First, how the Jews themselves understood and received our text. It appears clearly evident to me, that they understood and received it not as an invitation, an exhortation, or as a command of them to do some other work which they had not done; but as a rebuke and sweeping declaration of their being every way and altogether wrong as a people, both in all their profession of the religion of Abraham which they claimed, and in that sense to be his children, 8:39, and as under the Abrahamic covenant, according to which they claimed to be the children of God, verse 41; and also in their now running after Christ as they did, according to the connection of our text, while they did not really receive him as the Messiah of their own prophets, whom they professed to believe. For they replied, ‘What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?’ verse 28. They were all for works, and for pleasing God by works; and they fully understood our Lord to say, and as meaning to say, that none of their works were pleasing to God; and which seemed to take them with such surprise, that their answer appears plainly to be of the following tone: ‘If we have not pleased God, and having done so many things, and so strictly too, and do even now, and yet we do not the works or things that please God; what is there left undone, and what shall we do that we might work the works of God?’ And our Lord, taking them on their own ground, replied, ‘This is the work of God, ‘ what only is pleasing to God, ‘that ye believe on him whom he hath sent,’ verse 29. And therefore the spirit and intent of our text was, a laying the axe at the root of their wrong principles, motives, and actions, *in regard to God, and our Lord as the Messiah, and a clearly pointing out what was right, in direct opposition to every thing of their present profession and their zeal. And however little they understood of the latter, it is evident they quite understood the former to be the spirit of the text. And while this text was also to them as Jews, on their own peculiar national covenant and professional premises there is nothing in the spirit or intention of it, as a warrant or example for universal invitations or exhortations of all men to labour for, or believe *in our Lord Jesus Christ as a duty for eternal life. Man’s wrongs are his own, and are chargeable upon him, and truth is explainable to every rational creature, and that should be our aim to do as teachers; but God’s gift of eternal life, ‘in every department of it, is heaven’s height above all creature duty, Isaiah 55:8,9.
John Foreman (1792-1872) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hill Street Chapel, Marylebone, serving this position for close to forty years.