"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)
With one exception 2 Cor. 13:14, this scripture John 3:16 is the most quoted of the whole Word of God; and the reason of this is not far to seek. It is the one text which is supposed to give countenance to free-will power to do that which is pleasing in God's sight. Times without number I have been asked, "What do you make of 'whosoever'? Does it mean everybody?"
Sometimes I refer the questioners to English grammar, and ask them to tell me whether the verb "believeth" is in the singular or in the plural number. The answer is "singular number." Hence the word "whosoever" can refer only to one. One gentleman was so impressed with this at one of our open-air preachings that he went home, sought out his dictionary, and was honest enough to confess that my statements were correct.
On other occasions I point out that John 3:6 comes before John 3:16.--"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Then I ask the question, Which precedes--birth or belief? Is a man "born again" before he "believes?" Or, does he "believe" before he is "born again?" The answer is simple. Just as John 3:6 must be read before John 3:16, so must a man be born again before he believes. The Spirit must commence the work of grace; and from this, fruit will result. The fruit "faith" will be produced, and will form one of the evidences of personal salvation.
In order to find the truth underlying the word "whosoever" I purpose to collect, under different heads, the passages in which this word is found in the N. T. Thus, we may see what God means by its constant repeated use.
In the O. T. the word "whosoever" is found 21 times. The following passages are selected as illustrations:--
(1) Exod. 35:5--"Whosoever is of a willing heart," etc.
(2) Lev. 24:15--"Whosoever curseth his God," etc.
(3) Dan. 6:7--Whosoever shall ask a petition," etc.
These thee texts show that in order to understand the meaning, the "whosoever" must be defined; and, in the above cases, we have (1) the willing one, (2) the cursing one, and (3) the praying one.
In the N. T. the English word "whosoever" is found 52 times. It is the translation of four different Greek words; but as it is used 35 times of one of these, I shall confine myself chiefly to the consideration of this one. This Greek word is found no less than 450 times in the singular number, and is translated into over 20 different English words. The 5 chief of these 20 words are:--(1) "Every man," 11 times. (2) "Everyone," 34 times. (3) "Every," 113 times. (4) "All," 195 times. (5) "Whosoever," 35 times.
(1) "Every man." Luke 6:30; John 6:45; Rom. 2:10; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 3:3. Consider these instances. We notice that the "every man" refers to each one of that particular class, viz., every one who "asketh," or "heareth," or "worketh," or "hopeth."
Heb. 2:9 deserves special notice. In none of the above instances is the word "man" found in the Greek. Then why is it not put in italics? For the reason that the Greek word is in the masculine gender. Examine the context of Heb. 2:9, and a description of the "every man" for whom Christ tasted death will be found. In verse 10 we have the "many sons," of whom Christ is called "the Captain of their salvation." In verse 11 these are designated "sanctified" and "brethren;" and in verse 13 the title "the children which God hath given me" is given to them. Hence the correct word to supply after "every" is "son," and the text would then read: "He by the grace of God should taste death for every son."
(2) "Every one." Matt. 7:8,21,26; John 3:8,20; John 6:40; John 18:37; Heb. 5:13. In these examples the classes are very distinctly stated.
(3) "Every." Matt. 7:17,19; Heb. 12:6. In the first passage we here have the two classes of "good and evil" well defined. In the second it is "every son."
(4) "All." Matt. 2:3; Luke 2:1; Mark 1:5; Mark 2:13; John 6:37,39. I will take Luke 2:1, and John 6:37,39 to illustrate our subject from two distinct aspects. The former says "all the world," or really "every part of the world;" this simply refers to the Roman world. In the latter case it is "every one" (remember the singular number) "that the Father giveth me," and here we see the strictest limitation.
(5) "Whosoever." 1 John 3:4,6,9,10,15. In this single passage we have five different classes under the word "whosoever."
From the consideration of the above five words we can now draw our deductions. The word "whosoever" when taken by itself has no meaning whatever, but it must be attached to some other word; when so attached, its meaning is defined and limited. Hence, wherever this important word occurs in Scripture the reference is to every one of a particular class, and not to every one of every class.
I purpose to put the "whosoever" into three divisions: (I) contrasted whosoever. (II.) negative whosoever. (III.) positive whosoever.
The contrasted "whosoever" is found where a passage contains two "whosoevers" in vivid contrast with each other.
DOING AND TEACHING.
1. Matt. 5:19. (a) "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven;" but (b) "whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." This passage has special reference to those who are instructors. The Pharisees made certain distinctions between different commandments; Christ however taught that, in His kingdom, those who made such distinctions were of no value whatsoever, neither could they rightly be called teachers at all. But the "whosoever" who teaches the truth of God--just as God Himself gave it--shall be entitled "great," and shall be recognized as a teacher sent by God.
HEARING AND DOING.
2. Matt. 7:24,26. (a) "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them;" (b) "whosoever (every one) that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not." Here the two classes are very distinctly given by our Lord. In (a) we have those who "do the will of my Father which is in heaven," and in (b) those who only "say, Lord, Lord."
In the first of these passages we have all the elect of God described. The "will of God" is a blessed subject to consider, and it is beautifully described in John 6:37-40. The Greek word for "whosoever" is used three times in these verses:--
(I) "All (singular number) that the Father giveth me."
(II) "That of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing."
(III) "That every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life."
Here we have the work of the Trinity, or here are (1) the Father's patrimony, (2) the Son's preservation, and (3) the Spirit's power. The "seeing" and "believing" are the "hearing" and "doing" of Matt. 7:24)
In Matt. 7:22 there is a description of the reprobate with special reference to the pious hypocrite. Their "works" are but works of iniquity." To them the Judge will declare "I never knew you; depart from me." (ver. 23) Dear reader, to which class do you and I belong?
Paul tells us that Christ "before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession," (1 Tim. 6:13) and on referring to John 18:33-37, we find that our Lord said: "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one (another "whosoever") that is of the truth heareth my voice." Another of Christ's confessions is in Matt. 11:25, "I thank Thee (same Greek word as "confess"), O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." A third confession is found in Luke 12:8, a parallel passage to our portion: "Him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God." A fourth is most awful because it is most true. It is found in Matt. 7:23. Concerning the mere professor He says: "I will profess unto them, I never knew you." Now examine all these, and notice how the "unity of faith" in the Son corresponds with the purposes of the Father.
3. Matt. 10:32,33. (a) "whosoever shall confess Me;" (b) "whosoever shall deny Me." When divine life is communicated to the soul by God the Spirit, it is followed by corresponding actions on the part of the recipient. One is mentioned here, viz., confession. Like almost every practice enjoined in God's truth, this is much misrepresented. But let us search the Scriptures to see what we are told therein. From the Greek word used we obtain our word "homily." The proper meaning is that of "speaking together," "similarity of language," and "unity of faith." The same word is also translated "profession."
Look at Peter's confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:16) Look at Paul's: "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets; and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:14,15) Paul, in writing to the Hebrews, gives us three inspiring counsels respecting this: (1) "Holy brethren, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;" (3:1) (2) "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;" (10:23) and (3) "By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually....giving thanks to (confessing) His name." (13:15)
4. Matt. 10:33. "Whosoever shall deny me." I must add a few words upon the "whosoever" of denial. This cannot refer simply to a single act in one's life. We all remember Peter, to whom the Lord said: Verily, I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice." (Matt. 26:34) And then in the 70th verse we find that "he denied before all, saying, I know not what thou sayest." Did Jesus "deny him before His Father" for this? Never! On the contrary, Jesus said, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:32) It is not such denials as these that our Lord specially describes. Lapses we all have and the dread of such a denial may often act as a preventive.
But the "whosoever" mentioned here refers to the life action of the wicked, and is explained by Peter. "Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you." (Acts 3:14) Paul also expounds it: "He hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." (1 Tim. 5:8) "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." (2 Tim. 3:5) "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny [him]." (Titus 1:16)
Dear reader, to which "whosoever" do you belong? To the "whosoever shall confess," or to the "whosoever shall deny?"
BELIEVING IN CHRIST.
5. John 3:16,20. "(a) "whosoever believeth in Him;" (b) "every one (the same as "whosoever") that doeth evil hateth the light." We have here the two great classes into which the world is always divided, and by which the individual is distinguished.
Let the reader specially note the phrase "in Him;" it forms the key to the whole passage. What, then, is the import of this preposition "in"? I unhesitatingly affirm that it denotes the union between Christ and His Church. True belief results solely from vital union. Faith, then, appears as evidence of this union. It is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) It is substantial evidence.
HATING THE LIGHT.
6. The second "whosoever"--(John 3:20)--has reference to hatred. Now if belief be an evidence of divine grace, then unbelief is an evidence of total depravity. Unbelief is far too often looked upon as a mere negation; but Scripture represents it as the state of the natural heart of man, manifesting itself in rebellious acts towards the sovereignty of the Lord. Its very essence is activity in both word and works of ill-will against God, His Christ, His Truth, and His People.
Take a few quotations from John's Gospel. Beside the above text, there are the following from chap. 15. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before you." (15:18) "Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (15:19) "They have both seen and hated both me and My Father." (15:24) "They hated me without a cause." (15:25)
Again I ask, To which "whosoever" are we joined? To the "whosoever" which "believeth in Him," or to the "whosoever" which "hateth the light?"
I counsel the reader to examine minutely the following contrasted "whosoevers:" Matt. 12:32; Matt. 13:12; Matt. 16:25; Luke 14:11; John 4:13,14; 1 John 3:6,9,10; 2 John 9. This examination will show further how important and how discriminating the word "whosoever" is; and it will also prove how erroneous are the conceptions so superficially advanced in wrong teaching concerning it.
By negative I understand those portions of God's word which assert the truth of God, either in a negative form by the use of the word "not," or in a statement concerning sin and its consequences.
DENYING THE SON.
(a) "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father;" (1 John 2:23) (b) "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:15) What fearful whosoevers! Where is the man to be found who dare assert that these mean everybody? Thanks be to God, if our eyes have been opened to distinguish "things that differ," we have not been so taught of the Lord. There is no exception to those who "deny;" but not one of those who by grace "acknowledge the Son" is included.
But what is it "to deny?" It is to despise His claims, and, in consequence, to disown Him. Concerning millions, it may sorrowfully be said that they decline to have anything to do with God's Son as He is according to revelation. "All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent him." (John 5:23) Every conception of God is treasured up in His Son. Those who "behold the Lamb of God" have "seen the Father." It is the vital question of "eternal life." Some deny our Lord's Divinity, but thousands deny the permanence and efficacy of His Redemption, accounting it of no avail except by some action of their own.
EXCLUDED FROM HEAVEN.
The "whosoever" mentioned in Rev. 20:15, is the "whosoever" who is excluded from heaven's glory. The very mention of this makes one tremble. It is God's way of dealing with those who die in their sins. He refuses to have these "whosoevers" in His book: He purposely excluded them from eternity. They are designed as objects of His justice, to suffer the punishment of hell. This is not because they were excluded, but because of the abominable evils which they have committed.
(a) "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin;" (John 8:34) (b) "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one (point), he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) The whole human race must plead guilty under these two scriptures. We are "servants of sin," for we are "sold under sin;" but, "God be thanked," some can now read this in the past tense; we were the "servants of sin," but by God's grace, we are "made free from sin," and have become "the servants of righteousness." (Rom. 6:17,18) The Lord Jesus has satisfied the law's just demands, and He has become "the end of the law for righteousness" to us "who believe." (Rom. 10:4)
BEARING THE CROSS.
(a) "Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple;" (Luke 14:27-33) (b) "Whosoever shall eat this bread and drink [this] cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Cor. 11:27) How significant are these two "whosoevers." Whoever comes within their bounds is in a most horrible condition. The former excludes because of absence of doing; the latter, because of the presence of unworthiness.
It was the duty of a criminal to carry the gibbet upon which he was to be hung. Christ carried His cross till He was exhausted. This was part of the punishment, and intimated the burden and disgrace of the bearer. To carry the cross, therefore, signifies the sufferings and the sorrows which every child of God must endure in the cause of Christ, and which he must consider as part of his Christian life. Remember the words spoken to Ananias concerning Paul: "I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9:16)
THE LORD'S SUPPER.
The second text (1 Cor. 11:27) has reference to the Lord's Supper. How remarkable is this "whosoever!" How often has this word "unworthily" caused many to examine themselves very narrowly as to their approaching "the Lord's Table." The one important point to be noted is that the word refers to the manner of partaking, and not to the condition of the receiver. It is, therefore, a question of the principle underlying the Lord's Supper. That the participant must be "regenerated" cannot be questioned, but this is not the point here. The question is:--What are the principles underlying the proper reception? The Lord's Supper is one of commemoration during the Lord's absence "till He come." If there be taught a "presence," either as "transubstantiation," or "consubstantiation," or "real," then the participants are "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," and they are liable to punishment. They treat "the body and blood of our Lord" in an unholy manner: they act "improperly."
It is important that we should not confound "unworthily" with "unworthy." No one is "worthy" of themselves to receive the Lord's Supper. A profound sense of our sinfulness, a felt need of a Saviour, are just the qualifications for a worthy reception. A just conception of Christ's worthiness is the proper spirit in which we ought to approach Him, according to His dying request. With such convictions no one need fear that he will bring "damnation to himself," for this is the correct way of "discerning the Lord's body."
BEING A FRIEND OF THE WORLD.
"Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4) Surely this "whosoever" is a most sweeping condemnation of the professing church of the present day! "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" The "world" here must be limited to that portion of mankind in contradistinction to the people of God. The "friendship" expresses "love;" and this means the adoption of the world's principles in carrying on the supposed Divine work.
Look around at the churches." Is it not a lamentable fact that almost every worldly amusement is catered for by these "churches." Writing now, in December, 1907, the football craze is at its height. I know no Church or Chapel in Sheffield, except my own, which has not a football team connected with it. We have Bible, Sunday School, Free Church Leagues ad nauseam. In summer, cricket takes the same place. Fishing clubs, cycling clubs, brotherhoods, etc., are the means of attraction. Games of dominoes, draughts, cards, with whist drives and billiards, are all provided. Comic and variety entertainments abound everywhere.
The "churches" are music-mad. It is a sine qua non that they must have their choirs, anthems, solos, brass bands, organ recitals, etc., and they "love to have it so." Supposing all these meretricious aids were abandoned, how many of the devotees would attend? This question is an excellent test. Divine worship is not to be what man likes, but what the Almighty has commanded.
In this verse (Jas. 4:4), we have God's "whosoever will." This phrase implies will, wish, purpose, intention, and design; it supposes that the heart is intentionally set upon the object. Such willing is enmity with God: such are the enemies of God. Am I included in this "whosoever will?"
RECEIVING GOD'S MESSENGERS.
(a) "Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you...shake off the dust...for a testimony against them;" (Mark 6:11) (b) "Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." (John 16:2) To be a sent servant of God is a most solemn position, and the "message" to be delivered is most weighty. "Preach the Word" is the commission.
There is a "whosoever" who will neither receive nor hear; there is also a "whosoever" who will be so infatuated with a false zeal of a "work for God" (a most unscriptural phrase), that he will think it praiseworthy to kill the ordained servant of the Lord. What an awful position it is to belong to such a "whosoever!" God give us grace to "shake off the dust," and to refuse to have companionship with such! God grant us to "Remember" what Christ has spoken concerning "the things they will do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me." (John 16:3)
By "positive" I mean those portions of God's revelation which contain the word "whosoever," and state truth affirmatively.
(1) LIFE. "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not." (1 John 5:18) The truth of the New Birth cannot be too often enforced. The justly-celebrated John Berridge was so strongly impressed with this truth, that he ordered part of the epitaph on his tomb to be as follows:
Here lies the remains of John Berridge, late Vicar of Everton, and an itinerant servant of Jesus Christ, who loved has Master and His work, and after running after His errands for many years, was caught up to wait on Him above. Reader! Art thou born again? (So salvation without a new birth)."
What a wonderful and mysterious "whosoever" must he be, who belongs to this class! Here we have the real characteristic--the most essential feature--of a Christian. One who belongs to Christ begins with birth. I desire ardently to urge this upon the reader. Look at the following scriptures concerning this life--this new creation.
John 3:3, "Except a man be born again (from above) he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
John 3:5, "Born of water and [of] the Spirit."
John 3:6, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
John 3:7, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again."
John 3:8, "The Spirit [wind] breatheth where he willeth, and thou hearest his voice, but canst not tell whence he cometh, and whither he goeth: so is every one (another "whosoever") that is born of the Spirit."
1 Cor. 4:15, "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel."
Gal. 4:29, "As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him [that was born] after the Spirit, even so [it is] now."
1 Peter 1:23, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God."
1 John 2:29, "Every one that ("whosoever") doeth righteousness is born of him."
1 John 3:9, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
1 John 4:7, "Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God."
1 John 5:1, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God; and every one that ("whosoever") that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."
1 John 5:4, "Whosoever is born of God overcometh the world."
1 John 5:18, "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself."
To whom can the "whosoever" in these passages apply except to the elect of God? What gracious privileges belong to those who are born "of God," "of the Spirit," "by the Word," "through the Gospel!" Let us count them up.
(1) Seeth the Kingdom of God.
(2) Entereth the Kingdom of God.
(3) Doeth righteousness.
(4) Loveth God.
(5) Knoweth God.
(6) Overcometh the world.
(7) Keepth himself.
Blessed "whosoever!" To be numbered among such is to have "pleasures for evermore."
(2) FAITH. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43) There can be no doubt but that the word "whosoever" is the key word of the present Dispensation. Its constant use in the Epistles proves this, and the reason of it is very evident. Until the introduction of the Gospel times, the Jews alone were under the special covenant of God. Now, Gentiles as well as Jews are included. What better word, then, than "whosoever" could have been used? It expresses in unmistakable language the "no difference" of Rom. 3:22.
With regard to "faith," I am convinced that its place and object are much misrepresented and misunderstood at the present day. It is essential that we should know clearly where the Lord puts (1) "the Word," (2) "the new birth," and (3) "faith." The "Word" is the great instrument: it is the one means used of God to bring about the new birth. "Faith"--what is termed saving faith--is the fruit of this birth. (see Gal. 5:22) It is, therefore, misleading to speak of "faith" either as a "means" or as an "instrument." We must always consider it as a divine evidence of personal salvation. It is not that which "takes" or "receives," but that which evidences the work of grace within the soul. It always has reference and relation to what God has declared.
It is most erroneous to make faith a "condition" of our salvation. To believe is actually to possess. "He that believeth on the Son HATH everlasting life." (John 3:36) Out of numerous Scriptures I will simply quote the following:--
John 11:26, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
John 12:46, "That whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness."
Rom. 9:33, "Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (m. confounded).
1 John 5:1, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."
(a) Rom. 5:1, "Justified by faith." "By" here means "out of." It relates to "the proper use of" faith. It is the practice of the new nature as the outcome of the principle of life. Thus a man's conduct shows whether he ranges himself under the gospel or under the law.
(b) Rom. 3:22, "By faith of Jesus Christ." "By" here equals "through." Quite a different idea to that which we have in the previous example is here given by the Holy Spirit. Here is intimated the assurance of acceptation.
(c) Acts 3:16, "His name, through faith in His name." "Through " means "resting upon" (Greek). This word occurs in connection with faith only here and in Phil. 3:9. From it we learn the soul's dependence on Christ, which is well expressed in Mote's hymn:
"On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand."
(3) PRAYER. "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13) "Behold, he prayeth" was the Lord's word to Ananias concerning Paul. This was God's own testimony that the Apostle should be preserved to the end of his life: the phrase "shall be saved" expresses this certainty. "This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." (1 John 5:14,15) Need I add that the praying "whosoever" is a specially privileged individual?
(4) CONFESSION. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:15) The very presence of God is necessary for a proper Biblical confession. "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God," and this statement is preceded by the declaration "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God." (1 John 4:2)
This cannot refer to a mere acknowledgment of a creed, nor can it be a question of adherence to a corporate unity. The very word "whosoever" forbids all this. The confession must spring from the heart, and it is intensely personal. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Rom. 10:10)