Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Vision (6/17/10): The true Light which gives light to every man

Note:  This article is the "Pastoral Reflection" for the June 17, 2010 issue of The Vision, the weekly e-newsletter for Christ Reformed Baptist Church.  To be added to the list to receive the full issue weekly, email

We have begun a study of John’s Gospel during our Wednesday mid-week Bible Study and Prayer Meeting. Last Wednesday we read John 1:9: “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” The question was raised as to what it means that Jesus gives light “to every man”? Arminians have typically taken this verse to say that God provides prevenient grace to every human being making each man capable of either accepting or rejecting Christ. Salvation is then “conditioned” on man’s response.

But is this what this verse means?

I made the argument in our study that if this verse is read in context we would understand that John is saying that all men benefit to some degree from Christ, even if they never become disciples of Jesus. At the least they were made by Christ (“All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made” [John 1:3]) and so they carry the distinction and dignity of being made in the image of God. Psalm 145:9 notes that “The LORD is good to all.” Consider as well the benefits that have come to human society through the Christian movement (human rights, respect for women, end of slavery in Western world, literacy, etc.). One attendee also added that the phrase “every man” could refer to the fact that God saves all kinds of men (Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free). If we believe that all men are savingly enlightened by Christ we would embrace the unbiblical teaching of universalism (the idea that God saves all men regardless of their response to Christ).

This conversation got me thinking about what some of the faithful old teachers had to say on this passage. Here are two insights:

First, John Calvin in his commentary on John 1:9:

This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace. But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind, as I have already said. For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.

But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished.

Second, Matthew Henry on John 1:9:

But how does Christ enlighten every man that comes into the world? (1.) By his creating power he enlightens every man with the light of reason; that life which is the light of men is from him; all the discoveries and directions of reason, all the comfort it gives us, and all the beauty it puts upon us, are from Christ. (2.) By the publication of his gospel to all nations he does in effect enlighten every man. John Baptist was a light, but he enlightened only Jerusalem and Judea, and the region round about Jordan, like a candle that enlightens one room; but Christ is the true light, for he is a light to enlighten the Gentiles. His everlasting gospel is to be preached to every nation and language, Rev. xiv. 6. Like the sun which enlightens every man that will open his eyes, and receive its light (Ps. xix. 6), to which the preaching of the gospel is compared. See Rom. x. 18. Divine revelation is not now to be confined, as it had been, to one people, but to be diffused to all people, Matt. v. 15. (3.) By the operation of his Spirit and grace he enlightens all those that are enlightened to salvation; and those that are not enlightened by him perish in darkness. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is said to be in the face of Jesus Christ, and is compared with that light which was at the beginning commanded to shine out of darkness, and which enlightens every man that comes into the world. Whatever light any man has, he is indebted to Christ for it, whether it be natural or supernatural.

Yes, Christ is the Light, and he has given light to all men, and he has given special light to those who are his own. To Him be all praise and glory!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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