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Thomas Becon (1512–1567) on John 3:16

July 7, 2009

Becon:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso believeth in him should not perish, &c.–John iii.16-21.

THIS gospel is one of the most notable that a man can find in the New Testament, and worthy to be commended with all kinds of commendation. But as it is not possible that a man should sufficiently express this sermon of Christ by words; first let us call unto God, that he will expound these words more plainly in our hearts, than we can by our words and interpretation, and that he will enkindle them, and make them so plain, that our conscience may receive comfort and peace thereby. Amen.

The pith of this excellent sermon is, that God so greatly loved the world, that he delivered his only begotten Son for it, that we men should not die, but have everlasting life. And first let us see who is the giver. He is the Giver, in respect of whom all princes and kings, with all their gifts, are nothing in comparison. And our hearts might worthily be lifted up and exalted with a godly pride, since we have such a giver, so that all who should come unto us by any other liberality, might be counted of no price in comparison of this. For what can be set before us that is more magnificent and excellent than God almighty.

Here God, who is infinite and unspeakable, gives after such a manner as passes also all things. For that which he gives, he gives not as wages of desert, or for a recompense, but, as the words sound, of mere love. Wherefore this gift wholly proceeds of God’s exceeding and divine benevolence and goodness, as he says, God loved the world. There is no greater virtue than love, as it may hereby be well understood, that when we love anything, we will not hesitate to put our life in danger for it. Verily, great virtues are patience, chastity, sobriety, &c., but yet they are nothing to be compared with this virtue, which comprises and includes within itself all other virtues. A good man does no man wrong, he gives every man his own; but by love, men give their own selves to others, and are ready with all their heart to do all that they can for them. So Christ says he also, that God gives to us, not by right or merit, but by this great virtue, that is by love. This ought to encourage our hearts, and to abolish all sorrow, when this exceeding love of God comes in mind, that we might trust thereto and believe steadfastly, that God is that bountiful and great Giver, and that this gift of his, proceeds of that great virtue of love. This sort of giving. which bas its spring of love, makes thin gift mare excellent and precious. And the words of Christ are plain, that God loves us. Wherefore for this love’s sake ought we greatly to esteem all things that he gives us.

And as hitherto we have spoken of the Giver and of his loving mind, so is the gift itself no less to be esteemed. For God gives not riches here, nor kingdoms, nor any creature, but gives his only begotten Son, who is no less than the Father. If wealth and prosperity cause joy, how great joy ought his gift to be to them that it is given unto!

For as God the Giver is exceedingly great, and his love also whereof the gift proceeds; so is the gift that he gives, which is his only Son. For he gives himself wholly in this gift, as Paul says to the Romans. Seeing God has given his Son for us all, how can it be that with him, he should not give us all thin also? Sin, death, hell, heaven, righteousness, and life, all are ours, because, the Son as by gift is ours also, in whom are all things Wherefore if we believe truly and receive this most excellent gift by faith, it must needs be that every creature, faulty or not faulty, must be ours. and given for our good; as St. Paul says. But here incredulity and misbelief trouble us, as Christ himself afterwards complains; and also incredible darkness and ignorance, as when we hear of this so great a gift, and yet we do not believe it, and the words of such great matter go in at the one ear, and run out at the other, and never pierce to the heart. When men conceive any hope of purchasing possessions, or of buying lands, they can never have their hearts at rest for the fervent care and greedy desire to obtain the same. But whereas it is declared here, that God hath given unto us his Son, of mere love, we are slothful and sluggish, without all desire to receive it. What is the cause that we set so lightly by such a high gift, and do not embrace it worthily as we ought to do? The devil truly, who casts a mist over our hearts, that we care not for the word and promise as touching this gift, but in the mean time we bestow all our cares in worldly things. Wherefore, in the beginning.

I said that these words ought daily to be rehearsed and used, when we rise in the morning, and when we go to bed at night, that we might print them in our hearts, and give God thanks for this so great benefit. For all things are so great, that they can be no greater; the Giver, the love of the Giver, and the gift itself which is given us of mere lore, not of merit, and is no given hat it remains with us, not as borrowed, or lent, or recompensed. For which also is nothing given again, neither is anything required therefore, but that thou should joyfully embrace it, and so declare thy mind. But alas, what an unworthy thing is this, that there be neither hearts nor hands to receive this gift as it is proffered; that this should be our Christ, and should remain with us for ever, unto everlasting life. But herein is a very wicked and grievous thing, that they to whom this gift is offered, although they have great need thereof yet they regard it not, but refuse to receive it. And yet God demands nothing else of us, but to receive it and to take it as our own ; but this is our madness, that although we are mere beggars, yet we think scorn to be provided for. Judge thou therefore hereof, what a grievous sin is unbelief. It is not agreeable to man’s nature to be against our own profit and gains, and not to receive it when it is proffered.

Hereof it appears how mad the world is, that it has no joy and felicity in this gift of God, and puts himself into such great blame, that it will not receive and take to its use that which is proffered. If it were ever so little gold that were proffered, we would be ready to receive it with both hands, yea, and with all the other limbs of the body also. Whereas though the Son of God is proffered for a gift, all men are in doubt whether they may embrace him or no, and bear themselves in hand that Obey have no need of him. Wherefore he hath his proper name given him, to whom the gift is proffered, and is called, The world which is worthy to be hated, and especially if it be compared with the gift. For so little does he deserve this love and gift of God, that nothing can be more against God or nearer unto the devil, than the world is. And yet this is the true testimony and witness of Christ, saying, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. But because of these sins and this misery wherewith we sinners are encumbered, and so encumbered that we could never escape without the help of God, doth God put forth this love, and bestows this gift freely upon us.

Is not the merciful Lord, therefore, worthy to be loved again? And ought we not to put our whole confidence in him, who forgives us our sins. yea, and the sins of all the world, and doth not reckon them, although they are innumerable? For seeing that the sins of one man are infinite, who can number the sins of the whole world? And yet is this sentence true and certain, that God forgives the world all their sins. For wheresoever is the love of God, there is also remission of sins. We should have ready hearts diligently to meditate on this love, whereas God gives to the world which is his enemy, even his own self, so that we should look for no other thing of him but mere grace and mercy. Whatsoever befalls us in this life, yet should our hope be in this love, and our faith remain constant in the mercy of God, for Christ. Such thoughts must needs be full of great joy, as I and many other godly men do protest, that we have formerly lived in all kinds of abomination and idolatry. and have been defiled with divers sins. This ungodliness God has not punished in us after our deserving, but has declared his love, and has by the gospel opened again his Son, whom he had given to the world before, that now we may hear again the wholesome doctrine, and understand that God is not angry with the world, but loves it, in that he gave his Son to it But alas, how execrable is our ingratitude! What exceeding dullness of understanding is this, that we cannot consider this great goodness of God! For if we would truly consider it, there should rise in us the affection of such joy, that we would not only show high obedience unto God, but we should also gladly suffer all things for his sake.

But we may thank our unbelief for this, which regards not this great joy, but in the mean while sets his pleasure in worldly trifles, and seeks for vain pleasures. Thus far have we shortly rehearsed these four things; who is the Giver–what is the gift–how it is given–and to whom. Which things are all so great that no man can express them sufficiently by words. Now follows the intent, wherefore God gave this gift. It appears plainly that Christ Jesus was given to this intent, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Here is it declared with plain words, that, in this matter, there is no respect had unto riches or worldly desires, but that we might thereby be delivered from death and sin, and that we might not perish. This is the cause and intent why this gift was given. Wherein we have just cause to believe and trust steadfastly. For we hear by the mouth of Christ that he himself is given unto us, and that the power of the devil is weakened and overthrown; and power to pacify the troubled conscience is restored to us for the attainment of everlasting life and salvation. Death shall be abolished, and all joy shall rise, for this sure faith, wherewith we believe that God is merciful unto us, that he loves us, and of very love gave his Son unto us, that we should not perish but have everlasting life. The words are such that they cannot be sufficiently comprehended with thought. Wherefore a Christian must daily pray that God, by his Spirit, will make these words sweet and pleasant to our hearts, and kindle and inflame them in our minds. But whereas it is so, that we hear this doctrine, and yet care not far it, whether it take root in us or not, and whether it bring forth fruit or not, alas so are we never the better. And there is no doubt, but that the damned in the latter judgment shall ,chiefly be confounded in themselves for this fault, that they despised this preaching.

But now let us go forth and see what is the way to come by this gift. For all things are not of like force to obtain this gift. Christ himself shows it plainly by his word, when he says, that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This is an evident proof that only faith, that is, the trust in the grace and mercy of God, is the very hand wherewith we must take unto us this gift. For even as God gives by love and mercy, so we do take and receive by faith, and can receive no otherwise. As for thy merit for doing this or that, it hath no place. For our works are nothing requisite to the obtaining of this gift, only is it necessary to show ourselves ready through faith, and even as it is given of God, by love; so we ought to receive it by faith in Christ. As, for an example; we are told here that God is merciful and ready to forgive. and that he declares his love and charity toward us by this–when he sends his only begotten Son into the flesh, and lays our sins upon him; according to this saying of John, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world;” that by this gift and love our hearts may be confirmed against sin and the biting worm of conscience; forasmuch as God is not now angry with us, but stands sure by his promise of grace and mercy which he has made with us, for his Son Jesus Christ’s sake. He that believeth this is sure to be saved. For this gift is given to make us safe from death and sin. For even as a great dame is in comparison with a drop of water; so is Christ in comparison with the sins of the world. As soon as they touch Christ, and as soon as the gift is received by faith, our sins are quite consumed and abolished. even as a dry stalk is by a hot fire. For here thou hears by the word of Christ, that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son for the world, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He says, precisely here, ‘hey that believe in him. He says not, He that takes upon him this or that work, and is thereby endeavoring himself to purchase God’s favor. It is only faith that purchases this gift. Wherefore let our adversaries withstand this sentence ever so much, let them rail ever so much against it, yet ir this sentence sure and invincible; that they who believe in him shall have everlasting life, and shall not perish. And see thou put nothing hereto, nor take any thing from it, lest thou should seem to take upon thee to correct Christ’s judgment. These are excellent words and the words of life; God grant us his grace to print them in our hearts. For he that hath these words surely fixed in his heart, can neither be afraid of the devil nor of sin, nor of hell, but will be of a quiet heart, and say, I am without all fear; for I have with me the Son of God. whom Gad has given unto me by love and by the word of Gad, that is, by the gospel, which certifies me thereof. And thy word, O Lord, and thy Son Jesus will not deceive me, in whom alone I put my trust. If I be weak in faith, grant me grace that I may believe more steadfastly. For besides this, I have no other help in this evident gift and love of Gad, but that we should all, by a little and a little, believe more and more in this gift. For faith is requisite, as thou hears here of Christ. And the stronger faith is, the greater is the joy, pleasure, and security that is felt rising in the mind, so that after that the mind is most prone and ready to do and to suffer all things which we know God requires of us, and wills us to do, knowing that he is loving, and uses nothing but love toward us.

But thou will say, If I were as Peter, Paul, and Mary were, this gift would be comfortable unto me. For they are saints, and doubtless this saying pertains but unto them. How should I, who am a sinner, by any means understand that it pertains unto me, who have so often offended God by my sins, and have made him my enemy? Such thoughts cannot be avoided, when the heart, after this kind of preaching and reasoning, beholds itself, and considers its sins. And here must we be circumspect and wary, lest we, laying aside God’s word, give ourselves any long time to such thoughts, hut forthwith must we return to the word, and order our judgment according to the same. For those thoughts are nothing but mere incredulity and unbelief, which goes about to withdraw us from this sweet gospel. And truly unbelief can be overcome by no other means that, by the word of God. Of this Christ spoke–that we should not doubt of this word; saying, that his Father, the true and eternal God in heaven, did so love the world, that he delivered his only begotten Son. And this is sure, that the world here does not signify Mary, Peter, and Paul only; but the world signifies all mankind. Therefore if thou takes thyself to be of mankind, or if thou dost not believe that, compare thyself with other mortal men, that thou may understand that thou art a man. For why should thou not suffer thyself to be of this name, seeing that Christ with plain words saith, that God gave not his Son only for Mary, Peter, and Paul, but for the world, that all should receive him that are the sons of men. Then if thou or I would not receive him, as though he did not appertain unto us, truly it would consequently follow, that Christ’s words are not true, whereas he saith he was given and delivered for the world. Wherefore hereof appears, that the contrary thereto is most assuredly true, that is, that this gift belongs as well, unto thee as to Peter and Paul, forasmuch as thou also art a man as they were, and a portion of the world, that God may not be judged in his word, and this thought rise in our heart, thinking on this wise: Who knows whether I am also of their number, to whom the Son of God is given, and eternal life promised. For that is as much as to make God untrue to his promise. Wherefore when this thought comes upon thee, suspect it, as thou would suspect the devil, lest thou be therewith deceived. And say thou, What is that to me, that 1 am neither Peter nor Paul? If God would have given this gift to them only that should have been found worthy, he would have given it to the angels, to the sun, and to the moon; for they are pure and undefiled creatures, which always obey God, and never decline or swerve from his precepts. But this is the truth of the matter, he gave Him to the world, and the world is ho worthier thereof than am I said before. Wherefore, although I am neither Peter nor Paul. yet will I not suffer myself to be put beside this gift, but will challenge as much for my part as David and all the holy apostles did. Whatsoever I am, yet God is not to be taken as unfaithful to his promise. I am a portion of the world, wherefore if I take not this gift as mine own I make God untrue.

But thou wilt say, Why does He not show this to me alone? Then I would believe and think surely that it appertained unto me.–But it is for a great consideration that God speaks here so generally; to the intent verily that no man should think that he is excluded from this promise and gift. He that excludes himself must give account why he does so. I will not judge them, says he, but they shall be judged of their own mouth. For this gift was given to all the world. and they by their unbelief and mistrust of God’s word will not receive it. Yet if a man consider well, he shall perceive that baptism, and also the communion of the body and blood of Christ, were ordained to the intent, that every man should take this gift freely and frankly as his own. And thus much have we spoken generally for the understanding of this sentence, which can never be sufficiently declared and perceived. For it is the principal doctrine. by the faith whereof we die and obtain salvation, in the which Christ describes plainly to our great comfort, that he himself is wholly given unto us from the Father, of pure love; which love he, as a merciful God. performs to the wicked and unkind world. And here it is plainly set forth to all men, what a great treasure we Christians have. We learn here also what God and the world are, and how we are made partakers of this grace only through faith, as Christ says, all who believe in him have everlasting life. For the doctrine of works. which after this faith ought to ensue, by the power of the Holy Ghost, is to be placed in another matter. What a Christian ought to do as the obedient son of God, and as one showing himself kind and mindful for so great a gift of eternal life, and love of God; as touching that, I say. Christ teaches nothing in this place. Wherefore we will now treat no further of this matter, that we are saved only by the mercy of God, and that we obtain this grace only by faith, without virtue, without merits, and without our works. For all the whole matter that is requisite and necessary to the getting of everlasting life and remission of our sills, is altogether and fully comprehended in the love and mercy of God through Christ. God grant us his grace that we may believe and trust thereunto surely, and that we may abide and suffer all things with a glad and a ready heart, and that we may so die that we may be saved tor ever. Our God grant us this through his Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thomas Becon, “Faith in Christ,” in Writings of the Rev. Thomas Becon, (London: Printed for the Religious Tract Society, 1830), 493-501.

Credit to Theological Mediations.

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