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John Davenant on John 3:16

October 22, 2008

Davenant:

1) The Doctors of the Reformed Church also from the beginning spoke in such a manner on the death of Christ, that they afforded no occasion of reviving the contest. For they taught, That it was proposed and offered to all, but apprehended and applied to the obtaining of eternal life only by those that believe. At the same time, they judged it improper to mingle the hidden mystery of Election and Preterition with this doctrine of the Redemption of the human race through Christ, in such a manner as to exclude any one, before he should exclude himself by his own unbelief. Let us hear their own words. Philip Melancthon constantly admonishes that we should not unseasonably mix the speculation of predestination with the promises of the Gospel. In his Common-places, “On the promises of the Gospel, page 195, he writes thus: As it is necessary to know that the Gospel is a gratuitous promise, so it is necessary to know that the Gospel is an universal promise, that is, that reconciliation is offered and promised to all mankind. It is necessary to hold that this promise is universal, in opposition to any dangerous imaginations on predestination, lest we should reason that this promise pertains to a few others and to ourselves. But we declare, that the promise of the Gospel is universal. And to this are brought those universal expressions, which are used constantly in the Scriptures, such as, GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD HOT PERISH, BUT RAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. And the reason why all do not obtain the promises of the Gospel, is because d do not believe it.” Calvin in many places gives his opinion in the same manner. On the same words, John iii. 16, God so loved the world, &c. he says, “He hath put an universal mark, both that he might invite all men promiscuously to the participation of life, and that he might leave the unbelieving without excuse. For this is the meaning of the word WORLD. For although there is nothing found in the world worthy of the Divine favor, yet he shows himself to be propitious to the whole world; since he calls all without exception to believe in Christ.” A little afterwards: “It appears that Christ is set before all, but God opens the eyes of the elect alone to seek him in faith. And on Rom. v. 18, He makes grace common to all, because it is set before all. not because it M actually extended to all. For although Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and through the goodness of God is offered to all indifferent, yet all do not apprehend him.”  John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, (London: Hamilton, Adams, And Co. An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. 1832), 336-337.

2) “And here it is the be shewn, not from human reason or fancy, but from the holy Scriptures, that the death of Christ, according to the will of God, is an universal remedy, by the Divine appointment, and the nature of the thing itself, applicable for salvation to all and every individual of mankind. From many testimonies I shall select a few:

1. The principle is that of John iii. 16, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. It is not difficult to deduce every particular of the aforementioned proposition from these words. For, in the first place, Christ given up by the Father to death, is here proposed as an universal remedy provided for the whole world. Then this panacea of the death of Christ is declared applicable for salvation to every man, and the manner or condition of the application is at the same time shewn in those words, that whosoever believeth in his should not perish. From this testimony we incontrovertibly conclude, that the death of Christ by the ordination of God is applicable to every man, and would be applied if he should believe in Christ. Shew me an individual of the human race to whom the minister of the Gospel may not truly say; God hath so loved thee, that he gave his only begotten Son, that if thou shouldest believe in him, thou shalt not perish but have everlasting life. This, on the certainty of his believing, might be announced to any individual. Therefore the death of Christ is applicable to every man according to this will and ordination of God. I know that some learned and pious Divines, by the world here understand the world, or whole body of the elect, and rely on this argument, that it is said, the Son of God was given, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish: and the elect alone are they who so believe in Christ that they should not perish, but have everlasting life. But I answer, that nothing else can be inferred from hence, than that the death of Christ brings salvation eventually to the elect alone, and is actually applied by means of faith: but it cannot be inferred that it was not a remedy applicable to others, and by the ordination of God to be applied, if they should believe. We will illustrate this by a case in some measure parallel. Suppose that all the inhabitants of a certain city laboured under some epidemic and mortal disease; that the King sent to them an eminent physician furnished with a most efficacious medicine, and caused it to be publicly proclaimed, that all should be cured that were willing to make used of this medicine. Doubtless we might truly say of this kind, that he so loved that city, as to send his own most skilful physician to it; that all who were willing to attend to his advice, and take his medicine, should not die, but recover their former health. But if any should object that this physician was sent only to those who should follow his prescriptions, and that his medicine was applicable by the appointment of the king only to those who were willing to take it, he would in reality not only make the beneficence of the king appear less illustrious, but affirm what was evidently false. For medical assistance was offered to all, without any previous condition on the part of the person sent, or of the sick; healing medicine applicable to all without exception was provided. The willingness to receive the physician and take the medicine had no connexion with the intention of the Sovereign in sending the medical assistance, but with the certain restoration of health.

The ancient Fathers seem to have been much pleased with this similitude. Prosper has respect to it, when Vincentius objected, That according to the opinion of Augustine, our Lord Jesus Christ did not suffer for the salvation and redemption of all men, he replies, For the disease of original sin, by which the nature of all men is corrupted, the death of the Son if God is a remedy. And a little after, This cup of immortality has indeed in itself this virtue that it may benefit all men, but if it be not taken it will not heal. Our faith therefore is required not merely to assent to the proposition, that God has given or ordained his Son to be a remedy for us, but that being given and ordained, He should be received by us to the obtaining of eternal life. Rhemi and Haimo enlarge the aforesaid similitude on those words Hebrews ii. That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Whom, if you please, you may consult.

2. The second testimony is derived from two passages conjointly considered and compared. The first is John iii. 17, 18, God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth in him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. Let us annex to these words those of John xii. 47, 48, If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not, for I came not to judge the world but to save the world. He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. In these words we learn that the Son of God was sent by the Father, that he might bring an universal remedy applicable to the whole world. Nor can the sense be restrained to the world of the elect. For, first, this world, to save which Christ was sent is divided into believers and unbelievers. But the world of the elect consists only of believers, or at least, of those who shall ultimately believe. Secondly, because some will be condemned, to save whom it is here affirmed Christ was sent. But none of the elect shall be damned. Thirdly, because those who are here declared to be condemned, are said to have come under condemnation because they have not believed in the only begotten Son of God, or, because they have rejected him. In which manner of speaking, it is implied in a way sufficiently perspicuous, that he was offered to them by God, and sent to save them. But how, or in what sense can we rightly understand that Christ was sent to save those who perish by their own fault, that is, through their own unbelief? Not otherwise than is expressed in our proposition; namely, that the death of Christ is an universal cause of salvation appointed by God and applicable to every man on the condition of faith, which condition these by their own voluntary wickedness have despised. Thus did Calvin understand these words; for on John iii. He has observed, That the word WORLD is repeated again and again, that no one might suppose that he should be driven away, if he kept the way of faith. And on John xii. 47, he has observed, In order that the minds of all men might be inclined to repentance, salvation is here offered to all men without distinction. It appears, therefore, from these passages, that the death of Christ is to be proposed and considered as a remedy, applicable to all men for salvation, by the appointment of God, although it may be rejected by the unbelieving.”  John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, (London: Hamilton, Adams, And Co. An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. 1832), 343-346.

3)
It is proved, Secondly, That in the passages alleged, the death of Christ is said to be limited to certain persons for some special reason. For otherwise why would the Scripture have mentioned sheep, children, or the church, if it wished to mark that it is extended to all? It would have been in vain to make use of words which describe a small part of the human race, unless it had also shewn that the design of Christ in this thing did not regard the whole human race, but referred to those few only. The death of Christ, and the design of God embracing all mankind promiscuously is excellently expressed, John iii. 16, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But he so loved his sheep, his children, his church, that he determined by his death effectually to derive to them faith and eternal life. As often as the holy Scripture makes mention of the death of Christ in reference alone to the church, the sheep, the members of his mystical body, it would unfold to us the special design of Christ in offering himself, arising from his special love; according as Aquinas says (Part. 3, qu. 24, art. 4,) “God Fore-ordained the salvation of the elect, by predestinating from eternity, that it should be accomplished through Jesus Christ.” John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, (London: Hamilton, Adams, And Co. An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. 1832), 521.

[Note: the analogy of the medicine is very apt. Another might be something like this: “The King so loved the village that he had his soldiers dig a well so that the ones who are thirsty may drink and not die of thirst…” No one would imagine that the scope of “village” is delimited to only those who actually drank from the well.]

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