The New Birth (John 3:1–8)

‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7)
    The conversation between the Lord Christ and Nicodemus is one of the most important passages in Scripture. To be ignorant of the truths in this chapter is to be ignorant of Christ. There is no going to heaven without experiential knowledge of the new birth. This man Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (v.2). He comes at a time when he can speak with Jesus in private. We are told that he was a man of the Pharisees and a ruler of the Jews (v.1). He was a religious man and a politician; a theologian and a statesman. Here is someone of immense importance in society and he comes to speak with the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider the man himself. He is a Jew, a son of Abraham, a child of the covenant. He has the blood of God’s people running in his veins. If ever a man was born into the right family, then it was Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a man of religion, a man of morality. He took the Law of God seriously. He studied the Scriptures and taught others to live according to Word of God. He was a man of great learning and education. He was the teacher in Israel, the most prominent theologian of his day. He even recognised that the Lord Jesus worked His miracles by the power of God, ‘We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’ (v. 2). Yet, the Lord Christ says to this man, ‘You must be born again’. It’s audacious. It’s outrageous. If ever a man deserved a seat in heaven because of his good works, surely it was Nicodemus? ‘No’, says the Lord Jesus, ‘You must be born again’ (v.7).

    There were not many Jews in Israel with the credentials and qualifications of Nicodemus. Here is a cultured, an educated, a sophisticated, moral man. Yet, Jesus tells him that he needs to be born again. If it is true that a man like Nicodemus needs this new birth, how much more is it true for us all? You may have a great education, you may have been born into the right family, you may have Christian parents, you may have great wealth and privileges, you may have been baptised and attended Church all your life, but unless you are born again, it is impossible for you to see and enter the kingdom of God. The Lord Christ insists that being born again is absolutely necessary for anyone to even have a glimpse the kingdom of heaven: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (v. 3). Heaven may be reached without money, without learning, without Christian parents. It may be reached by the most wretched sinner in the universe. But, you will never reach heaven without a ‘new birth’.

Oh, you who would enter that glorious rest,
And sing with the ransomed the song of the blest;
The life everlasting if you would obtain,
‘You must be born again’.

It is therefore fundamental that we consider this doctrine with utmost seriousness. It is vital that we chew over what the Bible has to teach us about this all-important truth. ‘Truly, truly’, says Jesus. In other words, listen up! Pay attention! This is the true truth you need to hear.   

    1] Firstly, the New Birth is an Old Testament doctrine. And so Nicodemus was a man who should have known better. The Lord Christ is amazed at his sheer ignorance. He says to him, ‘Are you not the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?’ (v.10). You see, the new birth is not exclusive to the New Testament. The new birth is not a new doctrine. On the contrary, it is a doctrine as old as Adam. The Old Testament consistently speaks of this work as absolutely essential for true and vital religion. Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law, should have known these things. We read in the Law of Moses, ‘Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked’ (Deuteronomy 10:16). Outward circumcision, outward religiosity, was never enough for Jehovah God. Only a work of God in the heart of man would suffice. The Law spoke of this inward circumcision – a circumcision of the heart. This was not something which man could cause. It was a work of God alone. This is what Moses says, ‘The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live’ (Deuteronomy 30:6). God does this. It is His work. It is His prerogative. And it is impossible for man to know and love God as he ought without this divine operation. The outward form of religion is never enough. Going to chapel, professing to be a Christian, attending ceremonies and sacraments, being baptised, having Christian parents, reading your bible, praying twice a day, are all empty and vain without a new birth. Nicodemus has all the outward religion he could ever need. The Pharisees were the masters of externalised religiosity. But such religion has never saved anybody. It is the way of certain death. The only hope for men and women is the supernatural power of God. Nicodemus should have known better.

    This mysterious work, this new birth, is ascribed wholly to God by the prophets. He is spoken of as the divine and supernatural cardiologist. Speaking through Jeremiah God says, ‘I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord’ (Jeremiah 24:7). Or again, speaking through Ezekiel, the Lord says, ‘ A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgements and do them (Ezekiel 36:25–27). If men and women are to love God and keep His commandments, they need a new heart with new desires. Now Nicodemus was a professor of the Law and the Prophets. Here is a man who should have known these things. And yet, we find that this man of religion has no experiential acquaintance with the living God. Often the men who make a great show of religion and spirituality have no true acquaintance with the living God. They know nothing of experiential religion. They know nothing of heart religion. They have no experience of the life of God in the soul of man. But without this, there is no salvation. If you are not born again, you are not saved. If you are not born again, you are not a Christian. If you don’t have a new heart, you don’t truly love God. If you despise this doctrine, you despise the only way of salvation. There is no going to glory without a new birth. You may be the most religious man on the planet, but if you are not born again then you are dead in sin and on the road to eternal ruin. There is no true Christianity where men and women are not born of the Spirit.

    Moral reformation, turning over a new leaf, a change of manners, or the outward alteration of behaviour is not enough. John Murray puts it like this:

No external privilege, no hereditary quality, no birthright, no amount of good works, no self discipline, no amount of adherence to rules, no degree of human effort, will make [us] members of the kingdom of God. Membership [in God’s kingdom] is not an attainment, not a reward, not a prize ... There is no appreciation of, no entrance into, no life in, the kingdom of God except by a change as radical and momentous as birth.

The Gospel demands such a radical change. The new birth is a majestic and powerful work of God in the heart of man. It is a monumental event. It is a resurrection, a new creation. The formation of stars, planets, and galaxies is nothing compared with the splendour of new birth. It is the passing from a state of sin and death into a state of life and salvation. God creates a new principle in our hearts. The Spirit of God comes upon us in such a way so as to infallibly, eternally, and unchangeably create a new vital principle, a new habit, a new spirit, within our hearts. It is a revolution in the heart of man where the citadel of self and sin is dethroned and the righteousness of Christ begins to reign. Now let me ask, what do you know of such things by experience? Have you been born again? Have you a new heart with new desires? What do you know of this new birth? These are serious questions. Don’t go to sleep tonight without a new birth! ‘A day will come when those who are not born again will wish that they had never been born at all’ (J. C. Ryle).

    2] Secondly, what are the reasons for the new birth? Why must we be born again? Why do we need the new birth? Nicodemus doesn't understand what Jesus is saying. He doesn't understand the nature of new birth because he doesn't feel his need for a new birth. ‘How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ (v.4). Nicodemus simply doesn't get it. He is blind to the truth. The Lord Christ has already said, ‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (v.3). Nicodemus can’t see it. He can’t even see the need for the new birth itself. He doesn't grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. He takes them in a crassly literal way. The Lord Christ is speaking directly to Nicodemus about his spiritual standing before God. He says to him: ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (v.3). He says it again in verse five, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (v.5). He says it a third time, ‘Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again’ (v. 7). But Nicodemus is still scratching his head. He’s completely flummoxed. And that is the very reason why men and women need a new birth. Nicodemus himself illustrates what the Lord Christ is trying to tell him. Unless men and women are born of God, they will not see and understand these truths in their hearts.

    Nicodemus thought the Lord Jesus was talking about a physical rebirth. His mind was set in earthly ways. So Jesus says to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (v.5). The Lord Christ is speaking of spiritual things. The new birth is a supernatural change. It concerns the kingdom of God. It is the work of the Spirit. It is the real transition from the state of wrath and sin to a state of grace and favour. There must be this transition. We are not born as Christians. Having Christian family, Christian parents, attending Church on Sundays, being baptised are wonderful things, but they don’t make us real Christians. The only thing that makes someone a real Christian is the new birth. You must be converted. You must be born again. 

    The problem is sin. We need to be born again because we are sinners. We have been utterly ruined by the fall. The Lord Christ tells us, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’ (v.6a). In other words, the guilt and corruption of our first parents has passed down from generation to generation. There’s no escaping it. Man is rebellious and sinful by nature. Even the best of men, the most heroic men, the most moral men, are nothing more than splendid sinners. Even Nicodemus is a man ruined by the fall. ‘All that the flesh can produce is a sinful and fallen nature’ (Geoff Thomas). Flesh produces flesh. Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21–23; Matthew 15:19). He is spiritually sick (Jeremiah 17:9). He is a slave to sin (Romans 6:20). He does not seek for God (Romans 3:11). He is not able to understand Spiritual things (Romans 3:11; 1 Corinthians 2:14). He is an enemy of God (Ephesians 2:15). He is by nature a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). He is dead to God in sin (Ephesians 2: 1–2). His mind is hostile to God and cannot please God (Romans 8:7). He is accustomed to evil and can do no saving good (Jeremiah 13:23).  He is born in sin (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). His heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). This is how the Bible speaks of fallen man. It is only when we consider something of the exceeding sinfulness of our own hearts that we begin to see the absolute necessity for a new birth. A miracle of grace is most necessary if ever we should see and enter the kingdom of God.   

    Man by his fall thought that he could think and do as he pleased. He made himself a false idea of knowledge and morality. He made himself and not God the final point of reference. What man thinks and what man does became far more important to him than what God thinks and what God does. Man now sees himself as self sufficient and purely autonomous being. He chooses to live and act as he pleases. He is a law unto Himself. Everything in his mind and will is askew. Instead of aiming for the glory and honour of God, he aims only to glorify and gratify self. He is like a man with a crooked ruler. He’ll never draw a straight line. He’ll always get it wrong. John Murray explains it like this:

Man is totally corrupt; sin has taken possession of his whole being. The inmost springs of desire, disposition and motive are corrupted and depraved: the source of intellectual, emotional and volitional activity is enmity against God. Man is under the dominion of sin.

In the new birth, the Spirit of Christ comes upon a man so as to realign all the faculties of the soul and direct them to a living faith in Christ. His mind, his will, his affections are resorted and healed. His heart is directed to love and adore his God.

    Now it is true that the Lord Christ accomplished our redemption in full upon Calvary, but it will do us no saving good until the Spirit comes upon us and applies this redemption to us. I can’t say it better than Charles Wesley:

Spirit of faith, come down,
Reveal the things of God,
And make to us the Godhead known,
And witness with the blood.
'Tis thine the blood to apply
And give us eyes to see,
Who did for guilty sinners die
Hath surely died for me.

Let me put it like this. Here is a dead man in a coffin. He is completely and utterly dead. His lips are blue. His skin is white. There’s no pulse from the heart. There’s no life in the brain. He is as dead as dead can be. Now suppose I have a life-giving potion. On the label it says, ‘A tea spoon for any corpse, guarantees new life’. Wonderful stuff! Now it would be no good to place the bottle on top of the man’s coffin. There is life in the bottle but it’s not doing him any good. He needs someone to administer it. ‘Inasmuch as we are dead in trespasses and sins, it would do us no good to have a wonderful life-giving potion laid next to us in our coffin. It would do us good only if someone administered the potion to us’ (Van Til). That is what the Spirit of God does. Christ’s has procured the remedy by His death for us; the Spirit takes the work of Christ and applies it to God’s elect. If the Spirit didn't do this, nobody would ever be saved. John 3:16 makes no sense whatsoever without John 3:7. That is how vital the work of the Holy Spirit is for our salvation. Unless He administers the life giving potion, we would all remain dead in our trespasses and sins.  
    Paul puts it like this: ‘The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). Here is the madness of sin. There is salvation freely offered in Christ but without the work of the Spirit no one wants it. They would rather perish in sin than seek after God. ‘Left to himself, no child of Adam would ever turn to God’ (J. C. Ryle). That is why the new birth is so necessary, because it opens our eyes to the seriousness of sin and creates true faith in Christ who alone can save us. Jesus teaches us something remarkable. He says to Nicodemus, ‘Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (John 3:7). The new birth is a matter of eternal significance. It is not something from below. It is not something that man can do for himself. It is from above. You must be born of the Spirit. Without this, there is no going to heaven. There is no entrance into the kingdom of God without a new birth. ‘Be convinced, then, that you must be born again; put a high value on the new birth, and eagerly desire it’ (Thomas Boston). It is only by being born again that we see the kingdom of heaven at last. Only the free and sovereign grace of the Spirit in regeneration will save sinners of mankind lost. It is only by the work of the Spirit that you enter the kingdom of heaven. It is only by His power that you can be brought into the state of grace.

    3] Thirdly, what is the nature of the New Birth? The Lord Jesus takes Nicodemus back to the Old Testament to explain the mechanics of the new birth. He says that we must be born of water and the spirit. That is a reference to the prophecy of Ezekiel: ‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:25–26). Jesus, following Ezekiel’s teaching, sets to aspects of the new birth plainly before Nicodemus:

i.            You must be born of water. That’s not a reference to water baptism. Jesus is speaking of the washing, the inward cleansing of the Spirit. Our hearts must be cleansed from the sin within. They must be washed and made clean. The Spirit of God does this. That’s incredible, isn't it? The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, comes personally into such filthy and polluted hearts as ours to scrub them clean. He comes into the sewage works of my heart to make me clean, pure, sanctified, and holy. Only God can wash away your sins. Only the Spirit of God has the power to wash away my iniquity. Have you been washed like this? Have you been born of water? What do you know of such a cleansing? Without this, there is no entering the kingdom of God. Nothing impure will ever enter it (Revelation 21:27). So you must be washed. I must be washed. We must be cleansed from our sin. We must cry out to God for such things and say with David, ‘Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin ... wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’ (Psalm 51:2, 7).
ii.            You must be born of the Spirit. This miracle of grace, this new birth, is specifically ascribed to the person of the Spirit. It is His special prerogative, agreed upon by the three persons in the depths of eternity past. The Father lovingly elects, the son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies. Economically speaking, regeneration and sanctification are His peculiar roles in the management and plan of God. He is the special agent of the new birth. He brings about spiritual life in dead and sinful hearts. When a baby is born, new conscious life has come into the universe. It is remarkable. Something totally new has come into being. The new birth as a radical and dramatic as this. New life is formed in the heart of the sinner by the power of the Spirit. Only the Spirit can do this. The flesh gives birth to flesh. Sin gives birth to sin. Only the Spirit can give birth to spiritual life (v.6b). A person does not cause his natural birth; he is the passive subject. You didn't whisper into the cosmos, ‘I want to have blue eyes, dark black hair, muscles like Hercules, and born to rich parents living in sunny Australia’. ‘We were not born because we decided to be born. We were simply born’ (John Murray). If we are Christians, we were born of the Spirit, according to His will and by His power. The new birth is not a work of man. It is not a work of human decision. It is a work of God. John says in the prologue, we were born ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13). Without this, it is impossible to ‘see’ and ‘enter’ the kingdom of God. There is no salvation, no eternal happiness, no home in heaven, no peace with God, without a new birth of the Spirit’s power.   
    4] Finally, the new birth is a work of divine sovereignty. It would seem that Nicodemus was amazed by the teaching of Christ: ‘Marvel not that I said, you must be born again’. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was depending upon his good works and law keeping to earn a place in the kingdom of God. His religion was based upon a system of merit and human effort. Jesus blows that teaching out of the water. It seems to have come as a shock to Nicodemus. ‘Don’t look so surprised Nicodemus when I say you must be born again’. The Lord Jesus says that salvation is a work of the Spirit of God. Nicodemus thought it was a work of the freedom of man, but the Lord Jesus compares the work of the Spirit with the freedom of the wind: ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’ (v.8). Jonathan Edwards said that ‘You cannot fix the work of the Spirit to an inflexible series of stages’. You can’t say, ‘If I do x, y, and z, then the Spirit gives me a new birth’. There is no magical prayer or formula for salvation. Salvation will not inevitably follow from following a course or programme. You cannot manufacture conversion. The Holy Spirit is free to do as He pleases. He is in no way beholden to or constrained by the whims and methodologies of men. He is completely sovereign, free, and autonomous in the work of salvation. Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is invisible, secret, and mysterious. Solomon said, ‘As thou knowest not the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God that maketh all’ (Ecclesiastes 11:5). Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is irresistible and effectual. If the wind decides to blow the roof off your house, there is little you can do about it. It blows where it wills. If the Spirit decides to convert a man, it is His sovereign right and prerogative. The hymn writer puts it like this:

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

    No one can restrain the wind. No one knows what the wind shall decide upon next. Meteorology is a most inexact science. The wind is unpredictable. So it is with the work of the Spirit. It is impossible to constrict the work of the Spirit into a man-made methodological box. He chooses each one that is born from above. This is why some are saved and others are not. This is also why, though the Gospel remains eternal and unchanging, individual experiences of conversion vary from person to person. Some experience sudden, stormy, and dramatic conversions like the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:1 – 19), whereas others, like Lydia (Acts 16:11 – 15), experience the power of the Spirit like a gentle breeze as He opened her heart to believe. Neither experience is more important than the other. Both are majestic, glorious, and sublime works of the Holy Ghost.  

Practical Uses

    1] What does this mean for the Church? One commentator has put it like this:
Becoming a Christian is always a miracle ... Churches which engage in evangelism with integrity will inevitably be prayerful Churches, beseeching God for His intervention to enable dead people to be reborn. Salvation is of God, and no advance in Christian evangelistic methodology will ever eliminate or replace this. As truly today as in the first century, the key to effective mission for the living God is prayer to the living God. Only God can save (Bruce Milne). 

The Church must recognise and give honour to the sovereignty of the Spirit in convincing men of sin and creating new life in their hearts. That is why the prayer meeting is so important. ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the people labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). We meet to pray for God to do just that – build His Church. The sovereignty of the Spirit is also the reason why we evangelise and preach the Gospel. It is by His power alone that men are truly saved. Don’t we want His power on our side? God has ordained that the preaching of the Gospel is the sole means whereby the Spirit in sovereignty, if it pleases Him, grants newness of life in dead and unbelieving hearts. The main focus in anything which claims to be evangelism must be the Gospel, the Word of God. For this is the only message which the Spirit is pleased to use in working salvation. You remember what Peter says, ‘You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring Word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23). It pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:21). It is precisely because we know that the Spirit has the power to break the chains of sin and bring salvation to dead sinners that we preach the Gospel. It is precisely because God is at the back of evangelism that we ‘go forth and tell’. It is because we know the Spirit will irresistibly and effectively call and regenerate the elect that we evangelise with confidence. The sovereignty of God is no excuse for the apathy of His Church. The point of contact with the unbeliever (in evangelism and apologetics) lies in the fact that deep down inside every man knows he is a creature made in the image of God and yet a sinner under God’s wrath and curse. We must not hesitate to tell men that they are sinners in need of the Saviour, even Christ our Lord. It is our duty, our responsibility and our highest privilege. But, we must leave the work of salvation itself to the Spirit of God.   

    2] What does all of this mean for the unbeliever? If you would be saved, you must listen to the preaching of God’s word. You must listen and believe. There is no other way of salvation. For in as much as verse eight tells us to be born of the Spirit, verse sixteen reminds us that God so loved the world, His heart beat with so much love for sinners of mankind lost, that He gave His one and only Son, the son of His love, the Son He had cherished from eternity, He gave Him to die in the place of sinners, to bear the punishment and curse their sin deserved, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. The duty and responsibly of the sinner is not to cause his own new birth, but to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. You must cry out to God and entrust yourself to His Son. The promise is sure. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved’ (Acts 16:31). Those who truly believe have surely been born of God.

    All of this means that the difference between the believer and the unbeliever is a canyon as vast as the cosmos itself. You are either born again, or you are dead in sin. You are either saved or remain condemned. We are either living in the light of the Gospel or walking in the darkness of sin. There is no middle ground. There is no neutrality. Van Til would say that ‘the unbeliever is the man with yellow tinted glasses cemented on his face. He sees himself and his world through these glasses. He cannot remove them. His interpretation of himself and of every fact in the universe relating to himself is, unavoidably, a false interpretation [because he does not see and refuses to acknowledge that God, His Creator and Lord, is at the back of all things]’. Such is the radical distinction between the believer and the unbeliever. It is only when the Spirit of God comes upon such a man in life giving and regenerating power that he at last can see and sing,

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen

The Spirit alone has the power to remove your sin cemented spectacles. You must cry out to God for such a work. You must plead with Him for newness of life. You must ask that His Spirit would reveal the things of God to you. In short, you must be born again. You cannot see, you cannot enter the kingdom of God, without a new birth. Happy is the man who truly knows he has been born of water and the Spirit. May God grant you the grace to find this newness of life and a living faith in His Son! 

References & Further Reading

Commentaries: John Calvin, Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, J. C. Ryle, William Hendriksen, Bruce Milne and D. A. Carson.

Collected Writings of John Murray: Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth), pp. 167–201.
Geoffrey Thomas, The Holy Spirit (RHB), pp. 69–80.

Joel Beeke, ‘The Puritans on Regeneration’, A Puritan Theology (RHB), pp. 463–80. 

John Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (P&R), pp. 187 – 213. The chapter on the antithesis is useful for understanding the chasm between the regenerate and the unregenerate.

John Murray, ‘Regeneration’, in Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth), pp. 91–100.

Sinclair Ferguson, ‘Born Again’, in The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Banner of Truth), pp. 47–60. 

Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 2nd edition (P&R). The first chapter is a helpful and concise summary of Christian truth.  


The Word was God

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

    The opening words of John’s Gospel deserve to be written in letters of gold. This surely is the most wonderful passage in the whole Bible. We are confronted with the deep mystery of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ and are left lost in wonder, love and awe. Such is the profoundness of our text, that nothing but the light of eternity will reveal its fullness. Of all the disciples, John alone was chosen by the Spirit of God to write these awesome words. He is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, formerly employed as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. The Holy Spirit didn’t choose a doctor of divinity, a student of the law, or professor of theology. He chose a fisherman to pen the greatest words that have ever been written. He was chosen and called by our Lord Jesus for a new vocation to be a fisher of men, a soul winner for the Kingdom of heaven, an Apostle of the Church of God, a writer of Holy Scripture. He was an eye-witness of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He had seen the Lord Christ heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead. He saw the glory of His transfiguration. He saw His face shine with brightness of a thousand suns. He had seen that the Lord Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature; He had seen the face of the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power. He saw the bloody sweat, tears and agony of our Saviour in the Garden. He watched as the nails were driven into His hands and feet. He saw the King of the universe crucified, dead, and buried. He saw the risen Lord Jesus. He saw the face of the One who had conquered sin, death and hell forever. So John, though a fisherman, was uniquely qualified to write these deep truths concerning the deity of our Lord. He had seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (v. 14). John was an eyewitness to these things. We are not therefore dealing with a paperback novel. This Gospel is not a work of fiction. It is not a myth. The Gospel according to John is true truth. John is not a sentimental liberal preacher. He is deeply concerned to maintain the truth of Christianity as an historical religion. These are the words of a man who had seen with his own eyes the glory of the living God; the words of a man who was taken up by the Spirit to pen God’s holy and infallible truth. Ultimately the reason why you must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is because it is true. Now I would like us to consider the first five verses of this Gospel to see what lessons John would have us learn about the Lord Jesus Christ.

    1] The Lord Christ is eternally divine (vv. 1–2). ‘In the beginning was the Word’. John is taking us way back to Genesis chapter one: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. The Lord Christ was there in the beginning. He was not created. He was not made. Before space was created, before time began, the Lord Jesus Christ was the Word. He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds were made. John is saying that the Lord Jesus is eternal. This eternity is an attribute that belongs to God alone. He is not a frail creature of time; He is the mighty Word from time eternal. He is called the Word, because He reveals the Father’s will to us. He is the Speaker, the Spokesman of the Godhead, the One who makes the Father known (v. 18). Calvin calls Him ‘the Speech’ (Sermo) for He is the One who reveals, by His word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation (WSC: 24). So our very salvation depends upon this truth. ‘You will never go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as God’ (Spurgeon).  

    His eternity means that His existence did not begin with His birth from the Virgin in Bethlehem: He was from the beginning and in the beginning He was with God. He is the One who prayed, ‘Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world was made’ (John17:5). He makes these incredible claims: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in Me’, ‘I and the Father are one’, ‘He that has seen Me has seen the Father’. He is the One who said, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58). So not only is the Lord Christ eternal, He is also divine. He is eternally divine. He can make such great claims because He is God in His own right (autotheos). His divinity was not obtained at some point in time. It is not communicated to Him by another. It is not derived from some other external source nor is it dependent upon someone else. He is God in Himself and from Himself alone (a se ipso). That is why He can make such incredible claims.

    There can be no doubt therefore that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Almighty God. John cannot make it any clearer, ‘the Word was God’. He is not a created being like an angel or a man. He is neither a superhuman nor an archangel. He is in no way inferior to the Father with respect to His deity. He is coequal and coeternal with the Father. Notice that John is meticulously careful with His grammar here. We are told that the Word was God, but in verse fourteen he tells us that the Word ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’. Do you see the contrast? He was not always man. He was not always flesh. But He was always God. He was in the beginning and in the beginning He was God. Yet we also see that the Lord Jesus is a Person distinct from God the Father, though one and equal with Him. He was ‘with God’ in the beginning. He was in the union and fellowship of the Godhead. The word used for ‘with’ literally means ‘towards’. He is face to face with the Father and the Spirit. There is this interpersonal communion, this eternal love relationship, between the three Persons of the Godhead. They are with each other, towards each other, facing each other in the eternal bonds of divine fellowship.
    Let us be clear on this point. There is but one true and living God and there are Three Persons in the Godhead; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and in glory. What a fathomless mystery! There are three Persons in the one and simple essence of God. One of the early Church Fathers said ‘I cannot think of the One God without also having the Three Persons shining around me’ (Gregory of Nazianzen). Now you must understand that there are not three separate gods, but One God in three eternally divine Persons. That is the historical doctrine of the Trinity. John’s point here in our text is that the Lord Jesus, ‘the Word’, is a distinct Person from the Father. He is not the Father, but He is ‘with’ or ‘towards’ the Father. They are joined together in the bonds of eternal love, delight and fellowship. The Father has loved His Son eternally and the Son has delighted in His Father from the depths of eternity past. They have shared and enjoyed each other’s glory from everlasting to everlasting. J. C. Ryle most perceptively says: ‘Where God the Father was from all eternity, there also was the Word, even God the Son, their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal, and yet their Godhead one. This is a great mystery! Happy is he who can receive it as a little child, without attempting to explain it’. Here we have an uneducated, ordinary Fisherman, raised up by the Spirit of God to plumb the depths of Majesty Divine! John is giving us a glimpse of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He is specifically telling us that the Lord Jesus Christ is God. He is not like other religious leaders. He is not merely a mortal, He is not merely a great prophet and teacher, He is not even a demigod; on the contrary, He is fully God and as God He alone has the power to rescue fallen men and women in their plight of rebellion and sin. ‘Who less than God could have carried away your sins and my sins and cast them all away? Who less than God could have interposed to deliver us from the jaws of hell’s lions, and bring us up from the pit, having found a ransom?’ (Spurgeon). The Lord Jesus has been face to face with the Father and Spirit from eternity. ‘He was in the beginning with God’. What better Person to communicate the love and mercy of the Father to us than His own beloved Son! Don’t you see? God is best known in Christ. We see the sun by its radiance, by its beams of light. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). In the face of Jesus Christ shines the glory of God. He is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15). So the only way to know and love the Father is to know and love His Son. The Lord Christ says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me’ (John 14:6). There is no other way to God. To embrace the Father, you must first embrace His Son.

    Why is all of this so important? Why have Christians throughout Church history fought tooth and nail for this doctrine? It is precisely because Jesus Christ is God that we have the right and the obligation to worship and adore Him. If Jesus Christ is not God, then all our worship, all our praises, all our songs are blasphemy and idolatry. The worship of the Church comes to nought if Christ is not God. If He is only a man, then we dare not worship Him. Yet it is precisely because He is God, that He is worthy of all our love and affection. Why are we gathered here today if not to worship Jesus Christ? We have come to worship Jesus in Spirit and in Truth because He is the living and true God. We praise Him and we pray to Him because He is God. Who can venture to capture the beauty and glory of Jesus! He is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, the same yesterday, today and forever. He is infinitely wise, almighty, pure and holy, just, good and true. He is our beloved, our heart’s delight, our eternal friend. He is white and ruddy, fair to see. His eyes blaze like fire and His feet are like burnished bronze. He is the fairest among ten thousand. Yes, He is altogether lovely and desirable and He alone is worthy of the best of our love. Oh that our hearts would beat with more love to Jesus! ‘The name of God attributed to Christ will affect us little, if our faith does not feel it to be such by experience’ (Calvin).      

O that my soul could love and praise Him more,
His beauties trace, His majesty adore;
Live near His heart, upon His bosom lean;
Obey His voice, and all His will esteem.
William Gadsby (1773 – 1844).

Do you love Him? Do you know Him as your own? Can you say, ‘He is my Lord and my God’? Is your heart’s desire to fall upon your knees and worship Him? Come and trace His beauties, come and see His majesty, glory and divinity. Come, trust, and love this divine Saviour, this eternal Word, this mighty God. Don’t pass Him by. Let us pray that He would raise our affections to love and praise Him more.

    2] The Lord Christ is the Creator of all things (v. 3). John says that ‘all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’. Not only is the Lord Jesus the eternal Word, He is also the Creator God. He was there in the beginning when all things were first made. And not only was He present, but all things were made through Him. The Father has made all things by the Son. The Lord Jesus says in Proverbs:

When He established the heavens, I was there;
When He set a circle upon the face of the deep.
When He made firm the skies above,
When the fountains of the deep became strong,
When He gave to the deep its bound,
That the waters should not transgress His commandment,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was by Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him (Proverbs 8:27-30).

    The Father and the Son cooperate in the work of creation. You remember in the book of Genesis when they counsel together and say, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ (Gen 1:26a). From this it follows that the Lord Christ is not a creature, but the Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. The Lord Christ must be the Creator because ‘without Him was not anything made that was made’. His claim to Creatorship is comprehensive. Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, the purple headed mountain, the river running by, the cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun, the tall trees in the greenwood – the Lord Christ made them all. All the facts of creation not only testify to His existence and Creatorship, they also sing to His praise and glory. ‘The universe proclaims the greatness of Christ’ (Bruce Milne). ‘The heavens declare His glory and the skies proclaim the work of His hands’ (Psalm 19:1). He spoke light into being and set the galaxies in motion. He cast the stars into deepest space and put the planets in their orbit. He hung the earth upon nothing and formed the vast oceans. The sky, the sea, and land belong to Him. He filled them with plants and animals of every kind. He created man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into His nostrils life. He formed the smallest cells of reality, the building blocks of all things, DNA and the double Helix, the Higgs boson, atoms, quarks, and neutrinos. All things were made through Him. He is the Lord of all Creation and all the facts of reality testify to His genius and glory. The heavens and the earth declare the greatness of Jesus Christ:

Jesus is Lord! Creation's voice proclaims it,
For by His power each tree and flower was planned and made.
Jesus is Lord! The universe declares it,
Sun, moon and stars in heaven cry, Jesus is Lord!
David Mansell
    William Williams Pantycelyn, the greatest of the 18th Century Welsh hymn writers, composed and epic poem called ‘Golwg ar Deyrnas Crist’ (A View of Christ’s Kingdom). The hero of this great epic is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the King who must reign over all. The Lord Christ is all in God’s eternal purpose. He is all in the work of Creation. He is all in the promise of the Gospel. He is all in the works of divine providence. He is all in the salvation of sinners. The Lord Christ is all in all. So we have in this epic poem a grand survey of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our gaze is fixed constantly upon Him. Even from the marvels of astronomy to the wonders of biology, from telescopes to microscopes, Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the sovereign King of the created sphere.

O grant my God, I pray, my trembling feet to stand,
Upon the highest mountain and let there be to hand,
A Telescope to show my Jesus at His task
Of laying the World’s foundations! This only, Lord I ask.
William Williams (1717-91)

This is not just a poet being whimsical. Williams Pantycelyn sees that the Lord Christ is the One by whom all things have been created. He is the Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth. The beauty and the glory of creation reflect the beauty and the glory of the Creator – even Christ our Lord. His sovereignty and omnipotence are to be seen in all the facts and laws of this universe. They are His facts and His laws. There is therefore no division between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ in the created order. On the contrary, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein’ (Psalm 24:1). It is all sacred and precious because it all belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. The psalmist and scientist alike are to trace the genius of the Creator Christ in all the facts of reality. We are all, each one of us, wherever we find ourselves, in whatever avenue of life, to give praise and honour to Christ our Creator. 

    The poet and the artist, the biologist and the physicist will not understand anything truly if they fail to see that Christ is all in all. The whole trouble with man is that He refuses to acknowledge His creatureliness and bow before His Creator and Sustainer. He has the coloured glasses of sin cemented to his eyes and so He sees everything in the wrong light. He foolishly imagines that the created sphere, its order, its laws, and its beauty, are the result of nothing more than the random motions of matter, time and chance. What tragedy! Man was originally created and good and upright, with the ability to trace the glories of God in Creation. In the Garden, He was even able to walk with the Lord God in the cool of evening. But by His fall into sin, man was cursed with ‘a blindness of mind, a horrible darkness, a vanity, and perverseness of judgment. He became wicked, rebellious, and obstinate in heart and will, and impure in all His affections’ (Canons of Dort, 3&4, Article 1). And now He refuses to see the glory of His Creator in nature. His foolish heart has been darkened and He says in His heart ‘There is no God’. He chooses to live only for Himself and not for the glory of Christ. He thinks of himself as the creator of His own reality. He sees Himself as a self-sufficient autonomous being, with the power to create his own destiny apart from the Lord Christ. He says ‘I’ll do it my way’ and he dies with those words played from MP3 at his funeral. He is utterly lost and blinded by sin.

    It is only when the Spirit of Christ comes upon Him, and chisels away the sin cemented glasses, that he at last begins to see that something lives in every hue that Christless eyes have never seen. Only the Spirit of Christ can enable a man to truly feel and know that the Lord Christ is his Creator. The Spirit, in the work of new creation, raises him even beyond this to see that the One who cast stars into deepest space, was the One who came to live and die to buy our pardon with His own life’s blood. When the Spirit of Christ breaks into our hearts, in regenerating and life-giving power, He opens the wound of sin and shows us how dreadful a thing sin is and reveals to us the state of darkness and death wherein we lie. Then He shows us the love and mercy and grace of the Redeemer Christ. He shows us that the One who created all things, is also the One who came to rescue men and women from their plight and desperation in sin and bring them back to God.

O love without its equal, what condescending grace,
That He who stars created, yet should earth’s dust embrace;
To die for Adam’s children, who still defied the rod,
And lived in bold rebellion against Almighty God.
William Williams (1717-91)

    You may have lived a life with loose notions of religion and spirituality, but now you are confronted with this tremendous eternal reality. The Lord Jesus Christ is your Creator, and it is to Him you owe your allegiance. He alone has the power to save you. He alone has died for Adam’s children. He alone has taken the enormous load of human guilt and bled to buy our pardon. Why, why will you die? There is mercy and grace and forgiveness for you in the hands of the Creator Christ. Will you not come to Him and trust in Him? Will you not bow the knee before Him and serve Him with gladness? There is such a clarity of argument in this passage attesting to the divinity of the Lord Jesus that we cannot resist seeing this mighty fact: Jesus Christ is from eternity. He is the eternal Word of God. He is very God of very God and enjoys personal communion with the Father. He is the Creator of all things. He is your Creator and Lord. These are truly words from another world. John has been taken up by the Spirit, as it were, to the third heaven and given wisdom from on high. He has been given a sight of unseen reality. He has been taken to the highest mountain and granted that telescope to see the majesty of the Creator Jesus. Oh my friend, will you not tremble before this passage? Will you not fall upon your knees and confess the Lord Christ to be your Creator God and Lord?

    3] The Lord Christ is the light and life of men (vv. 4–5). John tells us that ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’. We have seen how the Lord Jesus is the Creator of all physical and biological life in the created sphere, now John teaches us that Lord Christ is the source of all spiritual life and light. The Lord Jesus is the fount of everlasting life. He is the sole source of all true light concerning the things of God. This is what the Gospel of John is all about. In Him is life. He is the life-giving Saviour, sent into this world to redeem men and women, boys and girls, from the curse of sin and death. This is why the Father sends the Lord Jesus into the world. The whole reason why John wrote this Gospel was to tell us this: ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). ‘These things are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you might have life in His name’ (John 20:31). Salvation is in the Lord Jesus. It is not in us. He alone is the source of all life, blessedness and salvation. Man by his own will and efforts could never bring about his own redemption. Man by nature is lost in the darkness of sin and bound in the grip of death. ‘The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law’ (1 Corinthians 15: 56). In verse fourteen of our chapter we are confronted with the most awesome words in Scripture: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. The infinite Son of God, the eternal Word, the Creator of the cosmos, took a body, took human nature upon Himself, He became flesh, and dwelt among us. So that now He is fully God and fully man in one glorious person. ‘He is not humanity deified. He is not Godhead humanized. He is God. He is man. He is all that God is, and He is all that man is as God created him’ (Spurgeon). Who can fathom the mystery of the enfleshment of God! But we must ask ‘Why?’ Why did Jesus come into this world? Why did He become a frail creature of dust? Why did He walk this earth? Why did He dwell among us? And why, why did He die? He came for us men and for our salvation. That is love incomprehensible! What joy! What glory! The Lord Jesus took a human body, a human soul, a human psychology, a human mind, human affections and emotions and came to live among us to buy our pardon. He came to keep the law in full, to be perfectly holy and blameless in every way, to be a spotless lamb and to die our death, to bear our sin in His own body on that tree, to bleed and suffer in our stead, to be pieced for our iniquities, to be crushed for our transgressions and smitten with the wrath of a sin hating God, so that we, miserable sinners, might have life – everlasting life. He came to take the sting from death and the power from sin. He came to bring us life; to bring us grace and truth (v. 17). He came to rescue us from our desperation in sin.

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever:
One day He’s coming! O glorious day!

That is Gospel light. That is the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is the light that the Lord Jesus brings to the world. Indeed, He Himself is the Light of the world, and whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12).

    Yet here is the tragedy: ‘The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not comprehend it’. Most modern translations read ‘the darkness has not overcome it’. That is probably a mistranslation. It should read the darkness has not comprehended it. You see, the darkness corresponds to the world which doesn’t acknowledge Him (v. 10) and His own people who don’t welcome Him (v. 11). The world rejects Him. His own people reject Him. They walk in the darkness. John is speaking of those who refuse to believe in the Lord Jesus. They are the people of darkness who do not comprehend the light of the Gospel. They don’t appropriate the life and light of Christ. They don’t lay hold of and embrace the Lord Jesus. Now of course, it is true that the darkness will never overcome nor triumph over the light because He is the Creator of both day and night; light and darkness belong to Him. He is sovereign over all things and even the darkness unwittingly fulfils His perfect purposes. But the meaning in our text is that the darkness is the ‘antagonist’ of the Lord Jesus who is the Light of the World (cf. William Hendriksen). This darkness does not and will not accept the light. It simply doesn’t ‘get it’. It doesn’t understand the light. Men may see and hear the things of the Gospel, but apart from the supernatural work of the Spirit in their hearts, they will never truly understand and receive the truth. There is a deep darkness in heart of man, a darkness that consumes him, veils his sight, and blinds him to the things of God. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

    Basically, John is saying that there two sorts of people in this universe: There are those who walk in darkness and there are those who have been brought into the light of the Lord Christ’s grace and mercy. Where are you? Where do you stand in relation to the Light of the world? The Lord Jesus says ‘whosoever follows Me, will not walk in darkness’. Will you follow Him? Why walk in the darkness? Why hide your face from the One who freely offers eternal life to all who call upon Him? Don’t you know that Hell is place of eternal darkness? There is no light, not even a single photon. There is only darkness and misery forever. But here, right now, in this place, there is light shining amidst the darkness. There is the light of Jesus Christ. There is mercy and forgiveness, there is grace and redemption, there is full salvation in Jesus Christ for all who come to Him believing. He asks that you believe in Him. He asks that you trust Him and receive Him by faith. And those who do believe in Him will never perish but enjoy life and light, joy unspeakable full of glory, blessedness and happiness forever in glory with Jesus. The Light of the World has been the comfort of all those who have come to Him in faith. He has never let a single soul down. He never turns away those who come to Him in true belief and true repentance. ‘Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out’.

    Men are women in this world are corrupted to the core with the darkness and stain of sin, and yet the light still shines on. That is the incredible thing. The light is like one of those frustrating candles you can buy for birthday cakes; the ones you cannot blow out. The light of the Lord Christ is an inextinguishable blaze. ‘The light shines in the darkness’. It keeps on shining despite the darkness. So now you see why some translators say, ‘The darkness has not overcome it’. Indeed, it cannot. Think about this for a moment. If we were to black out all the windows in this Church, turn off all the lights, and switch off all the electrics, it would be pitch black. But suppose I were to light a single candle, you would all see it glowing despite the vast expanse of darkness in the building. The light would go on shining. The efficacy of the first word in the work of creation is still active and powerful today: ‘Let there be light, and there was light’. And the same God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts [into the hearts of every true believer], to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). The work of salvation in the heart of a single sinner is as powerful and as majestic as the entire work of creation. If you are saved, then stand amazed at the miracle of grace wrought in your heart, give glory to God who has saved you, and shine like stars of holiness is this crooked and perverse generation.
    But there are those of you who are not saved and you know that you are walking in darkness and sin. You are aware of these things. It may be that you’ve agonised over your sins, you’ve wept bitterly into the late hours of the night, and tried to make yourself a better person. But you know in your heart that you are lost and without hope. You don't know where to turn. My friend, you need light! You need the divine and supernatural light of the Spirit of Christ. You need a new birth. You need to be born of the Spirit and washed in the grace of Christ. You need divine light to break into the darkness of your soul and heal the wound of sin. You need that new and supernatural principle to be created in your heart by the Spirit of Christ. You need that that newness of life found only in the Lord Jesus. You need the regenerating, sanctifying light of the Lord Christ. My friend, His promise is sure, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Do you believe it? Oh cling to the Light of the World with arms of faith! Reach out a grasp hold of the hem of His garment. That first step of faith may be as small as a mustard seed, yet if that faith has found root in the Light of the World, then though mountains tremble, though the earth crumble into the heart of the ocean, though Satan and all his armies rage against you, yet will the Lord Jesus keep you safe by same power with which He created the universe. Mustard seed faith is true and saving faith when it has found its resting place in Jesus.  

    I can point you to the light of the Gospel, but only Jesus Christ can impart that divine and supernatural light into your soul by His Spirit, and give you a true and inward sense of the excellency and sweetness of the divine things revealed in the Word of God. So cry out to Jesus to open your eyes and let you see. Won’t you say, ‘Lord Jesus I believe, help thou mine unbelief’? Won’t you say, ‘Lord Jesus, I want to see’? Cast yourself wholly upon Him, for He is mighty to save and will keep you safe forever. He who spoke light into being is surely able to speak light and life into your heart. May God give you the grace to sing:   

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Charles Wesley (1707–88)

    The Lord Jesus is eternally divine. He is the Creator God and the source of all true light, life and salvation. May God give you the grace to see and believe it is so. Amen.

References & Further Reading
Calvin, John, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, vol. xvii (Baker Books).
Carson, D. A., The Gospel According to John (IVP).
Carter, Tom (ed.), 2200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (Baker Books).
Edwards, Jonathan, ‘A Divine and Supernatural Light’, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth). 
Evans, Eifion, The Life and Work of William Williams, Pantycelyn (Bryntirion Press).
Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John (Banner of Truth).
Lloyd-Jones, M. D., Born of God: Sermons from John Chapter 1 (Banner of Truth).
Macleod, Donald, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine (Christian Focus). See chapters 3, 4, and 10 in particular.
Matthew Henry, Commentary: Matthew to John, vol. 5 (Hendrickson).
Milne, Bruce, The Message of John: Here is your King! (IVP).
Morgan, Derec Llwyd, The Great Awakening in Wales (Epworth Press), translated from the Welsh by Dyfnallt Morgan.
Ryle, J. C., Expository Thoughts on John, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth).


Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:3-10).
    This is one of the greatest passages of Scripture. You cannot help but feel that Paul is totally overwhelmed with the subject matter. In the original Greek the sentences from verse 3 to 14 are all one long sentence (220 words!). There are no full stops. He is so caught up with the wonder of these blessings in Christ that he doesn’t even pause for breath. But not only is he conveying the wonder of these great truths to us, he is also showing that they must all be taken together or not at all. These many blessing are united as one and the glue that holds them all together is the Lord Jesus Christ. These blessings are so knit together that they all make up but one blessing. Where God gives any one of them, He gives all of them (ad. John Trapp). So we see that biblical truth is like the hexagonal segments on a football. Remove any one segment and the ball falls flat. These great doctrines are like masonry in an archway, if you begin to remove bricks then the archway will crumble to pieces. So it is all or nothing. Every piece of truth in this passage counts. You cannot say, ‘I will believe in adoption and redemption but not election and predestination’. You cannot say, ‘I will believe in a great inheritance, but not in redemption by Jesus blood’. We have no right to pick and choose which truths we will believe. This is God’s holy and infallible Word and we are called to believe, teach, preach, and live by the whole counsel of God. Every word of Scripture counts. Half a Christianity is no Christianity at all; it is a crumbling archway, a flat ball faith. Moreover, this passage is not an optional extra for upper crust Christians; these privileges are for every true child of God to believe and enjoy. These things should not daunt us or make us bitter; these are truths to rejoice in and blessings to cherish because they all centre on that one great Person – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the central hub around which these blessings revolve because all of them are found ‘in Christ’, ‘in Him’. Think of it like a bicycle wheel: Christ is at the centre and the blessings are the spokes. The plan of salvation has this Christological focus. Christ is the sum and centre of God’s eternal plan. And what a plan it is! It is inconceivable that a loving and merciful God would create this entire universe, create men and women in His own image and likeness, but not make a plan for His creation and for His people. Of course He has a plan. He is not a divine watchmaker. He didn’t wind up the mechanics of this universe and then leave us to our own devices. On the contrary, He is personally and intimately in involved in His creation. So He has the plan of all plans; a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in Christ. I came across this hymn while reading Geoff Thomas’ sermons on Ephesians on the internet:

Hail, sovereign love that first began
The plan to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
That gave my soul a hiding-place.
(Jehoida Brewer 1752-1817)

    Jesus Christ is the one who unites this plan together. The most important words in this text are ‘in Him’. Christians are savingly blessed in Him. We chosen in Him, predestined to be sons through Him, redeemed in Him, we obtain an inheritance in Him, we believe in Him, our hope is in Him, and we are sealed by the Spirit in Him. The Father has ‘blessed us’ (v.3) through the Son by ‘making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth’ (v.9-10). ‘Just as a great landowner appoints a manager to put into execution his plans for the estate, so the Father has given Christ full authority to administer and bring to completion the entire plan of salvation’ (G. B. Wilson).

    Undoubtedly, there is a Trinitarian dynamic here. The three persons of the Godhead are united in their purpose to save a people for themselves. They cooperate and work together to bring about the salvation of souls. We could certainly examine the text before us from this Trinitarian perspective. However, I would like us focus upon the saving blessings found by virtue of being ‘in Christ’. This idea of being ‘in Christ’ means that we are united to Him. This union is ‘that intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation’ (Louis Berkhof). In ourselves there is no hope because we are sinners, but in Christ there is every hope of full salvation, rich and free. They who gain Christ lose nothing and win everything. There is this fullness, this completeness, this finality to the work of redemption. God does not offer fallen men and women the mere possibility of salvation. The Lord Christ did not suffer and die in order to make salvation merely possible. He died to save. The final salvation of God’s people is absolutely certain. There are no loopholes, no flaws, in the plan of God.

What from Christ my soul can sever, 
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in Him, in Him forever,
Thus the eternal cov'nant stands:
From the Strength of Israel’s hands.
(John Kent, 1766-1834)
    There is much that could be said about these verses. You could spend a few months opening up the treasures of each verse. When you look upon a great painting, you could explore all the various elements – the foreground, the middle distance, the background, the textures, the choice of colours and tones, and the activities within the painting that grab your attention. But the best way to get an overall understanding of the painting would be to take a step back and survey the whole. This is what I would like us to do with the text before us, we don’t have time to consider everything, and so I’d like us to look specifically at verses 3 to 10. 

    1] The Christian is chosen before the creation of the world (1:4). Paul says that ‘God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world’. This choosing, electing, selecting work of God is the basis for all the other blessing that follow. So you cannot take this truth out. It is the foundation and groundwork upon which all the others rest. ‘If the foundations are destroyed, what shall the righteous do?’ (Psalm 11:3). Paul does not say that we chose God, but that God chose us. The Apostle John puts it like this: ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). ‘The only ground of God’s love is His love. The ground of God’s love is only and wholly within Himself. There is neither love nor loveliness in us that should cause a beam of His love to shine upon us’ (Thomas Brooks). God doesn't love us because we first loved Him; rather, God’s love for His elect children is the ground of their love to Him. His love is the fountain, ours the stream. The attribute of God’s love is the motive, the incentive, and the wellspring of ours.

     But for some reason, this wonderful doctrine has been terribly controversial, and yet here it is, so clearly explained by Paul in our text. God, before the foundation of the world, knowing that mankind would fall and rebel in sin, chose to save a people for Himself to the praise of His mercy and grace (Romans 9:17-23). Paul says that the Father chose us in Him. The ‘us’ here refers specifically to the saints who are in Ephesus, they who are faithful in Christ Jesus. Paul is not saying that God has chosen everybody, but a particular people, a people that includes Paul, the Ephesian Christians, and all those who God has eternally planned to save. Notice that those whom God chooses are chosen ‘in Christ’. Their names have been written upon the palms of His hands in marks of indelible grace. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation and so if sinners are to be saved, then they must be saved ‘in Him’. God delivers His people out of the estate of sin and misery and brings them into a state of salvation only through Jesus, the Redeemer of God’s elect. John Calvin describes this work of election ‘as a registering of us in writing’ in which ‘Jesus Christ serves as a register. It is in Him that we are written down and acknowledged by God as His children. Seeing, then, that God had an eye to us in the person of Jesus Christ, it follows that He did not find anything in us which we might lay before Him to cause Him to elect us’. There was nothing ‘in us’ worth saving because by nature we are vile and full of sin, by nature we are children of wrath, and so it is that God chose us ‘in Christ’. Do you understand what Paul is saying? This is a very basic Christian truth. There is nothing in us meritorious of salvation. No amount of good works, efforts, decisions, or resolutions on our part can bring salvation to us. Salvation is not by works but by grace alone. Paul goes on to say in the second chapter that by nature we are ‘dead in our trespasses and sins’, there was not an ounce of spiritual life in our hearts, not a drop of faith, not an inkling of love toward God. We were spiritually dead, not partially dead, not half dead, not un-dead, but dead, really and truly dead to God. And dead men don’t contribute anything to their salvation. They are wholly and totally dependent upon God. This is why salvation must be ‘in Christ’. He alone is the source of true life, blessedness and salvation. That God should choose to save some by giving them new life ‘in Christ’ is a tremendous testimony to His mercy and grace. Paul’s point in this text is that we are chosen ‘in Christ’. We are made worthy and well pleasing to God, ‘In Him’ alone.

    Now this work of election was not some accidental backup plan. It was not some historical afterthought. God did not look down upon man some time after the fall and think ‘Oh crumbs, I’d better choose to save some of them’. It has always been God’s eternal purpose to choose and save a people for Himself through Christ Jesus. This is why Paul says that we were chosen before the foundation (the creation) of the world. God’s people were chosen for salvation in the depths of eternity. But why were we chosen? What did God have in mind for us? Pauls says that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. And from this it follows that we were not elected because we were holy, but in order that we may be holy. If men are chosen in order to become holy, then they cannot be chosen because they were already holy. Holiness is the evidence of election, not the ground for it. Sometimes people abuse the doctrine of grace, they say ‘because God is so gracious then let us live how we please’. But Paul says, ‘Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? May it never be’ (Romans 6:1). You have been chosen to live holy and blameless lives. The doctrine of sovereign election should move us to diligently live holy lives that are well pleasing to God. Matthew Henry puts it like this: All who are chosen to happiness as the end are chosen to holiness as the means. Their sanctification, as well as their salvation, is the result of the counsels of divine love.

    Those whom God chooses He changes. Those whom God saves He sanctifies. If you think about it, holiness is the only fitting response to God’s grace. How can we not desire to love, serve and obey the one who has lavished such love upon us? It is a believer’s privilege and delight to live to the glory of God. Of course, none of us will ever be perfectly holy in this life, the blamelessness and holiness that Paul has in view here is that perfect state of righteousness found only in heaven. Here, on earth, holiness is a struggle; it is a fight with sin, a war with the world, and battle with Satan. But we must persevere by the grace of God, we must run the race until we see His face, we must fight the good fight and make our calling and election sure.

    So I think that it is sufficiently clear from all of this that God teaches sovereign election in His Word, and we must believe it because God’s Word teaches it. We need no other reason than that. We should not be ashamed of this doctrine; we should not hide it from others, but proclaim the gracious election of God from the rooftops. It is precisely because there is such a thing as election that there is such a thing as salvation. So this doctrine humbles all our pride, doesn’t it? We cannot contribute one brass bean to our salvation. It is all of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We can do nothing to save ourselves – God alone saves sinners. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8). But if you don’t believe this truth, then you don’t truly believe that salvation is by grace alone. You leave some place for human merit, effort and pride. But this assumption of human autonomy and ability in the sphere of salvation lies at the very heart of sin and unbelief. Charles Spurgeon said, ‘It always seems inexplicable to me that those who claim free will so very boldly for man should not also allow some free will to God. Why should not Jesus Christ have the right to choose His own bride?’ Why should not God have the right to choose His own children? So here is the doctrine of God’s sovereign choice set before you so very clearly in the words of the Apostle Paul. If only those of us who struggle with this doctrine could see that it lies at the heart of salvation by grace! If only we who believe could see that God has chosen us for salvation! Why if we could see and feel the beauty of this truth, we would dance for joy. I believe wholeheartedly that God will save His own elect. This doctrine is the basis for all the other blessings of salvation in our text. And it is because I know that God will save a people for Himself that I can say with confidence to any man, ‘Come and welcome Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour’. Because I know that God will save a people for Himself, I have the utmost confidence that the Gospel message will not be proclaimed in vain, but believed on by all whom God favours. It is impossible for God’s Word to return unto Him void (Isaiah 55:11). The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation, far from destroying human responsibility, actually establishes it. We are responsible to repent and believe the Gospel precisely because God is sovereign. The doctrine of election is the heartbeat of divine, sovereign grace and it is given to us so that we might be confident in proclaiming salvation by grace alone.

In love eternal Thou didst choose
To save Thy sheep; their bonds to loose.
No good did we within us have
To claim Thy gracious plan to save.
Elected by Thy grace alone;
Made holy to stand before Thy throne!

 None can pluck me; none can pluck me
(Rev. Paul Treick)

    This very grace is the only hope for men and women in a fallen world. It is the only hope for the Church. ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). Let us praise God for Jesus Christ has said, ‘I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her’ (Matthew 16:18). Let us be confident in evangelism and in praying for mission because we know that God has chosen a people for Himself and will most certainly save them from their sins. He is the God who declares the end from the beginning. He is the God who has said, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’ (Isaiah 46:10). His plan to save a people for Himself will not and cannot fail.

    2] The Christian is predestined for adoption into the family of God (1:5-6). This is exactly what Paul says, ‘In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved’ (1:5-6). The wellspring and source of predestination is the loving heart of the Father. ‘In love He predestined us’. This isn’t a cold and impersonal fate; it isn’t randomness, chance or luck. The source of our salvation, of our predestination for adoption the family of God, is the good pleasure and love of God. So if you didn’t get it from the previous verse, Paul presses this point further by commending divine love and grace to us again and again. God has predestined His people, according to the good pleasure of His will, for the adoption as sons, and has made us acceptable in His sight by grace. In adopting us, God does not inquire what we are, how we have lived, or where we have come from, and He is not moved to love us by any personal worth of our own (for we have none). This love, this predestinating love, this adopting love is free, unmerited, undeserved, gracious, sovereign and divine. You cannot force God’s hand in this matter. He is the one adopting, not us. And surely, He has the right to eternally destine for adoption those whom He will. His single motive is His eternal good pleasure.

    Notice that we are blessed with the privilege of adoption ‘in Christ the Beloved’. This name of the Beloved is set before us to remind us that by Him the love of God is communicated to us. All the communications of divine grace, love, and mercy come to us through Jesus Christ. Don’t you see? The Father loves Jesus Christ and us ‘in Him’. You remember what the Father said at the Lord Christ’s baptism, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). And, so, if we are united to Christ, then we are loved by the Father. The Lord Christ is, in every way, infinitely lovely. He is the lily of the valleys, the rose of Sharon. He is white and ruddy, fair to see. He is the fairest among ten thousand. He is altogether lovely. So when the Father looks upon us, by virtue of our union with Christ, He does not see our many sins but He sees the beauty and glory of His own Son. ‘We are hateful in ourselves as sinners, but accepted in Christ as sons’ (Matthew Poole).  The Lord Christ ‘is the treasury in which the Father disposes all the riches of His grace, taken from the bottomless mine of His eternal love’ (John Owen). The Father sent His beloved Son into the world in order to bring fallen sinners back to God –and brought back, not merely to have the slate wiped clean and grime of sin removed, but to be declared sons and daughters of the living God, and to know that never-ending fellowship with God Himself.

    J. I. Packer once wrote: ‘If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father’. The greatest privilege of salvation is adoption into the family of God. In the new birth, we are given a new heart with new desires, we given newness of life, faith and repentance are created in our hearts, and we are given that divine and supernatural light, that new sense to perceive, understand and embrace the great things of the Gospel. In justification, we are declared ‘not guilty’ in the law courts of heaven. We are legally and forensically declared to be right with God, right with the righteousness of Christ. In sanctification, we are progressively conformed to be more like Jesus Christ. Sins are chiselled away and Christ-like virtues are cemented on. But in adoption, we are carried beyond all these things. In adoption, we are carried into the loving bosom of our heavenly Father and declared to be His own children. There can be no higher privilege, no sweeter assurance, and no greater love shown toward sinners, than to be called children of the living God.

Behold the amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestowed
On us, the sinful sons of men,
To call us sons of God!
(Isaac Watts 1674-1748)

    John tells us that ‘Jesus Christ came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God’. Christ will never be without followers. Though many reject Him, still some will receive Him. To those who receive He gives the greatest privilege that can ever be received. To those who receive Him, who believe in Him, He gives the right to become children of God. If you believe in Jesus Christ, He adopts you in to His own family. He becomes your Elder Brother and His Father becomes your Father. He’ll count you as His own brother or sister, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. He will make you sons and daughters of the living God. This great privilege belongs to all who receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour, to all who come to Him believing, and follow Him as their King. Those who trust in Him are children of God. Yes, they will be despised and rejected by the world, just like Jesus was, but they will be loved forever by their heavenly Father. Those who trust in Jesus are cared for with an infinite love by the Father in heaven, who, for His Son’s sake, is well pleased with them. In eternity He will give them a crown of glory that fades not away and a seat at His table. These are great privileges, but only faith in Christ will give you title to such blessings. We cannot know the secret will of God, we cannot tell whom God has chosen for adoption. The secret things belong to God alone but we know that His revealed promises are sure. The Bible is clear: if you receive Christ as Lord and Saviour, if you believe in His name, you will be adopted into the family of God. Adoption belongs only to those who trust in Jesus. God is not the Father of those who have not received His Son.

    3] The Christian is redeemed through Christ’s blood (1:7-8). In Him we have redemption through His blood’ (1:7). The sovereign purpose of election is fulfilled through Christ’s redemption. It is not merely that Christ has made salvation possible by His death. He has truly purchased life for His elect people by His death. The Cross reveals God’s power to actually save. J. I. Packer puts it like this: ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people’. His precious blood really does save His people from their sins. The saving power of the blood of Christ does not reside in man’s faith, the saving power of the cross does not depend upon man’s faith or works being added to it; its saving power is such that faith itself flows from it. The Cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died (ad. J. I. Packer). ‘God forbid,’ says Paul, ‘that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 4:14). There is no room for self-glorification. No flesh can glory in the light of the Cross. Our confession of faith is this: God saves sinners; Jesus Christ has redeemed us by His own precious blood.

There is a path of pardon
In His blood;
There is a sure salvation
In His blood!
The Law’s full consummation,
A Father’s approbation!
In His blood–
Atonement and redemption
In His blood! In His blood!
Williams Williams (1801-76)

This work of redemption is not in us but ‘in Him’. The path of pardon is in His blood. The guilt and stain of sin could only be removed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The elect people of God, His Church, could only be saved through the substitutionary death of His Son. This is why we call Him Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He did not die in vain. Isaiah says that ‘He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied’ (Isaiah 53:11).
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation
By water and the Word;
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
(Samuel John Stone, 1839-1900)

    He died for His Church and bought her with His own blood. He has paid the price for sin. He has rescued us by ransom. The blood reminds us of that painful and shameful death. It reminds of the violence He suffered for our sakes. It reminds us that He willingly endured the death of the Cross as our substitute. The death we deserved, He died. He died our death. The death we deserved died in the death of Christ. The people of God have life because Christ died. Let us never forget that. Let us treasure this glorious truth with all our hearts, for it is the very heartbeat of our faith. What Wales today need? It needs preachers, elders, deacons, laymen, who will stand up for Jesus and be soldiers of the Cross. Oh may God send us more preachers who are on fire with the Cross and whose only glory shall be the Saviour who loved them and gave Himself for them!    

    ‘In him we have redemption through His blood; the forgiveness of our trespasses’. In Him is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. There is this linking of ‘forgiveness’ with the death of Christ. This shows that the remission, the removal, the cancellation of our sins and the penalty due to us is founded upon the price He paid for us. He paid the debt we owed. We all, each one of us, owe a great debt. Our sins are stacked against us. We are deeply in the red. We have trespassed the standard of God’s absolute righteousness. We have broken His holy laws. Every one of us stands in desperate need of His forgiveness. There is only one way to receive such forgiveness. You must come to Christ and receive Him by faith. Forgiveness is found only in Him. You can never pay off your debt. Redemption, the forgiveness of sins, is found in Him alone.

There was none other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.
(Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-95)

    The good news is that this costly forgiveness is freely offered to all. ‘You don’t need to bring one penny. God is rich enough’ (Thomas Goodwin). He lavishes these blessings upon His people according to the riches of His grace. ‘Who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things’ (Romans 11:35-36). We have no riches to bring, but He gives us infinite riches in Jesus. Isaiah says that ‘He will abundantly pardon’ (Isaiah 55:7). You may have a great abundance of sin. Your sins may be stacked like skyscrapers against you. But here, in Christ, there is abundant pardon. You may mourn an abundant hardness of heart. But the abundant pardon found in Christ will melt your hard heart like candle wax. There truly is forgiveness for all who call upon the name of the Lord. He cries aloud, ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come; buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1). Are you thirsting for the grace of God and the blessings of the gospel? Are you poor and heavy laden? Those who are most worthless and wicked, the poorest of the poor, if they do but thirst, they are welcome to come and buy to receive that wine and milk which is freely offered in the Gospel. The wine and milk speak of the sweetness and luxury of Gospel blessings; in particular, that peace and joy that comes with the forgiveness of sins, joys which are better than wine and a love which nourishes the soul, as milk does the body. Come to Christ and find salvation full and free.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity joined with power;
He is able, He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more!
(Joseph Hart, 1712-68)
Practical Uses
    1] Of comfort for believers: The Christian is part of God’s master plan; a plan which began in eternity and swoops down into history in the death of Christ; a plan which centres upon this remarkable person, the Lord Jesus Christ. God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ. This is a plan for the fullness of time, a plan to unite all things in Him, our living head, things in heaven and things on earth. Eternity and time collide together in this incredible plan – a plan to unite the immortal son of God with the mortal sons of sinful men. This incredible plan of salvation shows us that we are totally dependent upon the grace of God for our salvation.

Grace first inscribed my name,
In God's eternal book:
`Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace taught my soul to pray,
And pardoning love to know,
`Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.
(Phillip Doddridge, 1702-51)

My grandmother has lots of chiming clocks in her house – some go ‘cuckoo,’ others ‘ding dong’ and so on. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a clock that chimed, on the hour, every hour, ‘by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:8)? Charles Spurgeon thought that everyone should have just such a clock. We need to remind ourselves of this awesome fact as often as we can. Oh that such grace would cause us to praise Him more, live to His glory and enjoy His riches forever!  

    2] Of exhortation for unbelievers: Death is a terrible reality. You could die today, tomorrow, a week from now, twenty, thirty, forty, years from now – the question is: are you ready to die? One day you will be gone from this earth and immediately you will stand in the presence of your Maker. Are you ready for that? He will know everything about you – all your sins, all your words, deeds, all your thoughts, He will know them all. Who will be your advocate? Without Christ, you will stand alone; alone before your God. What will you plead? What will you say to the almighty God? Will you offer Him excuses? You have none. ‘For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made’ (Romans 1:20). So you are without excuse. The Lord Christ died for sinners like you and offers salvation to all who will savingly believe in Him. But how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

    This is serious. This is not a joke. This is not religiosity. Your eternity is at stake. Yet you lack conviction of your sinfulness before a holy God and imagine that you are somehow good enough. You are not sensible of the seriousness and exceeding sinfulness of sin, and how dreadfully your sin has provoked the one true God unto anger. You are held above the fiery pit of God’s wrath by a string as thin as a spider’s web and should your string of life break and death come sweeping upon you, then you will know that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But, right now, you are alive and well. You do not see your sins nor feel their weight. You are insensible of the heinousness of sin, as sin against God Himself, and of the unrelenting opposition of the holy nature of God against all that is evil. Our God is of purer eyes than to even look upon sin and His wrath is unimaginably great. The Bible says that you must come to Jesus today and that you must trust in Him, in order to partake of the great plan of salvation. Jesus Christ is your only hope. Don’t you feel the weight of sin hanging upon your shoulders? If not, ask Him to show you your sins. But do more than that, plead with Him to forgive you and accept you in Christ. Don’t go to sleep until you know that you are safe in the arms of Jesus.

 Hail, sovereign love that first began
The plan to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
That gave my soul a hiding-place.
(Jehoida Brewer 1752-1817)

References & Further Reading
Beeke, Joel, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (RHB). See chapters 7, 15, 16, and 30 in particular.
Berkhof, Louis, ‘The Mystical Union’ in Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth), pp. 447–53. 
Calvin, John, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, vol. xxi (Baker Books).
Carter, Tom (ed.), 2200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (Baker Books).
Henry, Matthew, Commentary: Acts to Revelation, vol. 6 (Hendrickson)
Macleod, Donald, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine (Christian Focus). See chapters 5 and 9 in particular.
Paker, J. I., Knowing God (Hodder & Stoughton)
Packer, J. I., “‘Saved by his precious blood’: an introduction to John Owen’s ‘The Death of Death in the Death of Christ’”, in Among God’s Giants: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Eastbourne, 1991), pp. 163–195.   
Poole Matthew, Commentary on the Holy Bible: Matthew to Revelation, vol. 3 (Hendrickson)
Thomas, Geoffrey, Sermons on Ephesians (www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk)
Thomas, I. D. E., A Puritan Golden Treasury (Banner of Truth).  
Wilson, Geoffrey B., New Testament Commentaries: Romans to Ephesians, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth).