Among the numerous self-deceiving notions which are cherished in the minds of men, is that of their being willing to return to God at any time, provided they had opportunity and the means of doing so. In accounting for their own impenitence and perseverance in sin, they will impute it to their situation, their temptations, their callings, their connexions, or to any thing but their evil hearts. Some have even learned to speak evil of their hearts, while it is manifest that they mean to include, under that term, nothing pertaining to intention, desire, or design, but something that exists and operates in them against their inclination. Hence, you will often hear them acknowledge themselves to be unconverted, and at the same time express how willing and desirous they are of being converted, if it would but please God to put forth his power in their favour. The word of God, however, speaks a different language; while it ascribes all that is good to grace only, it lays the evil at the sinner’s own door.
A great number of instances might be alleged from the Scriptures in proof of this truth; but the greatest proof of all is the manner in which Christ himself was treated, when he appeared on earth. The evangelist, having introduced him to his reader in all the glory of Divinity, describes in plaintive language the neglect and contempt he met with, both from the world in general, and from his own nation in particular. Let us examine these complaints.
“He was in the world.” It has often been objected, If the religion of Christ has a claim on the world, why has not the world had more of an opportunity to hear it? It might be the design of the evangelist to obviate this objection. His being “in the world” does not seem to refer so much to his personal presence among men, in the days of his flesh, as to those manifestations of him which, from the beginning of the world, had furnished them with the means of knowing him, and which, therefore, rendered their ignorance inexcusable. He had been revealed, at the outset of the world, as the woman’s Seed, who should bruise the head of the serpent. Sacrifices were appointed to prefigure his atonement; which, though perverted, were never discontinued, even among the heathen. The selection of the seed of Abraham, and their miraculous settlement in Canaan, must have attracted universal attention; and as the Messiah was a prominent feature of their religion, he was, in a manner, proclaimed through every nation. The effect produced on the mariners, when Jonah told them that he was a Hebrew, and feared Jehovah, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, shows very plainly that the displays of omnipotence, in behalf of Israel, were not unknown to the surrounding nations. That, also, which was soon after produced on the Ninevites, when they learned that he was a Hebrew prophet, sent of God, evinces the same thing. And if they were not ignorant of God’s judgments, they were not destitute of the means of inquiring after the true religion. Nay, more, the expectation of the promised Messiah was, for a long time before he appeared, very general among the nations. Had they, therefore, possessed any portion of a right spirit, or any desire after the true God, they would have been as inquisitive as were the wise men of the east, and as desirous as they were of paying him homage.
Not only was he in the world, so as to render their ignorance of him inexcusable, but “the world” itself “was made by him.” Though, as to the state of their minds, they were far from him, yet he was not far from every one of them; for in him they lived, and moved, and had their being. When he became incarnate, it was nothing less than their Creator in very deed dwelling with them upon the earth. Such an event ought to have excited universal inquiry, and to have induced all men every where to repent.
But though he was in the world, and the world was made by him, yet “the world knew him not!” Full of their own schemes and pursuits, they thought nothing of him. The Roman governors, in hearing the accusations of the Jews against Paul, and his defences, had great opportunities of knowing the truth; but the ignorance and contempt expressed by Festus, in his report of the matter to Agrippa, show the inefficacy of all means, unless accompanied with the mighty power of God. The Jews “brought none accusation of such things as he supposed; but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive!”
But this is not the heaviest complaint: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” How appropriate are the terms here used! He was in the world, and therefore within the reach of inquiry. But to the seed of Abraham he came, knocking, as it were, at their door for admission; but “they received him not.” The world are accused of ignorance, but they of unbelief; for receiving him not, though a merely negative form of speech, yet is expressive of a positive refusal of him. Instead of welcoming the heavenly visitant, they drove him from their door, and even banished him from the earth. Who would have supposed that a people whose believing ancestors had been earnestly expecting the Messiah for a succession of ages would have rejected him when he came among them? Yet so it was: and if Jews or deists of the present day ask, “How could these things be?” we answer, It was foretold by their own prophets that he should possess neither form nor comeliness in their eyes, and that when they should see him, there would be no beauty that they should desire him.
The consideration of their being his own people, the children of Abraham his friend, added to their sin, and to his affliction. It was this which he so pathetically lamented, when he “beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.”
Grievous, however, as this treatment was to our blessed Lord, he was not utterly disregarded. Though the world in general knew him not, and though the great body of his own nation rejected him; yet there was “a remnant according to the election of grace,” partly Jews and partly Gentiles, who received him: and whether they had been previously distinguished by their sobriety, or by their profligacy; whether they came in companies, as under Peter’s sermon, or as individuals, like her who wept and washed his feet, or him who sought mercy when expiring by his side on the cross; all were received by him, and raised to the highest dignity: “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” And thus, though Israel was not gathered, yet Christ was glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and had a people given him from among the heathen.
I need not say that the treatment which our Saviour received is the same, for substance, in all ages. There is a world that still knows him not, and many who, though possessed of the means of grace, yet receive him not; and, blessed be God! there are also many, both Jews and Gentiles, who still receive him, and are still blessed with the privilege of being adopted into his heavenly family.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Reception of Christ the Turning Point of Salvation,” Sermon XV in Sermons and Sketches. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 266–268). Sprinkle Publications.