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“For 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

A beautiful text indeed! But a text that is almost universally misunderstood, and certainly very often misquoted.

You will bear me witness that almost everyone that purports to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will sooner or later quote John 3:16, in order to prove that God loves everyone, that as far as God is concerned, all may be saved from everlasting death. God, so they argue, has provided a way out for abso­lutely everyone. No one, as far as God is concerned, need be lost. For, God so loved the world, and that means everyone who ever lived, now lives, or will ev­er live upon this sorry earth, that He gave His only begotten Son to this world, in order that every one that believeth might have everlasting life, and never come into the awful place of torment.

However, it simply is not true that God loves ev­eryone. Is it not a plain truth, which no serious Bible student can deny, that the great majority are lost, that they do perish? But how is this possible, if the living God once loved them? Is the love of God changeable? Is there variableness with God after all? If the so-called love of God for every one of the whole human race is so strong that He will send His only begotten Son into the pangs of eternal death for ev­ery one of them, how can He later damn them forev­er? Again: if the love of God for every man is so wonderfully strong that He will send Jesus into hell for them, paying the price for the sin of every descendent of Adam, how is it possible that He will later ex­act the same price from those who did not believe on

Jesus? If Jesus paid the price for the totality of all sin which the human race committed, how can God in justice demand any part of that sin for the second time in the damnation of the majority?

The fundamental mistake in this theory is the in­terpretation of the word world. I will prove to you that this word does not mean all men. Indeed, it nev­er means that in Holy Scripture. The word world has different connotations in Scripture. That this is so will become evident by a simple comparison of sev­eral texts which speak of the world.

First, there are those texts which speak of the world as the sum total of created things. An example of this use you will find in Acts 17:24. There we read: “God that made the world and all things there­in, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwel­ling not in temples made with hands.” And the same connotation of the word world you will note in all the texts which speak of God’s counsel, thoughts and deeds “before the foundation of the world.” Also there the word world means the created physical world.

Second, there is the use of the same word in the Bible where it is used to denote the world of men who are fallen away from God and have become wholly corrupt. And of that world, so the Bible tells us, the devil is its prince. It is the sum total of corrupt hu­manity which turns itself with all it controls against God and His anointed. Examples of this use of the word world you find in I John 5:19; John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11. Note especially John 15:19. There we read: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Now surely, if words mean anything at all to you, it will be very evident that John 3:16 does not mean every man of the human race. Attend to this: John 15:19 tells us that those who believe on Jesus are not of the world! And because they are not of the world, therefore the world hates them! Is it not plain, therefore, that there is more than one in­terpretation of the word world? I assure you that if we are to lay hold of the real meaning of John 3:16, we must very carefully determine the idea of this im­portant concept as it is used in the whole of Scripture. Only then can we determine what is in any particu­lar text. No, the use of this word in the second in­stance is the world of reprobate men. Allow me to contrast two texts, and I am certain that you will see the difference clearly. John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” But now listen to Jesus’ own voice in John 17:9: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” Once more: contrast John 3:16 with I John 2:15, “Love not the world!” Is it not crystal clear that we have here two radically different concepts? I would conclude this paragraph with a biblical definition of that wicked and reprobate world, which will never see salvation, as we find it in I John 2:15-17. There we read: “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 of the world. And the world passeth away, and the Lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”

Third, there is the use of the word world which is the object of God’s everlasting love. It is the world which will shine unto all eternity because of the ra­diance of His glory which is given to that world. He loved it, and for it He gave His Son. And for the sake of that Son and all He did in the way of unspeakable suffering and the death of the cross, He has forgiven all the sin of that world, not imputing their trespasses unto them. For that chosen world Christ Jesus is the propitiation and for that world He will pray, not for the world as quoted in His high priestly prayer in John 17:9.

You will ask me: if these three concepts of the world are so dissimilar, how is it that the same word is used for all three? And the answer is, because of the fact that the word world means a harmoniously related order. And this formal idea lies at the bottom of each of the three concepts. The Holy Ghost uses the word world for created things because the whole of creation is a harmoniously created whole. The same is true of the world of wicked men under captaincy of the devil. Also here the word world is in place. Did not the Lord Jesus tell us that the house of the devil is not divided against itself. Oh no, the whole world of the wicked men and devils are a har­monious whole and perfect order reigns. Absolutely all things and all men and all devils march in one dir­ection, and are activated and motivated by one com­mon principle: hatred against God and His anointed. And that is the reason why that wicked mass which is going to perdition is also called by this formal name.

And now view the text again. Note the first word: ‘For’. This little word tells us that the content of John 3:16 is a reason for that which was said in the immediately preceding context. There we read that the Son of man must be lifted up even as also the ser­pent had to be lifted up in the desert by Moses the servant of God. This must of Christ’s elevation on the accursed tree is explained in our text. He must go the way of the cross because of the love of God for His chosen world.

And here we also have the very heart of the gos­pel that is eternal. It is the love of God. That love for His own He proved in the sending of the Son for His own sheep, which He knew by name from all eter­nity. Always remember that the giving of Jesus is substitutional, that is, Jesus died for definite persons, and that death has a definite effect. Is it not clear to you, that if the cross of Jesus means anything at all, it means that there the awful price is paid for sin and transgression? And if you admit this, you have also admitted that for whomsoever He died, He has freed from sin and the punishment for sin, that is, eternal damnation. The death of Jesus is particular, and restricted to His sheep. Did He not say so Him­self? Listen to Him: “I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” And in the same chapter, Jesus says to the Jews that hated Him: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” This Scripture teaches plainly that some people are the sheep of Christ and some are not. And they are known by this: the sheep believe on Christ and the wolves do not. Further proof that Jesus’ death is the payment for the sin of particular and chosen people is the text which we find in II Cor. 5:19. There we read: “To wit, that God was in Christ re­conciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Note that the trespasses are not imputed unto this world. And again: if words mean anything at all, these words teach us that this world is saved, completely saved. It is another in­stance where the Bible speaks of the chosen and happy world of God’s love. And a third use of the word world in that sense we find in I John 2:2. There we read, “And He (that is, Jesus Christ) is the propitia­tion for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Here again these words would have no meaning at all if we do not see that the world here is the sum total of chosen humanity whose sins are paid for by the propitiation of Christ’s suff­ering and death.

The next question is the “whosoever believeth” of our text. This phrase has been quoted and sung in such a way as though it is entirely up to man, as a work of man pure and simple. They say and sing and preach to you on this wise: Christ paid for your sins; and it is now entirely up to you if you are to benefit by this sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Simply believe on Him and you are saved. And I would say: that is true, but do not forget that no one can or will believe in Christ if nothing more is said and done. We will not believe on God and on Christ, neither can we will to believe. Man by nature is a slave of sin and the devil. The Lord Himself is our witness to this awful and dolorous truth. Listen to Him: “No one can come unto Me except the Father that sent Me draw Him!” And if you would have a very clear com­mentary of the “whosoever believeth” I would ask you to come with me to the Apostle Paul as he ex­plains the way to Christ and to God. You will find it in Eph. 2:8. It were well if you would memorize this text: it is very fundamental to an understanding of the way to God. There we read, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Note here that saving faith is the gift of God. It is the way which God uses to bring His chosen children through Christ Jesus to His bos­om. If you receive this gift of faith, you are surely coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you lack this faith, you are never pleasing to God. It is the way which He has ordained to His heart. It may be well to quote the following two verses in Eph. 2 also: “Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we (that is, the believers), are His workmanship created unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” I ask you in all seriousness: what re­mains of that vaunted ability of any man to believe on Christ and be saved? Yes, I will freely admit that any one believing on Christ will by the same token be saved. But the gift of faith is of God. He gives it to some; and He keeps it from others. There lies the difference. It ought to be plain to everyone that if the matter of faith in Christ would rest with us, those that believe would have something to boast of in the face of those that will not obey the Son. But the Word of God avers that it is not of the works of man, but of God that showeth mercy. Does not the same Apostle Paul tell us in Romans 9 that “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy”? And later he said: “There­fore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” You will say to me:

that is an awful truth! Yes, but attend to this: it is God Himself who tells us these things. And where God speaks, it behooves us to listen in absolute sub­jection, and try not to make the Word of God of none effect by our own foolish philosophies.

Now then, those that believe shall never perish. No, for Jesus did perish in their stead. That and that only is the language of the cross of Christ. Christ paid for our sins by going the way of eternal des­olation. It is the reason why we heard His bitter cry: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? And the answer, unspoken by God, but taught in His Word nevertheless, is this: Because I love my sheep! Because they shall not perish! Because I have reserv­ed for them untold happiness! Because Thy suffering and death and eternal desolation is the manifestation and revelation of our wondrous love. To look upon that love, revealed in the Lamb standing as if slain, shall be the eternal task of the church of Christ. iS6 that they may be to God’s praises forever.

No, they shall not perish.

But they shall have everlasting life.

Everlasting life is of all things the most wonder­ful. It is the very heart of heavenly bliss. Elsewhere the Lord has explained the meaning of this concept, this mighty miracle. In John 17:3 we hear Him say: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent!”

To know God. But again we ask: what does it mean to know God? And the answer is: To know God is the expression of the love of God which resides in the heart and mind and soul and all the affections of the people of God. It means that you direct all your heart and thoughts of your heart on the Triune Godhead. In Him you find your all; in Him you see all the beauty and the glory of His adorable virtues. Yes, heaven is this: you may look upon and know the face of God.

It is for that reason that we know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The only way to know God is through Jesus. Seeing and knowing and loving Jesus is tantamount to seeing, knowing and loving God. As Jesus said to Philip: “Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayeth thou then, Shew us the Father?”

If you do not believe on Jesus, say: It is I! It is because I am a slave of sin and of the devil!

And if you believe on Jesus say: It is of God! He has given me saving faith in Jesus, so that I should not perish, but have everlasting life!

To God be all the glory for ever and ever!

G. Vos