Musings 135

John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with these extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot. (Luther to Erasmus in Bondage of the Will)

The whole gospel of the grace of God, he held, was bound up with it, and stood or fell according to the way one decided it…The doctrine of the bondage of the will in particular was the corner-stone of the gospel and the very foundation of the faith…The denial of free-will was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God. The man who has not yet practically and experimentally learned the bondage of his will in sin has not yet comprehended any part of the gospel; for this is ‘the hinge on which all turns,’ the ground on which the gospel rests. (Quotes from Packer and Johnson from the introduction to The Bondage of the Will)

With but a short look at John 6:44, it should be easily seen that the word “can” is a word of ability. “Can” refers to ability while “may” refers to permission. Jesus is direct and to the point and He said that no one (not just a few people and not just from a certain group) CAN come to Him. This is a powerful way of saying that no person has the ability to come to Christ. While Sunday after Sunday people are invited to come to Christ and no one tells them that they cannot do it in their own strength and power, Jesus told them that they did not have the power or ability to come to Him in their own strength.

Lest we be somewhat confused on the matter, the Greek is even stronger than the English. The word for “can” has the idea of ability, capability, and power. No one has any ability or power to come to Christ in and of himself. One can argue and go on as to how far we are to take that, that is, whether this refers to salvation alone or sanctification, but in terms of preaching to the lost it most certainly includes that. Sinners have no ability and no capacity to come to Christ in their own strength. They cannot meet God part of the way and they cannot take the first step because they have no ability at all. To the modern ear this is a terrible thing to say, but we must hasten to point out that Jesus taught this to unconverted religious people. This is precisely what those unconverted Pharisees needed to hear and this is precisely what unconverted religious people in our day need to hear as well. Their religion and their righteousness is nothing but the power of self and that self has no power to come to Christ.

In order for the idea to be complete, we should also look at what the word “draw” means since the Father must draw the unconverted person to Christ. The Greek word for “draw” can also be translated “drag” or “haul”, but it is not a weak word. It is a word that is the perfect contrast with “can” in the earlier part of the text. No one has the ability to come to Christ unless the Father drags the person or hauls the person to Christ. This gives us a rather complete picture (in this context) of the issue. There is no ability in man to come to Christ, but instead the Father has to assert all the power and ability and bring the person to Christ.

If this is the case, and assuredly it is, then this is a vital text for teaching men and women about coming to Christ. This is why Luther and the Reformers were so strong on this issue. The doctrine of the Bondage of the Will or the enslaved will is at the heart of the Gospel of grace alone or of justification by grace alone through faith alone. The Reformers were very clear that it is sovereign grace alone that brings sinners to Christ and not the actions of the sinner that does so. It is God who brings (drags and hauls) sinners to Himself in and through Christ and there is nothing that the sinner can do to help Him out. The evangelism that leaves this out is leaving out a vital part of the truth of how sinners come to Christ in reality and in doing so it is leaving the nature of true grace out of it as well. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is of grace alone and that does not leave any power in man to accomplish the slightest part of bringing himself to Christ. The Gospel as taught by the Reformers is rarely preached in our day.

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