Introduction

While reading a Foreword to the Systematic Theology of Charles Finney, I was struck by the author reciting how Finney believed God drew men to Jesus.  Prior to this time, I believed it to be a work of the Holy Spirit, but I really had no idea how, nor did I suspect I should know.  I regarded it as one of the wonderful and mysterious ways God works. 

Finney, however, believed that God drew men through truth – his Word (John 17:17).  He based his belief on John 6:44-45, where Jesus said: 

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.[1] 

It is the last sentence that I had never noticed in that way before.  And it does not say it is the Holy Spirit acting, but everyone who listens to the Father comes to Jesus.  

We’ll see if this understanding has corroboration elsewhere in Scripture and whether we can observe the objective truth of it.

Who Is the Father?

I know that question sounds strange, but in order to understand this clearly we have to let Scripture clearly identify the parties.  The Apostle Paul identified who the Father is:  

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live (Romans 8:5-6).  

Paul gave the title Father to the one God.  Jesus he called the one (and only) Lord. 

How Do We Come To Believe?

There is one verse that tells us how faith (or belief) comes.  Let’s look at several translations of Romans 10:17: 

17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (KJV). 

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (NAS) 

17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (NIV) 

17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. (RSV) 

17 So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (ASV) 

All the translations say that faith (or belief) comes from hearing.  The question, if there be one, is:  What must be heard in order to gain faith?  Is there disagreement between the translations?  Only the King James Version says it is the word of God that must be heard.  All the rest say it is by the word or preaching of Christ.  Let’s examine this in more detail to see if there really is disagreement.

God The Father Is the Source of Jesus’ Teaching

Jesus revealed the source of his teaching and the way to confirm that truth:  “My teaching is not my own.  It comes from him who sent me.  If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:16-17).  Jesus also said, “He who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world” (John 8:26).

Jesus specifically stated that what he taught and commanded came from God.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).  “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. . . . So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49-50).  “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).  “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).  “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31).  

Jesus Said and Did Only What God Told Him to Do and Say

Because God instructed Jesus what to do and say, and because Jesus obeyed perfectly, whatever Jesus said and did was God’s will.  Every teaching, every command, every miracle, all were done by Jesus because God the Father instructed him to do it and he did exactly as he was told.  Everything Jesus did was the will of God.  It can be truly stated that everything Jesus said was the Word of God. 

Because that is so, we see there is no contradiction between the translations of Romans 10:17.  All are speaking of the Word of God, but all but one speak of the Word of God as expressed (taught and commanded) by Jesus. 

This is also important as we refer to Finney’s text (John 6:44-45).  We see now that it is the Word of God, expressed in the preaching and teaching of Jesus that Finney would say draw people to Jesus (and from which faith, comes according to Romans 10:17).

Is There Anything Extraordinary About God’s Word as Expressed By Jesus?

Speaking of himself, Jesus said, “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3:34).  

The words of Jesus (the words of God as expressed by Jesus) also have special characteristics not found in usual words.  Jesus said of his words: 

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). 

The Apostles came to understand how different were the words of Jesus: 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). 

In a parable, Jesus showed the importance of his words in the lives of those who hear his words and puts them into practice: 

I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.   48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.   49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:47-49).  

Perhaps the translations that speak of faith coming by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) now have more meaning.  Though they are surely the words of God (see John 3:34), Jesus said his words have special characteristics and attributes – they are spirit, they are life; they are the words of eternal life.  As such, we can understand how they can be empowered to draw men to Jesus. 

Is there further corroboration that God’s Word draws men to Jesus?

The Word of God Is Living and Active

The writer to the Hebrews describes supernatural attributes of the Word of God: 

12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). 

It does not seem like much of a reach to accept that the Word of God that has such power, and that is living and active, can also penetrate to the heart of the non-believer and draw that person to Jesus. 

Paul told Timothy how the Word of God should be used with believers:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). 

If that is so with believers, how is it to be used with unbelievers?

Preach the Good News

Jesus commanded us (with respect to non-believers):   

“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). 

Jesus commanded us to preach the good news to all creation.  It is Jesus who brought the good news.  The Gospels (the Good News) expresses what God has done for mankind (summarized in John 3:16) by giving his Son for their sins so their sins can be forgiven, so they may be reconciled to God (Colossians 1:21-23), and so they can believe and be saved.  

Is it any wonder that God would use this means to draw men to Jesus?  God is using the incredible good news through the words of Jesus that are spirit and that are life (John 6:63) and the words of eternal life (John 6:68). 

Do We Understand How to Obey This Command?

What is our correct response if God draws men to Jesus through his Word, and especially through the teachings of Jesus (the Word of God) of the good news of the Gospel? 

Think of all the things we (you and I) do, or do not do, in trying to win people to Christ.  Do we use the Gospels (the good news) as the basis for our teaching and preaching as we seek to draw men to Jesus?  If God draws people to Jesus through the good news of his word, then we are truly unfaithful servants if we do not obediently use that same good news, as God’s servants, to draw men to Jesus.  

This becomes particularly serious because Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).  If we fail to use the means God has given us to draw men to Jesus, they will not come to him, they will not believe, and they will not have salvation.  Will their blood be upon our head?

Results of Faithful Preaching

In the Early Church

I spent time looking at how the church grew as recounted in the book of Acts.  After all, if what we have discussed is true, there should be evidence of that in Scripture.  What a surprise that was!  How could I not have seen the emphasis on the word of God before, I wondered.  As you read the following verses, remember the scripture that says, “Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God (or of Christ).” 

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).  When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them (Acts 8:14).  When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25).  The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God (Acts 11:1).  But the word of God continued to increase and spread (Acts 12:24). When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues  (Acts 13:5).   

The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God (Acts 13:7).  When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:12).  On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord (Acts 13:44).  The word of the Lord spread through the whole region (Acts 13:49).  But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord (Acts 15:35).  Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (Acts 16:31-32). 

When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up (Acts 17:13).  So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. (Acts 18:11).  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10).  In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power (Acts 19:20).  “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32).  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (Ephesians 1:13). 

Are there other examples in Scripture that would tend to confirm that God draws men to Jesus through his word?

By Paul

The Apostle Paul had to be one of the most successful teachers and evangelists in Scripture, going usually into new territory to proclaim the Gospel.  What did he do when he went into these new, heathen territories to try to convert the people?  Paul said, “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel (good news) of Christ” (Romans 15:19).  As we have seen earlier, it is the Gospel of Christ that is stated in Scripture to have special power, to be spirit and truth and the words of eternal life.  Paul was being obedient to the command in Mark:  “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  We know how God blessed his efforts and his obedience.

By Charles Finney

We started this discussion with the comments of Charles Finney.  As I have written before, many regard Charles Finney as one of the greatest of American evangelists, but great in a way I’d not heard of others.  Not only did a great number respond to the Gospel, but also they seemed to respond with a remarkable fervour, repentance, and perseverance in their faith. 

Harry Conn wrote a Foreword to Finney’s Systematic Theology.  He commented upon the revivals of Charles Finney: 

Students of revivals agree that the greatest evangelist since apostolic times was the tenderhearted and devoted Charles Grandison Finney, 1792-1875.  His revivals were known for the presence of the Holy Spirit, great enlightenment of the human mind with the truth of God, deep conviction of sin and sinners having a saving subjective experience based upon objective truth.

Lest the different use of words is not clear, the “truth of God” is the word of God.  Objective truth is the word of God.

By the Calvary Chapels

The Calvary Chapels, started in Costa Mesa, California, have a requirement that is somewhat unique.  They require their Bible teachers and pastors to teach the whole word of God.  They are required to teach verse by verse through the Scriptures.  When I lived in Orange County, California, the impact of that Calvary Chapel was remarkable.  Perhaps started only 30 years ago from that one church, there are now many hundreds of Calvary chapels in the United States and around the world.  The requirement to teach the Word of God has not changed.  Neither has the fact that most of those who attend the church (of the ones I knew) were newly converted.  It is also remarkable how quickly many of the churches have grown.  I have credited it in the past to the unsatisfied hunger for the Word of God.  After this study, I realize that the reason is likely the supernatural power of the Word of God unleashed by the faithful preaching of God’s Word week in and week out.

An Example Today

This very afternoon Dar and I had afternoon coffee with a husband and wife who work with students on the campus of Canterbury University here in Christchurch.  They were joyfully recounting the considerable number of students who had become believers in the Lord Jesus through their ministry and who they were now discipling.  With this article in mind, I asked them just what they told these students as they met with them that caused them to be converted.  Without hesitation they said they used the Scriptures.  I asked which Scriptures.  They immediately answered, “The Gospels, sometimes Luke and sometimes John.”  

The above are examples in both the early church and today’s world of successful application of the principle advanced by Charles Finney that God uses the truth of His Word to draw men to Jesus. 

Conclusion

This subject, I believe, is worth serious thought.  Once convinced of its truth, I believe we should take action with respect to what Scriptures teaches on this subject.  I have just recited instances above where outstanding successes were and are being accomplished by those who faithfully preach the Word of God.  Perhaps we can learn from them.  But this should not be simply new information that is interesting to note, but rather, if true, should be implemented and followed with haste and zeal.  

God forbid that we should fail to draw people to the Lord Jesus because we did not use the tool God put in our hands – the good news – the truth of his Word!  If we fail to use that, it is not God who is at fault.  Scripture says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 


Footnotes:

[1]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.