John Owen on Rewards

4. We must also consider that holiness is not confined to this life, but passeth over into eternity and glory. Death hath no power over it to destroy it or divest us of it; for,—(1.) Its acts, indeed, are transient, but its fruits abide for ever in their reward. They who “die in the Lord rest from their labours, and their works do follow them,” Rev. 14:13. “God is not unrighteous to forget their labour of love.” Heb. 6:10. There is not any effect or fruit of holiness, not the least, not the giving of a cup of cold water to a disciple of Christ in the name of a disciple, but it shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and abide for ever in its eternal reward. Nothing shall be lost, but all the fragments of it shall be gathered up and kept safe for ever. Every thing else, how specious soever it be in this world, shall be burnt up and consumed, as hay and stubble; when the least, the meanest, the most secret fruit of holiness, shall be gathered as gold and silver, durable substance, into God’s treasury, and become a part of the riches of the inheritance of the saints in glory. Let no soul fear the loss of any labour, in any of the duties of holiness, in the most secret contest against sin, for inward purity, for outward fruitfulness; in the mortification of sin, resistance of temptations, improvement of grace; in patience, moderation, self-denial, contentment;—all that you do know, and what you do not know, shall be revived, called over, and abide eternally in your reward. Our Father, who now “seeth in secret,” will one day reward openly; and the more we abound in these things, the more will God be glorified in the recompense of reward. But this is not all, nor that which I intend. (2.) It abides for ever, and passeth over into glory in its principle or nature. The love wherewith we now adhere to God, and by which we act the obedience of faith towards the saints, faileth not; it ends not when glory comes on, but is a part of it, 1 Cor. 13:8. It is true, some gifts shall be done away, as useless in a state of perfection and glory, as the apostle there discourseth; and some graces shall cease, as to some especial acts and peculiar exercise, as faith and hope, so far as they respect things unseen and future;—but all those graces whereby holiness is constituted, and wherein it doth consist, for the substance of them, as they contain the image of God, as by them we are united and do adhere unto God in Christ, shall in their present nature, improved into perfection, abide for ever. In our knowledge of them, therefore, have we our principal insight into our eternal condition in glory; and this is, as a firm foundation of consolation, so a part of our chiefest joy in this world. Is it not a matter of unspeakable joy and refreshment, that these poor bodies we carry about us, after they have been made a prey unto death, dust, worms, and corruption, shall be raised and restored to life and immortality, freed from pain, sickness, weakness, weariness, and vested with those qualities, in conformity to Christ’s glorious body, which yet we understand not? It is so, also, that these souls, which now animate and rule in us, shall be delivered from all their darkness, ignorance, vanity, instability, and alienation from things spiritual and heavenly. But this is not all. Those poor low graces, which now live and are acting in us, shall be continued, preserved, purified, and perfected; but in their nature be the same as now they are, as our souls and bodies shall be. That love whereby we now adhere to God as our chiefest good; that faith whereby we are united to Christ, our everlasting head; that delight in any of the ways or ordinances of God wherein he is enjoyed, according as he hath promised his presence in them; that love and good-will which we have for all those in whom is the Spirit, and on whom is the image of Christ; with the entire principle of spiritual life and holiness, which is now begun in any of us,—shall be all purified, enhanced, perfected, and pass into glory. That very holiness which we here attain, those inclinations and dispositions, those frames of mind, those powers and abilities in obedience and adherence unto God, which here contend with the weight of their own weakness and imperfection, and with the opposition that is continually made against them by the body of death that is utterly to be abolished, shall be gloriously perfected into immutable habits, unchangeably acting our souls in the enjoyment of God. And this also manifesteth of how much concernment it is unto us to be acquainted with the doctrine of it, and of how much more to be really interested in it.

*Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 374–376). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Concluding Meditations on John Chapter 6

John 6:66-71: After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

As we come to the close of yet another magnificent chapter of this wonderful gospel account by the apostle John, we immediately come face-to-face with what we were maintaining in our comments directly before this portion of our exposition, which is the fact that there are, concerning Christianity, two types of disciples, and that the first type we spoke of – the one who has difficultly with and takes offense at some, or any, of the teachings and sayings of our Lord – will invariably turn back and no longer walk with Him.

The same apostle who wrote this gospel puts this fact in clear words of no ambiguity in his first epistle to the churches in Asia Minor:
1 John 2:18-19: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

There is something so offensive contained within the words of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that those who may, at the first, follow after Him – meaning following His pronouncements about mankind without believing in Him, and the necessity of trusting in His redemptive work on their behalf alone, with the accompanying truth He embodies and taught, as also taught throughout the entirely of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments – that, at some point, those who cannot see themselves in the light of God’s revelation, regarding the anthropology (the biblical doctrine of man) of man without Christ, must either corrupt this truth by adding their own works to the order of salvation, or denying the revelation of both the history of salvation and the order of salvation which comes to us only in Christ. These are those whom the apostle mentions as being “against Christ;” antichrist, as it states in that Scripture we just looked at above.

We have noted, above, many things; the feeding of the 5000 (more, including the women and children) was our Lord’s preparatory miracle for both His address to the general audience of Jews in the desolate place where He was ministering (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 19:12-17), and His address to the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum immediately after that. This miracle set the tone for the words which He then shared with them. These words of our Lord were reminiscent of both the eating of the Pascal Lamb prior to the Exodus from the desolate place of Israel where they were held in physical bondage, and by which they knew that God had passed over them in His judgments upon Egypt, as well as of their exodus from Egypt and their many years of sojourning in the desolate place of the wilderness, in which place God fed them with manna from heaven to sustain them.

In other words, our Lord drew direct parallels between the Passover sacrifice and the divine sustenance in two places of desolation where the Jews dwelt and sojourned, with the attendant imagery of judgment on those who did not believe, and salvation for those who did believe, as well as sustaining of those whom He had called out of the first desolate place by His hand alone. The parallels of deliverance from slavery and sustainment in a place where they had no other option but to trust in the Lord their God is taken to a new height – that of spiritual life without end, which, of necessity, entails freedom from the bondage and dominion of sin, both now, in a temporal sense, and in the resurrected life to come, permanently. Since such new life as will be experienced in the resurrection is connected by allegory to that temporary freedom from the enslavement in Egypt and sustainment in the wilderness, the sign of the passing into that place where the Israelites were sustained is replaced by the greater, permanent sign of passing into the interadvental period of present life for believers by faith in the Son of God as their new Pascal Lamb, and ultimately, that resurrection life without end, suffering, or sin. This is where the connection is seen between both the first Pascal Lamb, which was a shadow of the final and true Pascal Lamb, and the bread of life which sustains believers through the means of grace as they travel through this wilderness of the interadvental life where they are still encompassed in bodies which suffer the ravages and failure of sin, and the resurrection life where all such hindrances will have ceased. Thus, the Lord speaks of eating His body and drinking His blood, both elements of which were part of the Pascal meal of the inauguration of the Sinaitic covenant. The blood was sprinkled on the door posts and lintel of the dwelling place of each Israelite in preparation to their passage into the desolate place of sustainment of the wilderness; they ate the Pascal meal ready to travel (Exodus 12:1-14ff).

New Covenant believers have placed their faith in He who substituted His life for theirs in atoning for their sins and making propitiation of God’s wrath; in this manner, His blood has been sprinkled for them not only over their households, but over all the household of God which is constituted in Christ Jesus’ mediatorial work. It is a new sense of the drinking of His blood is intended, as is the eating of His flesh, for before, there was temporal passage through the land of testing to the land of promise; now, what was intended by the first Pascal meal is superseded by the infinite value of the substitutionary death of the final and only valid Pascal meal.

One breaking point of this language of our Lord that troubled the Jews was that of drinking His blood, for they did not see anything other than a disregard and disobedience of God’s law in so doing (Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-14), yet, they should have recognized the use of their own language in poetic manner to signify that which has value and virtue (2 Samuel 23:17), and is symbolic of ultimate victory in the prophets (Ezekiel 39:17ff). Since it takes the work of God to give an unbeliever a heart of belief, even with the references to their own Scriptures before them, they could only concentrate and understand that which pertains to the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:14; cf. John 6:32-58). It takes the work of the Triune God to not only give new life, with attendant faith and repentance, to those whom He willed to give eternal life to, but also to understand the significance of the teaching of our Lord concerning these things, to gain that understanding that this is a spiritual reference to imbibing the life of our Lord’s sacrifice, not a stating of disobedience to one of the commandments encompassing the life which was to typify that obedience to God which was realized in our Lord’s birth, life, and sacrifice; in the former, that disobedience promised being cut off from the national covenant given to the Fathers and their physical offspring, regarding a bountiful living in the land, but in the latter, the promise is that gospel obedience which comes from being united to Christ, and promises the benefits of never being cut off from the New Covenant and the family of God which is in Christ, with the attendant promises contained therein of eternal life and everlasting blessedness which shall never end.

This is a brief summarization of the forgoing study we have done in this chapter of John’s gospel, with some added observations derived from that forgoing study. Hopefully, it will prove helpful.

All of the above, of course, is based in and upon the choice of our Lord of His apostles in founding the church, in which observation we may note that all who are called to that eternal life promised in our Lord, as the apostles were call to their office and functions to teach us of these things, themselves enjoying the benefits of life with Christ immediately and thereafter everlastingly, are so called by the work of God according to His will and choice, as signified in the Lord’s calling of His apostles. We may even observe that those who cause distress and disorder within the gospel community of the local church do so by the fiat of God, wherein His sovereignty is expressed, for the general good of the church, and ultimately, the display of His glory (Romans 8:28ff; cf. John 8:66-71). It is important to note not only the reality of God’s sovereign choice of those He willed to build His church, but those whom He wills to use to continue to build upon that foundation (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19), whether vessels fit for glory or destruction, but all to His glory (Romans 9:22-24). With these observations and summary, we end this sixth chapter of our study in John’s gospel.

SDG – Bill

Regarding John 6:60-65 – Commentary and Exposition

John 6:60-65: When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Here, first of all, we learn the truth of the preceding, which is that spiritual things can only be understood by those who discern them by the abiding mind of Christ, which is to say, the indwelling Holy Spirit giving enlightenment to those who are in communion, or union, with the Triune God. Without being born again, none will understand even the more easily comprehended statements of truth contained in Scripture; oh, they may understand the language, and even be able to define the doctrine under consideration, but they will not believe it in a saving (evangelical) manner. Therefore, we have the disciples who have followed Jesus up to this point in His ministry plainly saying that what He has communicated to them is too much for them to accept, which leads us to our next observation.

That next observation is this: One can learn from someone, and follow them, without completely committing themselves to that form of teaching which they are hearing. This is how the term “disciples” is used in v.60, which shows us that there are disciples who follow up to a point, but turn away at the things they do not agree with. In other words, to state the obvious, there are disciples and there are disciples. In the former sense, one could call the demons of James 2:19 disciples, in that they know about God, and have that belief of those things of God revealed to them by His sovereign decree, yet they are without, and indeed, unable to even desire, that knowledge of God which is salvific, and it is because of their nature. They are followers of doctrine without commitment to that doctrine of life, for God has not granted to them that regeneration, faith, repentance and justification which only comes through an active, ongoing belief of the sort that a new nature imparted gives, and we know, all of these things of active faith are given as gifts of God. As such, just like the Jews in this dialog with our Lord; they cannot come to Him, for it has not been granted (them) by the Father. Since, as we have studied in this gospel, regarding regeneration (the first part of salvation applied by the Spirit), as well as the accompanying and subsequently exercised  gifts of faith, repentance, holiness, and all other graces we are imbued with of and by our sovereign God,  it is the Spirit who gives life; no understanding of the flesh (by which we mean the base nature under the fallen headship of Adam), no matter how much knowledge is accumulated, can gain that life that is sovereignly, freely bestowed upon believers by our good and gracious God’s will. The eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood are metaphors of partaking of that spiritual life which is gained through union with Him, and must be understood as such. We must beware of adding or putting a carnal (fleshly) meaning to the words of our God if we find any of them hard to understand, knowing that He will, indeed, give us the understanding of that which He alone owns the rights. This is how the term disciple is used in the positive sense: life has been given, the fear of God is thus inherent, and as a child has the capacity to learn fresh things they have not yet been taught, so we are to humbly sit at the feet of He who is our salvation and our life – indeed, Jesus both admonishes us to be such trusting children before our heavenly Father, and gives thanks to the Father for giving us to be such, that we may learn from our Lord (Matthew  18:1-4; 11:25-30; cf. Luke 10:21-34).

J.C. Ryle gives some great insights for this portion of Scripture:

“It is useless to deny that this verse is full of difficulties. It contains expressions “hard to be understood.” It is far more easy to have a general impression of the meaning of the whole sentence, than to explain it word by word. Some things nevertheless we can see clearly and grasp firmly. Let us consider what they are. Our Lord says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” By this He means that it is the Holy Spirit who is the special author of spiritual life in man’s soul. By His agency it is first imparted, and afterwards sustained and kept up. If the Jews thought He meant that man could have spiritual life by bodily eating or drinking, they were greatly mistaken. Our Lord says, “The flesh profits nothing.” By this He means that neither His flesh nor any other flesh, literally eaten, can do good to the soul. Spiritual benefit is not to be had through the mouth, but through the heart. The soul is not a material thing, and cannot therefore be nourished by material food. Our Lord says, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” By this He signifies that His words and teachings, applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, are the true means of producing spiritual influence and conveying spiritual life. By words thoughts are begotten and aroused. By words mind and conscience are stirred. And Christ’s words especially are spirit-stirring and life-giving” (Ryle, J.C. – The Gospel of John – italics in original).

John Calvin notes this important spiritual perception for v. 60:

60. This is a harsh saying. “On the contrary, it was in their hearts, and not in the saying, that the harshness lay. But out of the word of God the reprobate are thus accustomed to form stones to dash themselves upon, and when, by their hardened obstinacy, they rush against Christ, they complain that his saying is harsh, which ought rather to have softened them. For whoever shall submit with true humility to the doctrine of Christ will find nothing in it harsh or disagreeable; but to unbelievers, who oppose themselves with obstinacy, it will be a hammer which breaketh the rocks in pieces, as the Prophet calls it, (Jeremiah 23:29.) But since the same hardness is natural to us all, if we judge of the doctrine of Christ according to our feelings, his words will be just so many strange and incredible statements. All that remains for us, therefore, is, that every one commit himself to the guidance of the Spirit, that he may inscribe on our hearts what otherwise would never have even entered into our ears.” Who can hear it? “Here we see the awful wickedness of unbelief; for they who impiously and basely reject the doctrine of salvation, not satisfied with excusing themselves, have the hardihood to put the Son of God in their room as if he were guilty, and to declare that he is unworthy of being heard… But that which they, through their rage and fury, cannot endure will not only be tolerable to modest and teachable persons, but will support and comfort them. Yet the reprobate, by their obstinate slanders, will do nothing more than bring down on themselves more dreadful condemnation” (Commentary on John – Volume 1, John Calvin, 1509-1564 –italics in original).

A final point to consider is one that we have gone over since our study of chapter 2 of this gospel, which is that our Lord knew in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about Him, which is also augmented by the fact that He knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him. Here, we have again the fact of the divine knowledge, which is not to say that it is simply that knowledge of our Lord He had as the preincarnate Word, but that which was imparted to Him through the ongoing perfect communion He had with the Father through the Holy Spirit; remember, we learned, in chapter three of this study of John’s gospel, that our Lord was given the Holy Spirit by the Father without measure (John 3:34). We also learned that this was a fullness of the presence and companionship of the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus enjoyed that was specific to His ministry as the Messiah, or Christ, which none other had, or will, ever enjoy as fully. Though, as God the Son from everlasting, He had all knowledge of all things, He set aside His prerogative to exercise His divine nature and attributes (Philippians 2:5-8), relying completely upon His close communion with the Spirit, and so the Father through the Spirit, in order to exercise His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King; in order to not only be the sacrifice for our sins, but to tell others of the purpose for which He came, and to be that perfect Mediator of the New Covenant by which His people would surely be saved to the uttermost (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 5:8-9; 7:25; 9:13-15; 10:10, 14). Therefore, we are speaking of the knowledge our Lord acquired as a man offering perfect obedience to the Father (John 5:19-20; 8:29; 15:10b), by the impartation of that knowledge to Him through the Spirit, and in this, He has no need that any man should tell Him aloud whether or not they had great complaints against His doctrine, or even which one it was that would betray Him, for this knowledge was granted to Him by the Father through the Spirit; additionally, we often think this knowledge came to our Lord spontaneously, but we are told that he increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man, which tells us, in addition to the statement from Hebrews that He learned obedience through the things which He suffered, that, as a perfect Man, He was learning from the Scriptures He had, the Scriptures He quoted, which were the Hebrew Scriptures.

This is really getting somewhat into Christology (the doctrine of Christ), which, in this gospel, we can do at any time (it is the most obvious Christocentric gospel of the four gospels), but we do not wish to go that much into this most important doctrine at this particular juncture of our study (Christology is a study unto itself, which we will go into apart from this study of the gospel according to John); what we will say, however, adding to the few short things we have mentioned regarding this important doctrine, is that it should be obvious to us that our Lord often quoted the Scriptures (Matthew 12:3-8; Mark 10-12; 12:26-27), and that, joined with the knowledge that He was asking and answering questions among the teachers in the temple at the young age of 12, He continued His study of the Scriptures all His life, up to the point where He did that which most glorified the Father by His taking the sins of His sheep. So, our Lord did the hard (and in His case, perfect, and supremely joyous work, for such was a part of His doing that which always pleased the Father) work of studying the Scriptures, and in His study, the knowledge imparted to Him was a perfect understanding of His Person and ministry, inclusive of that which would occur during the course of His ministry, such as what people would think and say, by the Holy Spirit imparting such to Him. We are not saying that our Lord had no special revelation imparted to Him about people by the Spirit, but that much of what He knew of them was directly through the Spirit giving Him perfect understanding of the Scriptures He studied.

This brings up a most necessary application: If it was necessary for our Lord to grow in His knowledge of the Scriptures, as a man (without the imposition of an understanding with the limitations of a corrupt nature, or in our case, the remaining corruption of our flesh), how much more necessary is it for us to read, meditate upon and study the Scriptures, that we may learn to walk in the ways that are pleasing to our Lord and Father?

SDG – Bill H.