June 23, 2009

Thomas Becon (c.1512–c.1567) on the World as Mankind in John 3:16

Thomas BeconBut now let us go forth and see what is the way to come by this gift. For all things are not of like force to obtain this gift. Christ himself shows it plainly by his word, when he saith, that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This is an evident proof that only faith, that is, the trust in the grace and mercy of God, is the very hand wherewith we must take unto us this gift. For even as God giveth by love and mercy, so we do take and receive by faith, and can receive no otherwise. As for thy merit for doing this or that, it hath no place. For our works are nothing requisite to the obtaining of this gift, only is it necessary to show ourselves ready through faith, and even as it is given of God, by love; so we ought to receive it by faith in Christ. As, for an example; we are told here that God is merciful and ready to forgive, and that he declares his love and charity toward us by this—when he sends his only begotten Son into the flesh, and lays our sins upon him; according to this saying of John, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world; that by this gift and love our hearts may be confirmed against sin and the biting worm of conscience; forasmuch as God is not now angry with us, but standeth sure by his promise of grace and mercy which he has made with us, for his Son Jesus Christ's sake. He that believeth this is sure to be saved. For this gift is given to make us safe from death and sin. For even as a great flame is in comparison with a drop of water; so is Christ in comparison with the sins of the world. As soon as they touch Christ, and as soon as the gift is received by faith, our sins are quite consumed and abolished, even as a dry stalk is by a hot fire. For here thou hearest by the word of Christ, that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son for the world, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He saith precisely here, They that believe in him. He saith not, He that taketh upon him this or that work, and is thereby endeavouring himself to purchase God's favour. It is only faith that purchases this gift. Wherefore let our adversaries withstand this sentence ever so much, let them rail ever so much against it, yet is this sentence sure and invincible; that they who believe in him shall have everlasting life, and shall not perish. And see thou put nothing hereto, nor take any thing from it, lest thou shouldest seem to take upon thee to correct Christ's judgment. These are excellent words and the words of life; God grant us his grace to print them in our hearts. For he that hath these words surely fixed in his heart, can neither be afraid of the devil, nor of sin, nor of hell, but will be of a quiet heart, and say, I am without all fear; for I have with me the Son of God, whom God hath given unto me by love and by the word of God, that is, by the gospel, which certifies me thereof. And thy word, O Lord, and thy Son Jesus will not deceive me, in whom alone I put my trust. If I be weak in faith, grant me grace that I may believe more steadfastly. For besides this, I have no other help in this evident gift and love of God, but that we should all, by a little and a little, believe more and more in this gift. For faith is requisite, as thou hearest here of Christ. And the stronger faith is, the greater is the joy, pleasure, and security that is felt rising in the mind, so that after that the mind is most prone and ready to do and to suffer all things which we know God requires of us, and wills us to do, knowing that he is loving, and uses nothing but love toward us.

But thou wilt say, If I were as Peter, Paul, and Mary were, this gift would be comfortable unto me. For they are saints, and doubtless this saying pertains but unto them. How should I, who am a sinner, by any means understand that it pertains unto me, who have so often offended God by my sins, and have made him my enemy? Such thoughts cannot be avoided, when the heart, after this kind of preaching and reasoning, beholds itself, and considers its sins. And here must we be circumspect and wary, lest we, laying aside God's word, give ourselves any long time to such thoughts, but forthwith must we return to the word, and order our judgment according to the same. For those thoughts are nothing but mere incredulity and unbelief, which goeth about to withdraw us from this sweet gospel. And truly unbelief can be overcome by no other means than by the word of God. Of this Christ spake—that we should not doubt of this word; saying, that his Father, the true and eternal God in heaven, did so love the world, that he delivered his only begotten Son. And this is sure, that the world here does not signify Mary, Peter, and Paul only; but the world signifies all mankind. Therefore if thou takest thyself to be of mankind, or if thou dost not believe that, compare thyself with other mortal men, that thou mayest understand that thou art a man. For why shouldest thou not suffer thyself to be of this name, seeing that Christ with plain words saith, that God gave not his Son only for Mary, Peter, and Paul, but for the world, that all should receive him that are the sons of men. Then if thou or I would not receive him, as though he did not appertain unto us, truly it would consequently follow, that Christ's words are not true, whereas he saith he was given and delivered for the world. Wherefore hereof appears, that the contrary thereto is most assuredly true, that is, that this gift belongs as well unto thee as to Peter and Paul, forasmuch as thou also art a man as they were, and a portion of the world, that God may not be judged in his word, and this thought rise in our heart, thinking on this wise: Who knoweth whether I am also of their number, to whom the Son of God is given, and eternal life promised. For that is as much as to make God untrue to his promise. Wherefore when this thought comes upon thee, suspect it, as thou wouldest suspect the devil, lest thou be therewith deceived. And say thou, What is that to me, that I am neither Peter nor Paul? If God would have given this gift to them only that should have been found worthy, he would have given it to the angels, to the sun, and to the moon; for they are pure and undefiled creatures, which always obey God, and never decline or swerve from his precepts. But this is the truth of the matter, he gave Him to the world, and the world is no worthier thereof than as I said before. Wherefore, although I am neither Peter nor Paul, yet will I not suffer myself to be put beside this gift, but will challenge as much for my part as David and all the holy apostles did. Whatsoever I am, yet God is not to be taken as unfaithful to his promise. I am a portion of the world, wherefore if I take not this gift as mine own I make God untrue.
Thomas Becon, "Faith in Christ," in the Writings of the Rev. Thomas Becon (London: Printed for the Religious Tract Society, 1830), 497–500.


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