This, the first in a series of addresses, was delivered by the Rev. Herman Hoeksema, pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Sunday, October 15, 1944, over our “Reformed Witness Hour.”
Dear Radio Friends,
We are, no doubt, all acquainted with the hymn the chorus of which runs as follows:
Whosoever will may come,
Whosoever will, whosoever will;
Send the proclamation over vale and hill;
‘Tis a loving Father calls the wand’rer home:
Whosoever will may come.
And you have probably guessed that with this hymn in mind I chose my general theme for the first series of radio lectures this season.
First of all, it has been my experience more than once that when I preach the pure truth of sovereign grace, the gospel that salvation is of the Lord and in no sense of man, there are always those who, as the children in the marketplace of which our Lord speaks, will pipe this hymn to me, evidently convinced that the words of it quite contradict and overthrow the doctrine that God sovereignly saves whomsoever He wills, and that the will of man does not at all cooperate in his own salvation; and evidently intending that to the tune of their piping I shall perform an Arminian dance.
And seeing that I hate all Arminian jazz music that proudly extols the free will of the sinner, and could not possibly dance to the tune of it; considering, moreover, that it is my sincere desire to warn my audience against the dangers of the error that would attribute salvation to the choice of the sinner’s will, and to instruct them in the truth of salvation by the sovereign grace of God alone, I feel that it might be beneficial and instructive to take the theme of the hymn and expound it in the light of Scripture: “Whosoever will may come.”
This would not be proper, of course, if the theme were not a scriptural one. It would hardly be safe to take the words of a man-made hymn as the basis for a positive discussion and presentation of the truth of the gospel. Many a hymn has served and still serves as a medium to install the poison of false doctrine into the hearts and minds of those that sing them. But with respect to the particular hymn that bears the title “Whosoever Will,” it may be said that its words are almost literally taken from Scripture, and that, therefore, no Christian can have any objection to it, provided it is properly understood and interpreted in connection with the rest of the doctrine concerning salvation by grace.
The words of it are probably in part taken from Revelation 22:17, where we read: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Moreover, the same truth is repeatedly expressed in Holy Writ in different forms. In Isaiah 55:1-3 we read: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” To those who complain that they pine away in their sins, and that, therefore, there is no hope of life for them, the Lord declares: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). The Lord assures us: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7, 8). And He sends forth the call promiscuously: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “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). And on the great day of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, He cried out: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”
To be sure, then, the theme of the hymn is a biblical one: Whosoever is athirst may drink, whosoever is hungry may eat, whosoever is in need may ask, and he will receive; whosoever desires salvation may seek and he shall find; whosoever is weary and burdened may come to Jesus for rest; whosoever will may come!
But I do object most strenuously to the singing of this hymn with the avowed or hidden purpose to gainsay and contradict the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace alone. Neither the words of the hymn, still less the text from Revelation 22:17 to which they evidently refer, nor any of the other passages quoted, can be used for that purpose. For that would mean that it were possible to appeal to one part of Scripture in order to refute another part, a possibility that may never be granted. For Scripture is the written record of the revelation of the living God through Christ Jesus our Lord. And as God is one, and Christ is one, so the Bible is one. It cannot contradict itself. And if anyone sings or preaches on the theme “Whosoever will may come” in such a way that the words are expounded as a denial of the truth of God’s absolute sovereign grace, he is simply distorting the meaning of the words.
Let us recall, briefly, what is implied in the truth of salvation through the free and sovereign grace of God alone. It means, in general, that God is the sovereign Lord, also in the matter of salvation. Salvation is, from its beginning to its end, a mighty wonderwork of God, no less marvelous, and therefore no less divine, than the work of creation. It is that wonderwork of the Almighty by which He calls light out of darkness, righteousness out of unrighteousness, everlasting glory out of deepest shame, immortality out of death, heaven out of hell! It is the work of God whereby He overcomes the power of the dominion of sin and death, justifies the ungodly freely by His grace, and quickens the dead. It is the wonder of grace, whereby God lifts an accursed world out of the depth of its misery into the glory of His heavenly kingdom and covenant.
That work is absolutely divine. Man has no part in it whatsoever, and cannot possibly cooperate with God in his own salvation. In no sense of the word, and at no stage of the work, does salvation depend upon the will or work of man, or even wait for the determination of his will. In fact, the sinner is of himself neither capable nor willing to receive that salvation. On the contrary, all he can do and will is to oppose, to resist his own salvation with all the determination of his sinful heart. But God ordained and prepared this salvation with absolutely sovereign freedom for His own, His chosen ones alone; and upon them He bestows it, not because they seek it and desire it, but rather in spite of the fact that they never will it, and because He is stronger than man and overcomes the hardest heart and the most stubborn will of the sinner. He reconciles the sinner unto Himself; He justifies him and gives him the faith in Christ; He delivers him from the power and dominion of sin, He sanctifies him; He preserves him even unto the end in the midst of this present world; and finally glorifies him. All this belongs to the wonder of salvation, which is accomplished through sovereign grace alone.
Now, there can be no doubt about the fact that the Bible that repeatedly emphasizes in many ways that “whosoever will may come” also teaches very emphatically that the salvation of the sinner never and in no sense depends on the will of the sinner to come, but only on the sovereign will of God who is the Lord. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29, 30).
Do not overlook the fact that in these verses the matter of the salvation of all the foreknown and foreordained is presented as an accomplished fact: they are justified, and they are called, and they are glorified. In the counsel of God He knows His own as saved and glorified sinners. And so, He blesses us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3, 4). “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). And “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Yes, He has “mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18).
O, indeed, “whosoever will may come”; but this is also true: “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” And again: “Therefore I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:44, 65). And have ye never read that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”? And how shall a man seek that which he does not even see?
It is plain, then, that when a man sings or preaches “Whosoever will may come,” he presents in song or sermon what is undoubtedly true. And to this we have no objection. Indeed, it is true that whosoever will may come to Christ, and he will surely be received. Never a man will appear in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God who will be able to say that he longed, and that he desired, and that he willed, and that he sought earnestly to come, but was refused. But if a man sings or preaches no more than this, he nevertheless fails to present the full truth of the gospel as it is in Christ Jesus our Lord and revealed to us in Holy Writ. He speaks a half truth, which because of its deceptive nature is more dangerous than a direct and plain falsehood. A large part, the more basic and therefore more important part of the truth, he forgets or intentionally omits. One may, indeed, freely proclaim “over vale and hill” that “whosoever will may come,” but he is unfaithful to his ministry if he does not add: “No one can come unless the Father draw him”; and : “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
This one-sided emphasis on what man may do and must do in order to be saved, without mention of the truth that the sinner can do nothing unless God first performs the wonder of His grace upon him, is characteristic of most collections of hymns in distinction from the beautiful and mighty psalms. And this one-sided presentation of the matter of salvation also predominates in modern, so-called evangelical preaching. And so the way is prepared for that caricature of gospel preaching that consists chiefly in begging the sinner to come to Jesus before it is too late. It leaves the false impression with him that it is quite in his power to come today or tomorrow, or whatever time may be convenient to him, and that presents a very willing but powerless Jesus who would be ever so pleased to save the sinner but is incapable to do so unless the sinner gives his consent. The “whosoever will may come” is presented as meaning “All men can will to come whenever they please.” And instead of the truth of the gospel that no man can come to Christ unless the Father draw him, we now hear: “No Christ can come to the sinner, except the sinner permit him!”
Here is a fair sample of it: “God is ready, God is willing, God is eager, God is anxious, God is pleading for the privilege of washing away the sins of every soul in the precious blood of His Son and heir. But His hands are tied, His power is limited, His grace is constrained by you. If you want to be saved, God is willing to save you. If you do not want to be saved, there is not anything that even God can do to rescue you from that pit of eternal burning.” That becomes the preaching of the gospel when the truth of God’s sovereign grace is either forgotten or denied. Call it the gospel, if you like. To me it is nothing short of blasphemy of the name of the living God! An anxious and pleading God, whose power is limited and whose hands may be tied by the proud and stubborn sinner who is less than a dust of the balance and drop of a bucket, is no God, but a miserable idol!
And, therefore, I repeat: “Send that proclamation over vale and hill: whosoever will may come,” provided you proclaim it not as the whole gospel but as only part of it, and that you do not fail to emphasize the other part: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” God is God. And He is the Lord, also in the matter of the salvation of the sinner. How those two, the sovereign will and grace of God and the sinner’s will to come, are related we hope to expound in future talks on this subject. Several questions are involved in this subject that must be answered. Whosoever will may come to whom, or to what? And for what purpose, to seek what, or to receive what, do they come? What does it mean to come? And how is it possible for the sinner to come?
But even now we must indicate in a general way what is the relation between the sovereign will of God to save and the will of man to come. That this relation is not such that the will of God depends on the will of man, so that the will of God is impotent to save unless man’s will consents to be saved, is evident from all Scripture, and clearly follows from the simple but very fundamental truth that God is the Lord. Nor is the relation one of mere cooperation, as if man were a party in relation to God, and the will of man and of God must meet and work together in the matter of the sinner’s salvation. God is God! Over against Him man is never a party. To speak of cooperation between God and man is like speaking of cooperation between the potter and his clay in the formation of a vessel. But that relation is such that God’s merciful and gracious will of salvation is ever first, mighty, irresistible, efficacious, operating upon the will of the sinner in such a way that he desires and longs and determines to come. The will to come on the part of the sinner is already the fruit of the saving grace of God working in him mightily unto salvation. No one can come unto Christ unless the Father draw him!
And thus, he that will come may be quite sure that he may come, and that he will surely be received. Christ will not cast him out. His will to come is a sure manifestation of God’s eternal purpose of salvation concerning him and of the drawing power of His grace. Do you will to come to Christ? Is it your desire to come to Him as the Fount of Living Water that you may drink? Do you long to come to Him as the Bread of Life that you may eat? Do not hesitate then! Do not stand afar off, discovering a thousand reasons in yourselves why you could not possibly be received. For “whosoever will” may surely come and take of the water of life freely, exactly because “whosoever will” is already drawn by the Father! You may hear the word of Christ: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out!”