b. How are we to reconcile this text with the exhortation: “Love not the world”?
c. In how many ways is the term “world” used in Scripture?
We feel at once that all these questions really concentrate around the last. If we answer it, we have the key to the answer to the other two questions. This third question we will, therefore, attempt to answer first.
In answering this question, we will limit ourselves to the word world as it occurs in the original of John 3:16, which is the word cosmos. There are other words for world in the original, but they need not concern us now.
The general meaning of the word cosmos is harmony, orderly arrangement, beauty. Our word cosmetics is derived from it. It is used to denote the created universe, all creatures in heaven and on earth, as an organic whole, from the viewpoint of its order and harmony.
This fundamental denotation is, probably, never entirely absent from the word as it occurs in the Bible, although it has different connotations. Frequently, the word refers especially to the world of men, to mankind or a part of it. But since man is intimately related to the world outside of him, and stands at the head of the universe as we know it, moreover, lives and develops in and through that universe, the word “world”, even when it has special reference to men, does not exclude the universe, still less has in view men individually, but rather denotes mankind as it is organically related to and connected with the whole outside world.
Bearing this in mind, we find that the word sometimes denotes the whole of reprobate, wicked men, as they lie in darkness, and subject all things in their universe to their sinful mind and will, and employ them in the service of sin. It is in this sense that the Savior uses the word in John 17:9, where we read: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”
Closely related to this meaning of the word, yet with a different shade of meaning, is the word world as it occurs in the text to which our inquirer refers in the second question: “Love not the world.” When sinful men react upon the world, and use all things therein in the service of sin, the result is a certain form of life, a sinful and corrupt order of things. In a sense it may be said that the wicked create their own world, a world of evil things, in which everything is adapted to the satisfaction of divers, sinful lusts and pleasures. Think, for instance, of that world as it is full of adultery, the world of adulterous literature, pictures, movies, dances, speech, and gestures. To this the Bible refers when it warns us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”. Love of the world, of the universe and the things therein, apart from God, is lust, and results in corruption.
Now, the same word, “cosmos” is used in Scripture to denote the totality of the elect as an organic whole, but again in connection with the whole universe. We must remember that, in the elect, God does not save a few or many individual men, but the real organism of the race. Comparing the race to a tree, we may say that the real tree is saved, the lost are the branches that are cut off. The real organism of the human race is saved as the body of Christ. Moreover, not only the elect, also the universe, God’s creation, is saved, and will be glorified in the new creation. It is to this whole world of God’s elect and all things in Christ that John 3:16 refers. For it is the object of the love of God, and it will surely be saved.
In the light of all this, it will be plain that the word “world” dare not be translated by “all men”. This is never the meaning, least of all in John 3:16, although it is often interpreted as if it meant just this. Surely, it must be self-evident that the world in John 3:16 is surely saved, since what God loves cannot be lost; and that “world” in this passage cannot include that other “world” for which the Savior declares that He does not pray. It is the world in Christ, as God conceived it in His counsel, and as it shall once be revealed in all its beauty and glory in the new creation, where the tabernacle of God will be with men.
2. The second question reads as follows: Will this very earth be our future heavenly home, after the final judgment?.
The Bible certainly teaches us that, after the resurrection, God’s people shall dwell on the earth. “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.”. And again: “For such as are blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.” . And so the Lord Jesus teaches us: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” . Correctly, however, the question refers to as its Scriptural basis. There we read: “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” The earth in its present form the righteous shall not inherit, neither could they in their resurrection bodies. The” present world shall pass away: “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” . And John on Patmos “saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” .
Just how this new earth will be, and how we must conceive of the creature that will then be delivered from the bondage of the corruption, according to, we do not know. Certain it is that heaven and earth will then be united: dwelling on the earth, we shall inherit the entire heavenly kingdom. It will be a creation that shall be wholly conformed to the glory of Christ, its head, and a fit dwelling place for the glorified saints in their resurrection bodies. Righteousness and peace shall reign there, and the tabernacle of God shall then be with men.
Here is the next question:
3. How can we harmonize the text in, where we read: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword,” with the text in : “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”?
Our questioner sees an apparent contradiction between these two passages. If the Son of God came to save the world, how can He say that He did not come to send peace on the earth, but a sword? There is, however, no real contradiction here. This will become plain if we consider the following:
- There is no other way for the salvation of the world than that of the righteousness of God. This righteousness, i.e. salvation from the guilt and from the power of sin, God prepared for us in Christ, through His death and resurrection. This is the way of salvation that is preached by the gospel. It is the way of repentance and faith.
- By nature, we hate this gospel of the righteousness of God in Christ. We do not want to repent. We love the darkness rather than the light. We are enemies of the cross of Christ. It is only through God’s sovereign grace that we humble ourselves, repent of sin, seek forgiveness, and flee to Christ for refuge. Now, since not all men are saved, but the grace of God follows the line of election, the result is that the gospel causes separation, and a deep-rooted spiritual difference between men, that causes strife and contention. It is the antithesis between light and darkness, between the Church and the kingdom of this world, that is brought to manifestation.
- It is to this “sword” that the Lord refers in . This is evident from the context. In the verses following this text we find that the Savior explains this “sword” which He came to bring on the earth. There we read: “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” vss. 35-37. It is clear, then, that the Lord, when He speaks of the sword which He is come to send on the earth, refers to the deep spiritual separation and conflict that will be caused by the gospel and for His name’s sake.
- Thus understood, there is no contradiction but perfect harmony between the passages referred to by our inquirer. In fact, we may put it this way: because the Son of God is come to save the world, He came to bring a sword on the earth.
4. The next question calls our attention to a passage from the Old Testament. Here it is: “In I Kings 2 Solomon tells Bathsheba that he will not deny her request. Yet, when she asks him to let Abishag be given to Adonijah for his wife, he uses this as an occasion to kill Adonijah. What was the motive, and was he justified in his action?”
Let us try to recall the historical circumstances to which this question has reference. Adonijah had conspired with Joab and Abiathar to succeed David on the throne, although he knew that Solomon was the divinely appointed successor. The conspiracy failed. Solomon was anointed king. Adonijah feared for his life, begged for mercy, and was pardoned by Solomon on condition that he would show himself a worthy man. But the king had added: “If wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.”. Now this same Adonijah had requested Bathsheba to present his petition to Solomon that Abishag be given him to wife. Abishag, we recall, was the damsel they had found for David to nourish him in his old age and although the king had no intercourse with her, she was regarded as his concubine. To ask for David’s concubine was, in the eyes of the people, tantamount to claiming the throne. The request of Adonijah, therefore, was proof that he was still conspiring against Solomon, with the aid and counsel, perhaps, of Joab and Abiathar. Now, the king’s mother did not see through the evil designs of Adonijah, and when she brings his request to the king, she calls it a “small petition”. This “small petition” Solomon promises to grant her. When, however, Solomon has become acquainted with the contents of this supposedly “small petition”, had recognized its evil design, he withdraws his promise, and swears that Adonijah shall die, a sentence that was immediately executed. In this, the king was certainly justified, since he was the king ordained of God to sit on David’s throne, and as such had the calling to punish all rebels as enemies of Jehovah.
5. The next question is closely related to the previous one, and refers to the same period of Old Testament history. It reads as follows: “In the same chapter we read of David’s charging Solomon to punish Joab for his sinful deeds during David’s reign. Why did David defer to inflict punishment personally, and did he retain Joab in his service throughout his lifetime for utilitarian purposes only?”
Yes, perhaps, we may say that David was motivated by utilitarian considerations, when he failed to inflict the proper punishment on Joab for his crimes. Twice Joab had made himself worthy of death. Twice he had killed a general in time of peace, first Abner, then Amasa. Now, at the time these killings took place, David must have felt himself too weak to inflict proper punishment upon so mighty and influential a man as Joab. When the first crime was committed he had but just ascended to the throne; the second took place immediately after the rebellion. of Absalom had been quelled. Nevertheless, it surely was David’s calling to punish these crimes, and I do not consider it justifiable that he failed in doing so personally, and charged Solomon with the execution.
6. The next question is rather of a doctrinal nature. Here it is: “Did Christ suffer in both His human and divine natures? If so, how?”
The answer to the first of this double question will eliminate the necessity of answering the second: Christ did not suffer in His divine nature, but only in the human nature, body and soul. The infinitely perfect divine nature is not subject to suffering and death.
This answers the question. But a word or two of further explanation might not be superfluous. Christ is the Person of the Son of God in two natures: the human and the divine nature. He is not two persons, but one. But this one, divine Person, subsists in two natures. In His divine nature He is very God, coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, infinite and eternal. In that nature Christ, the Son of God, is eternally in the bosom of the Father, also when, according to the human nature, He is on earth, suffers and dies on the cross. We must not say, therefore, that Christ suffered in His divine and human nature both, but that the person of the Son of God suffered and died, was raised and exalted, in the human nature only.
7. The following question is concerned with a profound problem, which we can never completely fathom: “From whom does Satan derive his evil power? What effect, if any, has this on the doctrine of salvation?”
In answering this question, we must, I think, stress the following points:
First, that Satan’s evil nature does not have its origin in God, Who is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. He was created a good and glorious spirit. But he stumbled over his pride, and became the personification of wickedness. Yet, this fall of Satan took place under God’s all-controlling providence, and must serve His purpose.
Secondly, that Satan, being a creature, still receives all his power from God. God does not have to fight the devil in his opposition to the Most High. If God would not sustain him, he would exist no more. All the power Satan uses in the attempt to accomplish his evil purposes, he receives constantly from God. Moreover, though he neither thinks nor intends to serve God’s purpose, God so controls all his activities that he can do nothing else.
Thirdly, the significance of this truth for the doctrine of salvation is exactly, that the devil, in spite of himself, must serve God’s purpose of salvation. Satan and his host can never prevail against the Church, nor even harm her. The very powers of darkness are under Christ’s dominion, and must work together for good, though they do not mean it, for them that love God.
8. With the next question we turn directly to Scripture once more. Here it is: “How do you explain the latter portion of: ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’?”
We must consider the context of this passage. The Pharisees and scribes criticized the Lord because He sat at meat with publicans and sinners. It is in answer to them that the Lord said: “They that art whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” By this answer the Saviour made plain, first of all, that he did not eat with publicans and sinners as their fellow, but as their healer and saviour; and, secondly, He indicated the deep reason why they, the Pharisees and the scribes, had no fellowship with, or need of Him. They were the whole, that needed no physician; the righteous, that needed no repentance; not really, of course, but in their own estimation. As self-righteous they were ever excluded from the scope of Jesus’ call to repentance, and from His salvation.
9. We probably have time for one more question. It is this: “How do you explain the saying of Jesus in: ‘The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath’?”
This passage, too, must be read in the context. Again it was the Pharisees that were criticizing Jesus for allowing His disciples to pluck ears of corn on the sabbath. Though they omitted the weightier matters of the law, they so emphasized the negative and legal aspect of the sabbath, that it had become an unbearable burden, rather than a blessing. In this particular case, evidently, they judged that the disciples had to go hungry rather than violate the purely ceremonial aspect of the sabbathic law. It is to this that the Lord replies: “The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath.” It is not the mere negative and legal side of the sabbath that must be emphasized, but rather the positive element of the worship of and fellowship with God. If the former is emphasized, man will be a slave of the sabbath, groaning under a burden of law that fills him with fear; if the latter, the sabbath will be a means to cause man to grow in sanctification, and to give him a foretaste of the eternal sabbath. Unto this it is intended.