification, and as the divines’ were generally committed to maintaining consistency with the continental Reformers, and especially Calvin, perhaps their clear distinction between federal and real holiness and their reluctance to judge as to the real holiness of infants brought for baptism may invite further analysis of Calvin’s doctrine.

3) The Westminster Standards do not teach baptismal regeneration.
By this statement I mean that the Westminster Standards do not teach that the Spirit’s work of regeneration is ordinarily temporally concurrent with the administration of baptism in the case of the elect and therefore does not teach a doctrine which entails this.[29]
It must first be conceded that some of the divines at the Assembly at Westminster clearly did hold to a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Cornelius Burgess produced a work in 1629, roughly fifteen years before the convening of the Westminster Assembly entitled Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants: as professed by the Church of England, according to the Scriptures, the Primitive Church, the present Reformed Churches, and many particular Divines apart. In this treatise, Burgess expounds his view of baptismal regeneration, and commends it as the sober view drawn from Scripture and upheld by the divers ecclesiastical authorities mentioned in the title. In the opening pages Burgess states his position thus
All elect infants, do ordinarily, in Baptism receive the Spirit of Christ, to seize upon them for Christ, and to be in them as the root and first principle of regeneration, and future newness of life.[30]

Burgess proceeds to carefully define the position’s central terms. He delineates that by “Spirit” he intends “the Holy Ghost dwelling in every true Christian and working grace” and not “only the grace wrought by the Spirit.”[31] By “regeneration” Burgess means, “spiritual life taken in the largest sense” although he immediately distinguishes, purportedly, “according to the Scriptures” between regeneration “initial” and “actual.” These distinctions are further elucidated, “initial regeneration” as participation in the Spirit of Christ whereby the seed and foundation of spiritual life are first laid in a Christian, and “actual regeneration” as the spiritual being produced in a Christian by the Spirit bringing him forth a new man able to believe, repent etc. when lives to years [32]
Burgess does not wish to maintain that baptized infants are the recipients of the full mature benefit of Christ that a professing adult enjoys. His contention is that they are ordinarily given the indwelling Holy Spirit in the administration of baptism as the seed which shall grow into the future full mature benefit.
Burgess guards his position with qualifications to avoid misapprehension or undue offence to Reformed brethren. He notes as points of general agreement
That some infants may and do receive the Spirit to unite them unto Christ, before baptism.
That the Spirit is not given to all, but to the Elect only
That the outward element hath not in it any physical force, either by virtue of the consecration, institution, or administration, to confer the Spirit to any at all.[33]

These points seem to set his position off against the Roman Catholic ex opere operato view. Yet Burgess affirms the following
the communication of the Spirit unto infants, from Christ himself for their first apparent engrafting into his body, and to be to them as the first seed and principle of Regeneration, in the ordinary course of regenerating such, as after Baptism, do live to years of discretion [is] ordinarily given in the baptism of the Elect
And … all the Elect do ordinarily receive the Spirit in baptism so that such as receive Him before or after, and not in Baptism, are to be held to receive the Spirit in an extraordinary and not in the ordinary course of divine dispensation thereof. [34]

Thus, it is the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration with the administration of baptism which Burgess seeks to prove. This he argues as the plain doctrine of Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and the Church of England of his day. He devotes a full section of the tract to showing the 39 Articles and the Directory of Public Liturgy (which the Westminster Assembly was commissioned to revise) to be in agreement with his doctrine.
In the Directory for Public worship, the one administering infant baptism is directed to pray that God, “would join the inward baptism of His Spirit with the outward baptism of water.”[35] Debate over inclusion of this phrase in the Directory is recorded in the minutes from Session 260 July 19 1644. In the debate several of the divines evidence an affinity for the baptismal regeneration conception. Edmund Calamy is recorded stating that “it is a wonder anyone should exclude the Spirit from the time (of baptism).” Jeremiah Whitaker’s comment that “we may and should pray that God would at time give them the inward washing… we are said to be baptized into Christ” is also telling (Whitaker is also mentioned in Burgess’ 1629 tract as a fellow proponent of baptismal regeneration).[36] In this debate, while support of the baptismal regeneration view is not unanimous, it does seem from the recorded minutes to have been the prevailing sentiment.
There is no overt expression contained in the Standards, however, which would define the moment of Spiritual regeneration ordinarily at the time of administration of baptism. On the contrary, there are several expressions contained in the Standards which tend to deny that an ordinary temporal course can be defined. Therefore we must conclude the Westminster Standards do not teach baptismal regeneration.
Confession 28.6, cited above, qualifies its affirmation of baptismal efficacy in its first clause stating “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered.” As shown above, Cornelius Burgess also qualifies his baptismal regeneration view in this way, but then asserts the ordinary temporal concurrence of the work of the Holy Spirit with the minister’s proper administration of the sacrament. The Confession does not return to such an assertion. The final clause of the same statement in Confession 28.6 says that the grace promised is exhibited and conferred “according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.” The Directory for Public Worship instructs the pastor administering baptism, in explaining the institution, nature, use, and ends of the sacrament to teach “that the inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life.”[37] These statements of the Standards express restraint from prescribing an ordinary temporal course for the Holy Spirit’s work of conferring and exhibiting to the elect the grace signed, sealed, and promised in baptism, as they leave the appointed time of this work to the counsel of God’s own (unrevealed) will.
b) David F. Wright in his article “Westminster and Baptism,” published in The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, offers a synopsis of the Westminster Standards’ teaching on baptism which deals in part with the Assembly’s view on the salvific significance of baptism. Weighing the strong language of the Confession of faith and Directory for Public Worship as to the efficacy of baptism with the tenor of the debates touching on the topic of baptismal efficacy recorded in the minutes of the Assembly, Wright concludes that the Assembly intended to propound a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. For Wright this entails two things – 1) the Standards teach the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect, and 2) the Standards teach the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Holy Spirit’s saving work with the administration of baptism. He cites the words of Confession section 28:6 as centrally significant in bespeaking this intention, which reads – “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost.”[38] Wright calls attention to the fact that the verb here employed “exhibit” was at that time stronger in meaning than in modern English usage, and that its conjoining with “confer” in the context may carry roughly the conceptual weight which “convey” would for us.
Wright’s assessment is not without nuance as he shows himself mindful of language in the Standard documents and Assembly minutes which might temper his claim as to the authors’ intent. He notes the variety of qualifications added by the Assembly to the statement that baptism exhibits and confers the grace of salvation, namely that the efficacy is not tied to the moment of administration, and that grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed to baptism that it is necessary for regeneration or that all baptized are regenerated.[39] Thus, Wright notes that the baptismal regeneration doctrine which he perceives in the Westminster Standards is certainly distinct from ex opere operato.
Yet Wright maintains that these qualifications serve only to clarify the core declaration of the Confession which he thus expounds:
The Westminster divines viewed baptism as the instrument and occasion of regeneration by the Spirit, of the remission of sins, of ingrafting into Christ (cf. 28:1). The Confession teaches baptismal regeneration. [40]

Robert Letham, in his very recently published work The Westminster Assembly: In its Historical Context cites these statements of David Wright favorably in speaking to roughly the same inquiry.[41] Both men take care to note the measures taken by the divines to distance themselves from the Roman ex opere operato view of baptism. The sign is by no means invested with the inherent power of the thing signified, and the giving of the thing signified in baptism is not necessarily conjoined to the moment of time of administration, nor is the reception of the rite required for salvation. Yet they both observe a strong commitment to preserving a close association between sign and thing signified such that the occasion of administration of baptism is ordinarily temporarily concurrent with the Holy Spirit’s efficacious saving work in the case of the elect whether infant or adult.
c) Above it has been argued that the Westminster Standards do teach the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect such that baptism entails the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ in the case of the elect (whether infant or adult). This is part of the baptismal regeneration doctrine which Wright claims to observe in the Standards’ teaching, and on this claim Wright is correct (as is Letham in following him). The other essential article, however, of the rendition of the baptismal regeneration doctrine which Wright (and Letham) purport is contained in the Standards is the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Spirit’s saving work with the administration of the sacrament of baptism. It has been shown that the Westminster Standards do not explicitly prescribe an ordinary temporal course for the Holy Spirit’s work of conveying to the elect the grace signed, sealed, and promised in baptism. Therefore, though his claim is not without warrant, as the resources examined render it probable that many of the divines held to the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration with the administration from baptism, his claim that the Standards themselves teach this would be inaccurate. Thus, an in-depth examination of the Westminster Standards, the minutes of the Assembly, and the writings of the divines can lead us to a closer grasp of the baptismal doctrine propounded in the Standards. We may conclude that the Westminster Standards teach the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect, and that they do not teach presumptive regeneration or baptismal regeneration.
[1] Alexander McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith. (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2001.), 112-113.
[2] Ibid., 115.
[3] Chad B.Van Dixhorn, Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly. v. 7. (Cambridge 2004) 236.
[4] Ibid., 236.
[5] Cf. Ligon Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century (New York: Mentor 2001), 126. David F. Wright notes the significance of these words and argues they would have had stronger verbal denotations in the Puritan era than they might in modern English.
[6] James H. Thornwell, Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986),
[7] Ibid., 342.
[8] Ibid., 341.
[9] Cf. Ibid., 352, 355. Thornwell claims that in the Westminster Confession the professing body is chiefly in view in its statements on Church discipline when the church is contemplated and when it is said that her purity is to be sought.
Cf. R.L. Dabney, “The Changes Proposed in Our Book of Discipline.” The Southern Presbyterian Review, 12, no. 1 (1859): 44. Dabney discusses Thornwell’s views on church membership as they led him to propose change to the Presbyterian Book of Discipline.
[10] Charles Hodge, “The Church Membership Of Infants,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 30, no. 2 (1858): 389.
[11] It should be noted that Hodge did not discern warrant to presume the regeneration of infants before or in baptism. Again on this point, however, he took measures to avoid distinguishing between baptized professing adults and baptized infants with respect to church membership status.
Cf. Ibid. 374-376, 382. Hodge’s extended footnotes are helpful for understanding his commitment to maintaining consistency in his view with Westminster’s doctrine and defending a sound interpretation of the Westminster symbols against presumptive and baptismal regeneration views.
Cf. John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadelphia: P&R Pub., 1972), 57-59. Murray engages Hodge’s viewpoint.
[12] Cf. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 639. The original (non-modified) Kyperian doctrine of presumptive regeneration makes this judgment the ground of admittance to baptism. It is clear from the minutes of the Assembly cited in the following paragraphs that the divines also denied that the judgment of charity should be made the ground of baptism. Here, though, I am arguing that the Standards do not teach that the church is to presume infants of believers to be regenerated from birth.
[13] McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383.
[14] Van Dixhorn, Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly v. 5, 204.
[15] Ibid., 204.
[16] Ibid., 204.
[17] Ibid., 204.
[18] Cf. Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, 181. Wright suggests Goodwin is in fact misunderstood by the rest of the Divines.
[19] This is opposed to the “strict” sense which correlates to invisible church membership.
[20] Stephen Marshall, and Daniel Featley. A Defence of Infant-Baptism. London: Printed by Ric. Cotes, for Steven Bowtell, and are to bee [sic] sold at his Shop, at the Bible in Popes-head Alley, 1646. Early English Books Online; accessed November 3, 2009. 99.
[21] Ibid., 105.
[22] Ibid., 106.
[23] Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened. Edinburgh: Printed by Andro Anderson for Robert Brown, and are to be sold at his shop, 1655. Early English Books Online; accessed November 7, 2009, 83-84.
Cf. Rutherford, Samuel. The Due Right of Presbyteries, or, A Peaceable Plea for the Government of the Church of Scotland. London: Printed by E. Griffin, for Richard Whittaker and Andrew Crook, 1644, 109-111. Rutherford’s idea of the Church and membership are herein further elucidated.
[24] I recognize that the “judgment of charity” was common currency of the day. I do not believe the Standards to be inconsistent with the view that baptized infants may be judged by the church to be probably regenerate. Here I simply mean to argue that in the Standards themselves no judgment is enjoined on the part of the Church concerning the true or probable salvific status of infant members (or adult members for that matter).
[25] Lewis B. Schenck. The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. (Phillipsburg: P&R Pub, 2003), 45
[26] Ibid., 136. Interestingly, here Schenck draws the language for stating his position from Hodge’s footnote in “The Church Membership of Infants” outlining the presumptive regeneration view which Hodge rejects.
[27] Robert S. Rayburn, “The Presbyterian Doctrines of Covenant Children, Covenant Nurture, and Covenant Succession,” Presbyterion 22 no. 2 (1996): 89.
Cf. Ibid., 79. Rayburn in line with Schenk understands Calvin to have unequivocally espoused presumptive regeneration.
[28]Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.),
4.16.17, 1340.
[29] It is understood that the Westminster divines rejected the other aspects of the Roman Catholic ex opere operato view. Statement 27.3 On the Sacraments clearly denies the grace exhibited in the sacraments to be conferred by and power in the Sacraments themselves. This statement avers, rather, that their efficacy depends only upon the work of the Spirit of God and the word of their institution. The ordinary temporal concurrence of the human administration and Divine work of regeneration is here considered. This ordinary temporal concurrence is an essential article of “baptismal regeneration” as conceived by David F. Wright and Robert Letham.
[30] Cornelius Burgess, Baptismall regeneration of elect infants professed by the Church of England, according to the Scriptures, the primitiue Church, the present reformed churches, and many particular divines apart. Oxford : Printed by I. Lichfield for Henry Curteyn, 1629. Early English Books Online; accessed November 10, 2009, 3.
[31] Ibid., 12.
[32] Ibid., 14.
[33] Ibid., 19.
[34] Ibid., 20- 21.
[35] McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383.
[36] Burgess, Baptismall Regeneration of elect infants, 56.
[37] McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383.
[38] Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, 168.
[39] Ibid., 168-169.
[40] Ibid., 169.
[41] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly:Reading its Theology in Historical Contex (Phillipsburg: P&R Pub, 2009), 333.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Conclusive Proof For Calvinism


In John 6:36-40 Jesus makes a statement about the nature of salvation as it relates to man’s inability in his falleness to come to and believe in Christ, and as it relates to God’s gracious and efficacious sovereignty through the work of Jesus. Because of fallen man’s state of being dead in sin, he will not and cannot come to or believe in Christ for salvation because it is utterly unappealing to his sinful nature. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the Father to elect those whom he would graciously save. He must efficaciously cause them to come to Christ in faith so that Jesus might secure for them salvation which is culminated when he raises them up at the last day. And, this salvation through the work of Christ is completely certain and trustworthy because it is a cooperative act between the Father and the Son. This co-operation between the Father and Son not only authenticates Christ’s work but shows that he himself is divine. In short, the thesis of this paper is that in John 6:36-40 Jesus highlights man’s unbelief toward Christ, and that therefore his only hope of salvation is for God to sovereignly and efficaciously cause him to come to Christ in whom he has a sure salvation on the basis of Christ’s divine status as the Father’s co-worker.

As we look at the text we will unpack this by looking at it from its broader contexts to its more narrow contexts. We will begin by looking at the overall purpose of the book as a whole in light of redemptive history and canonical development. Next we will look at the overarching structure of the book to find the place of the pericope in the overall flow. Finally, we will look at the particular role that our text plays in its place and how our passage executes that purpose by carefully analyzing each of its points.

John’s Gospel in Redemptive Historical and Canonical Development

Most basically, the purpose of John’s Gospel in redemptive history is to proclaim the coming of the Messiah in whom all of the Old Testament (OT) promises and types are fulfilled, thus completing the work necessary for the salvation of God’s people in the establishment of his kingdom. Jesus fulfills the promise of a savior to undo the fall of man into judgment and separation from God recorded in the first proclamation of the Gospel (Genesis 3:15; cf. John 12:27-31). Jesus is the fulfillment of the type of Christ pictured in Moses whom God used to deliver His people from bondage and bring them through the trial of the wilderness into the promise land where they would experience the Sabbath rest of God (Deuteronomy 18:15; cf. John 6:14, 49-51; Acts 3:19-22; 7:34-37; Hebrews 3-4). Jesus is also the fulfillment of the Israelite theocratic offices of prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15; Hebrews 1:1; cf. John 1:18), priest – and the ceremonial laws administered by the priests – (Hebrews 9:11-26; cf. John 1:29), and king (Ezekiel 37:24;

Jeremiah 30:9; cf. John 6:15; 18:36-37; Ephesians 4:8-10). So, it is in Christ that the purposes of God testified of in the OT types and promises find their ultimate fulfillment and it is only through faith in Christ that we can be included in the realization of the true Kingdom of God which the entire OT anticipated. This is what John encourages his readers toward (John 20:31; cf. 19:35).

This content of John’s Gospel seems to clearly assume the biblical literacy of its readership. In their New Testament (NT) Introduction, Carson and Moo even go so far as to say that John’s Gospel “…aims in particular to evangelize Diaspora Jews and Jewish proselytes” (as apposed to the Gospel of Mark, for instance, which they see as written to Roman Gentiles). This would explain the strong allusion to OT Messianic themes in John.

The purpose of John’s Gospel also seems to be shaped by its place in the development of the canon; particularly considering the late date of its writing relative to the synoptic Gospels. Based on references by the early church fathers, an arguably developed theology, and certain internal and external evidences, we can be fairly confident of dating John anywhere from 80 to 90 A.D. Whatever, the precise date of John’s Gospel is, it is relatively certain that it was written after the other Gospels. This can help shed significant light on the purpose of the Gospel.

Much has been written on whether or not John drew from synoptics and their sources or not. While that goes beyond the bounds of our purposes, it seems that John’s Gospel was written as a supplement to the content of the earlier Gospels. This explains why there is so much unique content in John. In his Survey of the New Testament, Benware notes: “The fact that 92 percent of John’s material is not found in the synoptics reveals that John consciously avoided repeating their material.” While this would mean that John was familiar with the other Gospels, it would not necessarily mean that he depended on them for his own content except to communicate information and themes in the life of Christ that was not utilized by the other evangelists.

While Matthew seems to have been written to proclaim Jesus as the promised Messianic King of the Jews, Mark that Jesus is the Suffering Servant Savior, and Luke that Jesus is the perfect human Son of Man; John seems to have been written with a notably more developed Christology, supplementing the content of the synoptics and proclaiming Christ as the Son of God. This more developed Christology seems to play a significant role in John, not only in the identity of Christ, but also in the stereological theme of his authority and power to save because of his oneness with the Father.

Thus, the general purpose of the book is to bear witness that in Christ the purposes of God testified of in the OT types and promises find their ultimate fulfillment and that because of his divinity seen in his oneness with the Father, our inclusion in this realization, through faith in him, certain. John sums this up in the words “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

The Structure of John’s Gospel

Now we can look at the structure of the book to see how it communicates these truths, and specifically the role that our text plays in that structure. Once we have broken down the work into its major sections, we will be able to clearly see the unique focus and meaning of John 6:36-40.

There is a notable amount of agreement on the basic structure of the Gospel of John. When one looks at the text, it becomes obvious why. Carson puts it well when he writes, “On the face of it, the Fourth Gospel offers a prologue (1:1-18) and an epilogue or appendix (21:1-25), between which are two central sections, 1:19-12:50 and 13:1-20:31.”

There are several clear discourse markers that give this Gospel a discernable structure. In 1:1-18 we clearly see what serves as a prologue to the work. This is demonstrated by the fact that the content of these verses lays out the major themes of the Gospel. There is also what seems to be a clear inclusio in verses 1 and 18 which bookends a chiastic structure, thus presenting 1:1-18 as an important unified section.

Next, the first major section in the body of the book is 1:19-12:50. The purpose of this section is to unfold the narratives and discourses of Jesus’ ministry which reveal him as the coming Messiah but are characterized by mounting unbelief and ultimate rejection of Jesus by his own (the themes of verses 1-11 in the prologue).

There is a clear thematic shift in 13:1-20:31 where John transitions to the theme of Christ accomplishing his work through his suffering and glorification, thus perfectly providing salvation for his own despite the utter helplessness of man: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

The last section of John’s Gospel is the epilogue. The purpose of this unit is summed up well by Carson and Moo: “The epilogue (21:1-25) not only ties up several loose ends (e.g., Peter’s restoration to service) but, in symbolic ways, it points to the growth of the church and the diversity of gifts and callings within the church.”

When exegetes begin to delve into the substructure of John’s Gospel there arises a greater difference of opinion. However, for our purposes, the above basic outline is sufficient to understand the role of chapter six in the Gospel.

Chapter six is one self contained unit in the first main section of the body of the Gospel (1:19-12:50). While several commentators do not explicitly set John 6 apart as a unified section, there are no significant arguments against seeing it as such. Furthermore, there are several indications that clearly show this. The temporal and geographical discourse markersMeta. tau/ta avph/lqen o` VIhsou/j pe,ran th/j qala,sshj th/j Galilai,aj th/j Tiberia,doj (John 6:1) andmeta. tau/ta periepa,tei o` VIhsou/j evn th/| Galilai,a|” (John 7:1) show chapter six as one unit. Also, the theme of Christ as the bread of life unifies the chapter.

Finally, we come to the issue of the particular function of chapter six in the first major section of the body of the Gospel. As we noted above, the purpose of 1:19-12:50 is to unfold the narratives and discourses of Jesus’ ministry which reveal him as the coming Messiah but are characterized by mounting unbelief and ultimate rejection of Jesus by his own. In this section John selects seven signs to demonstrate this, the fifth of which is the feeding of the five thousand. Thus, chapter six serves to drive forward the revelation of Christ as the promised Messiah by highlighting him as the ultimate prophet-king prefigured in Moses under whose ministry God fed Israel in the wilderness. And this is done in the bread of life narrative and discourse sections.

At the same time, it also serves to show the utter helplessness of man to contribute anything to his salvation by showing that even this seemingly promising crowd had unbelieving hearts that were deeply apposed to Christ. Therefore, man’s only hope of salvation is dependant on the sovereign, gracious, and efficacious election of the Father in the Son.

The Purpose of 6:36-40 in Chapter Six

Before we jump into the function of this text in the immediate context, it will be helpful to briefly discuss the delineation of the pericope. There have been several suggestions with reference to this issue. The United Bible Society Greek New Testament 4th Edition delineates verses 34-40, the ESV delineates 35-40, while The Nestle-Aland 27th Edition delineates 36-40, to name a few.

The reason for choosing the 6:36-40 delineation is supported by several features in the text. Perhaps the first thing one might notice is that “The present verses constitute a break in Jesus’ discussion of the living ‘bread.’ Before returning to this topic, he addresses the Jews persistent unbelief.” In other words, there is a clear departure from the focus on Jesus as the bread of life. In these verses we see Jesus focusing specifically on the reaction of the crowd to the truths of this chapter as well as man’s only hope for salvation in light of his unbelief. This is seen in the use of the very strong disjunctive particle VAllV (John 6:36) which serves as a clear transition from the preceding verse.

This is further demonstrated when it is noted that the phrase evgw, eivmi o` a;rtoj th/j zwh/j (John 6:35) is basically repeated in evgw, eivmi o` a;rtoj o` kataba.j evk tou/ ouvranou (Joh 6:41), thus showing that the departure from the focus on Jesus as the bread of life is now being resumed in verses 41 and following.

Now we focus on our text to ask the question of how it fits into the purpose of chapter 6. First of all, we can see a clear division of chapter six into two basic sections: (1) Verses 1-24 describe the narrative events that show Jesus to be the bread of life; (2) verses 25-71 give the discourse that explains the significance of those narrative events as well as the responses of those present.

Our text falls with in the second section of the chapter and thus is concerned primarily with discourse. The basic break down of this section is as follows: 21-25 describes a temporal and geographical change in the chapter which serves as a transitional marker in the chapter from narrative to discourse. Jesus uses this event of the crowd crossing the Sea of Galilee to find him as a spring board to point out that even this act of what seems to be genuine seeking and belief is actually characterized by spiritual blindness and is ultimately just another form of unbelief (cf. verse 26).

The next segment consists of verses 26-35. This contains the conversation between the crowd and Jesus in which the misunderstanding of the crowed is demonstrated by their words and pointed out and corrected by Jesus’ words.

The verses that make up our text, 36-40, then focus on man’s unbelieving response to Christ as the bread of life and to explain that rejection by highlighting man’s utter need for God’s sovereign and efficacious gift of salvation through the divine Son of God. This is the first and most extensive of three similar statements in the chapter (cf. vs. 44, 65). Therefore this section, serves to explicitly point out and explain man’s unbelief which culminates with the crowd in verses 41-42 and culminates even with many of his disciples in verses 60-66. It also anticipates the sovereign and efficacious work of grace in those who have been given to Christ by the Father (67-71).

The truths highlighted by Jesus’ discourse in our text also serve to anticipate the outworking of those truths which unfold in the rest of the Gospel. It anticipates the final and ultimate rejection of Christ by his people (John 19:15-16; cf. 19:6). It also anticipates the faithfulness of Christ to secure salvation for those who are his (John 17:12; cf. 18:9).

Thus we see the full context that has served to shape the meaning and purpose of John 6:36-40 which builds on what precedes and anticipates what follows. Now let us look at exactly how our passage executes that purpose by carefully analyzing each of its points which have been stated in the thesis of this paper: In John 6:36-40 Jesus highlights (1) man’s unbelief toward Christ, and that therefore (2) his only hope of salvation is for God to sovereignly and efficaciously cause him to come to Christ (3) in whom he has a sure salvation on the basis of Christ’s divine status as the Father’s co-worker.

Man’s Unbelief toward Christ

Of all the crowds that an evangelist would hope for, it doesn’t seem to get better than this (at least from a human perspective). They were intrigued by Jesus’ signs of healing (v. 2), they called him Rabbi (v. 25), they crossed the Sea of Galilee looking for him (v. 24), they even saw him as the fulfillment of the prophet promised through Moses (v. 14)! Jesus, however, sees this as the perfect opportunity to highlight the fact that even the most promising indications of faith, when they are not based in God’s sovereign grace, turn out to be nothing more than utter unbelief disguised as faith.

The words ei=pon u`mi/n o[ti kai. e`wra,kate, ÎmeÐ kai. ouv pisteu,ete (John 6:36) raises the question: When did Jesus say this? It seems that much of the question can be answered by dealing with the text critical issue regarding me. The omission or inclusion of the word does not significantly affect the meaning of the text. This variant is only a difficulty if we insist on finding a direct quotation that Jesus is referring back to. Kostenberger falls into this error when he suggests “The precise referent of ‘I told you’ in 6:36 is unclear; it is possible that the original occasion is not recorded in this Gospel.”

It is clear that Jesus is here referring back to v. 26 in which Jesus discerns the true motive behind the crowd’s seeking of him. In other words, Jesus’ statement in verse 26 was more than just an observation about the crowds desire to eat food. He was implicitly denouncing them for unbelief which manifested itself in a completely inappropriate response to the sign of the feeding of the five thousand. This is referent of ei=pon u`mi/n.

The crowd had severe misconceptions about Christ that ultimately amounted to unbelief. The essence of their unbelief was to think that Jesus as the Messiah was merely another Moses who would give them physical deliverance from human tormentors, physical, perishing sustenance, and an earthy, temporal kingdom.

The crowd was drawing a parallel between Moses and Christ which they based primarily on the similarity of Jesus’ sign of miraculously feeding them on the countryside to the manna which God miraculously provided for Israel in the wilderness under Moses’ ministry. They were attracted by the signs of healing which Jesus had been doing earlier (6:2), but 6:14 says that it was the feeding of the five thousand that caused them to see Jesus as the Messianic fulfillment of Deut 18:15 where God told the Israelites through Moses that he would raise up another prophet like him.

6:15 goes on to make it clear that the crowd was seeing him as a parallel to Moses not only in the feeding of the five thousand, but also in the military conquest that Moses was leading the people of Israel toward. They wanted Jesus to lead them in the military overthrow of the Romans and to restore the Israelite theocracy.

This anti-Roman attitude had been festering ever since Rome took control of Israel. The Psalms of Solomon was a Jewish writing from around 63 BC (the time of the Roman conquest of Israel) which is “the first Jewish writing to express complete hostility toward Rome. The author expresses the ardent expectation of a righteous Davidic king-messiah who would deliver the holy land from unholy enemies.” This sentiment was so strong that many of the Jews continued to zealously hold to it well into the first century which is clearly seen in the later Jewish revolts against Roman rule.

Carson sums up Jesus words well when he writes, “This crowd has witnessed the divine revealer at work, but only their curiosity, appetites, and political ambitions have been aroused, not their faith.”

Christ is here focusing on the unbelief of this specific crowd based on their reaction to the sign they saw. However, this anticipates Jesus’ statement on the universality of man’s helpless state of unbelief in the words ouvdei.j du,natai evlqei/n pro,j me eva.n mh. o` path.r o` pe,myaj me e`lku,sh| auvto,n (John 6:44).

Man’s Only Hope

It is this dismal fact concerning the universal inability of man to come to and believe in Christ that leads to the next point in our text. Jesus now turns this sad realization on its head by asserting that God’s purposes to save are not thwarted by man’s unbelieving disposition. Rather, man’s miserable situation only serves to highlight that his only hope is in God’s sovereign and efficacious drawing to Christ. “Whatever Jesus’ hearers may think of him, there are others who will ‘come to him,’ namely those whom God will bring to him as his own.”

Jesus here lays out a clear line of thought that begins with the will of the father which efficaciously produces its intended result and is lasting and sure. The phrase pa/n o] di,dwsi,n moi o` path.r (John 6:37) clearly assumes the reality of the fact that there is a particular group of people whom the Father has given to the Son. It is on this basis alone that the problem of man’s unbelief can be solved. And, those whom the Father has given to the Son will most certainly believe and be saved. Jesus communicates this by using the future indicative h[xei (John 6:37). This tense is most commonly used “indicate that something will take place or come to pass.”

The lexeme h[kw here is being used parallel to pisteu,ete from verse 36 (cf. v. 35). There is a clear irony expressed here in the fact that, while this crowd of people has gone so far as to cross the Sea of Galilee in search of Jesus, they have not truly come to him at all. This is because the Father has not given them to the Son and effected this transformation in them. If he had, they would believe. This shows the error in the comments of some to say that this verse communicates the Father’s “intention for all humanity,” for if it were, then all humanity would necessarily be saved.

The surety of the Father’s will regarding those whom he has given to the Son is clearly expressed in several notable features. The first is the phrase to.n evrco,menon pro.j evme. ouv mh. evkba,lw e;xw (John 6:37). Carson describes this as “a ‘litotes’, a figure of speech in which something is affirmed by negating its contrary,” the affirmation thus being, “whoever comes to me I will certainly keep in, preserve.”

In addition to this is the use of the emphatic negation subjunctive ouv mh. evkba,lw e;xw. The construction of this is ouv mh. plus the aorist subjunctive. Wallace points out that this construction “rules out even the idea as being a possibil­ity” and notes that “a soteri­ological theme is frequently found in such statements, especially in John: what is negatived is the possibility of the loss of salvation.”

Furthermore, Carson notes that the certainty of salvation for those who are given to the Son by the Father is further accented by the use of evkba,lw which “In almost all of its parallel occurrences, it is presupposed that what is driven out or cast out is already ‘in.’ ‘I will never drive away’ therefore means ‘I will certainly keep in.’”

Carson summarizes this second point made by Jesus very well when he writes, “However many people do not believe, God’s saving purposes cannot be thought to be frustrated. Jesus’ confidence does not rest in the potential for positive response amongst well-meaning people. Far from it: his confidence is in his Father to bring to pass the Father’s redemptive purposes.”

The Certainty of Salvation in Christ

While the certainty of salvation for those whom the Father has given to Christ has already been emphatically stated, Jesus now goes on to explain why that is the case. Jesus substantiates the certainty of salvation through himself on the basis of his own divinity seen in his having “come down from heaven” (v. 38) and in his co-operation with the Father in the work of salvation. Lastly, Christ shows this certainty of the salvation of his own by stating that it is characterized by none being lost, but being raised up th/| evsca,th| h`me,ra| (John 6:39).

The o[ti at the beginning of verse 38 is a clear marker telling us that Jesus is going to explain the preceding. Jesus explains “katabe,bhka avpo. tou/ ouvranou/” (John 6:38). This phrase is a clear claim to deity. First of all, katabai,nw was used with ouvrano,j in ANE cosmology in reference to deity. In the LXX it is used of God (e.g. Exodus 3:8; cf. Acts 7:34). Finally, “In John it is primarily the Son of Man himself who has come down from heaven… [and] is also emphasized repeatedly in the ‘bread speech’ of 6:22-59.” Thus, Jesus here is clearly drawing attention to himself as the divine and therefore utterly competent to save.

He continues this substantiation of his ability to save based on his divinity by pointing to his co-operation with the Father in the fact that he is doing the will of the Father who sent him. This is seen in the phrase ouvc i[na poiw/ to. qe,lhma to. evmo.n avlla. to. qe,lhma tou/ pe,myanto,j me (John 6:38).

The most obvious implication of Christ coming to do the will of the Father is that, because of the omnipotence of the Father, it will most certainly be accomplished. Beyond that, however, Jesus actually shows himself to have the same authority as the Father in the fact that the Father sent him. H. Ritt notes that pe,mpw can express the same idea as avposte,llw which J.A. Buhner describes as used by John as “the basis for Christological legitimation… the sending discloses the unique manner in which the Son is bound to the Father.”

Furthermore, this oneness of the Father and Son expressed by their co-operation in salvation also signifies that the Son himself has the authority of the Father (cf. John 5:17-18) attests to his deity (John 10:30-33). In fact, the co-operation of Christ with the Father in the plan of salvation necessitates Jesus’ deity, especially in light of the whole purpose of this passage: namely that man is unable to attain salvation and that it is only in God alone that he can find hope.

Lastly, Jesus demonstrates the certainty of his work of Salvation for those whom the Father has given to him by pointing out that this salvation is characterized by none being lost, but being raised up in the last day. Verse 39 contains both of these statements and elaborates on “to. qe,lhma tou/ pe,myanto,j me from verse 38. And, finally, verse 40 reiterates Christ raising up those who see and believe in him. Thus, “John 6:40 brings closure to the unit started with 6:35 by summarizing 6:35-39.”

In verse 39 to. qe,lhma is functioning as the predicate nominative in relation to the subject tou/to, of which the clear antecedent is the second to. qe,lhma in 38, thus clearly demonstrating that verse 39 is an elaboration on 38 for the purpose of further elucidating the certainty of salvation in Christ. John then uses the content clause, “i[na pa/n o] de,dwke,n moi mh. avpole,sw evx auvtou(39), to modify to. qe,lhma by apposition. Thus, we can clearly see Jesus next point in demonstrating the efficacious salvation that he gives: those who receive it will not be lost. Verse 37 describes salvation in Christ as state in which God’s loving disposition toward the saved will never change. The Son, to whom the Father has committed judgment (John 5:22, 27), will never cast them out. Thus, while the statement in 37 makes clear that there is no possible way that salvation in Christ can be undone for reasons internal to God, this statement shows that neither is it possible for any external reasons. This serves to emphatically proclaim the utter security of those who are in Christ which absolutely nothing can undo (cf. Romans 8:35-39).

The thing that will certainly not happen to one who has salvation in Christ (Christ will lose none) is now rounded out by what certainly will happen: Christ will raise them up at the last day. This clear reference to the last day spoken of in Daniel 12:2-3 which describes an eternal eschatological state. This language forms the final declaration of Jesus’ demonstration of the insurmountably certain salvation that is found in him. The phrase evn th/| evsca,th| h`me,ra has clear allusion to the OT usages of hw"+hy> ~Ayæ. While this indicates judgment for those who are not in right relationship with Yahweh, it indicates eternal consummate rest for those who are (e.g. Obadiah 1:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5; cf. Isaiah 13:6-14:7; Jeremiah 46:10).

Now, having thoroughly demonstrated the certainty of the salvation Christ provides, Jesus now transitions to an emphatic close by reiterating the argument in verse 40 with one obvious difference. Carson notes that “the one whom the Son will not lose, whom he raises up at the last day, is here described, not in terms of the gift of the Father to the Son (as in vv. 37, 39), but in terms of personal faith.” The new description here o` qewrw/n (A’) to.n ui`o.n kai. pisteu,wn (B’) (John 6:40) seems to serve as an A,B/A’,B’ inclusio with e`wra,kate, (A) ÎmeÐ kai. ouv pisteu,ete (B) (John 6:36). It is also noted that “The relationship between ‘seeing’ and ‘believing’ in 6:40 is both positive (in contrast to 6:36) and close (Bultman goes so far as to identify it as hendiadys).”


So, we have surveyed the supporting context, near to far. We have seen John 6:36-40 in its immediate context. We found it in the self contained unit of the feeding of the five thousand narrative and bread of life discourse in John 6 which it served to explain.

We looked at John 6 in the overall context of the Gospel. In this context it served to provide a lucid discourse by Jesus, describing the mounting unbelief being exemplified in the preceding material as well as to anticipate the ultimate rejection of Christ by his people in the crucifixion. It also served as a discourse to show how this utter unbelief necessitates a salvation that can only be given and secured by the God-man Jesus which was proclaimed in the prologue and realized in the resurrection.

Thus, we have come full circle. We are now left with the resounding theme of our passage: in John 6:36-40 Jesus highlights man’s unbelief toward Christ, and that therefore his only hope of salvation is for God to sovereignly and efficaciously cause him to come to Christ in whom he has a sure salvation on the basis of Christ’s divine status as the Father’s co-worker.


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