29 May, 2018

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) on John 3:16




[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 23, no. 20 (August 1, 1947), pp. 464-465]


The general meaning of the word “cosmos” [rendered “world” in John 3:16] is harmony, orderly arrangement, beauty.  Our word “cosmetics” is derived from it.  It is used to denote the created universe, all creatures in heaven and on earth, as an organic whole, from the viewpoint of its order and harmony.


This fundamental denotation is, probably, never entirely absent from the word as it occurs in the Bible, although it has different connotations.  Frequently, the world refers especially to the world of men, to mankind or a part of it.  But since man is intimately related to the world outside of him, and stands at the head of the universe as we know it—moreover, lives and develops in and through that universe—the word “world,” even when it has special reference to men, does not exclude the universe, still less has in view men individually, but rather denotes mankind as it is organically related to and connected with the whole outside world.


Bearing this in mind, we find that the word sometimes denotes the whole of reprobate, wicked men, as they life in darkness, and subject all things in their universe to their sinful mind and will, and employ them in the service of sin.  It is in this sense that the Saviour uses the word in John 17:9, where we read: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.”


Closely related to this meaning of the word, yet with a different shade of meaning, is the word “world” as it occurs in [I John 2:15]: “love not the world.”  When sinful men react upon the world, and use all things therein in the service of sin, the result is a certain form of life, a sinful and corrupt order of things.  In a sense, it may be said that the wicked create their own world, a world of evil things, in which everything is adapted to the satisfaction of divers, sinful lusts and pleasures, movies, dances, speech, and gestures.  To this the Bible refers when it warns us: “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15-17).  Love of the world, of the universe and the things therein, apart from God, is lust, and results in corruption.


Now, the same word, “cosmos” is used in Scripture to denote the totality of the elect as an organic whole, but again in connection with the whole universe. We must remember that, in the elect, God does not save a few or many individual men, but the real organism of the race.  Comparing the race to a tree, we may say that the real tree is saved, the lost are the branches that are cut off.  The real organism of the human race is saved as the body of Christ.  Moreover, not only the elect, but also the universe, God’s creation, is saved, and will be glorified in the new creation.  It is to this whole world of God’s elect and all things in Christ that John 3:16 refers.  For it is the object of the love of God, and it will surely be saved.


In the light of all this, it will be plain that the word “world” dare not be translated by “all men.”  This is never the meaning, least of all in John 3:16, although it is often interpreted as if it meant just this.  Surely, it must be self-evident that the world in John 3:16 is surely saved, since what God loves cannot be lost; and that “world” in this passage cannot include that other “world” for which the Saviour declares that He does not pray.  It is the world in Christ, as God conceived it in His counsel, and as it shall oneday be revealed in all its beauty and glory in the new creation, where the tabernacle of God will be with men.






[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), pp. 342-345]



2.   Does not Scripture teach in John 3:16: “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?”


Certainly; but notice:


a.  That in this text there is not only no general offer of grace and salvation, but there is no offer at all. The passage contains a statement concerning God. As the introductory word “for” indicates plainly, it adduces a reason for the immediately preceding verse, which emphasizes the necessity of the lifting up of the Son of man. Christ must be lifted up on the cross and into glory. Why? Because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Surely, it must be admitted that the love of God is sovereign and unchangeable. If He loves anyone with the love by which He gave His only begotten Son, that one will surely be saved.


b.  That the object of this love of God is “the world.” But “world” occurs with different connotations in Scripture. The meaning must be determined from the text or from its context. Fact is, however, that it never means “all men individually.” This is neither the meaning of the word itself nor does it ever have this meaning in the context in which it occurs. Let us consider some of these meanings:


(1)   The most natural meaning of “world” or “kosmos” is creation in its organic sense, either as it actually exists, or as God conceived of the whole of His works in their final perfection in His counsel before the foundation of the world. It refers to the works of God as one whole, harmoniously related, without having respect to individual creatures. Creation, as it consummates in man, stands and falls with man and will be redeemed and glorified with man in the believers or the elect. This is the meaning of the word in John 3:16. That world, the whole of God’s works, as it will be glorified and redeemed in and with the elect believers, is the object of that love of God by which He gave His only begotten Son. Hence, not all men in the world, but “whosoever believeth on Him” shall be saved and have eternal life.


(2)   The word “world” may also mean this present world as it is in sin and corruption. Even then the original sense of “creation” or the whole of the works of God, is not entirely absent from it, but it looks at these from the viewpoint of their being dominated by the wicked, so that all things are pressed into the service of sin. Also the wicked commit their iniquity and develop in sin in connection with and by means of God’s creation. Hence, they are “the world,” and the forms of life they create in their sin are also “the world.” In this sense we must understand the word in John 17:9, where the Lord says: “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me, for they are thine.” Thus also in John 17:16: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” And again in I John 2:15-17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” It is also in this sense that the word is used when Scripture calls the devil “the prince of this world,” John 14:30; 16:11.


(3)   The world may also mean the totality of the saved out of the world, because the saved are gathered from every nation and tongue and tribe and not merely from a single nation or group. A plain illustration of this connotation you find in II Cor. 5:19: “To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. They that would interpret the word “world” in this text as meaning all men, must needs distort and deny the true meaning of the word “reconciliation.” To reconcile always implies the blotting out of sin. That this is also implied in the text is evident from the words “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” It is clear, then, that this “world” is actually saved in the blood of Christ. It is reconciled. But, then, either is true: “world” does not mean “all men,” or “all men” are saved. The latter is not true; hence, “world” does not signify all men, but the totality of the saved out of every nation. Another illustration of this meaning of the word “world” you may find in I John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only (that is, for us as we have already been called as a Church) but also for the sins of the whole world (all the saved as they shall be called out of every nation).


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