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Samuel Waldron on God’s Will and Desire for the Salvation of All Men

November 19, 2008

Waldron:

B. The free offer in the Bible

“But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things, that you may be saved‘”(John 5:34). This text epitomizes the crux of the free offer. That crux is God’s indiscriminate desire for the salvation of sinners. The ‘these things’ of the text refer to the testimony of John the Baptist to the messianic dignity of Jesus (John 5:33, 35-36). The phrase, ‘that you may be saved’, states Jesus’ goal in mentioning the testimony of John. This clause begins with one of the most important Greek words which express purpose. His true purpose in alluding to the testimony of John is not to defend himself, but to save his hearers. The pronoun ‘you’ clarifies those who are the objects of Jesus’ saving intention. This pronoun in this context plainly refers to the ‘Jews’ (cf. John 5:18-19, 33 with 1:19-24). Throughout this Gospel this designation refers to the Jewish leaders (5:10, 15, 16, 18, 33; 1:19-24; 9:22). The character of these ‘Jews’ is abundantly clear. They were those who, though blessed with great light (5:35), had ultimately rejected that light (5:38-47). These men were no ordinary sinners, but murderers who would bring about Jesus’ death (5:16, 18; 18:12, 14, 31, 36, 38; 19:7, 12, 38; 20:19). The destiny of many of them, at least, was to die under the wrath of God (John 8:21, 24; Matt. 12:24, 31; 24:15-28; Luke 21:20-24; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). This very, in fact, teaches that these Jews, having rejected the true Messiah, would receive false messiahs (John 5:43). The phrase, ‘I say’, emphasizes that it was no one less than God’s eternal Son (John 1:18; 5:18-26) and God’s eternal Word who uttered these sentiments (John 1:1; 5:19, 43). Given this emphasis of the Gospel of John, we must recognize that Jesus here reveals God’s heart and God’s will (John 12:49-50; 14:10. 24; 17:8).

The doctrine of this text that God earnestly desires the salvation of every man who hears the gospel and thus freely offers Christ to them is confirmed throughout the rest of Scripture. The Bible teaches that the good gifts which God bestows upon men in general, including the non-elect, are manifestations of God’s general love and common grace towards them (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:35; Acts 14:17). While they do serve to increase the guilt of those who misuse them, this is not the sole intention of God towards the non-elect in giving them. The Scriptures teach that God desires the good even of those who never come to experience the good wished for them by God (Deut. 5:29; 32:29; Ps. 81:13-16; Isa. 48:18). The Scriptures also teach that God so loved sinners that in the person of his Son he weeps because of the destruction they bring upon themselves (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34; 19:41-44). God emphatically expresses his desire that some should repent who do not repent (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; Rom. 10:11). The Scriptures teach a general gospel call which comes to the hearers of the gospel indiscriminately and which may be, and often is resisted (Prov. 1:24; 8:4; Isa. 50:2; 65:12; 66:4; Jer. 7:13-14; 35:17; Matt. 22:14).

This biblical witness does not overthrow the scriptural teaching of an unconditional election and an irresistable grace. When our finite minds contemplate the glory of the incomprehensible God revealed in the Scriptures we often will be unable to penetrate completely how two seemingly contradictory truths may be reconciled. It ought, however, to rid us of every hesitation in calling men indiscriminately, passionately, freely and authoritatively to embrace Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel.

Samuel E. Waldron, Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Evangelical Press, 1989), 121-122.

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