Some people believe that the gospel of sovereign grace is a hard message. By this they do not mean that it is hard to understand. Often they have understood it perfectly and that is the problem. When the biblical gospel is faithfully preached, many people do not like what they hear. This is true even of religious people who regard themselves as Christians, people who in some respects can be called ‘followers’.
There is a very interesting passage at the end of John 6. It states: ‘When many of his disciples heard this they said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?’ In other words, professing followers of Christ found his message unacceptable. It was becoming too hard for them to listen to his doctrine.
The gospel preacher
Three things are immediately plain. Firstly, the preacher on this occasion was Jesus himself. Those who found the doctrine too hard were speaking against the Lord’s own teaching. These people had the inestimable privilege of sitting under the teaching of the world’s greatest preacher and teacher, the Son of God himself, yet they found his ministry unacceptable. We dare not say that the Lord did not speak clearly or was difficult to understand, yet some could not listen to his words.
Some ministers will be consoled in this. Every preacher must labour to present the Word to the best of his ability, but even the greatest preacher who ever lived had those who rejected his ministry.
The first duty of ministers and churches is to preach the whole gospel as Jesus preached it. We must not sweeten or modify the message of the cross to make it acceptable or attractive. To do so is, in effect, to preach ‘another gospel’. As Jesus showed, there is offence to natural man in true gospel preaching.
The gospel preached
Secondly, the Lord’s message honoured God and humbled man. This is what made it hard. Christ declared his deity (v.35). He told his listeners that he had come to accomplish his Father’s will (v.38). He revealed that will, namely, God’s sovereign purpose to save and secure his chosen people (v.37). He confirmed that all who had been given to him would be saved (v.39). Finally, he showed clearly that no one can come to God of their own accord; the Father must bring them by his own powerful drawing (v.44). This is what was hard.
Christ’s words showed that, by themselves, men and women can never please God. Salvation comes at God’s initiative, is granted to those who are ‘raised up’ by God to spiritual new life and is given to those who by grace see Jesus and trust in him for forgiveness of sin and personal righteousness. True Christianity is only understood when we live in Christ and Christ lives in us.
The sifting effect of truth
Thirdly, we are told that the people who rejected this ‘sovereign grace’ teaching of the Lord were ‘disciples’. This is very illuminating. We need not assume that everyone who claims to ‘believe in Jesus’ truly knows and follows the Lord. Elsewhere our Lord says that his sheep hear his voice and follow him. So any who do not follow his sayings, who turn away from the truth, declare themselves to be none of his. Indeed, even among the twelve there was a ‘devil’.
It is a fact that often those who are most opposed to the gospel of grace are those who claim to be disciples and followers of Christ. Yet the gospel of grace is ‘a hard saying’ to them because it contradicts their own view of salvation by law and works. They ask rhetorically, ‘Who can hear such a gospel?’ In answer we repeat, ‘Only those who are taught of God and have received grace from the Father’ (vv.44-45).
When these pretend believers ‘went back’ we find that ‘they walked no more with the Lord’. This means that they walked no more with the true disciples either. What happened to them? They either went back where they came from or perhaps they even founded a new church of their own. At any rate, their descendants are still among us today!
Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Will you also go away?’ Peter’s testimony is majestic: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and are sure that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God