By Tom Wells
In this chapter I shall share something with you that is almost always left out of a book like this. I am sure that many people would say that you are not ready to hear what I hope to give you next. But I cannot agree with them. Let me tell you why.
So far I have urged you to turn to Christ. I have said "Come to Him" in many different ways. And I am not done yet. But earlier we talked about how you would help me to love and trust a friend of yours. I suggested that you would tell me what your friend is like, how he acts, and what he says. We are more likely to trust someone when we can judge for ourselves whether or not he is trustworthy. Hearing "Believe, believe, believe in my friend!" is a small part of the process. "What is your friend like?" - that is the question.
But that raises another question. Would you tell me all about your friend? Or, would you keep some things back? That could be a sticky problem. For one thing, we owe it to every man to be quiet about his faults unless we are forced to speak of them. That, of course, is a rule we often break - or, at any rate, a rule I often break - but it is a good one nevertheless.
Now you will need to follow me closely here. I am not about to speak of one of the Lord Jesus' faults, for He is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). But if you have read the New Testament you will know that Jesus' innocence did not keep people from grumbling and complaining against Him. Quite the opposite! They hounded Him, literally, to death. And they felt smugly satisfied in doing it. "Away with such a fellow!" was their cry.
Can you tell why they did such a thing? The answer, I think, is clear. There was a good deal about Jesus that offended men. There were things that He did and said that infuriated His listeners. And, naturally, they thought the fault was in Him and not in themselves.
One of the things Jesus did is connected with a phrase that Christians have come to use to describe God. That phrase is "the sovereignty of God". Sovereignty is "king-ship". When we speak of the sovereignty of God we mean that God is King, that He rules in the worlds He has made. And, when we leave it at that, no one seems to raise much objection.
But the Lord Jesus applied the idea of God's kingship in an unexpected way. The time arrived when He told His followers that He Himself was about to exercise that kingship in the same way. As God had been spoken of as King, so He would be King. From then on, men stumbled at Jesus as King. They still do. As long as His kingship is a vague notion with little content, many are ready to give Jesus the title. But when He asserts His kingship in the way I am about to describe they are filled with resentment.
Let me put the point as baldly as possible so that you cannot mistake my meaning. What men hated to hear was this: God saves whom He pleases. To speak of God's kingship in a general way was one thing, but to apply it to salvation was quite another; in fact it was more than they could bear! Yet Jesus would not retract His teaching. Let men say what they will, still God saves whom He pleases. Or, to apply it to Christ, the Lord Jesus, as God, saves those He makes up His mind to save. It is in Christ's hand to deliver us from our sins or to pass us by. That is one chief thing we mean when we say that Jesus is King.
If you have understood what I said in the last paragraph I am sure that you also feel a difficulty. (If you do not feel it, I urge you to read the paragraph again.) It is one thing to urge men and women to turn to Christ. That seems plain enough. But it is quite another thing to say that whether or not they turn is in the hands of Christ. Surely something is wrong here! Or so it would seem. What use is there in pleading with men to come to Jesus if, in fact, the whole thing is out of their control? Questions like these cry out for an answer when we say that God and Christ save whom They please.
Well, there certainly is something wrong here, but the problem is not with God. Let me see if I can make this clear by building on facts we learned earlier. The first fact is this: man is dead. As we have seen, the natural man - man as he comes into this world - is dead toward God. That means that he is content to be without God. He does not want God to interfere in his life. If you are a natural man you have no desire to serve God for God's own sake. To be sure, you may pray. The natural man prays to further his own ends. He would like to use God. But he does not love God; he hates God. That God should get glory and honor and praise and admiration from His creatures is the last thing the natural man is concerned with. That is evident from the way he exists.
Now put the fact that man is dead with this second truth: God is the Creator of life! Of the things God has created, life is the most remarkable. The sun, the moon, the stars - these are fitted to make us wonder at God's wisdom and power. But when we think of life, all else pales beside it.
So we have these two things. The human race is dead, and God can give life. But to whom shall He give it? To those who ask? Maybe -. But consider this. If life means seeking the glory of God, serving Him for His own sake, and loving God above all others, including ourselves, we have a problem. Here it is. Who, understanding these things, will ask God for life? Not the natural man! These are the very things from which he runs. He has a simple reason for doing so. To have these attitudes would devastate him; they would destroy his present "life"! Of course, what he calls "life" is really death as God sees it. But the natural man cares nothing for God"s point of view because he cares nothing for God. That is what we mean when we say that he is dead.
What, then, is the use of addressing the natural man? If be is dead and will not respond, are we not wasting our breath or our paper and ink? Let us see if we can find the answer to these questions.
Imagine that God looked at a group of corpses and that He made up His mind to raise some of them from the dead. How would He go about it? This is not a fanciful question. We know from Scripture that God has in fact already raised a few men and women from the dead. It is clear, I think, that all that is required is an act of God's will. Let God will that they arise and they are certain to come from their graves. Nothing more is absolutely necessary.
It does not follow, however, that God would do it by His bare will alone. He might use some further means. I am not guessing when I speak in this way. We have the examples in the Bible to show us how God works. Jesus Christ, the God-man, will be our teacher.
On three occasions Jesus raised a person from the dead. One was the daughter of a man named Jairus, a synagogue ruler. While Jairus was hoping that the Lord Jesus would come to his house to heal his daughter he received word that she had died. But Jesus said, "Don't be afraid; just believe." The New Testament writer, Mark, will tell us what happened next:
Did Jesus use any means here? Yes, He took the dead girl by the hand, and He spoke to her. Neither would seem to have been necessary, but that is what He did.
A second such raising took place outside the city of Nain:
What means did Jesus use this time? His word to the young man - that was all!
A third account of Jesus' raising the dead is the story of Lazarus, a member of a family Jesus deeply loved. John tells us what happened when Christ came to the tomb.
What means did Jesus use here? He called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!
In each of the three cases Jesus spoke to the dead person. If we did not trust His wisdom we might have an irreverent reaction. After all, what is more useless than to speak to a corpse? But that is what Jesus did, so we want to know His reason. Why did He do this?
The reason is this. The word that God speaks, or that Christ speaks, is a creative word. It not only asks for something to happen; it makes it happen. At the beginning of His creation God said, "Let there be light". And light appeared! It was as simple as that! Again, God once spoke of the rain and snow that He sends down from heaven. They water the earth and cause it to yield food. Then God said,
Our words may fail, but what God intends, in sending His word, is certain to succeed. It will "accomplish what I desire". It will achieve His purpose.
We may apply this to the physically dead. Take Lazarus again. Jesus said, "Lazarus, come out!" That would have been a useless thing for me to say. My words are not creative. But coming from the God-man those words were full of power. They brought life. "The dead man came out". He could do nothing else!
The same thing applies to the spiritually dead. Remember that all men, being sinners, are dead toward God. They do not want God, except to assist them in their own sinful purposes. They do not want "life" in the biblical sense. The natural man is like a corpse so far as God is concerned. Humanly speaking, his case - and your case, if you are a natural man - is hopeless. You need life. You need a change of heart. You need a new birth!
But "birth" is in the hands of God. Listen to Jesus on this subject. He is talking with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He has just told Nicodemus that he and others like him must be "born again".
Look at the points Jesus makes here. First He tells us that physical life can only bring forth physical life. To a degree, it is in the power of men and women to have physical children. But no man or woman can bring about spiritual life.
This higher kind of life, this "new birth" must come from God.
But there is more. In the second place Jesus likens the work of the Spirit to the wind. The wind blows where it pleases. You can see and feel and hear its effects, but there is nothing you can do about it. Even today, with our modern technology, we cannot tell where the molecules that strike our cheek have come from. We do not know where they will go next. In the same way, where God*s word is given, the Spirit of God breathes life into men and women as He pleases. The preacher or writer can do nothing about it. The man who is dead spiritually can do nothing about it. It is out of their hands. The life must come from God.
Why then do we tell men and women of Christ and His gospel? Because the Spirit of God uses this message as His instrument. We cannot know when He will use it to save a man, to bring him to a new birth. It is not our business to know before it comes about; it is His business. The Spirit will use this book just as He pleases - whether little or much or not at all. What I can know is this. If you come to Christ through reading this message, your new life will be entirely from God. I will not have produced it in any way. It will be a simple case of God using His message, His word, to raise you from the dead. But if I learn of your conversion I will say the thing the Apostle Peter said:
So far, then, I have tried to show you the importance of hearing the Word of God. The message concerning Jesus Christ - the gospel - is the means that God uses to bring life. I pray that it may bring life to you. That is why I have shared it.
But you might well ask why I have gone to the trouble of telling you that your salvation is in the hands of God. Why did I present the Lord Jesus as King in that sense? I had two reasons for doing so.
The first is this. We men are proud! We like to boast. We like to use William Ernest Henley's words, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." That is what we like to do, but that is a delusion. The Bible asserts the opposite. As the sixteenth-century reformer, Martin Luther, put it:
In a word, Satan seeks to nourish our pride and to keep us blind to our helplessness. But God would humble us. He will humble you if He brings you to Christ.
And there is one thing more. All through this book I have told you to look ahead. I have urged you to come to Christ so that, during the rest of your life, you will look to Him as your Savior and Lord and Sustainer and Teacher. But there is something else I want you to do. If you turn to Jesus, from the beginning of your Christian life I want you to look back as well. From the outset I want you to know the meaning of the famous saying: "There, but for the grace of God, go I!"
The man who knows nothing of his helplessness in the hand of God is in no position to be as thankful as he ought to be when he is brought to Christ. Yes, he may use the words, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." But he cannot fully mean them. Instead, he is likely to think of God's grace plus his own wisdom or shrewdness or discernment in taking the step of faith. But I do not want that to happen to you.
I urge you again: turn to Christ! But know this. If you come, it will be because Christ is exercising His kingship. So then, come to Christ . . . as King. But when you come, look back. Remember that it was not your power that brought you. It was not your goodness; it was not your wisdom. It was the King Himself! Then, for that reason above all others, praise Him, honor Him, glorify Him and magnify Him for ever.
In doing that you will prove that you have answered His call, "Come to Me . . . as King".