Choice Teaching for the Chosen
“It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”— John vi. 45.
I SUPPOSE that you never noticed any great literary excellence in Bradshaw’s Railway Guide. “No,” you say, “fine writing would be very much out of place in such a book as that; it is meant to be a plain direction to travellers. When we consult it, we do not wish to be entertained, we want to be guided as to the best and quickest route to our desired destination.” Well, that is the sort of sermon I am going to try to preach, one which, I trust, shall be a guide to heaven to some who hear it, or who may afterwards read it; I long, above all things, that through my words many may find rest and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice, dear friends, what our Saviour was aiming at in this discourse. The Jews had been murmuring at him; certain followers of the scribes and Pharisees, who always opposed him, had been whispering among themselves, and finding fault with him. Our Lord did not condescend to come down to their platform, and parley with them. They pretended that their difficulty was that he was well known among them, that he was the son of Joseph the carpenter, and that they knew his mother, and his brothers and sisters. Our Lord does not appear directly to answer them, but he takes quite a different tack. He says, “Murmur not among yourselves about this matter. Do not imagine for a moment that I am disappointed because you do not believe in me, and do not suppose that your unbelief will at all frustrate my Father’s purpose or surprise him. You may reject me if you are determined to do so; but your folly and sin will make no difference to anybody except yourselves. On your own head shall be the guilt of your own blood. I knew that you would not believe in me; I quite expected that you would not receive me, for ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. And, beloved, in a similar manner, when we believe in Christ, we are pleading with you that you should must weep over you as Jesus wept over Jerusalem , and we may say, as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children;” but when you come to this terrible decision, that you reject Christ, and will not have him to reign, over you, then we fall back upon the eternal purposes of God, and we tell you that you have not received either the electing love of God or the effectual working of the Holy Spirit, and you are left to perish in your sins.
To the ungodly and the unspiritual, this may sound like rather harsh language; but should not men be treated with some measure of harshness if they spurn the Christ who is set before them, and in their unbelief wickedly reject him? True love is all the more loving because it is outspoken, and sometimes seems even severe. There is a spurious sort of love current, nowadays, which consists in saying, “Ah, yes! you are all right, and I am all right; you say, ‘No,’ and I say, ‘Yes;’ but, no doubt, we are both equally correct. You are black, and I am white; or I am black, and you are white; but, in these days, black is white, and white is no colour at all. Let us make things smooth and pleasant all round; you praise me, and I will praise you. It does not really matter what you believe, or what you think, we shall all get right at last.” That kind of talk, or the preaching which comes practically to the same point, is infernal cruelty to immortal souls; I dare not use a milder term to describe it. It may be cried up as charity, but there is no charity in it. It is a shameful selfishness which, for the sake of ease and popular favour, cries, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace;” and seduces men to their own destruction, playing to them merry tunes when, all the while, they are dancing down to death and to hell. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not a preacher of that order. When men refused him, he flashed the red light of truth in their faces, and made them know that, if they rejected him, they rejected their only hope of mercy, and if they turned against his grace, it was because they did not know its power, and were not under its influence. He taught these people, who murmured at him, that they never would believe in him unless the Lather taught them. He plainly declared that the Father would teach all his own, and that, if those who were listening to him did not come to him, it would prove that the Father had not taught them, that they were not God’s chosen, and, therefore, they would perish in their carnal and guilty ignorance of Christ.
Now coming to the text, I shall ask you to notice, first, the promise of the Father’s teaching of his own people: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God.” Then, secondly, we shall examine the teaching itself: “They shall be all taught of God;” and, thirdly, we shall consider the grand result of the teaching: “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
I. To begin, then, there is, in the text, THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER’S TEACHING OF HIS OWN PEOPLE.
Christ says, concerning this promise, “It is written in the prophets.” I greatly admire that sentence because, if there was ever anyone in this world who might have spoken on his own authority, without quoting Scripture, it was our Lord Jesus Christ. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” and, therefore, all his sayings are the utterances of Omnipotence; and he often, when upon the earth, made use of that great double Amen, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” Yet this Divine Teacher, who spake as never man spake, continually quoted from the Old Testament, and supported, his own teachings by quotations from “the law and, the prophets” and the psalmists and other inspired writers. In this case, addressing himself to the Jews, he says, “It is written in the prophets.” The tendency, nowadays, even among preachers, is to depreciate and dishonour Holy Scripture; I am often saddened as I find how many are cavilling at one part or another of the Sacred Word. To my heart, there is nothing more authoritative or more conclusive than this little sentence, “It is written.” If God’s message to men is written, that is enough for me; and my great concern shall be to find out what that message really is. Every man must have infallibility somewhere. Some find it in the Pope; but I frankly confess that I have never seen the slightest sign of it there. Some find it in what they call “the church.” I am sure I do not know in which church to look for it, for all of them seem to me to be very, very fallible. I find infallibility in the inspired Word of God. Here is a harbour where I can drop down my anchor, feeling certain that it will hold. Here is a place where I can find sure footing; and, by the grace of God, from this confidence I shall never be moved. “It is written in the prophets,” is quite enough for me; I trust, beloved, that it is also sufficient for all of you.
That we may learn the lesson that our Lord intended to teach, let us look at the words which he quoted. He said, “It is written in the prophets;” and, truly, the passage or its equivalent may be found in more places than I shall be able to refer to now; but will you kindly look first to the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah, at the thirteenth verse? Ah! I see the eyes of you Bible-lovers flash, and I think I hear you say, “Fifty-fourth of Isaiah? Why, of course, that follows just after the fifty-third of Isaiah!” Precisely so; and that fifty-third of Isaiah, as you well know, is all about Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. There we have the full-length portrait of the bleeding Substitute: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Many of you know by heart that blessed chapter, so full of the doctrine of God laying upon Christ the sin of his people, and of Christ bearing all their iniquities, that they might, be for ever free. Well, immediately after that great central truth of the Christian faith, comes this fifty-fourth chapter: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child:” for there is no better place for any to sing than at the foot of the cross, gazing by faith upon the crucified Saviour. O earth, with all thy barrenness; O heart of steel, with all thy hardness; “break forth into singing,” for there is heavenly joy, and there is the promise of heaven itself in the death of him who lived, and loved, and died for us!
Further on in the fifty-fourth chapter comes this thirteenth verse, from which our Saviour quoted: “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” This is a promise to the Lord’s own people. The teaching of Scripture is that Christ died for his chosen: “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it,” God’s promise, All thy children shall be taught of the Lord,” is made to his own church, and to all who are the children of that church, namely, all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. All God’s chosen, all whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, all whom Christ has redeemed by his blood, shall be, each according to his measure, in due time taught of the Lord.
That is the meaning of the promise as we got it in Isaiah’s prophecy; first, it follows the doctrine of substitution; and, next, it is made to God’s chosen people.
Now will you turn over a few pages in your Bible, and read what is written in the thirty-first chapter of the prophecy of Jeremiah, beginning at the thirty-first verse? “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” So, you see, this promise is joined with other blessings of the new covenant. Notice that, when our Saviour quoted the prophecy, he commenced with the word “and.” Now, as a general rule, when you make a quotation, you do not begin with “and.” That is a copulative conjunction which joins one sentence to another; yet our Lord begins with an “and”, as if to hint that there was a great deal going before it of which he could not speak fully just then. There is “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure,” which God has made with Christ Jesus his Son on our behalf; and all who were represented by Christ became, by virtue of their union with him, partakers in all the blessings of that covenant. Our side of it has been fulfilled by Christ our Representative; he has done the Father’s will perfectly, and he has been able to say concerning the part entrusted to him, “It is finished.” The side of the covenant which has yet to be fulfilled is God the Father’s portion, and that runs thus, “I will, and they shall;” — “I will be their God, and they shall be my people. I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. I will instruct them so that they shall not need to have anyone to say to them, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them.” What a wonderful promise this is! It is perfectly unconditional, and freely made by the Father concerning all his chosen.
As it stands in these two prophecies, as our Saviour quotes it, it is a promise made to each individual of the chosen seed: “They shall be all taught of God.” Then there shall not be one true child of God who shall not be taken into the Lord’s school, and be taught and trained by the Divine Father. Perhaps someone asks the very important question, “Do I belong to that blessed number?” Let me reply by making another enquiry, Have you been truly taught of the Lord? If so, you do belong to the chosen company. If you have not been taught of the Lord, I cannot tell whether you are his, or not; none of us can climb to heaven, and unroll the eternal parchments, to tell whose name is written there; and until there is some open and overt evidence of your being the Lord’s I cannot declare that you are. But by this test shall you know it; if you have been taught of the Lord, you are one of his children, you are in the convenant of grace, and you shall have your full share of every good thing which the Lord has there laid up for his own.
That, then, is the promise of the Father’s teaching.
II. Now, in the second place, let us briefly examine THE TEACHING ITSELF: “They shall be all taught of God.”
I want you to notice, first, that this teaching is, practically, the same thing as God’s drawing. Let me read the previous verse: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him. And they shall be all taught of God.” The way in which God draws men to Christ is not merely by persuasion, but by instruction. The Father does not draw us to Christ by a force which is contrary to our nature and will; we are not stocks and stones, and he does not treat us as if we were. We are rational, responsible, free agents, and he deals with us as such, never snapping even the finest strings in the instrument of human nature, so far as it is human nature. So, when he draws men, he draws them by teaching them.
I will show you how the Lord does this. He first teaches the pool soul what a great sinner he is, and that makes him look out for a great Saviour. He teaches that poor sinner the impossibility of his being saved by his own works, and that makes him look out for the works of somebody else. He teaches that poor sinner that he has authorized Christ to stand in his stead, and, by his life and death, to meet all the law’s demands on that sinner’s behalf; and the poor sinner says, “Why, that is exactly what I want!” So, while the Lord teaches him, he is really drawing him; and, in like manner, there ought to be a great deal of teaching in all our attempts to draw men to Christ, — I mean, in our efforts to be the instruments of drawing them. If I stand here, and simply shout, “Believe, Believe, Believe,” I cannot expect that any good and lasting result will come of my shouting; I must tell people what they are to believe. I may try to persuade men to do this and to do that, and there may be great force in the persuasion; but, unless they understand the reason for my pleading, little will come of it. God’s way of working should be our way of working, and he draws men by teaching them; observe that very carefully.
Now notice what kind of teaching is here promised. It is divine teaching. “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.” “They shall be all taught of God.” There is no teaching but that which will ever save the soul. My dear hearer, you may listen to the best preacher who ever lived; but, unless God shall apply the truth to your heart you will not receive it. You may study the best books on theology as long as you like; but, unless God, the Holy Spirit, shall give you the keys of this treasure-house, you will never get at its precious things, and secure them as your own. Means are to be used, — as I will show you in a minute or two, — but you must not trust in the means; you must not even rely on the best study that you can give to the Word of God itself as the sure means of your knowing the truth. Over and above all that, you need the instruction and illumination of the Holy Spirit: “He shall teach you all things.” But, unless you have his teaching, you cannot and you will not know the truth. I would like, if I could, to unlearn everything concerning the things of God that I have taught myself; I desire with all my heart that all I know may be what I have learned of the Spirit of God; and, dear soul, if ever you are to come to Christ, you will have to unlearn a great deal that you have been teaching yourself, for nothing will be of any real worth to you, in the matter of your eternal salvation but what the Holy Ghost himself shall write on your heart, and teach you. So, the promise of the text concerns divine teaching.
Yet, notice also, that it is teaching through the usual means: “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Though my hearing will not save me; yet, ordinarily, it is the channel by which God’s Spirit works to the saving of the soul. Though my reading of the Scripture will not, of itself, save me; yet it is the usual way by which God enlightens the understanding through his Holy Spirit. Never neglect the means of grace, I pray you; but, at the same time, never get into the condition that some are in who feel quite happy so long as they have been to a place of worship on a Sunday, and who return home, and go to bed, just as if they had done all their duty for the day, and had no need of anything further. They are like men who go to market, but do not buy anything; or like persons who go into a field, but do not work in it; they are quite satisfied with having been to the market or the field. It must not be so with you, dear hearers; if you want to find Christ, if you want to go to heaven when you die, never be satisfied with mere hearing of the Word; but pray God the Holy Ghost that, through the hearing, you may be taught of the Lord.
The most blessed thing about this divine teaching is that it is effectual teaching. If you are taught by the ablest divine, you may yet learn nothing; but if you are taught of God, you will really know what you do learn. If he teaches you what your sin really is, you will know it, perhaps even to despair. If he teaches you the meaning of the law, you will know it as you lie at the foot of Sinai trembling; and if he teaches you the fulness of Christ, you will know that, and you will rejoice that he is just such a Christ as you want. Men are sure to learn whatever God teaches them by his Holy Spirit. There shall not be one who shall pass through his school, and yet remain a fool. Though they were all fools when they entered it, yet, ere they leave it, they shall he so instructed as to the way of holiness that they shall not err therein. My heart continues praying even while I am preaching, “Lord, teach me;’ and then it adds, “and, Lord, teach these people, too. Come thou, and be their instructor; for what can they know except thou dost teach them?”
III. So I shall conclude with this last point: THE GRAND RESULT OF THIS TEACHING. We have read the promise of the teaching; we have thought over what kind of teaching it is; now let us enquire, — What is the result of it? “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
Some men say that they have been taught of God, and then they go on to prove that what they know is of their own inventing. Our Lord’s test concerning his disciples is, “By their fruits ye shall know them and this is the fruit, — every man who hath heard the Word, and who hath been taught of the Father, comes to Christ. Therefore, if any man preaches that which does not lead you to Christ, do not listen to it, for evidently he has not been taught of God; and, if you find in any book teaching which makes you think less of Christ than you did before, burn the book. It will do you no good, and it may do you a great deal of mischief. All sound teaching leads to Christ; for if, when the Father himself is the Teacher, the consummation of our scholarship is that we come to Christ; surely, when we poor creatures are the teachers, we must be even more bound to begin and end with Christ crucified. You were asking me just now whether you had been taught of the Father, you wanted to know whether you were one of his children; well, here is the test, have you come to Christ? If so, you have been taught of God. Coming to Christ is a very simple thing, it is the easiest thing in all the world; yet no man ever performed it until God the Father instructed him and taught him that sacred art. To wash in Jordan was a very simple thing, yet at first proud Naaman would not do it, but he turned away in a rage. To believe in Jesus is a very simple thing; little children have believed in him, persons who have scarcely been intellectually above an idiot have, nevertheless, been able to believe in Jesus; and yet, with all its simplicity, men never exercise it until they have been taught of the Father. I suppose it is because faith is so easy that they despise it. Naaman’s servants said to him, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” And it is only when the Divine Spirit humbles the heart, and makes the man feel that he must stoop to anything so long as he may but be saved, that, at last, he goes down to wash in Jordan according to the saying of the man of God, or to believe in Jesus Christ according to the command of the gospel.
You are taught of the Lord, my dear hearer, if you believe in Jesus Christ, that is, if you come and trust him; and, if you do not trust Christ, you may be a Doctor of Divinity, but you have never been taught of the Lord. He is not to you “very God of very God,” your sole and only Saviour. If you do not trust Christ, you are a stranger to the light divine; that assuredly must be the case. You cannot be right in the rest, unless you are trusting in him; but, if you are truly believing in him, then are you taught of the Lord. It is very wonderful how God brings his people to this point of trusting Jesus. I heard a little story, which might have fitted very well into my morning sermon, but it was told to me after I had finished my discourse, so I will repeat it to you now. In a London court there was a little girl who had been to Sunday-school, and who had found Christ as her Saviour; she heard that there was a poor woman lying very ill, and all alone, up two pairs of stairs, so the child went up to the room, just pushed the door open, but did not show herself, and said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” A nurse came in the afternoon, to attend to the poor creature, and she fetched in a city missionary to see the woman, for she talked so strangely, the nurse thought. When the good man came in, the woman said, “I am so happy, I am believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am saved. An angel came to the door, and I heard him speak, and he said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;’ and I did believe on him, and I am saved.” It was not an angel at all, it was that little girl; but it did not matter in the least who said it, for it was just as true whether an angel or a child spoke the words. I long that God should lead you, my dear friend, to feel, “It does not matter how the gospel comes to me; for if it is true, I believe it, and I accept the Christ whom it makes known to me.” Some of you probably think that, if an angel were to come flying through the Tabernacle, and were to alight just against your seat, and say to you, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” you would believe at once; but it would not make any difference in your believing, would it? It is just the same message as I, who am indeed in the Scriptural sense one of the angels of the churches, put before you. You do not mind who brings the letter that is full of good news. I never trouble to send out to enquire the colour of the postman’s hair; if he brings me a letter, I take it, and read its contents; and you need not stop to ask whether the message comes to you by an angel, or a babe, or a minister, or whoever it is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;” and, if you do believe on him, then I know that the Father taught you, I am persuaded that you are one of God’s elect, and I can turn round and say to you, “Yes, though I have not read the secret roll of the redeemed, if thou believest in Christ, thy name is there;” for there never was a soul yet that came to Christ except the Father drew him; and the Father never drew one by mistake, and he never will do so. This is the blessed consummation of all God’s teaching, that the taught ones come to Christ.
But notice, ere I close, that the Lord says, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” He does not merely come once, but he keeps on coming. Do not make any mistake about faith in Christ, as if it were one single act, and then were done with. The faith that saves the soul is an all-the-day faith and an every-day faith. If thou believest in Christ, thy faith must be of the kind that believes to-day, to-morrow, and for ever. If thou sayest, “I believe that I believed in Christ twenty years ago, and therefore I am saved;” I do not believe anything of the kind. Unless thou believest still, thou didst never truly believe in Christ Jesus, for the faith that God works in the soul is a continual faith. It has its ups and downs; sometimes, like the moon, it is eclipsed; but it comes out of the darkness again, and shines as brightly as ever. And, further, if thou didst ever really believe in Christ, thou believest in him now. “To whom coming,” says the apostle; not, “having once come to Christ, we now run from him;” but “to whom coming,” always coming, always trusting, always believing. And why is this? Because we are always being taught of the Father. I trusted Christ when I knew comparatively little of God’s Word; and I confess that I still know but very little of its boundless height, and depth, and length, and breadth; but I believe that, as I grow to know more and more, I shall trust more. If that is not the result of your knowledge, it is not the knowledge that the Holy Ghost gives you. It is the knowledge that puffs up; if it were the Holy Ghost’s teaching, you would rely more and more upon Christ, and rest more entirely on him. I do pray for you, my dearly-beloved fellow church-members, that you and I may be taught of God till we grow less and less, and come to be nothing at all in our own esteem, till we vanish away into Christ, and Christ becomes more than our necessary food, our life, our joy, our All-in-all.
Everyone that is taught of the Father, in proportion as he is so taught, comes nearer and nearer to Christ, until he comes perfectly to Christ in the glory yet to be revealed. O blessed Master, we are still coming to thee, we are every day coming nearer to thee; thy Spirit is making us more like thee, and making us long more for thee! Thy Father is creating in us more and more of a hungering and thirsting after thee. Though we are very lame, and do sadly limp, yet still we are coming to thee. We can only feebly fly, yet still we are flying towards thee; and we expect that, when thou shalt appear, and sit upon the great white throne, thou wilt recognize that we are coming to thee, and thou thyself wilt say to us, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We are coming, Lord, to thee; come thou thyself to us; yea, come quickly; even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Amen and Amen.