The gift: The reward of suffering

I examine the meaning of gift and reward and their relationship to salvation. The key motifs are based on the italicised portions in John 6.

 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” …60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offence at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

In this passage, it is clear that the reason why a sinner comes to (believes in) Christ is because the Father has (previously; in eternity) given the sinner to the Son. And if you do come, you will be given eternal life. We see the same promise in John 17:6 –  “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” This promise was decreed from eternity: Titus 1:2, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.”

Every whosoever is familiar with John 3:16 – “God so loved the world 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The word “whoever,” or “Whosoever,” evokes for the English speaker the melodramatic notion “whoever chooses to believe.” A better translation, is “God loved the world in such a way that he gave his son, that those believing in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Here is Matthew Henry on John 3:16: “Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God’s love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world!”

And the “Pulpit Commentary”:

The Divine love is the sublime source of the whole proceeding, and it has been lavished on “the world.” This world cannot be the limited “world” of the Augustinian, Calvinian interpreters – the world of the elect; it is that “whole world” of which St. John speaks in 1 John 2:2. “God will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). Calvin himself says, “Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.” (See Commentaries on John 3:16).

The “world’ in 1 John 2:2, contrary to the Arminian view above, comprises those that were given to the Son before the world began (John 6:37-44 above), not those in the world who are those not given to the Son before the world began; as it says in John 17, Jesus does not pray (intercede) for the “world” (the non-elect) but only for those whom the Father gives him, gave Him from eternity. These consist of the disciples Jesus was praying for in John 17 as well as those who will come to believe in the future. The “all”  in 1 Timothy 2:4 cannot refer to everyone without exception, for at least two reasons:

  1. Many are not saved, which means God would be a massive failure, making nonsense of Isaiah 46:9-10 – “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”

2. The import of the “given” verses in John 6:37-44 and John 17 discussed above.

Yes, Calvin says God loves (with a saving love) the human race, not animals, not any other kind of being. This does not mean every individual, but only those who were given: from the Jewish nation and the “nations” (Goyim – Gentiles); those who formed “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

Salvation, the whole process – those the Father gives to the Son, regeneration, repentance and faith, sanctification and glorification – is of the Lord. Therefore – as I recently read in an Anglican Purpose Statement, “we cannot save ourselves and salvation is through (my italics) Christ and Christ alone.” Don’t, however, be deceived. Because this statement is from an Anglican view, therefore an Arminian view, it does not mean that salvation is “of the Lord” (Jonah 2;9) alone, that is by Christ ALONE. What Anglicans, in general, mean is that there is no other external (outside oneself) entity by which one can be saved. The typical Arminian belief is that God is only a possible saviour, and therefore the Father is unable to give you to the Son unless he foresees that you will grant him permission to do so. So, Christ is the possible saviour, and has a great plan for your life – unless you have other plans. Can there be such a person as a real saviour, a saviour who doesn’t depend on the hand he is dealt, and if so, who is this amazing being? You, of course. That is the logical outcome of the Arminian position – praying on his knees for God to change people’s hearts but on his feet defending their “God-given” right to change it themselves.

In the John 6 passage above, we saw that sinners are the Father’s gift to the son. The next question is: Was there anything good (righteous) in those specific sinners that influenced the Father to give them to the son? By “good” is not meant loving kindness, but primarily acknowledging and bowing before Christ as Saviour and Lord – out of which flows loving kindness. No one, in the natural, therefore sinful, state wants to confess Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, Psalm 14:1-3).

Therefore, you can only want to come to Christ, to see his kingdom, if he puts that desire into you. How do you get this desire. It should be simple (to understand) but often is not: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3). So, before you can believe, you need to see, and before you can see, you need to be born again. Here, in contrast, is the Arminian view: “I see Christ, then with some help from his indispensable grace I open my door to him, and then believe. Next, I ask Him to regenerate me (make me born again). The unregenerate puts the cart before the horse. Who cares, as long as there is a cart and the horse; we’ll find out in heaven what comes first!

I move on to the second part of my title: reward.

In Did the Father turn his face away in sorrow from the Cross?. I examined the following verse in the song “How deep the father’s love for us.”

How great the pain of searing loss,

The Father turns His face away

As wounds which mar the chosen One,

Bring many sons to glory

This verse is saying that the reason why the Father turned his face away was because of the great pain he felt at crucifying his son. Pure conjecture, and sentimental conjecture at that. A mystic, though, could very well be better informed.

Previously, I argued that the Father gave a definite number of sinners (the elect) to the Son as a gift, which, I should add, was predestined from eternity (Ephesians 1). Believers are the Father’s gift to the Son. Or more accurately, The Father, by His wise secret counsel, gave sinners whom he elected to salvation to the Son. Consider this gift in the light of “reward.”

Here is another verse from the song above, “Did the Father turn his face away in sorrow from the Cross?. This verse mentions the Son’s reward:

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom.

What is Christ’s reward? The first line of the verse tells us that saved sinners feel unworthy to share in Christ’s reward. What can this reward be? An extra thousand cattle on an extra thousand hills – spiritual cattle on spiritual hills, if you like? More glory than He had before He came to earth? No, because Christ cannot have more glory than he had before he came to earth: John 17: 4 “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

Here is an excerpt from Paris Reidhead’s sermon “Ten Shekels and a Shirt” regarded as one of the best sermons of all time, and rightly so. The emphases are his:

“I went out there motivated by humanism. I’d seen pictures of lepers, I’d seen pictures of ulcers, I’d seen pictures of native funerals, and I didn’t want my fellow human beings to suffer in Hell eternally after such a miserable existence on earth. But it was there in Africa that God began to tear THROUGH THE OVERLAY OF THIS HUMANISM! And it was that day in my bedroom with the door locked that I wrestled with God. For here was I, coming to grips with the fact that the people I thought were ignorant and wanted to know how to go to heaven and were saying “Someone come teach us”, actually didn’t want to take time to talk with me or anybody else. They had no interest in the Bible and no interest in Christ, and they loved their sin and wanted to continue in it. And I was to that place at that time where I felt the whole thing was a sham and a mockery, and I had been sold a bill of goods! And I wanted to come home.

 There alone in my bedroom AS I FACED GOD HONESTLY WITH WHAT MY HEART FELT, it seemed to me I heard Him say, “Yes, will not the Judge of all the earth do right? The Heathen are lost. And they’re going to go to Hell, not because they haven’t heard the gospel. They’re going to go to Hell because they are sinners, WHO LOVE THEIR SIN! And because they deserve Hell. BUT, I didn’t send you out there for them. I didn’t send you out there for their sakes.” And I heard as clearly as I’ve ever heard, though it wasn’t with physical voice but it was the echo of truth of the ages finding its’ way into an open heart. I heard God say to my heart that day something like this, “I didn’t send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen, I sent you to Africa for My sake. They deserved Hell! But I LOVE THEM!!! AND I ENDURED THE AGONIES OF HELL FOR THEM!!! I DIDN’T SEND YOU OUT THERE FOR THEM!!! I SENT YOU OUT THERE FOR ME! DO I NOT DESERVE THE REWARD OF MY SUFFERING? DON’T I DESERVE THOSE FOR WHOM I DIED?”

I was there not for the sake of the heathen. I was there for the Savior who endured the agonies of Hell for me. But He deserved the heathen. Because He died for them. My eyes were opened. I was no longer working for Micah and ten shekels and a shirt. But I was serving a living God.”

When I heard this last paragraph, I thought: “Paris, you’re wrong. Doesn’t John 3:16 say, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.’ But here you are saying that God (the Father) so loved His son, that he gave Him these lovers of iniquity to become his adopted brothers and sisters. And the way the Father chose to do this, you would agree, Paris, was to unleash his wrath on His Son (with the Son’s full cooperation), the wrath these lovers of iniquity deserved What love is this! Indeed.

Here is a very moving excerpt (a short YouTube clip) from Paris Reidhead’s “Ten Shekels and shirt” about the reward of Christ’s suffering. The first 20 seconds show an excerpt from “The Passion of the Christ,” which is not the main reason for the excerpt’s poignancy.

What then can the Saviour’s reward be? Well, if he has saved you, then His reward is you, innit? The ones the Father gave to the Son, gifted to the Son, “the ones believing” (translated infelicitously as “whosoever”) in John 3:16, are His reward – the reward of His suffering. If we are born again, and consequently united to Christ through faith, “it should rejoice our hearts: for Christ herein has his rewards for his suffering.” (Jonathan Edwards). Isaiah 53:10 – “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (See Jonathan Edwards, “For His sufferings, God promised Christ the reward of seeing sinners saved”).

What motivated God to create the world, asks Mark Talbot (“When the stars disappear: Why do Christians suffer” – Christ the Center podcast, minute 50). One way to answer this is to say that God the Father loved the Son so much that He created the world in order that he might gather a people who would in fact become his Son’s bride and praise His Son forever throughout all of the eschaton (consummation). That’s the end of the story.”

And the end of the reward’s suffering. Not only the end of their suffering, but the latter’s intent.

Why should I gain from His reward?” No, rather “Why make me, this unclean thing (Romans 3:13-18), his reward?”