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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, January 27, 2019

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

For two thousand years there has been a disagreement over whether the Greek verb translated “search” is in the imperative or indicative mood. Was Jesus telling them to search the Scriptures, or was He describing the fact that they searched them? To me it is an unimportant question because that isn’t the main point Christ was making. I think that’s why the Holy Spirit didn’t give the mood of the verb – because He wanted us to focus on the second half of the verse. I think Christ was describing what the Pharisees were doing. They were searching the Scriptures – and doing so constantly! Christ certainly didn’t need to tell them to search the Scriptures! “They pored over the OT [Old Testament] endeavoring to extract the fullest possible meaning from its words, because they believed that the very study itself would bring them life” (Frank E. Gaebelein, D.D., editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1981, volume 9, p. 68; note on John 5:39).

By not giving the mood of the verb translated “search” the Spirit of God focuses our attention on the more important point – that they thought they had eternal life through studying and believing the Scriptures... “In them ye think ye have eternal life.” Matthew Henry said, “They looked for [eternal life] by the bare reading and studying of the Scripture. It was a common but corrupt saying among them, ‘He that has the words of the law has eternal life’; they thought they were sure of heaven if they could say by heart...such passages of Scripture as they were directed to by the tradition of the elders” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 edition, volume 5, p. 753; note on John 5:39).

They were willing to search the Scriptures and believe the Scriptures, but they were not willing to come to Jesus. They substituted a belief in Bible verses for coming to Christ! That’s what the text teaches – and it is a very important lesson indeed!

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

And that brings us to the soul-damning error of Sandemanianism, an error that has filled our churches with thousands of unsaved people who imagine that they are Christians, when, in fact, they are children of the Devil, headed for the eternal flames of Hell. What is Sandemanianism? It is a doctrine taught by a Church of Scotland pastor named John Glas (1695-1773), and then popularized by his son-in-law Robert Sandeman (1718-1771). His main teaching was this – that you accept what the Bible says about Christ with your mind, and that is all that is necessary. To be saved, you merely believe what the Bible says about Christ. It is really the same error as that of the Pharisees who said, “He that has the words [of the Bible] has eternal life.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “You accept that with your mind, and that is all that is necessary...It held itself coldly aloof from any display of feelings in…religious life. Now that is the very essence of the matter” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., “Sandemanianism,” in The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996 edition, p. 175).

Robert Sandeman said that everyone who understands the death and resurrection of Christ, and believes that the events actually happened as reported in the Bible, is saved (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., p. 174). Today Sandemanianism is a major error in our churches. It sends millions to Hell. There are people here this evening who believe this deadly error! Therefore, pay close attention to this sermon, because you may be one of them!

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

We learn two main things from this text.

I. First, belief in the Bible will not save you.

The Jews to whom Christ spoke believed the Bible. But they would not come to Jesus. There are some here this evening who believe the Bible. You even believe what the Bible says about Jesus. You believe that He came down from Heaven. You believe that He was born of a virgin. You believe that He took your sins upon Him. You believe that He suffered under the weight of your sin in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). You believe that He was scourged across the back. You believe that sinners are healed by His stripes. You believe that He was nailed to a cross. You believe that He bore our sins there. You believe that He died to make full payment for sin on that cross. You believe that He rose physically from the dead. You believe that He ascended back to Heaven, to the right hand of the Father. You believe that He is praying for sinners. You believe that He is coming again to receive His own at the Rapture. You believe that He is coming back through the clouds to reign on the earth for a thousand years. You even believe that no one can be saved without coming to Jesus. But, even though you believe all that, still Christ says of you,

“Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40).

Some of you are confused. You wonder how you can believe all that in the Bible and not be saved. You have not understood the fact that no one is saved by believing the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul said to Timothy,

“...thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15).

That’s where your error lies. You believe what the Bible says about Jesus without “faith which is in Christ Jesus” Himself. In other words, you are like those Jews that Jesus spoke to when He said,

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

I must say to you again, as strongly as possible – belief in the Bible will not save you. You must come to Jesus Himself! Mere belief in the Bible, as an end in itself, is the deadly doctrine of Sandemanianism!

Dr. A. W. Tozer spoke against it constantly. In a chapter titled, “Bible Taught or Spirit Taught?”, Dr. Tozer said,

       It may shock some readers to suggest that there is a difference between being Bible taught and being Spirit taught. Nevertheless it is so...
       Most of us are acquainted with churches that teach the Bible to their children from the [earliest] years, give them long instruction in the [Bible class] and still never produce in them a living Christianity nor a virile godliness. Their [children] show no evidence of having passed from death unto life. None of the [marks] of salvation so plainly indicated in the Scriptures are found among them. Their religious lives are correct and reasonably moral, but wholly mechanical and altogether lacking in radiance...
       Such persons cannot be dismissed as hypocrites. Many of them are pathetically serious about it all. They are simply blind. From lack of the vital Spirit they are forced to get along with the outward shell of faith, while all the time their deep hearts are starving for spiritual reality and they do not know what is wrong with them...Jesus Christ is Himself the Truth, and He cannot be confined to mere words... (A. W. Tozer, D.D., “Bible Taught or Spirit Taught?”, The Root of Righteousness, Christian Publications, 1986 edition, pp. 35, 36, 37).

Dr. Tozer thus exposed the false doctrine of Sandemanianism. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said that Sandemanianism “ a very contemporary subject. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that it is one of the main problems before us at the present time” (ibid., p. 177).

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

II. Second, you must be shaken out of your lethargy – out of your sleepiness!

Read the entire message in the fifth chapter of John. Christ said to them,

“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not” (John 5:37, 38).

That was strong preaching. That was the kind of preaching our forefathers heard in the First Great Awakening. Whitefield and Edwards and Wesley, Howell Harris, and the other great preachers of that time laid the axe to the root. And Robert Sandeman hated them for it! Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

Those holding Sandemanian views are always opposed to… emotional preaching, and any preaching which would have the effect of bringing people to a feeling... that they are sinners, and the terror of the Law, and that they were to face a holy God, and that they would have to be holy before they could face Him...Christmas Evans [a great Baptist evangelist] pointed out how the [Sandemanians] were always opposed to ‘[strong, emotional] preaching.’ They did not like that. [The Sandemanians said] you [only] had to present the evidence... (ibid., p. 185).

Robert Sandeman and his followers literally hated the preaching of Whitefield, Wesley, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, Christmas Evans and the other Spirit-filled men who preached with eternity stamped on their brows in the First Great Awakening.

A Sandemanian pastor believes he can “teach” people to be saved. Such a pastor doesn’t think there needs to be any “hard” preaching on sin and the Law. Men like that think strong “Law” preaching only upsets people unnecessarily. One pastor told me that, and I asked him, “Can you ‘teach’ a goat to be a sheep?” That was a new thought for him. He looked down at the floor and didn’t answer me. But it’s a good question. “Can you ‘teach’ a goat to be a sheep?” After nearly sixty-one years in the ministry I answer that question with a resounding “NO!!!” You can “teach” the Gospel until you are blue in the face and the goat will remain a goat. It takes a miracle for a goat to become a sheep! And the miracle of conversion usually accompanies Spirit-filled Law preachingon sin and judgment, and hopelessness without Christ! Dr. Lloyd-Jones, in speaking of Sandemanianism, said, “You can preach mechanically, you can preach coldly, you can pray mechanically, you can pray coldly. The effect of this teaching on Christmas Evans was to rob him of the warmth and the feeling and the urgency which he had known, and to introduce…terrible coldness into him” (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., pp. 186-187).

Some time ago a pastor who never shouts and never weeps when he prays or gives sermons rebuked Mr. Lee for praying too loud. The problem was not with Mr. Lee, but with the pastor who, to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, prays and preaches like “those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” I told Mr. Lee to pay no attention to that pastor because he obviously knows very little about sincere, heartbroken, agonizing prayer. All he knows is the cold, lifeless Sandemanian prayer he has heard in Baptist churches in our time. Poor fellow! He has never even seen a revival! How lifeless, and how sad!

“Yes,” you say, “That’s good! Mr. Lee puts his whole heart into his prayers. That’s good!” But may I ask you a question? Do you put your whole heart into finding Christ? Or are you as cold and lifeless in your search for Christ as that preacher is in his prayers? I say you are not on Mr. Lee’s side at all! I say you are on the same side as that Sandemanian pastor! You’re on the Sandemanian side. Your search for Christ is not passionate and fervent. You are not earnest and emotionally involved in your search for Christ. I see no tears in your eyes as you shuffle listlessly into the inquiry room. I say you are as cold and timid as a preacher who is too scared to raise his voice in preaching or in prayer – because he’s afraid of some “important” women in his church! “Yes,” you say, “A man like that is afraid of some ladies in his church!” Well, who are you afraid of? Why do we never hear a strong cry or a strong prayer from you? Because you are a Sandemanian yourself, that’s why! You are a cold, dead Sandemanian yourself!

You come softly to the front and say, “I trust that Jesus died for me.” You trust that He died for you! How dainty and polite you are! You couldn’t be bold and say, “He died for me.” Oh, no! “I trust that He died for me.” A doctrine! A doctrine! “That” He died for me! You trust a doctrine – and not Christ Himself! You unreconstructed Sandemanian! You soft-spoken, limp-wristed Sandemanian! You Devil-blinded Sandemanian! You will not trust Jesus Himself! Oh, no! You are too dainty for that! Trust Jesus Himself? Oh, no! That would be too messy. You might cry or sob! You might get some of His Blood on your clothes! You say, “You can’t expect me to get that close to Him! I’ll stand over here, nice and neat, and ‘trust that He died for me!’ Or ‘I’ll trust Him to wash my sins away.’” Will you trust Christ Himself? “Oh, that’s a little too radical! It might make me cry. No, I won’t come directly to Him. I’ll stand quietly over here and just trust Him to wash my sins away. I hope you understand.”

Yes, I understand. I understand that you are a limp-wristed, “don’t get my hands dirty” Sandemanian. “But,” you say, “this is so hard to understand!” No it is not!!! We have people who have been here only a short time that came to Christ and were saved. We have kids who trusted Christ Himself and were saved, who have only been here a short time. So you have no excuse! No excuse whatever for deliberately and wilfully refusing to trust Jesus Christ Himself. And Jesus knows what a rotten, rebellious sinner you are, that you refuse to come to the loving Son of God. And so He says,

“Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40).

The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter (1615-1691) said, and I’m paraphrasing him in modern English,

If you were as eager to know Christ as you are to make good grades, or make more money, you would have spared no cost or pains till you found Christ.

Now, isn’t that the truth? Isn’t it true that you don’t have Christ because you have been fiddling around, like a scared, weak little Sandemanian? And isn’t it true that the real reason you don’t have Christ is because you don’t want Him? You want to keep your sin. You don’t want to give up lost friends. You want to keep looking at pornography. You want to keep on controlling your own life. You don’t want Christ to take control of your life! Isn’t that right? You Sandemanians say of Christ, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). You pretend that you can’t trust Him – but the truth is that you refuse to trust Him, because you want to keep on in your sin!

You know that’s true. I know that’s true. God knows that’s true. So why keep pretending it isn’t true? Admit it – you won’t trust Jesus because you don’t want Him to control your life. Now isn’t that the truth? The Pharisees in our text would not come to Him because they didn’t want Him to change their lives. And you won’t come to Him because you don’t want Him to change your life. You are satisfied living in sin. And if you go on refusing Jesus Christ, you will die in your sins. Those Pharisees died in their sins, and you will die in your sins. And that is the absolute truth! You will die in your sins – a lost Sandemanian. You will die in your sins! And Jesus says to you, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

I am not going to be able to tell you anything you haven’t already heard in this sermon. I can only say to you that Jesus will cleanse you from all sin with His Blood when you trust Him, when you come to Him and throw yourself on Him! If you want to talk with us about that, please come and sit in the first two rows. Amen.

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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Jack Ngann:
         “The Wounds of Christ Are Open” (by Evangeline Booth, 1865-1950).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

I.   First, belief in the Bible will not save you, Luke 22:44;
II Timothy 3:15.

II.  Second, you must be shaken out of your lethargy – out of your
sleepiness! John 5:37, 38; Luke 19:14.