'LABOUR NOT FOR THE MEAT WHICH PERISHETH, BUT FOR THAT MEAT WHICH ENDURETH UNTO EVERLASTING LIFE' - John 6:27
'Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth to eternal life,' John vi 27. This text has been considered as undeniable authority for universal invitations of all men to labor for eternal life, and also that it is their duty to do so. This text can never, any more than any other, be an authority for what it does not mean, and for what the speaker did not intend it. And that this text was never spoken with such an intention, I hope, for the sweet harmony of divine truth, to be able to shew, upon undeniable and even on fairly unquestionable grounds. These words were spoken to those Jews who were at this time seekers of Jesus, both by sea and by land; and such was their zeal, that neither distance, dry land, nor sea, could stop them, verse 24. But they sought him merely because 'they did eat of the loaves, and were filled,' verse 11,12,26; and as they were now only wanting to do the like again, to 'serve not the Lord, but their own belly,' Rom xvi 18; and so they would have made him their bread king, their belly being their God, Phil ill 19; and Christ was, with all their zeal and running after him, to be only a sort of high priest of this, their devotion, to the old lust of their flesh, Psalm lxxviii 18,30. And in the words of our text, our Lord rebuked their low and base carnality, in so running after him, in a manner altogether contrary to every thing that belonged to his character as the Messiah of their own prophets, whom they professed to believe, and also as the promised Saviour of the chosen of God; and he rebuked them in the first, while he explained and pointed out to them the latter, with its greater importance; shewing them all through the chapter, what his true character, work and authority really is, and what is indeed the true bread, meat and drink; but which doctrine of truth they could not bear, verse 60; whereas, had he preached the doctrine of duty for eternal life, we know, as they were in sentiment all for works, they would have received that doctrine, though they would never do the duty, because that is human nature's own darling divinity, and what the carnal world will and do receive, and duty faith and universal invitations just go to serve this taste; and our present contention is, whether there be any authority from God to serve that fruitless, ungodly taste, which in its very root, nature, being, and dwelling place, as in the flesh only, is opposed to the truth of the grace of God. Let us observe,
An answering of false professors according to their profession and conduct
First, how the Jews themselves understood and received our text. It appears clearly evident to me, that they understood and received it not as an invitation, an exhortation, or as a command of them to do some other work which they had not done; but as a rebuke and sweeping declaration of their being every way and altogether wrong as a people, both in all their profession of the religion of Abraham which they claimed, and in that sense to be his children, viii 39, and as under the Abrahamic covenant, according to which they claimed to be the children of God, verse 41; and also in their now running after Christ as they did, according to the connection of our text, while they did not really receive him as the Messiah of their own prophets, whom they professed to believe. For they replied, 'What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?' verse 28. They were all for works, and for pleasing God by works; and they fully understood our Lord to say, and as meaning to say, that none of their works were pleasing to God; and which seemed to take them with such surprise, that their answer appears plainly to be of the following tone: 'If we have not pleased God, and having done so many things, and so strictly too, and do even now, and yet we do not the works or things that please God; what is there left undone, and what shall we do that we might work the works of God?' And our Lord, taking them on their own ground, replied, 'This is the work of God, ' what only is pleasing to God, 'that ye believe on him whom he hath sent,' verse 29. And therefore the spirit and intent of our text was, a laying the axe at the root of their wrong principles, motives, and actions, *in regard to God, and our Lord as the Messiah, and a clearly pointing out what was right, in direct opposition to every thing of their present profession and their zeal. And however little they understood of the latter, it is evident they quite understood the former to be the spirit of the text. And while this text was also to them as Jews, on their own peculiar national covenant and professional premises there is nothing in the spirit or intention of it, as a warrant or example for universal invitations or exhortations of all men to labour for, or believe *in our Lord Jesus Christ as a duty for eternal life. Man's wrongs are his own, and are chargeable upon him, and truth is explainable to every rational creature, and that should be our aim to do as teachers; but God's gift of eternal life, 'in every department of it, is heaven's height above all creature duty, Isaiah Iv 8,9.
A duty faith exposition inconsistent with apostolic teaching
Second. If this text had any thing in it of the spirit or intention of universal invitation of all men to the things of eternal salvation, it would have been a plain authority for the apostles to all people of the Gentiles. But we have already most plainly shewn, and again affirm, and challenge all the powers of duty faith to prove the contrary, that the apostles never once did, in any one instance to the unbelieving Gentiles, use any thing of a universal invitation of all men, to the things of eternal salvation as the natural man's duty; and so they could never understand our Lord to mean or intend any such thing; because if they had, they, doubtless, would have taken it for their authority, and done accordingly, and their example would have been a conclusive law to us; but as they did no such thing in any one case, so we have no such law in their example to do so, nor so to take our text.
A duty faith exposition of the verse conflicts with the context
Third. If by our text our Lord had really meant any thing in the spirit of a universal invitation of the unbelieving world unto eternal salvation, would he not, without self contradiction, have uniformly maintained that, countenance through the whole, as the true spirit and intent of his ministry? To be self-consistent, would he not have done so? Methinks you must say - Yes, of course he would. But that he has not done this, but has altogether contradicted and denied this to be the true spirit and intent of his ministry, is most clearly evident. Because in this very selfsame discourse, our Lord declared:(1) A positive shall come of 'all the Father giveth him,' verse 37. (2) A positive cannot come, but as drawn by the Father, verse 44. (3) And he has positively declared, that for any one to come to him at all, is by the special gift only of God the Father, verse 65. So that if we say that our Lord spoke the words of our text in any way conveying, and meaning to convey, the sentiment of universal invitations and exhortations to eternal salvation, we are instantly driven into the awful but unavoidable labyrinth of charging him with direct self-contradiction in sound and sense, in the one and selfsame discourse to the same people.
It is said, 'The Jews then murmured at him,' verse 41; and if our Lord had so spoken in our text, as to convey to them any thing in the shape and nature of a universal invitation, which for all themselves they would have liked, and then, in the same discourse, to say the above direct opposite things; they might then well murmur, to hear such yea and nay - to hear themselves so tantalized and trifled with - to hear themselves told to do for themselves, as the only way of pleasing God, what they are directly told that no man of himself can possibly do - to hear that declared to be general as a universal invitation, which is directly declared to be as particular only, as the will and operative power of God alone shall determine. But he, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, would never so violate all the divinely given and settled laws of common sense in the rational world, as to set up that for a divine truth which is made up of such direct self contradictions. Truth does not require this, and such is not of the truth; for if such could be truth, what can be falsehood? Self contradiction in the parts of any whole is a division against itself in that whole, be the subject what it may; and our Lord himself has very plainly Shawn, that no house, city, kingdom, system or subject, so divided against itself can stand, but hath as end, Matt xii 25; Mark ill 24-27; and that no man can serve two such directly opposed masters at the same time, Luke xvi 13. Truth is, therefore, no such two opposed - truth is not so divided against itself by such contradictions truth is a heavenly harmonious whole - truth is of God, and is his will revealed, and the truth of God endureth for ever; being as impossible to be divided against itself by self-contradiction, as the all-wise eternal God of heaven and earth and of truth is, without possible contradiction, in himself.
A duty faith exposition inconsistent with all the Lord's ministry
Nor hath our Lord in John vi only, denied and condemned all possible truth and consistency in every notion of universal invitations and exhortations to eternal life, but in other places also; as
1) In his thanksgiving address to the Father; saying 'I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,' Matt. xi 25,26. Is it, or can it be possible, that all universally are to be invited to come of themselves and see what God himself hath bid from many, and even from the wise and prudent? Duty faith divinity says yes, but most assuredly the truth and gospel of the grace of God says no; for moral deism is more self consistent than it is to say, that God invites and makes it the duty of all to see what he himself hath so hid, that many shall not see. Law requirements and man's inability being no argument here, because man was originally equal to all the law requires, and lost his ability by sin only.
2) Our Lord's speaking in parables, and not plain to some, because to them it was not given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, while to others he did speak plain, because to them it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, Matt xiii 10, 11, is a full and clear denial to all consistency in the idea of universal invitations; because they equalize the whole on the ground of duty for the kingdom of heaven, whereas, here is a decided discrimination made for the kingdom of heaven, and that by divine gift only.
3) Our Lord's declaration, that 'whosoever blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come,' Matt xii 31,32, is a full declaration, that there is no truth in the idea of universal invitations; for as there are some characters whom our Lord says shall never be forgiven, he has most certainly never authorized them to be invited. And as they are among the dead in sin, and are not to be invited, and no man can distinguish one from another, that is evidence clear enough that we have no business to invite any of the dead in sin, but preach the truth, and explain their state, and leave the rest in the hand of God.
4) That our Lord prayed for all those who shall believe through the word of truth, and would not pray for the world universally, John xvii 9,20. That to sit with him in his kingdom is not even his to give, but to them for whom it is prepared of the Father, Matt xx 23. That no man is anything for the kingdom of God, unless born of the Spirit, John ill 5. That Christ laid down his life for his sheep only, and that there are some that are not his sheep, John x 15,16,26. That all the vessels of mercy are of God afore prepared unto glory, while there are vessels of wrath, Rom ix 21-23, and that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, verse 16. The total absence of divine truth and authority from universal invitations is hereby fully declared; and that they are not only perversions of the truth of God, the inventions of that sort of pious benevolence toward fellow man, which is exceedingly pleasing to man, but which runs counter to, and despises the sovereignty of the divine will, in the independent dispensation of the blessings of eternal life, as an act of grace, only because he will be gracious.
Fourth. 'Which the Son of Man shall give unto you.' Unto you Jews, as well as unto the Gentiles; and to as many, 'as touching election, are beloved for the fathers' sakes,' Rom xi 2 8, 'even to as many as the Lord our God shallcall,' Acts 1139; in the same sense as in verse 5 1, saying, 'And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world:' to a people out of the whole world, but not to the whole world of people, for so he would not pray for the world. Upon these grounds, therefore, we conclude, that our Lord never spake the words of our text in the spirit and meaning of a universal invitation or exhortation, or with any intention thereby to give authority for any thing of the kind; the harmony of scripture being divine evidence.