These Words Spoken in Pity
We get some light on these deep words by remembering the occasion of their utterance. They were spoken rather in pity than in sternness. Our Lord had just been speaking of Himself as the bread which cometh down from heaven. It would have been a bold word to say in any company, but to that company, it seemed like madness. They had never dreamed that One could come from heaven by the ordinary way of human birth. They thought Messiah would descend in glory. Do we not know His father and His mother? Do we not remember Him when He was just a child? It was that which irritated them and made them grumble as these stupendous claims fell on their ears. And it was then that Christ, as if pitying their deadness and half-excusing their disbelief in Him, said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” Now in
Joh_6:37 of this chapter, there is a statement which appears very like to this one: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” The two are always associated in our thoughts. The one inevitably suggests the other. Yet there is a world of difference in their tone which is well that we should bear in mind. In the one case Christ is gladly confident. He is not disheartened although He is deserted. Let men forsake Him and turn away in anger, ail that the Father giveth Him shall come to Him. But the other is not the utterance of assurance. It is a cry of pity for hearts that were like stone: “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
You Come to Christ When You Believe on Him
In passing, let me express the earnest hope that we all know what Christ meant by coming to Him. It is one of those vivid and pictorial words that were so congenial to the Master’s lips: “Come unto me, all ye that labor”; “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life”; “No man can come unto me except the Father draw him.” Now, had our Lord never looked beyond His earthly ministry, we might have been tempted to take coming literally. We might have thought that Christ, when He said, “Come,” spoke of a literal coming to His side. But if there be one thing certain, it is that Christ took a longer view than that. He thought of a coming that would still be possible when He was no longer on the streets of Galilee. Can we now come to Him as Mary came when He was dining in the house of Simon? Can we now come to Him as Jairus came when the keel of His boat was grating on the beach? With His faith in a Gospel that should still be preached when He had gone home to share His Father’s glory, Christ thought of something different from that. What then did He actually mean? He has told us that Himself. “I am the bread of life,” He said, “he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” Clearly, then, in the mind of Jesus, coming and believing were identical; the one was the vivid image of the other. You come to Christ, not by any pilgrimage. You come to Christ when you believe in Him. You come when, both for time and for eternity, all your trust is centered in Him. It is in that sense, and only in that sense, that the words of our text have any meaning— “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
This Drawing Does Not Involve Fatalism
It is then of very great importance that we should understand what this drawing is, and my object in choosing this great text is just to try to make it plain to you. Is it something mysterious and dark, or is it something that fails within our understanding? Is it a special work of the Almighty, or does it blend into our common discipline? Is it something that we may recognize, something which inevitably betrays itself, or may we be subjects of the Father’s drawing and all the time be unconscious of it? There are many who have taken this text and made it the excuse for an unworthy and unchristian fatalism. They have made no effort to believe and said they waited the drawing of the Father. I want you to learn how sinful that is, and how opposed to the spirit of the Lord, and how dishonoring to the great thought of Fatherhood which is the thought on which the text is based.
It Involves Man‘s Will; The Father Draws, Not Drags
The first ray of light upon the text is found in the word which Christ employs. He does not talk of the dragging of the Father. He talks deliberately of the Father’s drawing. No man is hurried to the feet of Christ as the heifer was hurried to the Jewish altar. No man is pushed there by an almighty arm and in defiance of a protesting will. The Father does not drag. The Father draws. He bids the soul to come in gentle ways. He will have a man come willingly to Christ, or else He will not have him come at all. We may illustrate this meaning of the word from the only other occasion when Christ uses it: “I, if I be lifted up,” He said, “will draw all men unto me.” And, tell me, what is the drawing of the cross? Is it anything which tramples on our freedom? It is just the appeal to all that is within us of that spectacle of redeeming love. We are not forced to Christ by what we see. We are only appealed to by that wondrous spectacle. It puts to shame all that is bad in us. It woos and wins all that is best in us. And as it is with the drawing of the cross, so is it with the drawing of the Father. It is but the action of appealing love. I do not say it is not irresistible; but I do say it does not seem so. It is as sweet, as natural, as gentle, as the drawing of the sunshine on the earth. There is no pressure of an arresting hand; no force exerted to overpower the will; a man is not conscious that he is being dragged by a power that is mightier than his own. It is that thought which makes it such a peril for a man to await the drawing of the Father. It is not something that will flash in splendor and overpower a man into belief. It is something blended with the daily providence, and wrought into the fabric of the life, and intermingled with the lights and shadows that make the variables of our common day. Just as the sunshine falling on earth draws it into the pageant of the summer, just as the moon falling on the ocean draws it into the fullness of its tides, so not less silently, not less insensibly, does the grace of the Father fall upon the heart and draw it, when it thinks not of it, into readiness for Jesus Christ. That this is the right tone to give the word we may confirm in an interesting way. Christ found this word He used in the Old Testament, and it is illuminative to notice where He found it. There are three books in the Old Testament which are peculiarly the books of tenderness, three books above all others which contain what I might call the wooing note. The one is that mystical book we call The Song; the second is the Book of Jeremiah; the third is Hosea, who in his ruined home had learned the power and the pain of love. It is in these three books, and these alone, that the thought of drawing is found in the Old Testament. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” That is the accent of the Song of Solomon; that of Jeremiah and Hosea; and it is that accent you must still preserve when the prophet’s word is used by Jesus Christ. He is not thinking, anymore than they, of a power that should be mighty to compel. He is not thinking of any sudden energy that should surprise a man into belief. He is thinking, with His prophetic forerunners, of all that wooing ministry of love which none can recognize except the loved one, and to which even he is often blind.
The Father Draws and Man Comes
But now we can go a little farther, for we have the commentary here of Christ Himself. In the verses which succeed out text, He throws His thought into another form. “No man can come unto me,” He says, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” And then immediately He adds, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” And so He tells us that the Father’s drawing is just an expression for the Father’s teaching, “for,” says the prophet, “they shall all be taught of God.” Now mark you, there are two kinds of teaching: there is an outward and an inward teaching. And it cannot be of the first that Jesus thinks or else these Jews would have believed in Him. If ever anybody had been taught of God, was it not just these men to whom He spoke? And yet they hated Him and crucified Him. A man may have the Scriptures in his hand; he may enjoy the truest spiritual teaching; he may read the name of God across the stars, and yet never may be drawn to Jesus Christ. It is only when that teaching becomes inward and moves the will and kindles the affections that it becomes the drawing of the Father. Christ does not think of a teaching of the head. He rather thinks of a teaching of the heart. He thinks of every providence that chastens us; of every providence that breaks and humbles us. It is by that teaching that a man is drawn and comes to feel his need of a Redeemer and realizes that his only hope is in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. We are not only taught by every craving. Christ means that by every craving we are drawn, by every sorrow and by every joy, by every touch of pain and hour of sadness, by all the love that meets us when we journey, by all the tears when hours of parting come; by all that, we are not only taught; by all that, we are drawn to Him. Clearly, then, our Savior did not mean that we were to sit inactive and just wait. He meant us to find, even this very hour, that the Father is drawing us to Him. He meant that if we only looked within and read our story in the light of God, we should find there today such elements as would prepare us for the feet of Christ. There was that in these Jews that, had they heeded it, would have proved to them the drawing of the Father. There is that in you today, which is undoubtedly the Father’s drawing. Only let God interpret it to you and show you what it implies and what it needs, and it will draw you to the feet of Christ.
Drawing and Responding in Marriage
We may further illustrate what Jesus meant by thinking of our earthly friendships. There is a deep sense in which all human love would be impossible without the Father’s drawing. Among all the mysteries with which we are engirded, there is none deeper than the mystery of love. It is the heart reaching to its own, and finding in its own its resting place. Viewed on its earthly side it is the drawing of sympathies that answer one another. Viewed on its heavenly side it is far more than that; it is just the drawing of the Father. Does not one of our oldest proverbs tell us that true marriages are made in heaven? It is not often that our proverbial wisdom lights upon a truth so deep as that. For it just means that when two hearts are knit into a union that only death can sever, it is the drawing of the Father that hath done it. The heart of the mother is drawn towards her child. The heart of the friend is drawn towards his friend. God is busy within us in a thousand ways when He is leading us to recognize our own. And so, when He is leading us to Christ, God is busy with us in a thousand ways, and it is in that preparatory ministry that there lies the drawing of the Father. Our loneliness—that is the Father’s drawing; it is His whisper to us that we need a friend. Our weakness—that is the Father’s drawing; it is His guidance to sufficient strength. And all our haunting sense of inability and our shame when we have sinned again, all that is but the drawing of the Father to the loving mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe as stoutly as the sternest Calvinist, that no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him. But I also believe with all my heart that He is drawing every man this very moment. It is not new drawing that men want. It is new vision to behold its meaning. Lord, open men’s eyes, that they may see.
In Retrospect, Friendships, Especially with Christ, Were Not the Result of Drifting But of Being Drawn
In closing, I desire to say that this is a truth which is abundantly verified in our experience. As life goes on and its meanings become plainer, our vision also clarifies a little. We stand, as it were, upon a little eminence and see more clearly our path across the heather. And it is then that often looking backwards we can set to our seal that this is true, we were drawn of the Father when we never knew it. Just as our human friendships, when we make them, seem to be often but the child of accident, yet afterwards as we survey it all we recognize that there was more than chance there. So the friendship of the Lord Jesus Christ may also appear to us a casual thing, yet every year that passes makes us surer that our steps were ordered when we knew it not. One of the insights of passing years is to eliminate the thought of accident. They touch as with the light of a great plan what in its hour seemed a happy chance. We come to see in sunshine and in shadow, in sicknesses, in shiftings of our home, the movement of a will that was not ours and that had seen the end from the beginning. So is it, brethren, with that great transaction which seals the covenant between the soul and Christ. It may come suddenly and unexpectedly, and we feel no will in it except our own. Yet as the years go by we trace a change. We waken to a wise and loving leadership. We thought in the passing hour that we were drifting. We now discover that we were being drawn. That strong impression deepens with the years. We become less; the Father becomes more. We realize that we are Christ’s today simply and solely because the Father drew us. And so we take this as a word of hope based on the changeless love of Fatherhood, and we believe that now and always, the Father is drawing every human soul.
Father, In Jesus’ name. Make us understand that your drawing us to you is out of thy saving grace, not by our works. Teach us to know you more. According to the fulness of thy forgiving mercies, let your mercy and your favor speak for us. Father we thank, Holy Spirit we thank, Lord Jesus Christ, we thank, may your will be done upon us!