Christ's Declaration Concerning Saving Experience
Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.John 6:45b
One of the significant distinctives of our denomination within the Reformed community is our emphasis upon the necessity of experiencing the objective truth of Scripture subjectively in our souls. We rightly stress that an intellectual assent to the truth is not equivalent to a saving assent to the truth. The Father's full revelation of His heart, nature, and eternal purpose in His Son Jesus Christ, must be personally experienced in our hearts by the applying work of the Holy Spirit. It is experiential knowledge of, and union with Jesus Christ by faith, which is the essential element of true, living Christianity. This experiential distinctive we must zealously uphold in our age of superficial and shallow Christianity. We must maintain that the Object of saving faith, Jesus Christ, must be subjectively known in a sinner's heart by Spirit-wrought experience.
However, in stressing the need of saving experience, consisting of an experiential knowledge of misery, deliverance, and gratitude, we must at the same time maintain that only experience which meets the standards of God's Word can be considered saving experience. The very same Spirit who is the primary Author of the Word of God, is also the Author of all true, spiritual experience. Of necessity, therefore, there will be perfect harmony between the truth of Scripture and the experience of this truth in the hearts of all those sinners in whom the Spirit accomplishes His saving work. Therefore, also in relation to our religious experience the solemn words of Isaiah 8:20 apply, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
Bearing this in mind, I now wish to focus your attention on the words of John 6:45, in which Christ makes a statement of great significance relative to the saving experience of the saints of all ages. In this text Christ gives us what could be considered the most fundamental characteristic of the saving work of God in the hearts of sinners. Christ here states that the result of divine instruction will always be a coming to Him! This declaration of Christ is adorned with simplicity, but the truth it contains has infinite dimensions and far-reaching consequences. This will become evident as we briefly consider His explicit declaration, a declaration which draws a sharp dividing line between true experience and counterfeit experience, between experience which is the result of divine instruction and experience which is the result of human instruction.
The origin of true experience: the Father's instruction
John 6 contains the inspired record of a very important sermon Christ preached to the Jews. In this sermon He clearly states who He is, explains the purpose of His coming, and emphasizes the necessity of believing in Him in order to be partakers of everlasting life. The Jews, being blind to the truth that He was the Son of God, object to this preaching, to which Christ answers with the well-known words, "Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (vv. 43,44). In other words, He responds that the reason they reject Him and His preaching, is to be attributed directly to the fact that, apart from the drawing power of His Father, no man will ever come to Him and believe in Him. He validates this statement by quoting the prophets they held in such high esteem, when He says in verse 45, "It is written in the prophets, and they shall be all taught of God." Christ proves here that also the prophets taught that all true children of Zion had this in common, namely, that they were taught of God. In other words, none but those only who were instructed by God through His Spirit manifested themselves as the true spiritual seed of Abraham.
After having stated this truth negatively in verse 44, that is, that without the drawing power of His Father no one will come to Him, He states it positively in verse 45 by declaring that all who are taught by His Father will come to Him. In this text Christ gives us two fundamental elements of saving experience: first, being instructed by the Father, and secondly, coming to Him.
The first important conclusion we must draw here is that saving experience does not begin with embracing Christ by faith as is commonly taught today. Instead, it begins with being instructed by the Father through the Holy Spirit, which in God's time results in coming to Christ. This is underscored by the Greek verbs which are translated as "hath heard," and "hath learned.'' The tense of these verbs in the Greek text indicates that Christ is referring to an accomplished fact – the illuminating (hearing) and applying (learning) work of His Spirit. In other words, He makes reference here to the miracle of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit which alone will open the ears of spiritually deaf sinners, and will make them willing in the day of God's power. This irresistible work of the Holy Spirit will cause sinners to heed the Father's teaching given in His Word, whereby they learn that they have provoked the mighty God of the Universe to wrath by violating His law, and that it applies to them that "Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." They learn by the Father's instruction who He is in His splendid attributes, and that due to His perfect holiness and justice, He can by no means clear the guilty. By the Father's instruction they discover the unbridgeable gulf which exists between God and them as a result of Adam's dreadful fall, and that due to that separation they are without God and without hope in the world.
And so they learn, or as the Greek could be interpreted, they increase in knowledge – knowledge of God and knowledge of themselves. As this knowledge increases as a result of the Father's instruction by His Spirit, the question is born in the heart of such a sinner, "O God, is there yet a way whereby such a rebel can escape this well-deserved punishment and be restored into thy favor, for if Thou shouldst mark iniquities, O LORD, who then can stand?" What deep anxiety and holy despair the instruction of the Father causes in such souls, for not only are they convinced of their hell-worthiness, but since the Holy Spirit in the hour of regeneration has planted the love of God in their hearts, they are also filled with a deep sorrow. For the God they have so deeply offended, whom they have provoked to wrath, whose everlasting judgment they are worthy of, is the God they love and after whom their hearts yearn with an unspeakable yearning. This makes the thought of everlasting separation unbearable, and out of the depth of this realization the cry is born, "O God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
It is this cry, however, which sounds as music in the Father's ears. To bring forth that cry is the great objective of the Father's instruction in the hearts of sinners. For in all His instruction of sinners He has one great goal in view, namely, to bring those sinners whom He has loved with an everlasting love to the feet of His Son Jesus Christ. His great purpose in causing sinners to hear (with spiritual ears) from His Word the truth concerning His perfections and the totality of their sinnership, is that they might learn that there is none other Name under heaven, given among men, whereby they must be saved (Acts 4:12).
God's Spirit in His convicting work has no other objective but to make room for the one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, in order to draw such convicted sinners to Jesus and enable them to embrace Him by faith.
The touchstone of true experience: coming to Christ.
It is therefore only logical that the instruction given by the Father of Christ, applied by the Spirit of Christ, will result in a coming to Christ. Based on the text we may say, that whomever the Father regenerates will in due time come to Christ. Whenever the one event takes place the other will follow. It cannot be different, for in the moment of regeneration the Father by His Spirit cuts the sinner off from Adam and ingrafts him into Christ, thereby becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). This makes it inevitable that the sinner in his experience will come to the Christ to whom he already has been united. Christ underscores this truth in unmistakable terms in this text by using language which rules out exceptions: "Every man that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me."
How fully consistent this is with the Father's great objective in saving sinners! So often we view and discuss the experience of God's children from our perspective rather than from God's perspective. We then forget that in saving sinners God forms a people for Himself. God, who eternally has delighted Himself in the children of men, not only decreed their creation, but in His sovereign good pleasure also decreed the recreation of fallen children of men, in order that His eternal desire to exist in intimate, spiritual fellowship with His image-bearers could be eternally fulfilled. Not even the fall of man could thwart that desire, and therefore motivated by His eternal good pleasure, He gave His only begotten Son over to the cursed death on the cross, in order that in Him, He could forever restore an innumerable multitude of sinners, chosen before the foundation of the world, unto Himself. This is the reason why the Father by His Spirit draws sinners to Christ, for in Christ He can give expression to His eternal desire to make Himself known to the children of men; in Christ the breach of Paradise is fully restored; in Christ His image is restored, and therefore in Christ He can embrace the elect sinner, for whom His heart has eternally yearned, in the arms of His eternal love. Child of God, the reason you have come to Christ is only due to the fact that God in Christ has come to you. You came to Christ because the Father drew you; He drew you to Christ in order that in Him He could press you against His heart which beats with unfathomable love for you, even though through unbelief and the weakness of your faith you may not perceive this. Your coming to Christ in faith is the result of the Father's delight in you; your yearning after God is the result of His yearning for you. It is therefore the very nature of the Father's work in the hearts of His people to draw them to Christ, for in Him alone he can have fellowship with them.
However, coming to Christ is also fully consistent with the great need in the heart of a convicted sinner, a need wrought by the Spirit of Christ. As a result of divine instruction, his heart yearns to be reconciled to the God He has so deeply offended, and yet he knows not how reconciliation between such a holy God and such a vile wretch can ever be accomplished. How unforgettable it then is, when placed before this impossibility from God's side and his side, when it pleases the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ in all His preciousness as a perfectly suitable, willing, and able Savior. What unspeakable joy fills the heart when such a sinner may discover that in Him there is a perfect way in which he may be restored into the presence and fellowship of the God his heart pants for as a hart pants after the water brooks. It is no wonder that such a revelation results in a coming to Christ, for the same God who draws the sinner to Christ, also gives him feet to go to Christ. To have Christ becomes a holy must for such a sinner, and in the depth of his soul the cry is born, "Give me this Jesus or else I die!" Such will, as Ruth, cry out at the feet of the Greater Boaz, "I am a poor, guilty, bankrupt sinner; spread therefore the skirt of Thy righteousness over me, for Thou art a near Kinsman!" Such cries will not go unanswered, for then the Greater Boaz proclaims to such supplicants, "Fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest" (Ruth 3:9,11), a promise which Christ fulfils by the applying and sealing work of His Spirit.
"Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned of the Father cometh unto Me." How clear it should be after this brief explanation, that coming to Christ in faith is indeed the most fundamental element of all true religious experience! The act of coming to Christ may therefore truly be called the litmus test or touchstone of religious experience. All religious experience which does not ultimately result in coming to Christ is not the saving work of the Holy Spirit. It is this coming to Christ as a poor, needy sinner which is the ultimate and only reliable evidence that God is truly at work in me. Our text, which proceeded from the very lips of Christ, makes that abundantly clear. The notion that coming to Christ is a very advanced stage of spiritual life is therefore entirely unscriptural, as it denies the nature as well as the purpose of the work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is not experienced in embracing my tears, my experiences, and my knowledge of misery, but only if by faith I may embrace Christ. This embracing of Christ by faith, which is the result of a saving knowledge of misery, is the true hallmark of God's work in sinners, which is clearly taught in many other places of Scripture as well. "All that the Father giveth Me shall come unto Me" (John 6:37); "Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth. He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13, 14). Calvin therefore draws a Biblical conclusion when he states, "Hence it follows, that there is not one of all the elect of God, who shall not be a partaker of faith in Christ!"
Therefore, may the declaration of Christ in our text cause us to examine ourselves, whether we truly are in the faith. Tears and sighs, though they accompany saving experience, are not the Biblical evidences of the saving work of God's Spirit. Christ identifies the act of coming to Him by faith as the real evidence that God is savingly at work in a sinner. In John 6:29, Christ states that the work which pleases God is, "That ye believe on Him, whom He hath sent." Within this context Matthew Henry states the following, "This divine teaching does so necessarily produce the faith of God's elect that we may conclude that those who do not come to Christ have never heard nor learned of the Father; for, if they had, doubtless they would have come to Christ. In vain do men pretend to be taught of God if they believe not in Christ."
God forbid that any of us would be guilty of such pretension. May there be no rest in our life, until we also may know on Biblical grounds that we have a saving interest in Christ, to whom the Father draws all in whom he savingly works, for, "This is the will of Him that sent Me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life; he that believeth on the Son hath life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life" (John 6:40; John 3:36).