John Flavel (1627 – 1691) published a collection of sermons entitled “Christ Knocking at the Door of Sinners’ Hearts” based on Revelation 3:20. here is the verse in context:
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
Flavel says, as is clear from his title, that Revelation 3:20 “is Christ’s wooing voice, full of heavenly rhetoric to win and gain the hearts of sinners to himself.”
It is important to note that “sinner” refers to unbelievers. Believer’s also sin, of course, but once they are born again, they are no longer given the biblical appellation “sinner.” I’m reminded of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
John Stott also speaks of God standing at the door waiting for sinners to let him in:
“Yes Jesus Christ says he is standing at the door of our lives, waiting.” (Stott is talking to the unsaved, those who are dead in sin, the unsaved – Ephesians 2). “He is the landlord; he bought it with his life-blood. He could command us to open to Him; instead, he merely invites us to do so. He will not force and entry into anybody’s life. He says (verse 18) ‘I counsel you.’ he could issue orders; he is content to give advice. Such are his condescension and humility, and the freedom he has given us” (John Stott, “Basic Christianity,” Intervaristy Press, 1958, p. 124).
Alexander Mclaren resonates with Stott:
“He holds back the vengeance that is ready to fall and will one day fall ‘on all disobedience.’ Not till all other means have been patiently tried will He let that terrible ending crash down. It hangs over the heads of many of us who are all unaware that we walk beneath the shadow of a rock that at any moment may be set in motion and bury us beneath its weight. It is ‘in readiness,’ but it is still at rest. Let us be wise in time and yield to the merciful weapons with which Jesus would make His way into our hearts. Or if the metaphor of our text presents Him in too warlike a guise, let us listen to His own gentle pleading, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.’” (Mclaren, “A militant message”).
Those two arm-in-arm commentaries are obviously Arminian in spirit. Here is the Calvinist interpretation from Charles Spurgeon, which I consider to be the correct one. Spurgeon is addressing the depressed Christian:
“Let me speak to the depressed, and remind them that the prayer is instructive, for it shows that all that is wanted for a forsaken, forgotten spirit is that God should visit it again. “Remember me, O Lord. Anybody else’s remembering can do me no good, but if thou only give one thought toward thy servant, it is all done. Lord, I have been visited by the pastor, and he tried to cheer me. I have had a visit in the preaching of the gospel in the morning and the evening of thy day. I went to thy table, and I did not get encouragement there. But, Lord, do thou visit me!” A visit from Christ is the cure for all spiritual diseases. I have frequently reminded you of that in the address to the Church at Laodicea. The Church at Laodicea was neither cold nor hot, and Christ said that he would spue it out of his mouth; but do you know how he speaks of it as if he would cure it? “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me.” That is not an address to sinners. It is sometimes used so, but it is rent out of its connection. It is evidently an address to a church of God, or a child of God, who has lost the presence and the light of God’s countenance. All you want is a visit from Christ. All you want is that once again your communion should be restored; and I do bless the Lord that he can do that of a sudden, in a moment! He can make thy soul, “or ever it is aware, like the chariots of Ammi-nadib.” You may have come here to-night about as dead in soul as you could be, but the flashes of eternal life can reach you, and kindle a soul within, within the ribs of your old dead nature once again. You may have felt as if it was all over, and the last spark of grace had gone out; but when the Lord visits his people, he makes the wilderness and the solitary place to rejoice, and the desert to blossom as the rose. I do pray it may be such a happy hour to you that the prayer may be fulfilled, “Visit me with thy salvation.” I have great sympathy with those that are cast down. God, the comfort of those that are cast down, comfort you! May he bring you out who are bound with chains; and you solitary ones, may he set you in families! And I do not know a wiser method for you to pursue than incessantly to cry unto him; and let this be the prayer, “Remember me — me — with the favor which thou bearest to thy people: O visit me with thy salvation” (Spurgeon’s sermon “Psalm 106:4 Fine Pleading”).
Here is Revelation 3:20 again:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”
In the context of this Revelation 3:20 passage, “anyone” does not refer to anyone in the world, but to any one of the believers on the other side of the door of the “church.” In other words, a believer needs to grow closer to Christ, needs to grow up in Christ, needs to be in closer communion (“sup”) with Him. The “anyone” on the other side of the door is not a blanket whosoever, blind and naked; he is the whoever who has heard “my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
The whole controversy revolves round the question: “How does one come to faith in Christ?” How does one come to believe? Back up to John 5:21: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will (John 5:21-23). With regard to unbelievers in Christ, there’s nothing in the Bible about “any searchings of heart, any exercises of conscience, any sense of need, any felt desire after Christ. It is simply Christ, in Divine sufficiency, speaking to spiritually dead souls, empowering them (by sovereign “quickening”) to hear.” A.W. Pink.
To return to John Flavel: he is not an Arminian at all but Calvinist to the core because he believes that regeneration precedes faith. Yet this is hard to reconcile with his description of Christ waiting to be admitted: “I stand at the door and knock” that “the word is fitly translated, “I stand,” yet so as that it notes a continual action. I have stood, and do still stand with unwearied patience; I once stood personally and bodily among you in the days of my flesh, and I still stand spiritually and representatively in my ambassadors at the door, that is, the mind and conscience, the faculties and powers which are introductory to the whole soul. The word “door” is here properly put to signify those introductory faculties of the soul, which are of like use to it, as the door is to the house. This is the Redeemer’s posture, his action is knocking, that is, his powerful and gracious attempts to open the heart to give him admission. The word “knock” signifies a strong and powerful knock; he stands patiently, and knocks powerfully by the word outwardly, by the convictions, motions, impulses, and strivings of his Spirit inwardly.”
In his next paragraph, what he says about Lydia seems to contradict the depiction of Christ standing patiently and knocking powerfully – waiting for what else than for the person inside to open the door, surely?
“The design and end of the suit; it is for “opening” to him, that is, consenting, receiving, and heartily accepting him by faith. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, Acts 16 : 14; that is, persuaded her soul to believe; implying that the heart by nature is strongly barred and locked up against Christ, and that nothing but a power from him can open it.”
And many other instances in his sermons on Revelation 3:20 where it is Christ who unlocks the door:
“The spiritual presence of Christ is necessary for the preparation and opening of the people’s heart to receive and embrace the gospel to salvation. Not a heart will open to receive Christ till the Spirit of Christ unlock it.”
“The opening of any man’s heart to receive Christ, is a clear, scriptural evidence of the Lord’s love to and setting apart that man for himself from eternity.”
“The opening of your hearts to receive the Lord Jesus Christ is not a work done by any power of your own, but the arm of the Lord is revealed therein.”
“An opening heart to Christ is a work wholly and altogether supernatural; a special work of the Spirit of God, never found upon any but an elect soul.”
Flavel is therefore monergistic (almost?) to the core. If so, does it make sense to say that Jesus woos whosoever is dead (in sin)? I suggest no. Jesus is not standing at the door of a sinner’s heart asking to come in; he is standing in the front of the round stone of a sepulchre calling forth a rotten corpse to life. Christ raises sinners from the dead, his grace (mercy) breaks the bondage of the human will. That is why it is called amazing grace. In Revelation 3:19 we read “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Thus, those whom Jesus loves – his elect whom his father gave him before the creation of the world and therefore to whom he shall (certainly) give eternal life – cannot be “whosoever” (everyone without exception). If this is true, why would Jesus ask those he loves (Revelation 3:19) to repent? That’s easy: not only unbelievers but also believers sin and so need to repent.
The difficulty of reconciling wooing and (God unilaterally) unlocking hearts may have something to do with the doctrine of the “free offer of the Gospel,” that is, the offer of the Gospel to whosoever.