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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-7

John

THE WORD IN ETERNITY, IN THE WORLD, AND IN THE FLESH

John 1:1 - John 1:14.

The other Gospels begin with Bethlehem; John begins with ‘the bosom of the Father.’ Luke dates his narrative by Roman emperors and Jewish high-priests; John dates his ‘in the beginning.’ To attempt adequate exposition of these verses in our narrow limits is absurd; we can only note the salient points of this, the profoundest page in the New Testament.

The threefold utterance in John 1:1 carries us into the depths of eternity, before time or creatures were. Genesis and John both start from ‘the beginning,’ but, while Genesis works downwards from that point and tells what followed, John works upwards and tells what preceded-if we may use that term in speaking of what lies beyond time. Time and creatures came into being, and, when they began, the Word ‘was.’ Surely no form of speech could more emphatically declare absolute, uncreated being, outside the limits of time. Clearly, too, no interpretation of these words fathoms their depth, or makes worthy sense, which does not recognise that the Word is a person. The second clause of John 1:1 asserts the eternal communion of the Word with God. The preposition employed means accurately ‘towards,’ and expresses the thought that in the Word there was motion or tendency towards, and not merely association with, God. It points to reciprocal, conscious communion, and the active going out of love in the direction of God. The last clause asserts the community of essence, which is not inconsistent with distinction of persons, and makes the communion of active Love possible; for none could, in the depths of eternity, dwell with and perfectly love and be loved by God, except one who Himself was God.

John 1:1 stands apart as revealing the pretemporal and essential nature of the Word. In it the deep ocean of the divine nature is partially disclosed, though no created eye can either plunge to discern its depths or travel beyond our horizon to its boundless, shoreless extent. The remainder of the passage deals with the majestic march of the self-revealing Word through creation, and illumination of humanity, up to the climax in the Incarnation.

John repeats the substance of John 1:1 - John 1:2, apparently in order to identify the Agent of creation with the august person whom he has disclosed as filling eternity. By Him creation was effected, and, because He was what John 1:1 has declared Him to be, therefore was it effected by Him. Observe the three steps marked in three consecutive verses. ‘All things were made by Him’; literally ‘became,’ where the emergence into existence of created things is strongly contrasted with the divine ‘was’ of John 1:1. ‘Through Him’ declares that the Word is the agent of creation; ‘without Him’ {literally, ‘apart from Him’} declares that created things continue in existence because He communicates it to them. Man is the highest of these ‘all things,’ and John 1:4 sets forth the relation of the Word to Him, declaring that ‘life,’ in all the width and height of its possible meanings, inheres in Him, and is communicated by Him, with its distinguishing accompaniment, in human nature, of light, whether of reason or of conscience.

So far, John has been speaking as from the upper or divine side, but in John 1:5 he speaks from the under or human, and shows us how the self-revelation of the Word has, by some mysterious necessity, been conflict. The ‘darkness’ was not made by Him, but it is there, and the beams of the light have to contend with it. Something alien must have come in, some catastrophe have happened, that the light should have to stream into a region of darkness.

John takes ‘the Fall’ for granted, and in John 1:5 describes the whole condition of things, both within and beyond the region of special revelation. The shining of the light is continuous, but the darkness is obstinate. It is the tragedy and crime of the world that the darkness will not have the light. It is the long-suffering mercy of God that the light repelled is not extinguished, but shines meekly on.

John 1:6 - John 1:13 deal with the historical appearance of the Word. The Forerunner is introduced, as in the other Gospels; and, significantly enough, this Evangelist calls him only ‘John,’-omitting ‘the Baptist,’ as was very natural to him, the other John, who would feel less need for distinguishing the two than others did. The subordinate office of a witness to the light is declared positively and negatively, and the dignity of such a function is implied. To witness to the light, and to be the means of leading men to believe, was honour for any man.

The limited office of the Forerunner serves as contrast to the transcendent lustre of the true Light. The meaning of John 1:9 may be doubtful, but John 1:10 - John 1:11 clearly refer to the historical manifestation of the Word, and probably John 1:9 does so too. Possibly, however, it rather points to the inner revelation by the Word, which is the ‘light of men.’ In that case the phrase ‘that cometh into the world’ would refer to ‘every man,’ whereas it is more natural in this context to refer it to ‘the light,’ and to see in the verse a reference to the illumination of humanity consequent on the appearance of Jesus Christ. The use of ‘world’ and ‘came’ in John 1:10 - John 1:11 points in that direction. John 1:9 represents the Word as ‘coming’; John 1:10 regards Him as come-’He was in the world.’

Note the three clauses, so like, and yet so unlike the august three in John 1:1. Note the sad issue of the coming-’The world knew Him not.’ In that ‘world’ there was one place where He might have looked for recognition, one set of people who might have been expected to hail Him; but not only the wide world was blind {‘knew not’} , but the narrower circle of ‘His own’ fought against what they knew to be light {‘received not’} .

But the rejection was not universal, and John proceeds to develop the blessed consequences of receiving the light. For the first time he speaks the great word ‘believe.’ The act of faith is the condition or means of ‘receiving.’ It is the opening of the mental eye for the light to pour in. We possess Jesus in the measure of our faith. The object of faith is ‘His name,’ which means, not this or that collocation of letters by which He is designated, but His whole self-revelation. The result of such faith is ‘the right to become children of God,’ for through faith in the only-begotten Son we receive the communication of a divine life which makes us, too, sons. That new life, with its consequence of sonship, does not belong to human nature as received from parents, but is a gift of God mediated through faith in the Light who is the Word.

John 1:14 is not mere repetition of the preceding, but advances beyond it in that it declares the wonder of the way by which that divine Word did enter into the world. John here, as it were, draws back the curtain, and shows us the transcendent miracle of divine love, for which he has been preparing in all the preceding. Note that he has not named ‘the Word’ since John 1:1, but here he again uses the majestic expression to bring out strongly the contrast between the ante-temporal glory and the historical lowliness. These four words, ‘The Word became flesh,’ are the foundation of all our knowledge of God, of man, of the relations between them, the foundation of all our hopes, the guarantee of all our peace, the pledge of all blessedness. ‘He tabernacled among us.’ As the divine glory of old dwelt between the cherubim, so Jesus is among men the true Temple, wherein we see a truer glory than that radiant light which filled the closed chamber of the holy of holies. Rapturous remembrances rose before the Apostle as he wrote, ‘We beheld His glory’; and he has told us what he has beheld and seen with his eyes, that we also may have fellowship with him in beholding. The glory that shone from the Incarnate Word was no menacing or dazzling light. He and it were ‘full of grace and truth,’ perfect Love bending to inferiors and sinners, with hands full of gifts and a heart full of tenderness and the revelation of reality, both as regards God and man. His grace bestows all that our lowness needs, His truth teaches all that our ignorance requires. All our gifts and all our knowledge come from the Incarnate Word, in whom believing we are the children of God.


Verse 8

John

THE WORD IN ETERNITY, IN THE WORLD, AND IN THE FLESH

THE LIGHT AND THE LAMPS

John 1:8. - John 5:35.

My two texts both refer to John the Baptist. One of them is the Evangelist’s account of him, the other is our Lord’s eulogium upon him. The latter of my texts, as the Revised Version shows, would be more properly rendered, ‘He was a lamp’ rather than ‘He was a light,’ and the contrast between the two words, the ‘light’ and ‘the lamps,’ is my theme. I gather all that I would desire to say into three points: ‘that Light’ and its witnesses; the underived Light and the kindled lamps; the undying Light and the lamps that go out.

I. First of all, then, the contrast suggested to us is between ‘that Light’ and its witnesses.

John, in that profound prologue which is the deepest part of Scripture, and lays firm and broad in the depths the foundation-stones of a reasonable faith, draws the contrast between ‘that Light’ and them whose business it was to bear witness to it. As for the former, I cannot here venture to dilate upon the great, and to me absolutely satisfying and fundamental, thoughts that lie in these eighteen first verses of this Gospel. ‘The Word was with God,’ and that Word was the Agent of Creation, the Fountain of Life, the Source of the Light which is inseparable from all human life. John goes back, with the simplicity of a child’s speech, which yet is deeper than all philosophies, to a Beginning, far anterior to ‘the Beginning’ of which Genesis speaks, and declares that before creation that Light shone; and he looks out over the whole world, and declares, that before and beyond the limits of the historical manifestation of the Word in the flesh, its beams spread over the whole race of man. But they are all focussed, if I may so speak, and gathered to a point which burns as well as illuminates, in the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ in the flesh. ‘That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’

Next, he turns to the highest honour and the most imperative duty laid, not only upon mighty men and officials, but upon all on whose happy eyeballs this Light has shone, and into whose darkened hearts the joy and peace and purity of it have flowed, and he says, ‘He was sent’-and they are sent-’to bear witness of that Light.’ It is the noblest function that a man can discharge. It is a function that is discharged by the very existence through the ages of a community which, generation after generation, subsists, and generation after generation manifests in varying degrees of brightness, and with various modifications of tint, the same light. There is the family character in all true Christians, with whatever diversities of idiosyncrasies, and national life or ecclesiastical distinctions. Whether it be Francis of Assisi or John Wesley, whether it be Thomas a Kempis or George Fox, the light is one that shines through these many-coloured panes of glass, and the living Church is the witness of a living Lord, not only before it, and behind it, and above it, but living in it. They are ‘light’ because they are irradiated by Him. They are ‘light’ because they are ‘in the Lord.’ But not only by the fact of the existence of such a community is the witness-bearing effected, but it comes as a personal obligation, with immense weight of pressure and immense possibilities of joy in the discharge of it, to every Christian man and woman.

What, then, is the witness that we all are bound to bear, and shall bear if we are true to our obligations and to our Lord? Mainly, dear brethren, the witness of experience. That a Christian man shall be able to stand up and say, ‘I know this because I live it, and I testify to Jesus Christ because I for myself have found Him to be the life of my life, the Light of all my seeing, the joy of my heart, my home, and my anchorage’-that is the witness that is impregnable. And there is no better sign of the trend of Christian thought to-day than the fact that the testimony of experience is more and more coming to be recognised by thoughtful men and writers as being the sovereign attestation of the reality of the Light. ‘I see’; that is the proof that light has touched my eyeballs. And when a man can contrast, as some of us can, our present vision with our erstwhile darkness, then the evidence, like that of the sturdy blind man in the Gospels, who had nothing to say in reply to the subtleties and Rabbinical traps and puzzles but only ‘I was blind; now I see’-his experience is likely to have the effect that it had in another miracle of healing: ‘Beholding the man which was healed standing amongst them, they could say nothing against it.’ I should think they could not.

But there is one thing that will always characterise the true witnesses to that Light, and that is self-suppression. Remember the beautiful, immovable humility of the Baptist about whom these texts were spoken: ‘What sayest thou of thyself?’ ‘I am a Voice,’ that is all. ‘Art thou that Prophet?’ ‘No!’ ‘Art thou the Christ?’ ‘No! I am nothing but a Voice.’ And remember how, when John’s disciples tried to light the infernal fires of jealousy in his quiet heart by saying, ‘He whom thou didst baptise, and to whom thou didst give witness’-He whom thou didst start on His career-’is baptising,’ poaching upon thy preserves, ‘and all men come unto Him,’ the only answer that he gave was, ‘The friend of the Bridegroom’-who stands by in a quiet, dark corner-’rejoices greatly because of the Bridegroom’s voice.’ Keep yourself out of sight, Christian teachers and preachers; put Christ in the front, and hide behind Him.

II. Now let me ask you to look at the other contrast that is suggested by our other text. The underived light and the kindled lamps.

It is possible to read the words of that second text thus-’He was a lamp kindled and {therefore} shining.’ But whether that be the meaning, or whether the usual rendering is correct, the emblem itself carries the same thought, for a lamp must be lit by contact with a light, and must be fed with oil, if its flame is to be sustained. And so the very metaphor-whatever the force of the ambiguous word-in its eloquent contrast between the Light and the lamp, suggests this thought, that the one is underived, self-fed, and therefore undying, and that the other owes all its flame to the touch of that uncreated Light, and burns brightly only on condition of its keeping up the contact with Him, and being fed continually from His stores of radiance.

I need not say more than a word with regard to the former member of that contrast suggested here. That unlit Light derives its brilliancy, according to the Scriptural teaching, from nothing but its divine union with the Father. So that long before there were eyes to see, there was the eradiation and outshining of the Father’s glory. I do not enter into these depths, but this I would say, that what is called the ‘originality’ of Jesus is only explained when we reverently see in that unique life the shining through a pure humanity, as through a sheet of alabaster, of that underived, divine Light. Jesus is an insoluble problem to men who will not see in Him the Eternal Light which ‘in the beginning was with God.’ You find in Him no trace of gradual acquisition of knowledge, or of arguing or feeling His way to His beliefs. You find in Him no trace of consciousness of a great horizon of darkness encompassing the region where He sees light. You find in Him no trace of a recognition of other sources from which He has drawn any portion of His light. You find in Him the distinct declaration that His relation to truth is not the relation of men who learn, and grow, and acquire, and know in part; for, says He, ‘I am the Truth.’ He stands apart from us all, and above us all, in that He owes His radiance to none, and can dispense it to every man. The question which the puzzled Jews asked about Him, ‘How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?’ may be widened out to all the characteristics of His human life. To me the only answer is: ‘Thou art the King of glory, O Christ! Thou art the Everlasting Son of the Father.’

Dependent on Him are the little lights which He has lit, and in the midst of which He walks. Union with Jesus Christ-’that Light’-is the condition of all human light. That is true over all regions, as I believe. ‘The inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding.’ The candle of the Lord shines in every man, and ‘that true Light lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’ Thinker, student, scientist, poet, author, practical man-all of them are lit from the uncreated Source, and all of them, if they understand their own nature, would say, ‘In Thy light do we see Light.’

But especially is this great thought true and exemplified within the limits of the Christian life. For the Christian to be touched with Christ’s Promethean finger is to flame into light. And the condition of continuing to shine is to continue the contact which first illuminated. A break in the contact, of a finger’s breadth, is as effectual as one of a mile. Let Christian men and women, if they would shine, remember, ‘Ye are light in the Lord’; and if we stray, and get without the circle of the Light, we pass into darkness, and ourselves cease to shine.

Brethren, it is threadbare truth, that the condition of Christian vitality and radiance is close and unbroken contact with Jesus Christ, the Source of all light. Threadbare; but if we lived as if we believed it, the Church would be revolutionised and the world illuminated; and many a smoking wick would flash up into a blazing torch. Let Christian people remember that the words of my text define no special privilege or duty of any official or man of special endowments, but that to all of us has been said, ‘Ye are My witnesses,’ and to all of us is offered the possibility of being ‘burning and shining lights’ if we keep ourselves close to that Light.

III. Lastly, the second of my texts suggests-the contrast between the Undying Light and the lamps that go out.

‘For a season ye were willing to rejoice in His light.’ There is nothing in the present condition of the civilised and educated world more remarkable and more difficult for some people to explain than the contrast between the relation which Jesus Christ bears to the present age, and the relation which all other great names in the past-philosophers, poets, guides of men-bear to it. There is nothing in the world the least like the vividness, the freshness, the closeness, of the personal relation which thousands and thousands of people, with common sense in their heads, bear to that Man who died nineteen hundred years ago. All others pass, sooner or later, into the darkness. Thickening mists of oblivion, fold by fold, gather round the brightest names. But here is Jesus Christ, whom all classes of thinkers and social reformers have to reckon with to-day, who is a living power amongst the trivialities of the passing moment, and in whose words and in the teaching of whose life serious men feel that there lie undeveloped yet, and certainly not yet put into practice, principles which are destined to revolutionise society and change the world. And how does that come?

I am not going to enter upon that question; I only ask you to think of the contrast between His position, in this generation, to communities and individuals, and the position of all other great names which lie in the past. Why, it does not take more than a lifetime such as mine, for instance, to remember how the great lights that shone seventy years ago in English thinking and in English literature, have for the most part gone out, and what we young men thought to be bright particular stars, this new generation pooh-poohs as mere exhalations from the marsh or twinkling and uncertain tapers, and you will find their books in the twopenny-box at the bookseller’s door. A cynical diplomatist, in one of our modern dramas, sums it up, after seeing the death of a revolutionary, ‘I have known eight leaders of revolts.’ And some of us could say, ‘We have known about as many guides of men who have been forgotten and passed away.’ ‘His Name shall endure for ever. His name shall continue as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in Him; all generations shall call Him blessed.’ Even Shelley had the prophecy forced from him-

‘The moon of Mahomet

Arose and it shall set,

While blazoned as on heaven’s eternal noon,

The Cross leads generations on.’

We may sum up the contrast between the undying Light and the lamps that go out in the old words: ‘They truly were many, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death, but this Man, because He continueth ever . . . is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God through Him.’

So, brethren, when lamps are quenched, let us look to the Light. When our own lives are darkened because our household light is taken from its candlestick, let us lift up our hearts and hopes to Him that abideth for ever. Do not let us fall into the folly, and commit the sin, of putting our heart’s affections, our spirit’s trust, upon any that can pass and that must change. We need a Person whom we can clasp, and who never will glide from our hold. We need a Light uncreated, self-fed, eternal. ‘Whilst ye have the Light, believe in the Light, that ye may be the children of light.’


Verses 9-13

John

THE WORD IN ETERNITY, IN THE WORLD, AND IN THE FLESH

John 1:1 - John 1:14.

The other Gospels begin with Bethlehem; John begins with ‘the bosom of the Father.’ Luke dates his narrative by Roman emperors and Jewish high-priests; John dates his ‘in the beginning.’ To attempt adequate exposition of these verses in our narrow limits is absurd; we can only note the salient points of this, the profoundest page in the New Testament.

The threefold utterance in John 1:1 carries us into the depths of eternity, before time or creatures were. Genesis and John both start from ‘the beginning,’ but, while Genesis works downwards from that point and tells what followed, John works upwards and tells what preceded-if we may use that term in speaking of what lies beyond time. Time and creatures came into being, and, when they began, the Word ‘was.’ Surely no form of speech could more emphatically declare absolute, uncreated being, outside the limits of time. Clearly, too, no interpretation of these words fathoms their depth, or makes worthy sense, which does not recognise that the Word is a person. The second clause of John 1:1 asserts the eternal communion of the Word with God. The preposition employed means accurately ‘towards,’ and expresses the thought that in the Word there was motion or tendency towards, and not merely association with, God. It points to reciprocal, conscious communion, and the active going out of love in the direction of God. The last clause asserts the community of essence, which is not inconsistent with distinction of persons, and makes the communion of active Love possible; for none could, in the depths of eternity, dwell with and perfectly love and be loved by God, except one who Himself was God.

John 1:1 stands apart as revealing the pretemporal and essential nature of the Word. In it the deep ocean of the divine nature is partially disclosed, though no created eye can either plunge to discern its depths or travel beyond our horizon to its boundless, shoreless extent. The remainder of the passage deals with the majestic march of the self-revealing Word through creation, and illumination of humanity, up to the climax in the Incarnation.

John repeats the substance of John 1:1 - John 1:2, apparently in order to identify the Agent of creation with the august person whom he has disclosed as filling eternity. By Him creation was effected, and, because He was what John 1:1 has declared Him to be, therefore was it effected by Him. Observe the three steps marked in three consecutive verses. ‘All things were made by Him’; literally ‘became,’ where the emergence into existence of created things is strongly contrasted with the divine ‘was’ of John 1:1. ‘Through Him’ declares that the Word is the agent of creation; ‘without Him’ {literally, ‘apart from Him’} declares that created things continue in existence because He communicates it to them. Man is the highest of these ‘all things,’ and John 1:4 sets forth the relation of the Word to Him, declaring that ‘life,’ in all the width and height of its possible meanings, inheres in Him, and is communicated by Him, with its distinguishing accompaniment, in human nature, of light, whether of reason or of conscience.

So far, John has been speaking as from the upper or divine side, but in John 1:5 he speaks from the under or human, and shows us how the self-revelation of the Word has, by some mysterious necessity, been conflict. The ‘darkness’ was not made by Him, but it is there, and the beams of the light have to contend with it. Something alien must have come in, some catastrophe have happened, that the light should have to stream into a region of darkness.

John takes ‘the Fall’ for granted, and in John 1:5 describes the whole condition of things, both within and beyond the region of special revelation. The shining of the light is continuous, but the darkness is obstinate. It is the tragedy and crime of the world that the darkness will not have the light. It is the long-suffering mercy of God that the light repelled is not extinguished, but shines meekly on.

John 1:6 - John 1:13 deal with the historical appearance of the Word. The Forerunner is introduced, as in the other Gospels; and, significantly enough, this Evangelist calls him only ‘John,’-omitting ‘the Baptist,’ as was very natural to him, the other John, who would feel less need for distinguishing the two than others did. The subordinate office of a witness to the light is declared positively and negatively, and the dignity of such a function is implied. To witness to the light, and to be the means of leading men to believe, was honour for any man.

The limited office of the Forerunner serves as contrast to the transcendent lustre of the true Light. The meaning of John 1:9 may be doubtful, but John 1:10 - John 1:11 clearly refer to the historical manifestation of the Word, and probably John 1:9 does so too. Possibly, however, it rather points to the inner revelation by the Word, which is the ‘light of men.’ In that case the phrase ‘that cometh into the world’ would refer to ‘every man,’ whereas it is more natural in this context to refer it to ‘the light,’ and to see in the verse a reference to the illumination of humanity consequent on the appearance of Jesus Christ. The use of ‘world’ and ‘came’ in John 1:10 - John 1:11 points in that direction. John 1:9 represents the Word as ‘coming’; John 1:10 regards Him as come-’He was in the world.’

Note the three clauses, so like, and yet so unlike the august three in John 1:1. Note the sad issue of the coming-’The world knew Him not.’ In that ‘world’ there was one place where He might have looked for recognition, one set of people who might have been expected to hail Him; but not only the wide world was blind {‘knew not’} , but the narrower circle of ‘His own’ fought against what they knew to be light {‘received not’} .

But the rejection was not universal, and John proceeds to develop the blessed consequences of receiving the light. For the first time he speaks the great word ‘believe.’ The act of faith is the condition or means of ‘receiving.’ It is the opening of the mental eye for the light to pour in. We possess Jesus in the measure of our faith. The object of faith is ‘His name,’ which means, not this or that collocation of letters by which He is designated, but His whole self-revelation. The result of such faith is ‘the right to become children of God,’ for through faith in the only-begotten Son we receive the communication of a divine life which makes us, too, sons. That new life, with its consequence of sonship, does not belong to human nature as received from parents, but is a gift of God mediated through faith in the Light who is the Word.

John 1:14 is not mere repetition of the preceding, but advances beyond it in that it declares the wonder of the way by which that divine Word did enter into the world. John here, as it were, draws back the curtain, and shows us the transcendent miracle of divine love, for which he has been preparing in all the preceding. Note that he has not named ‘the Word’ since John 1:1, but here he again uses the majestic expression to bring out strongly the contrast between the ante-temporal glory and the historical lowliness. These four words, ‘The Word became flesh,’ are the foundation of all our knowledge of God, of man, of the relations between them, the foundation of all our hopes, the guarantee of all our peace, the pledge of all blessedness. ‘He tabernacled among us.’ As the divine glory of old dwelt between the cherubim, so Jesus is among men the true Temple, wherein we see a truer glory than that radiant light which filled the closed chamber of the holy of holies. Rapturous remembrances rose before the Apostle as he wrote, ‘We beheld His glory’; and he has told us what he has beheld and seen with his eyes, that we also may have fellowship with him in beholding. The glory that shone from the Incarnate Word was no menacing or dazzling light. He and it were ‘full of grace and truth,’ perfect Love bending to inferiors and sinners, with hands full of gifts and a heart full of tenderness and the revelation of reality, both as regards God and man. His grace bestows all that our lowness needs, His truth teaches all that our ignorance requires. All our gifts and all our knowledge come from the Incarnate Word, in whom believing we are the children of God.


Verse 14

John

THE WORD IN ETERNITY, IN THE WORLD, AND IN THE FLESH

‘THREE TABERNACLES’

John 1:14. - Revelation 7:15. - Revelation 21:3.

The word rendered ‘dwelt’ in these three passages, is a peculiar one. It is only found in the New Testament-in this Gospel and in the Book of Revelation. That fact constitutes one of the many subtle threads of connection between these two books, which at first sight seem so extremely unlike each other; and it is a morsel of evidence in favour of the common authorship of the Gospel and of the Apocalypse, which has often, and very vehemently in these latter days of criticism, been denied.

The force of the word, however, is the matter to which I desire especially to draw attention. It literally means ‘to dwell in a tent,’ or, if we may use such a word, ‘to tabernacle,’ and there is no doubt a reference to the Tabernacle in which the divine Presence abode in the wilderness and in the land of Israel before the erection. In all three passages, then, we may see allusion to that early symbolical dwelling of God with man. ‘The Word tabernacled among us’; so is the truth for earth and time. ‘He that sitteth upon the throne shall spread His tabernacle upon’ the multitude which no man can number, who have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb; that is the truth for the spirits of just men made perfect, the waiting Church, which expects the redemption of the body. ‘God shall tabernacle with them’; that is the truth for the highest condition of humanity, when the Tabernacle of God shall be with redeemed men in the new earth. ‘Let us build three tabernacles,’ one for the Incarnate Christ, one for the interspace between earth and heaven, and one for the culmination of all things. And it is to these three aspects of the one thought, set forth in rude symbol by the movable tent in the wilderness, that I ask you to turn now.

I. First, then, we have to think of that Tabernacle for earth. ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt, as in a tent, amongst us.’

The human nature, the visible, material body of Jesus Christ, in which there enshrined itself the everlasting Word, which from the beginning was the Agent of all divine revelation, that is the true Temple of God. When we begin to speak about the special presence of Omnipresence in any one place, we soon lose ourselves, and get into deep waters of glory, where there is no standing. And I do not care to deal here with theological definitions or thorny questions, but simply to set forth, as the language of my text sets before us, that one transcendent, wonderful, all-blessed thought that this poor human nature is capable of, and has really once in the history of the world received into itself, the real, actual presence of the whole fulness of the Divinity. What must be the kindred and likeness between Godhood and manhood when into the frail vehicle of our humanity that wondrous treasure can be poured; when the fire of God can burn in the bush of our human nature, and that nature not be consumed? So it has been. ‘In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’

And when we come with our questions, How? In what manner? How can the lesser contain the greater? we have to be content with the recognition that the manner is beyond our fathoming, and to accept the fact, pressed upon our faith, that our hearts may grasp it and be at peace. God hath dwelt in humanity. The everlasting Word, who is the forthcoming of all the fulness of Deity into the realm of finite creatures, was made flesh and dwelt among us.

But the Tabernacle was not only the dwelling-place of God, it was also and, therefore, the place of Revelation of God. So in our text there follows, ‘we beheld His glory.’ As in the tent in the wilderness there hovered between the outstretched wings of the silent cherubim, above the Mercy-seat, the brightness of the symbolical cloud which was expressly named ‘the glory of God,’ and was the visible manifestation of His real presence; so John would have us think that in that lowly humanity, with its curtains and its coverings of flesh, there lay shrined in the inmost place the brightness of the light of the manifest glory of God. ‘We beheld His glory.’ The rapturous adoration of the remembrance overcomes him, and he breaks his sentence, reckless of grammatical connection, as the fulness of the blessed memory floods into his soul. ‘That glory was as of the Only Begotten of the Father.’ The manifestation of God in Christ is unique, as becomes Him who partakes of the nature of that God of whom He is the Representative and the Revealer.

And how did that glory make itself known to us? By miracle? Yes! As we read in the story of the first that Christ wrought, ‘He manifested forth His glory and His disciples believed upon Him.’ By miracle? Yes! As we read His own promise at the grave of Lazarus: ‘Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?’ But, blessed be His name, miracle is not the highest manifestation of Christ’s glory and of God’s. The uniqueness of the revelation of Christ’s glory in God does not depend upon the deeds which He wrought. For, as the context goes on to tell, the Word which tabernacled among us was ‘full of grace and truth,’ and therein is the glory most gloriously revealed.

The lambent light of stooping love that shone forth warning and attracting in His gentle life, and the clear white beam of unmingled truth that streamed from the radiant purity of Christ’s life, revealed God to hearts that pine for love and spirits that hunger for truth, as no others of God’s self-revealing works have done. And that revelation of the glory of God in the fulness of grace and truth is the highest possible revelation. For the divinest thing in God is love, and the true ‘glory of God’ is neither some symbolical flashing light nor the pomp of mere power and majesty; nor even those inconceivable and incommunicable attributes which we christen with names like Omnipotence and Omnipresence and Infinitude, and the like. These are all at the fringes of the brightness. The true central heart and lustrous light of the glory of God lie In His love, and of that glory Christ is the unique Representative and Revealer, because He is the only Begotten Son, and ‘full of grace and truth.’

Thus the Word tabernacled amongst us. And though the Tabernacle to outward seeming was covered by curtains and skins that hid all the glowing splendour within; yet in that lowly life that was lived in the body of His humiliation, and knew our limitations and our weaknesses, ‘the glory of the Lord was revealed; and all flesh hath seen it together’ and acknowledged the divine Presence there.

Still further the Tabernacle was the place of sacrifice. So in the tabernacle of His flesh Jesus offered up the one sacrifice for sins for ever. In the offering up of His human life in continuous obedience, and in the offering up of His body and blood in the bitter Passion of the Cross, He brought men nigh unto God.

Therefore, because of all these things, because the Tabernacle is the dwelling-place of God, the place of revelation, and the place of sacrifice, therefore, finally is it the meeting-place betwixt God and man. In the Old Testament it is always called by the name which our Revised Version has accurately substituted for ‘tabernacle of the congregation,’ namely ‘tent of meeting.’ The correctness of that rendering and the meaning of the name are established by several passages in the Old Testament, as for instance, ‘There I will meet with you, to speak there unto thee, and there I will meet with the children of Israel.’ So in Christ, who by His Incarnation lays His hand upon both, God touches man and man touches God. We who are afar off are made nigh, and in that ‘true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man’ we meet God and are glad.

‘And so the word was flesh, and wrought

With human hands the creed of creeds,

In loveliness of perfect deeds.’

The temple for earth is ‘the temple of His body.’

II. We have the Tabernacle for the Heavens.

In the context of our second passage we have a vision of the great multitude redeemed out of all nations and kindreds, ‘standing before the Throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands.’ The palms in their hands give important help towards understanding the vision. As has been often remarked, there are no heathen emblems in the Book of the Apocalypse. All its metaphors move within the circle of Jewish experiences and facts. So that we are not to think of the Roman palm of victory, but of the Jewish palm which was borne at the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the Feast of Tabernacles? A festival established on purpose to recall to the minds and to the gratitude of the Jews settled in their own land the days of their wandering in the wilderness. Part of the ritual of it was that during its celebration they builded for themselves booths or tabernacles of leaves and boughs of trees, under which they dwelt, thus reminding themselves of their nomad condition.

Now what beauty and power it gives to the word of my text, if we take in this allusion to the Jewish festival! The great multitude bearing the palms are keeping the feast, memorial of past wilderness wanderings; and ‘He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle above them,’ as the word might be here rendered. That is to say, He Himself shall build and be the tent in which they dwell; He Himself shall dwell with them in it. He Himself, in closer union than can be conceived of here, shall keep them company during that feast.

What a thought of that condition-the condition as I believe represented in this vision-of the spirits of the just made perfect, ‘who wait for the adoption, to wit, the resurrection of the body,’ is given us if we take this point of view to interpret the whole lovely symbolism. It is all a time of glad, grateful remembrance of the wilderness march. It is all a time in which festal joys shall be theirs, and the memory of the trials and the weariness and the sorrow and the solitude that are past shall deepen to a more exquisite poignancy of delight, the rest and the fellowship and the felicity of that calm Presence, and God Himself shall spread His tent above them, lodge with them, and they with Him.

And so, dear brethren, rest in that assurance, that though we know so little of that state, we know this: ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord,’ and that the happy company who bear the palms shall dwell in God, and God in them.

III. And now, lastly, look at that final vision which we have in these texts, which we may call the Tabernacle for the renewed earth.

I do not pretend to interpret the scenery and the setting of these Apocalyptic visions with dogmatic confidence, but it seems to me as if the emblems of this final vision coincide with dim hints in many other portions of Scripture; to the effect that some cosmical change having passed upon this material world in which we dwell, it, in some regenerated form, shall be the final abode of a regenerated and redeemed humanity. That, I think, is the natural interpretation of a great deal of Scriptural teaching.

For that highest condition there is set forth this as the all-sufficing light upon it. ‘Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them.’ The climax and the goal of all the divine working, and the long processes of God’s love for, and discipline of, the world, are to be this, that He and men shall abide together in unity and concord. That is God’s wish from the beginning. We read in one of the profound utterances of the Book of Proverbs how from of old the ‘delights’ of the Incarnate Wisdom which foreshadowed the Incarnate Word ‘were with the sons of men.’ And, at the close of all things, when the vision of this final chapter shall be fulfilled, God will say, settling Himself in the midst of a redeemed humanity, ‘Lo! here will I dwell, for I have desired it. This is My rest for ever.’ He will tabernacle with men, and men with Him.

We know not, and never shall know until experience strips the bandages from our eyes, what new methods of participation of the divine nature, and new possibilities of intimacy and intercourse with Him may be ours when the veils of flesh and sense and time have all dropped away. New windows may be opened in our spirits, from which we shall perceive new aspects of the divine character. New doors may be opened in our souls, from out of which we may pass to touch parts of His nature, all impalpable and inconceivable to us now. And when all the veils of a discordant moral nature are taken away, and we are pure, then we shall see, then we shall draw nigh to God. The thing that chiefly separates man from God is man’s sin. When that is removed, the centrifugal force which kept our tiny orb apart from the great central sun being withdrawn, we shall, as it were, fall into the brightness and be one, not losing our sense of individuality, which would be to lose all the blessedness, but united with Him in a union far more intimate than earth can parallel. ‘The Tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He will tabernacle with them.’

Do not let us forget that this highest and ultimate hope that is held forth here, of the union and communion, perfect and perpetual, of humanity with God, does not sweep aside Jesus Christ. For through all eternity the Everlasting Word, the Christ who bears our nature in its glorified form, or, rather, whose nature in its glorified form we shall bear, is the Medium of Revelation, and the Medium of communication between man and God.

‘I saw no Temple therein,’ says this final vision of the Apocalypse, but ‘God Almighty and the Lamb,’ and these are the Temples thereof. Therefore through eternity God shall tabernacle with men, as He does tabernacle with us now through Him, in whom dwelleth as in its perennial habitation, ‘all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’

So we have the three tabernacles, for earth, for heaven, for the renewed earth; and these three, if I may say so, are like the triple division of that ancient Tabernacle in the wilderness: the Outer Court; the Holy Place; the Holiest of all. Let us enter into that outer court, and abide and commune with that God who comes near to us, revealing, forgiving, in the person of His Son, and then we shall pass from court to court, ‘and go from strength to strength, until every one of us in Zion appear before God’; and enter into the Holiest of all, where ‘within the veil’ we shall receive splendours of revelation undreamed of here, and enjoy depths of communion to which the selectest moments of fellowship with God on earth are shallow and poor.


Verse 16

John

THE FULNESS OF CHRIST

John 1:16.

What a remarkable claim that is which the Apostle here makes for his Master! On the one side he sets His solitary figure as the universal Giver; on the other side are gathered the whole race of men, recipients from Him. As in the wilderness the children of Israel clustered round the rock from which poured out streams, copious enough for all the thirsty camp, John, echoing his Master’s words, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink,’ here declares ‘Of His fulness have all we received.’

I. Notice, then, the one ever full Source.

The words of my text refer back to those of the John 1:14 : ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.’ ‘And of His fulness have all we received.’ The ‘fulness’ here seems to mean that of which the Incarnate Word was full, the ‘grace and truth’ which dwelt without measure in Him; the unlimited and absolute completeness and abundance of divine powers and glories which ‘tabernacled’ in Him. And so the language of my text, both verbally and really, is substantially equivalent to that of the Apostle Paul. ‘In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and ye are complete in Him.’ The whole infinite Majesty, and inexhaustible resources of the divine nature, were incorporated and insphered in that Incarnate Word from whom all men may draw.

There are involved in that thought two ideas. One is the unmistakable assertion of the whole fulness of the divine nature as being in the Incarnate Word, and the other is that the whole fulness of the divine nature dwells in the Incarnate Word in order that men may get at it.

The words of my text go back, as I said, to the previous verse; but notice what an advance upon that previous verse they present to us. There we read, ‘We beheld His glory.’ To behold is much, but to possess is more. It is much to say that Christ comes to manifest God, but that is a poor, starved account of the purpose of His coming, if that is all you have to say. He comes to manifest Him. Yes! but He comes to communicate Him, not merely to dazzle us with a vision, not merely to show us Him as from afar, not merely to make Him known to understanding or to heart; but to bestow-in no mere metaphor, but in simple, literal fact-the absolute possession of the divine nature. ‘We beheld His glory’ is a reminiscence that thrills the Evangelist, though half a century has passed since the vision gleamed upon his eyes; but ‘of His fulness have all we received’ is infinitely and unspeakably more. And the manifestation was granted that the possession might be sure, for this is the very centre and heart of Christianity, that in Him who is Christianity God is not merely made known, but given; not merely beheld, but possessed.

In order that that divine fulness might belong to us there was needed that the Word should be made flesh; and there was further needed that incarnation should be crowned by sacrifice, and that life should be perfected in death. The alabaster box had to be broken before the house could be filled with the odour of the ointment. If I may so say, the sack, the coarse-spun sack of Christ’s humanity, had to be cut asunder in order that the wealth that was stored in it might be poured into our hands. God came near us in the life, but God became ours in the death, of His dear Son. Incarnation was needed for that great privilege-’we beheld His glory’; but the Crucifixion was needed in order to make possible the more wondrous prerogative: ‘Of His fulness have all we received.’ God gives Himself to men in the Christ whose life revealed and whose death imparted Him to the world.

And so He is the sole Source. All men, in a very real sense, draw from His fulness. ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.’ The life of the body and the life of the spirit willing, knowing, loving, all which makes life into light, all comes to us through that everlasting Word of God. And when that Word has ‘become flesh and dwelt among us,’ His gifts are not only the gifts of light and life, which all men draw from Him, but the gifts of grace and truth which all those who love Him receive at His hands. His gifts, like the water from some fountain, may flow underground into many of the pastures of the wilderness; and many a man is blessed by them who knows not from whence they come. It is He from whom all the truth, all the grace which illuminates and blesses humanity, flow into all lands in all ages.

II. Consider, then, again, the many receivers from the one Source. ‘Of His fulness have all we received.’

Observe, we are not told definitely what it is that we receive. If we refer back to words in a previous verse, they may put us on the right track for answering the question, What is it that we get? ‘He came unto His own,’ says John 1:11, ‘and His own received Him not; but as many as received Him, to them gave He power,’ etc. That answers the question, What do we receive? Christ is more than all His gifts. All His gifts are treasured up in Him and inseparable from Him. We get Jesus Christ Himself.

The blessings that we receive may be stated in many different ways. You may say we get pardon, purity, hope, joy, the prospect of Heaven, power for service; all these and a hundred more designations by which we might describe the one gift. All these are but the consequences of our having got the Christ within our hearts. He does not give pardon and the rest, as a king might give pardon and honours, a thousand miles off, bestowing it by a mere word, upon some criminal, but He gives all that He gives because He gives Himself. The real possession that we receive is neither more nor less than a loving Saviour, to enter our spirits and abide there, and be the spirit of our spirits, and the life of our lives.

Then, notice the universality of this possession. John has said, in the previous words, ‘We beheld His glory.’ He refers there, of course, to the comparatively small circle of the eye-witnesses of our Master’s life; who, at the time when he wrote, must have been very, very few in number. They had had the prerogative of seeing with their eyes and handling with their hands the Word of life that ‘was manifested unto us’; and with that prerogative the duty of bearing witness of Him to the rest of men. But in the ‘receiving,’ John associates with himself, and with the other eyewitnesses, all those who had listened to their word, and had received the truth in the love of it. ‘We beheld’ refers to the narrower circle; ‘we all received’ to the wider sweep of the whole Church. There is no exclusive class, no special prerogative. Every Christian man, the weakest, the lowliest, the most uncultured, rude, ignorant, foolish, the most besotted in the past, who has wandered furthest away from the Master; whose spirit has been most destitute of all sparks of goodness and of God-receives from out of His fulness. ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.’ And every one of us, if we will, may have dwelling in our hearts, in the greatness of His strength, in the sweetness of His love, in the clearness of His illuminating wisdom, the Incarnate Word, the Comforter, the All-in-all whom ‘we all receive.’

And, as I said, that word ‘all’ might have even a wider extension without going beyond the limits of the truth. For on the one side there stands Christ, the universal Giver; and grouped before Him, in all attitudes of weakness and of want, is gathered the whole race of mankind. And from Him there pours out a stream copious enough to supply all the necessities of every human soul that lives to-day, of every human soul that has lived in the past, of every one that shall live in the future. There is no limit to the universality except only the limit of the human will: ‘Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’

Think of that solitary figure of the Christ reared up, as it were, before the whole race of man, as able to replenish all their emptiness with His fulness, and to satisfy all their thirst with His sufficiency. Dear brother! you have a great gaping void in your heart-an aching emptiness there, which you know better than I can tell you. Look to Him who can fill it and it shall be filled. He can supply all your wants as He can supply all the wants of every soul of man. And after generations have drawn from Him, the water will not have sunk one hairsbreadth in the great fountain, but there will be enough for all coming eternities as there has been enough for all past times. He is like His own miracle-the thousands are gathered on the grass, they do ‘all eat and are filled.’ As their necessities required the bread was multiplied, and at the last there was more left than there had seemed to be at the beginning. So ‘of His fulness have all we received’; and after a universe has drawn from it, for an Eternity, the fulness is not turned into scantiness or emptiness.

III. And so, lastly, notice the continuous flow from the inexhaustible Source. ‘Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.’

The word ‘for’ is a little singular. Of course it means instead of, in exchange for; and the Evangelist’s idea seems to be that as one supply of grace is given and used, it is, as it were, given back to the Bestower, who substitutes for it a fresh and unused vessel, filled with new grace. He might have said, grace upon grace; one supply being piled upon the other. But his notion is, rather, one supply given in substitution for the other, ‘new lamps for old ones.’

Just as a careful gardener will stand over a plant that needs water, and will pour the water on the surface until the earth has drunk it up, and then add a little more; so He gives step by step, grace for grace, an uninterrupted bestowal, yet regulated according to the absorbing power of the heart that receives it. Underlying that great thought are two things: the continuous communication of grace, and the progressive communication of grace. We have here the continuous communication of grace. God is always pouring Himself out upon us in Christ. There is a perpetual out flow from Him to us: if there is not a perpetual inflow into us from Him it is our fault, and not His. He is always giving, and His intention is that our lives shall be a continual reception. Are they? How many Christian men there are whose Christian lives at the best are like some of those Australian or Siberian rivers; in the dry season, a pond here, a stretch of sand, waterless and barren there, then another place with a drop of muddy water in some hollow, and then another stretch of sand, and so on. Why should not the ponds be linked together by a flashing stream? God is always pouring Himself out; why do we not always take Him in?

There is but one answer, and the answer is, that we do not fulfil the condition, which condition is simple faith. ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God; even to them that believed on His name.’ Faith is the condition of receiving, and wherever there is a continuous trust there will be an unbroken grace; and wherever there are interrupted gifts it is because there has been an intermitted trust in Him. Do not let your lives be like some dimly lighted road, with a lamp here, and a stretch of darkness, and then another twinkling light; let the light run all along the side of your path, because at every moment your heart is turning to Christ with trust. Make your faith continuous, and God will make His grace incessant, and out of His fulness you will draw continual supplies of needed strength.

But not only have we here the notion of continuous, but also, as it seems to me, of progressive gifts. Each measure of Christ received, if we use it aright, makes us capable of possessing more of Christ. And the measure of our capacity is the measure of His gift, and the more we can hold the more we shall get. The walls of our hearts are elastic, the vessel expands by being filled out; it throbs itself wider by desire and faith. The wider we open our mouths the larger will be the gift that God puts into them. Each measure and stage of grace utilised and honestly employed will make us capable and desirous, and, therefore, possessors, of more and more of the grace that He gives. So the ideal of the Christian life, and God’s intention concerning us, is not only that we should have an uninterrupted, but a growing possession, of Christ and of His grace.

Is that the case with you, my friend? Can you hold more of God than you could twenty years ago? Is there any more capacity in your soul for more of Christ than there was long, long ago? If there is you have more of Him; if you have not more of Him it is because you cannot contain more; and you cannot contain more because you have not desired more, and because you have been so wretchedly unfaithful in your use of what you had. The ideal is, ‘they go from strength to strength,’ and the end of that is, ‘every one of them appeareth before God.’

So, dear brother, as the dash of the waves will hollow out some little indentation on the coast, and make it larger and larger until there is a great bay, with its headlands miles apart, and its deep bosom stretching far into the interior, and all the expanse full of flashing waters and leaping waves, so the giving Christ works a place for Himself in a man’s heart, and makes the spirit which receives and faithfully uses the gifts which He brings, capable of more of Himself, and fills the widened space with larger gifts and new grace.

Only remember the condition of having Him is trusting to His name and longing for His presence. ‘If any man open the door I will come in.’ We have Him if we trust Him. That trust is no mere passive reception, such as is the case with some empty jar which lies open-mouthed on the shore and lets the sea wash into it and out of it, as may happen. But the ‘receive’ of our text might be as truly rendered ‘take.’ Faith is an active taking, not a passive receiving. We must ‘lay hold on eternal life.’ Faith is the hand that grasps the offered gift, the mouth that feeds upon the bread of God, the voice that says to Christ, ‘Come in, Thou blessed of the Lord; why standest Thou without?’ Such a faith alone brings us into vital connection with Jesus. Without it, you will be none the richer for all His fulness, and may perish of famine in the midst of plenty, like a man dying of hunger outside the door of a granary. They who believe take the Saviour who is given, and they who take receive, and they who receive obtain day by day growing grace from the fulness of Christ, and so come ever nearer to the realisation of the ultimate purpose of the Father, that they should be ‘filled with all the fulness of God.’


Verse 17

John

GRACE AND TRUTH

John 1:17.

There are scarcely any traces, in the writings of the Apostle John, of that great controversy as to the relation of the Law and the Gospel which occupied and embittered so much of the work of the Apostle Paul. We have floated into an entirely different region in John’s writings. The old controversies are dead-settled, I suppose, mainly by Paul’s own words, and also to a large extent by the logic of events. This verse is almost the only one in which John touches upon that extinct controversy, and here the Law is introduced simply as a foil to set off the brightness of the Gospel. All artists know the value of contrast in giving prominence. A dark background flashes up brighter colours into brilliancy. White is never so white as when it is relieved against black. And so here the special preciousness and distinctive peculiarities of what we receive in Christ are made more vivid and more distinct by contrast with what in old days ‘was given by Moses.’

Every word in this verse is significant. ‘Law’ is set against ‘grace and truth.’ It was ‘given’; they ‘came.’ Moses is contrasted with Christ. So we have a threefold antithesis as between Law and Gospel: in reference to their respective contents; in reference to the manner of their communication; and in reference to the person of their Founders. And I think, if we look at these three points, we shall get some clear apprehension of the glories of that Gospel which the Apostle would thereby commend to our affection and to our faith.

I. First of all, then, we have here the special glory of the contents of the Gospel heightened by the contrast with Law.

Law has no tenderness, no pity, no feeling. Tables of stone and a pen of iron are its fitting vehicles. Flashing lightnings and rolling thunders symbolise the fierce light which it casts upon men’s duty and the terrors of its retribution. Inflexible, and with no compassion for human weakness, it tells us what we ought to be, but it does not help us to be it. It ‘binds heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne,’ upon men’s consciences, but puts not forth ‘the tip of a finger’ to enable men to bear them. And this is true about law in all forms, whether it be the Mosaic Law, or whether it be the law of our own country, or whether it be the laws written upon men’s consciences. These all partake of the one characteristic, that they help nothing to the fulfilment of their own behests, and that they are barbed with threatenings of retribution. Like some avenging goddess, law comes down amongst men, terrible in her purity, awful in her beauty, with a hard light in her clear grey eyes-in the one hand the tables of stone, bearing the commandments which we have broken, and in the other a sharp two-edged sword.

And this is the opposite of all that comes to us in the Gospel. The contrast divides into two portions. The ‘Law’ is set against ‘grace and truth.’ Let us look at these two in order.

What we have in Christ is not law, but grace. Law, as I said, has no heart; the meaning of the Gospel is the unveiling of the heart of God. Law commands and demands; it says: ‘This shalt thou do, or else-’; and it has nothing more that it can say. What is the use of standing beside a lame man, and pointing to a shining summit, and saying to him, ‘Get up there, and you will breathe a purer atmosphere’? He is lying lame at the foot of it. There is no help for any soul in law. Men are not perishing because they do not know what they ought to do. Men are not bad because they doubt as to what their duty is. The worst man in the world knows a great deal more of what he ought to do than the best man in the world practises. So it is not for want of precepts that so many of us are going to destruction, but it is for want of power to fulfil the precepts.

Grace is love giving. Law demands, grace bestows. Law comes saying ‘Do this,’ and our consciences respond to the imperativeness of the obligation. But grace comes and says, ‘I will help thee to do it.’ Law is God requiring; grace is God bestowing. ‘Give what Thou commandest, and then command what Thou wilt.’

Oh, brethren! we have all of us written upon the fleshly tablets of our hearts solemn commandments which we know are binding upon us; and which we sometimes would fain keep, but cannot. Is this not a message of hope and blessedness that comes to us? Grace has drawn near in Jesus Christ, and a giving God, who bestows upon us a life that will unfold itself in accordance with the highest law, holds out the fulness of His gift in that Incarnate Word. Law has no heart; the Gospel is the unveiling of the heart of God. Law commands; grace is God bestowing Himself.

And still further, law condemns. Grace is love that bends down to an evildoer, and deals not on the footing of strict retribution with the infirmities and the sins of us poor weaklings. And so, seeing that no man that lives but hears in his heart an accusing voice, and that every one of us knows what it is to gaze upon lofty duties that we have shrunk from, upon plain obligations from the yoke of which we have selfishly and cowardly withdrawn our necks; seeing that every man, woman, and child listening to me now has, lurking in some corner of their hearts, a memory that only needs to be quickened to be a torture, and deeds that only need to have the veil drawn away from them to terrify and shame them-oh! surely it ought to be a word of gladness for every one of us that, in front of any law that condemns us, stands forth the gentle, gracious form of the Christ that brings pardon, and ‘the grace of God that bringeth salvation unto all men.’ Thank God! law needed to be ‘given,’ but it was only the foundation on which was to be reared a better thing. ‘The law was given By Moses’-’a schoolmaster,’ as conscience is to-day, ‘to bring us to Christ’ by whom comes the grace that loves, that stoops, that gives, and that pardons.

Still further, there is another antithesis here. The Gospel which comes by Christ is not law, but truth. The object of law is to regulate conduct, and only subordinately to inform the mind or to enlighten the understanding. The Mosaic Law had for its foundation, of course, a revelation of God. But that revelation of God was less prominent, proportionately, than the prescription for man’s conduct. The Gospel is the opposite of this. It has for its object the regulation of conduct; but that object is less prominent, proportionately, than the other, the manifestation and the revelation of God. The Old Testament says ‘Thou shalt’; the New Testament says ‘God is.’ The Old was Law; the New is Truth.

And so we may draw the inference, on which I do not need to dwell, how miserably inadequate and shallow a conception of Christianity that is which sets it forth as being mainly a means of regulating conduct, and how false and foolish that loose talk is that we hear many a time.-’Never mind about theological subtleties; conduct is the main thing.’ Not so. The Gospel is not law; the Gospel is truth. It is a revelation of God to the understanding and to the heart, in order that thereby the will may be subdued, and that then the conduct may be shaped and moulded. But let us begin where it begins, and let us remember that the morality of the New Testament has never long been held up high and pure, where the theology of the New Testament has been neglected and despised. ‘The law came by Moses; truth came by Jesus Christ.’

But, still further, let me remind you that, in the revelation of a God who is gracious, giving to our emptiness and forgiving our sins-that is to say, in the revelation of grace-we have a far deeper, nobler, more blessed conception of the divine nature than in law. It is great to think of a righteous God, it is great and ennobling to think of One whose pure eyes cannot look upon sin, and who wills that men should live pure and noble and Godlike lives. But it is far more and more blessed, transcending all the old teaching, when we sit at the feet of the Christ who gives, and who pardons, and look up into His deep eyes, with the tears of compassion shining in them, and say: ‘Lo! This is our God! We have waited for Him and He will save us.’ That is a better truth, a deeper truth than prophets and righteous men of old possessed; and to us there has come, borne on the wings of the mighty angel of His grace, the precious revelation of the Father-God whose heart is love. ‘The law was given by Moses,’ but brighter than the gleam of the presence between the Cherubim is the lambent light of gentle tenderness that shines from the face of Jesus Christ. Grace, and therefore truth, a deeper truth, came by Him.

And, still further, let me remind you of how this contrast is borne out by the fact that all that previous system was an adumbration, a shadow and a premonition of the perfect revelation that was to come. Temple, priest, sacrifice, law, the whole body of the Mosaic constitution of things was, as it were, a shadow thrown along the road in advance by the swiftly coming King. The shadow fell before Him, but when He came the shadow disappeared. The former was a system of types, symbols, pictures. Here is the reality that antiquates and fulfils and transcends them all. ‘The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’

II. Now, secondly, look at the other contrast that is here, between giving and coming.

I do not know that I have quite succeeded in making clear to my own mind the precise force of this antithesis. Certainly there is a profound meaning if one can fathom it; perhaps one might put it best in something like the following fashion.

The word rendered ‘came’ might be more correctly translated ‘became,’ or ‘came into being.’ The law was given; grace and truth came to be.

Now, what do we mean when we talk about a law being given? We simply mean, I suppose, that it is promulgated, either in oral or in written words. It is, after all, no more than so many words. It is given when it is spoken or published. It is a verbal communication at the best. ‘But grace and truth came to be.’ They are realities; they are not words. They are not communicated by sentences, they are actual existences; and they spring into being as far as man’s historical possession and experience of them are concerned-they spring into being in Jesus Christ, and through Him they belong to us all. Not that there was no grace, no manifest lore of God, in the world, nor any true knowledge of Him before the Incarnation, but the earlier portions of this chapter remind us that all of grace, however restrained and partial, that all of truth, however imperfect and shadowy it may have been, which were in the world before Christ came, were owing to the operation of that Eternal Word ‘Who became flesh and dwelt among us,’ and that these, in comparison with the affluence and the fulness and the nearness of grace and truth after Christ’s coming, were so small and remote that it is not an exaggeration to say that, as far as man’s possession and experience of them are concerned, the giving love of God and the clear and true knowledge of His deep heart of tenderness and grace, sprang into being with the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ the Lord.

He comes to reveal by no words. His gift is not like the gift that Moses brought down from the mountain, merely a writing upon tables; His gift is not the letter of an outward commandment, nor the letter of an outward revelation. It is the thing itself which He reveals by being it. He does not speak about grace, He brings it; He does not show us God by His words, He shows us God by His acts. He does not preach about Him, but He lives Him, He manifests Him. His gentleness, His compassion, His miracles, His wisdom, His patience, His tears, His promises; all these are the very Deity in action before our eyes; and instead of a mere verbal revelation, which is so imperfect and so worthless, grace and truth, the living realities, are flashed upon a darkened world in the face of Jesus Christ. How cold, how hard, how superficial, in comparison with that fleshly table of the heart of Christ on which grace and truth were written, are the stony tables of law, which bore after all, for all their majesty, only words which are breath and nothing besides.

III. And so, lastly, look at the contrast that is drawn here between the persons of the Founders.

I do not suppose that we are to take into consideration the difference between the limitations of the one and the completeness of the other. I do not suppose that the Apostle was thinking about the difference between the reluctant service of the Lawgiver and the glad obedience of the Son; or between the passion and the pride that sometimes marred Moses’ work, and the continual calmness and patient meekness that perfected the sacrifice of Jesus. Nor do I suppose that there flashed before his memory the difference between that strange tomb where God buried the prophet, unknown of men, in the stern solitude of the desert, true symbol of the solemn mystery and awful solitude with which the law which we have broken invests death, to our trembling consciences, and the grave in the garden with the spring flowers bursting round it, and visited by white-robed angels, who spoke comfort to weeping friends, true picture of what His death makes the grave for all His followers.

But I suppose he was mainly thinking of the contrast between the relation of Moses to his law, and of Christ to His Gospel. Moses was but a medium. His personality had nothing to do with his message. You may take away Moses, and the law stands all the same. But Christ is so interwoven with Christ’s message that you cannot rend the two apart; you cannot have the figure of Christ melt away, and the gift that Christ brought remain. If you extinguish the sun you cannot keep the sunlight; if you put away Christ in the fulness of His manhood and of His divinity, in the power of His Incarnation and the omnipotence of His cross-if you put away Christ from Christianity, it collapses into dust and nothingness.

So, dear brethren, do not let any of us try that perilous experiment. You cannot melt away Jesus and keep grace and truth. You cannot tamper with His character, with His nature, with the mystery of His passion, with the atoning power of His cross, and preserve the blessings that He has brought to the world. If you want the grace which is the unveiling of the heart of God, the gift of a giving God and the pardon of a forgiving Judge; or if you want the truth, the reality of the knowledge of Him, you can only get them by accepting Christ. ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’ There is a ‘law given which gives life,’ and ‘righteousness is by that law.’ There is a Person who is the Truth, and our knowledge of the truth is through that Person, and through Him alone. By humble faith receive Him into your hearts, and He will come bringing to you the fulness of grace and truth.


Verse 29

John

THE WORLD’S SIN-BEARER

John 1:29.

Our Lord, on returning from His temptation in the wilderness, came straight to John the Baptist. He was welcomed with these wonderful and rapturous words, familiarity with which has deadened our sense of their greatness. How audacious they would sound to some of their first hearers! Think of these two, one of them a young Galilean carpenter, to whom His companion witnesses and declares that He is of worldwide and infinite significance. It was the first public designation of Jesus Christ, and it throws into exclusive prominence one aspect of His work.

John the Baptist summing up the whole of former revelation which concentrated in Him, pointed a designating finger to Jesus and said, ‘That is He!’ My text is the sum of all Christian teaching ever since. My task, and that of all preachers, if we understand it aright, is but to repeat the same message, and to concentrate attention on the same fact-’The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.’ It is the one thing needful for you, dear friend, to believe. It is the truth that we all need most of all. There is no reason for our being gathered together now, except that I may beseech you to behold for yourselves the Lamb of God which takes away the world’s sin.

I. Now let me ask you to note, first, that Jesus Christ is the world’s sin-bearer.

The significance of the first clause of my text, ‘the Lamb of God,’ is deplorably weakened if it is taken to mean only, or mainly, that Jesus Christ, in the sweetness of His human nature, is gentle and meek and patient and innocent and pure. It does mean all that, thank God! But it was no mere description of Christ’s disposition which John the Baptist conceived himself to be uttering, as is clear by the words that follow in the next clause. His reason for selecting {under divine guidance, as I believe} that image of ‘the Lamb of God,’ went a great deal deeper than anything in the temper of the Person of whom he was speaking. Many streams of ancient prophecy and ritual converge upon this emblem, and if we want to understand what is meant by the designation ‘the Lamb of God,’ we must not content ourselves with the sentimentalisms which some superficial teachers have supposed to exhaust the significance of the expression; but we must submit to be led back by John, who was the summing up of all the ancient Revelation, to the sources in that Revelation from which he drew this metaphor.

First and chiefest of these, as I take it, are the words which no Jew ever doubted referred to the Messiah, until after He had come, and the Rabbis would not believe in Him, and so were bound to hunt up another interpretation-I mean the great words in the prophecy which, I suppose, is familiar to most of us, where there are found two representations, one, ‘He was led as a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth’; and the other, still more germane to the purpose of my text, ‘the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . . . By His knowledge shall He justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.’ John the Baptist, looking back through the ages to that ancient prophetic utterance, points to the young Man standing by his side, and says, ‘There it is fulfilled.’

But the prophetic symbol of the Lamb, and the thought that He bore the iniquity of the many, had their roots in the past, and pointed back to the sacrificial lamb, the lamb of the daily sacrifice, and especially to the lamb slain at the Passover, which was an emblem and sacrament of deliverance from bondage. Thus the conceptions of vicarious suffering, and of a death which is a deliverance, and of blood which, sprinkled on the doorposts, guards the house from the destroying angel, are all gathered into these words.

Nor do these exhaust the sources of this figure, as it comes from the venerable and sacred past. For when we read ‘the Lamb of God,’ who is there that does not recognise, unless his eyes are blinded by obstinate prejudice, a glance backward to that sweet and pathetic story when the father went up with his son to the top of Mount Moriah, and to the boy’s question, ‘Where is the lamb?’ answered, ‘My son, God Himself will provide the lamb!’ John says, ‘Behold the Lamb that God has provided, the Sacrifice, on whom is laid a world’s sins, and who bears them away.’

Note, too, the universality of the power of Christ’s sacrificial work. John does not say ‘the sins,’ as the Litany, following an imperfect translation, makes him say. But he says, ‘the sin of the world,’ as if the whole mass of human transgression was bound together, in one black and awful bundle, and laid upon the unshrinking shoulders of this better Atlas who can bear it all, and bear it all away. Your sin, and mine, and every man’s, they were all laid upon Jesus Christ.

Now remember, dear brethren, that in this wondrous representation there lie, plain and distinct, two things which to me, and I pray they may be to you, are the very foundation of the Gospel to which we have to trust. One is that on Christ Jesus, in His life and in His death, were laid the guilt and the consequences of a world’s sin. I do not profess to be ready with an explanation of how that is possible. That it is a fact I believe, on the authority of Christ Himself and of Scripture; that it is inconsistent with the laws of human nature may be asserted, but never can be proved. Theories manifold have been invented in order to make it plain. I do not know that any of them have gone to the bottom of the bottomless. But Christ in His perfect manhood, wedded, as I believe it is, to true divinity, is capable of entering into-not merely by sympathy, though that has much to do with it-such closeness of relation with human kind, and with every man, as that on Him can be laid the iniquity of us all.

Oh, brethren! what was the meaning of ‘I have a baptism to be baptized with,’ unless the cold waters of the flood into which He unshrinkingly stepped, and allowed to flow over Him, were made by the gathered accumulation of the sins of the whole world? What was the meaning of the agony in Gethsemane? What was the meaning of that most awful word ever spoken by human lips, in which the consciousness of union with, and of separation from, God, were so marvellously blended, ‘My God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ unless the Guiltless was then loaded with the sins of the world, which rose between Him and God?

Dear friends, it seems to me that unless this transcendent element be fairly recognised as existing in the passion and death of Jesus Christ, His demeanour when He came to die was far less heroic and noble and worthy of imitation than have been the deaths of hundreds of people who drew all their strength to die from Him. I do not venture to bring a theory, but I press upon you the fact, He bears the sins of the world, and in that awful load are yours and mine.

There is the other truth here, as clearly, and perhaps more directly, meant by the selection of the expression in my text, that the Sin-bearer not only carries, but carries away, the burden that is laid upon Him. Perhaps there may be a reference-in addition to the other sources of the figure which I have indicated as existing in ritual, and prophecy, and history-there may be a reference in the words to yet another of the eloquent symbols of that ancient system which enshrined truths that were not peculiar to any people, but were the property of humanity. You remember, no doubt, the singular ceremonial connected with the scapegoat, and many of you will recall the wonderful embodiment of it given by the Christian genius of a modern painter. The sins of the nation were symbolically laid upon its head, and it was carried out to the edge of the wilderness and driven forth to wander alone, bearing away upon itself into the darkness and solitude-far from man and far from God-the whole burden of the nation’s sins. Jesus Christ takes away the sin which He bears, and there is, as I believe, only one way by which individuals, or society, or the world at large, can thoroughly get rid of the guilt and penal consequences and of the dominion of sin, and that is, by beholding the Lamb of God that takes upon Himself, that He may carry away out of sight, the sin of the world. So much, then, for the first thought that I wish to suggest to you.

II. Now let me ask you to look with me at a second thought, that such a world’s Sin-bearer is the world’s deepest need.

The sacrifices of every land witness to the fact that humanity all over the world, and through all the ages, and under all varieties of culture, has been dimly conscious that its deepest need was that the fact of sin should be dealt with. I know that there are plenty of modern ingenious ways of explaining the universal prevalence of an altar and a sacrifice, and the slaying of innocent creatures, on other grounds, some of which I think it is not uncharitable to suppose are in favour mainly because they weaken this branch of the evidence for the conformity of Christian truth with human necessities. But notwithstanding these, I venture to affirm, with all proper submission to wiser men, that you cannot legitimately explain the universal prevalence of sacrifice, unless you take into account as one-I should say the main-element in it, this universally diffused sense that things are wrong between man and the higher Power, and need to be set right even by such a method.

But I do not need to appeal only to this world-wide fact as being a declaration of what man’s deepest need is. I would appeal to every man’s own consciousness-hard though it be to get at it; buried as it is, with some of us, under mountains of indifference and neglect; and callous as it is with many of us by reason of indulgence in habits of evil. I believe that in every one of us, if we will be honest, and give heed to the inward voice, there does echo a response and an amen to the Scripture declaration, ‘God hath shut up all under sin.’ I ask you about yourselves, is it not so? Do you not know that, however you may gloss over the thing, or forget it amidst a whirl of engagements and occupations, or try to divert your thoughts into more or less noble or ignoble channels of pleasures and pursuits, there does lie, in each of our hearts, the sense, dormant often, but sometimes like a snake in its hybernation, waking up enough to move, and sometimes enough to sting-there does lie, in each of us, the consciousness that we are wrong with God, and need something to put us right?

And, brethren, let modern philanthropists of all sorts take this lesson: The thing that the world wants is to have sin dealt with-dealt with in the way of conscious forgiveness; dealt with in the way of drying up its source, and delivering men from the power of it. Unless you do that, I do not say you do nothing, but you pour a bottle full of cold water into Vesuvius, and try to put the fire out with that. You may educate, you may cultivate, you may refine; you may set political and economical arrangements right in accordance with the newest notions of the century, and what then? Why! the old thing will just begin over again, and the old miseries will appear again, because the old grandmother of them all is there, the sin that has led to them.

Now do not misunderstand me, as if I were warring against good and noble men who are trying to remedy the world’s evils by less thorough methods than Christ’s Gospel. They will do a great deal. But you may have high education, beautiful refinement of culture and manners; you may divide out political power in accordance with the most democratic notions; you may give everybody ‘a living wage,’ however extravagant his notions of a living wage may be. You may carry out all these panaceas and the world will groan still, because you have not dealt with the tap-root of all the mischief. You cannot cure an internal cancer with a plaster upon the little finger, and you will never stanch the world’s wounds until you go to the Physician that has balm and bandage, even Jesus Christ, that takes away the sins of the world. I profoundly distrust all these remedies for the world’s misery as in themselves inadequate, even whilst I would help them all, and regard them all as then blessed and powerful, when they are consequences and secondary results of the Gospel, the first task of which is to deal by forgiveness and by cleansing with individual transgression.

And if I might venture to go a step further, I would like to say that this aspect of our Lord’s work on which John the Baptist concentrated all our attention is the only one which gives Him power to sway men, and which makes the Gospel-the record of His work-the kingly power in the world that it is meant to be. Depend upon it, that in the measure in which Christian teachers fail to give supreme importance to that aspect of Christ’s work they fail altogether. There are many other aspects which, as I have just said, follow in my conception from this first one; but if, as is obviously the tendency in many quarters to-day, Christianity be thought of as being mainly a means of social improvement, or if its principles of action be applied to life without that basis of them all, in the Cross which takes away the world’s iniquity, then it needs no prophet to foretell that such a Christianity will only have superficial effects, and that, in losing sight of this central thought, it will have cast away all its power.

I beseech you, dear brethren, remember that Jesus Christ is something more than a social reformer, though He is the first of them, and the only one whose work will last. Jesus Christ is something more than a lovely pattern of human conduct, though He is that. Jesus Christ is something more than a great religious genius who set forth the Fatherhood of God as it had never been set forth before. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the record not only of what He said but of what He did, not only that He lived but that He died; and all His other powers, and all His other benefits and blessings to society, come as results of His dealing with the individual soul when He takes away its guilt and reconciles it to God.

III. And so, lastly, let me ask you to notice that this Sin-bearer of the world is our Sin-bearer if we ‘behold’ Him.

John was simply summoning ignorant eyes to look, and telling of what they would see. But his call is susceptible, without violence, of a far deeper meaning. This is really the one truth that I want to press upon you, dear friends-’Behold the Lamb of God!’

What is that beholding? Surely it is nothing else than our recognising in Him the great and blessed work which I have been trying to describe, and then resting ourselves upon that great Lord and sufficient Sacrifice. And such an exercise of simple trust is well named beholding, because they who believe do see, with a deeper and a truer vision than sense can give. You and I can see Christ more really than these men who stood round Him, and to whom His flesh was ‘a veil’-as the Epistle to the Hebrews calls it-hiding His true divinity and work. They who thus behold by faith lack nothing either of the directness or of the certitude that belong to vision. ‘Seeing is believing,’ says the cynical proverb. The Christian version inverts its terms, ‘Believing is seeing.’ ‘Whom having not seen ye love, in whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing ye rejoice.’

And your simple act of ‘beholding,’ by the recognition of His work and the resting of yourself upon it, makes the world’s Sin-bearer your Sin-bearer. You appropriate the general blessing, like a man taking in a little piece of a boundless prairie for his very own. Your possession does not make my possession of Him less, for every eye gets its own beam, and however many eyes wait upon Him, they all receive the light on to their happy eyeballs. You can make Christ your own, and have all that He has done for the world as your possession, and can experience in your own hearts the sense of your own forgiveness and deliverance from the power and guilt of your own sin, on the simple condition of looking unto Jesus. The serpent is lifted on the pole, the dying camp cannot go to it, but the filming eyes of the man in his last gasp may turn to the gleaming image hanging on high; and as he looks the health begins to tingle back into his veins, and he is healed.

And so, dear brethren, behold Him; for unless you do, though He has borne the world’s sin, your sin will not be there, but will remain on your back to crush you down. ‘O Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me!’


Verses 37-39

John

THE FIRST DISCIPLES: I. JOHN AND ANDREW

John 1:37 - John 1:39.

In these verses we see the head waters of a great river, for we have before us nothing less than the beginnings of the Christian Church. So simply were the first disciples made. The great society of believers was born like its Master, unostentatiously and in a corner.

Jesus has come back from His conflict in the wilderness after His baptism, and has presented Himself before John the Baptist for his final attestation. It was a great historical moment when the last of the Prophets stood face to face with the Fulfilment of all prophecy. In his words, ‘Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!’ Jewish prophecy sang its swan-song, uttered its last rejoicing, ‘Eureka! I have found Him!’ and died as it spoke.

We do not sufficiently estimate the magnificent self-suppression and unselfishness of the Baptist, in that he, with his own lips, here repeats his testimony in order to point his disciples away from himself, and to attach them to Jesus. If he could have been touched by envy he would not so gladly have recognised it as his lot to decrease while Jesus increased. Bare magnanimity that in a teacher! The two who hear John’s words are Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, and an anonymous man. The latter is probably the Evangelist. For it is remarkable that we never find the names of James and John in this Gospel {though from the other Gospels we know how closely they were associated with our Lord}, and that we only find them referred to as ‘the sons of Zebedee,’ once near the close of the book. That fact points, I think, in the direction of John’s authorship of this Gospel.

These two, then, follow behind Jesus, fancying themselves unobserved, not desiring to speak to Him, and probably with some notion of tracking Him to His home, in order that they may seek an interview at a later period. But He who notices the first beginnings of return to Him, and always comes to meet men, and is better to them than their wishes, will not let them steal behind Him uncheered, nor leave them to struggle with diffidence and delay. So He turns to them, and the events ensue which I have read in the verses that follow as my text.

We have, I think, three things especially to notice here. First, the Master’s question to the whole world, ‘What seek ye?’ Second, the Master’s invitation to the whole world, ‘Come and see!’ Lastly, the personal communion which brings men’s hearts to Him, ‘They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day.’

I. So, then, first look at this question of Christ to the whole world, ‘What seek ye?’

As it stands, on its surface, and in its primary application, it is the most natural of questions. Our Lord hears footsteps behind Him, and, as any one would do, turns about, with the question which any one would ask, ‘What is it that you want?’ That question would derive all its meaning from the look with which it was accompanied, and the tone in which it was spoken. It might mean either annoyance and rude repulsion of a request, even before it was presented, or it might mean a glad wish to draw out the petition, and more than half a pledge to bestow it. All depends on the smile with which it was asked and the intonation of voice which carried it to their ears. And if we had been there we should have felt, as these two evidently felt, that though in form a question, it was in reality a promise, and that it drew out their shy wishes, made them conscious to themselves of what they desired, and gave them confidence that their desire would be granted. Clearly it had sunk very deep into the Evangelist’s mind; and now, at the end of his life, when his course is nearly run, the never-to-be-forgotten voice sounds still in his memory, and he sees again, in sunny clearness, all the scene that had transpired on that day by the fords of the Jordan. The first words and the last words of those whom we have learned to love are cut deep on our hearts.

It was not an accident that the first words which the Master spoke in His Messianic office were this profoundly significant question, ‘What seek ye?’ He asks it of us all, He asks it of us to-day. Well for them who can answer, ‘Rabbi! where dwellest Thou?’ ‘It is Thou whom we seek!’ So, venturing to take the words in that somewhat wider application, let me just suggest to you two or three directions in which they seem to point.

First, the question suggests to us this: the need of having a clear consciousness of what is our object in life. The most of men have never answered that question. They live from hand to mouth, driven by circumstances, guided by accidents, impelled by unreflecting passions and desires, knowing what they want for the moment, but never having tried to shape the course of their lives into a consistent whole, so as to stand up before God in Christ when He puts the question to them, ‘What seek ye?’ and to answer the question.

These incoherent, instinctive, unreflective lives that so many of you are living are a shame to your manhood, to say nothing more. God has made us for something else than that we should thus be the sport of circumstances. It is a disgrace to any of us that our lives should be like some little fishing-boat, with an unskilful or feeble hand at the tiller, yawing from one point of the compass to another, and not keeping a straight and direct course. I pray you, dear brethren, to front this question: ‘After all, and at bottom, what is it I am living for? Can I formulate the aims and purposes of my life in any intelligible statement of which I should not be ashamed?’ Some of you are not ashamed to do what you would be very much ashamed to say, and you practically answer the question, ‘What are you seeking?’ by pursuits that you durst not call by their own ugly names.

There may be many of us who are living for our lusts, for our passions, for our ambitions, for avarice, who are living in all uncleanness and godlessness. I do not know. There are plenty of shabby, low aims in all of us which do not bear being dragged out into the light of day. I beseech you to try and get hold of the ugly things and bring them up to the surface, however much they may seek to hide in the congenial obscurity and twist their slimy coils round something in the dark. If you dare not put your life’s object into words, bethink yourselves whether it ought to be your life’s object at all.

Ah, brethren! if we would ask ourselves this question, and answer it with any thoroughness, we should not make so many mistakes as to the places where we look for the things for which we are seeking. If we knew what we were really seeking, we should know where to go to look for it. Let me tell you what you are seeking, whether you know it or not. You are seeking for rest for your heart, a home for your spirits; you are seeking for perfect truth for your understandings, perfect beauty for your affections, perfect goodness for your conscience. You are seeking for all these three, gathered into one white beam of light, and you are seeking for it all in a Person. Many of you do not know this, and so you go hunting in all manner of impossible places for that which you can only find in one. To the question, ‘What seek ye?’ the deepest of all answers, the only real answer, is, ‘My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.’ If you know that, you know where to look for what you need! ‘Do men gather grapes of thorns?’ If these are really the things that you are seeking after, in all your mistaken search-oh! how mistaken is the search! Do men look for pearls in cockle-shells, or for gold in coal-pits; and why should you look for rest of heart, mind, conscience, spirit, anywhere and in anything short of God? ‘What seek ye?’-the only answer is, ‘We seek Thee!’

And then, still further, let me remind you how these words are not only a question, but are really a veiled and implied promise. The question, ‘What do you want of Me?’ may either strike an intending suppliant like a blow, and drive him away with his prayer sticking in his throat unspoken, or it may sound like a merciful invitation, ‘What is thy petition, and what is thy request, and it shall be granted unto thee?’ We know which of the two it was here. Christ asks all such questions as this {and there are many of them in the New Testament}, not for His information, but for our strengthening. He asks people, not because He does not know before they answer, but that, on the one hand, their own minds may be clear as to their wishes, and so they may wish the more earnestly because of the clearness; and that, on the other hand, their desires being expressed, they may be the more able to receive the gift which He is willing to bestow. So He here turns to these men, whose purpose He knew well enough, and says to them, ‘What seek ye?’ Herein He is doing the very same thing on a lower level, and in an outer sphere, as is done when He appoints that we shall pray for the blessings which He is yearning to bestow, but which He makes conditional on our supplications, only because by these supplications our hearts are opened to a capacity for receiving them.

We have, then, in the words before us, thus understood, our Lord’s gracious promise to give what is desired on the simple condition that the suppliant is conscious of his own wants, and turns to Him for the supply of them. ‘What seek ye?’ It is a blank cheque that He puts into their hands to fill up. It is the key of His treasure-house which He offers to us all, with the assured confidence that if we open it we shall find all that we need.

Who is He that thus stands up before a whole world of seeking, restless spirits, and fronts them with the question which is a pledge, conscious of His capacity to give to each of them what each of them requires? Who is this that professes to be able to give all these men and women and children bread here in the wilderness? There is only one answer-the Christ of God.

And He has done what He promises. No man or woman ever went to Him, and answered this question, and presented their petition for any real good, and was refused. No man can ask from Christ what Christ cannot bestow. No man can ask from Christ what Christ will not bestow. In the loftiest region, the region of inward and spiritual gifts, which are the best gifts, we can get everything that we want, and our only limit is, not His boundless omnipotence and willingness, but our own poor, narrow, and shrivelled desires. ‘Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.’

Christ stands before us, if I may so say, like some of those fountains erected at some great national festival, out of which pour for all the multitude every variety of draught which they desire, and each man that goes with his empty cup gets it filled, and gets it filled with that which he wishes. ‘What seek ye?’ Wisdom? You students, you thinkers, you young men that are fighting with intellectual difficulties and perplexities, ‘What seek ye?’ Truth? He gives us that. You others, ‘What seek ye?’ Love, peace, victory, self-control, hope, anodyne for sorrow? Whatever you desire, you will find in Jesus Christ. The first words with which He broke the silence when He spake to men as the Messias, were at once a searching question, probing their aims and purposes, and a gracious promise pledging Him to a task not beyond His power, however far beyond that of all others, even the task of giving to each man his heart’s desire. ‘What seek ye?’ ‘Seek, and ye shall find.’

II. Then, still further, notice how, in a similar fashion, we may regard here the second words which our Lord speaks as being His merciful invitation to the world. ‘Come and see.’

The disciples’ answer was simple and timid. They did not venture to say, ‘May we talk to you?’ ‘Will you take us to be your disciples?’ All they can muster courage to ask now is, ‘Where dwellest Thou?’ At another time, perhaps, we will go to this Rabbi and speak with Him. His answer is, ‘Come, come now; come, and by intercourse with Me learn to know Me.’ His temporary home was probably nothing more than some selected place on the river’s bank, for ‘He had not where to lay His head’; but such as it was, He welcomes them to it. ‘Come and see!’

Take a plain, simple truth out of that. Christ is always glad when people resort to Him. When He was here in the world, no hour was inconvenient or inopportune; no moment was too much occupied; no physical wants of hunger, or thirst, or slumber were ever permitted to come between Him and seeking hearts. He was never impatient. He was never wearied of speaking, though He was often wearied in speaking. He never denied Himself to any one or said, ‘I have something else to do than to attend to you.’ And just as in literal fact, whilst He was here upon earth, nothing was ever permitted to hinder His drawing near to any man who wanted to draw near to Him, so nothing now hinders it; and He is glad when any of us resort to Him and ask Him to let us speak to Him and be with Him. His weariness or occupation never shut men out from Him then. His glory does not shut them out now.

Then there is another thought here. This invitation of the Master is also a very distinct call to a firsthand knowledge of Jesus Christ. Andrew and John had heard from the Baptist about Him, and now what He bids them to do is to come and hear Himself. That is what He calls you, dear brethren, to do. Do not listen to us, let the Master Himself speak to you. Many who reject Christianity reject it through not having listened to Jesus Himself teaching them, but only to theologians and other human representations of the truth. Go and ask Christ to speak to you with His own lips of truth, and take Him as the Expositor of His own system. Do not be contented with traditional talk and second-hand information. Go to Christ, and hear what He Himself has to say to you.

Then, still further, in this ‘Come and see’ there is a distinct call to the personal act of faith. Both of these words, ‘come’ and ‘ see,’ are used in the New Testament as standing emblems of faith. Coming to Christ is trusting Him; trusting Him is seeing Him, looking unto Him. ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest,’ ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.’ There are two metaphors, both of them pointing to one thing, and that one thing is the invitation from the dear lips of the loving Lord to every man, woman, and child in this congregation. ‘Come and see!’ ‘Put your trust in Me, draw near to Me by desire and penitence, draw near to Me in the fixed thought of your mind, in the devotion of your will, in the trust of your whole being. Come to Me, and see Me by faith; and then-and then-your hearts will have found what they seek, and your weary quest will be over, and, like the dove, you will fold your wings and nestle at the foot of the Cross, and rest for evermore. Come! “Come and see!”‘

III. So, lastly, we have in these words a parable of the blessed experience which binds men’s hearts to Jesus for ever. ‘They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.’

‘Dwelt’ and ‘abode’ are the same words in the original. It is one of John’s favourite words, and in its deepest meaning expresses the close, still communion which the soul may have with Jesus Christ, which communion, on that never-to-be-forgotten day, when he and Andrew sat with Him in the quiet, confidential fellowship that disclosed Christ’s glory ‘full of grace and truth’ to their hearts, made them His for ever.

If the reckoning of time here is made according to the Hebrew fashion, the ‘tenth hour’ will be ten o’clock in the morning. So, one long day of talk! If it be according to the Roman legal fashion, the hour will be four o’clock in the afternoon, which would only give time for a brief conversation before the night fell. But, in any case, sacred reserve is observed as to what passed in that interview. A lesson for a great deal of blatant talk, in this present day, about conversion and the details thereof!

‘Not easily forgiven

Are those, who setting wide the doors, that bar

The secret bridal chambers of the heart.

Let in the day.’

John had nothing to say to the world about what the Master said to him and his brother in that long day of communion.

One plain conclusion from this last part of our narrative is that the impression of Christ’s own personality is the strongest force to make disciples. The character of Jesus Christ is, after all, the central and standing evidence and the mightiest credential of Christianity. It bears upon its face the proof of its own truthfulness. If such a character was not lived, how did it ever come to be described, and described by such people? And if it was lived, how did it come to be so? The historical veracity of the character of Jesus Christ is guaranteed by its very uniqueness. And the divine origin of Jesus Christ is forced upon us as the only adequate explanation of His historical character. ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’

I believe that to lift Him up is the work of all Christian preachers and teachers; as far as they can to hide themselves behind Jesus Christ, or at the most to let themselves appear, just as the old painters used to let their own likenesses appear in their great altar-pieces-a little kneeling figure there, away in a dark corner of the background. Present Christ, and He will vindicate His own character; He will vindicate His own nature; He will vindicate His own gospel. ‘They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him,’ and the end of it was that they abode with Him for evermore. And so it will always be.

Once more, personal experience of the grace and sweetness of this Saviour binds men to Him as nothing else will:

‘He must be loved ere that to you

He will seem worthy of your love.’

The deepest and sweetest and most precious part of His character and of His gifts can only be known on condition of possessing Him and them, and they can be possessed only on condition of holding fellowship with Him. I do not say to any man: ‘Try trust in order to be sure that Jesus Christ is worthy to be trusted,’ for by its very nature faith cannot be an experiment or provisional. I do not say that my experience is evidence to you, but at the same time I do say that it is worth any man’s while to reflect upon this, that none who ever trusted in Him have been put to shame. No man has looked to Jesus and has said: ‘Ah! I have found Him out! His help is vain, His promises empty.’ Many men have fallen away from Him, I know, but not because they have proved Him untruthful, but because they have become unfaithful.

And so, dear brethren, I come to you with the old message, ‘Oh! taste,’ and thus you will ‘see that the Lord is good.’ There must be the faith first, and then there will be the experience, which will make anything seem to you more credible than that He whom you have loved and trusted, and who has answered your love and your trust, should be anything else than the Son of God, the Saviour of mankind. Come to Him and you will see. The impregnable argument will be put into your mouth-’Whether this man be a sinner or no, I know not. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.’ Look to Him, listen to Him, and when He asks you, ‘What seek ye?’ answer, ‘Rabbi, where dwellest Thou? It is Thou whom I seek.’ He will welcome you to close blessed intercourse with Him, which will knit you to Him with cords that cannot be broken, and with His loving voice making music in memory and heart, you will be able triumphantly to confess-’Now we believe, not because of any man’s saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.’


Verses 40-42

John

THE FIRST DISCIPLES: II. SIMON PETER

John 1:40 f11 - John 1:42.

There are many ways by which souls are brought to their Saviour. Sometimes, like the merchantman seeking goodly pearls, men seek Him earnestly and find Him. Sometimes, by the intervention of another, the knowledge of Him is kindled in dark hearts. Sometimes He Himself takes the initiative, and finds those that seek Him not. We have illustrations of all these various ways in these simple records of the gathering in of the first disciples. Andrew and his friend, with whom we were occupied in our last sermon, looked for Christ and found Him. Peter, with whom we have to do now, was brought to Christ by his brother; and the third of the group, consisting of Philip, was sought by Christ while he was not thinking of Him, and found an unsought treasure; and then Philip again, like Andrew, finds a friend, and brings him to Christ.

Each of the incidents has its own lesson, and each of them adds something to the elucidation of John’s two great subjects: the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, and the development of that faith in Him which gives us life. It may be profitable to consider each group in succession, and mark the various aspects of these two subjects presented by each.

In this incident, then, we have two things mainly to consider: first, the witness of the disciple; second, the self-revelation of the Master.

I. The witness of the disciple.

We have seen that the unknown companion of Andrew was probably the Evangelist himself, who, in accordance with his uniform habit, suppresses his own name, and that that omission points to John’s authorship of this Gospel. Another morsel of evidence as to the date and purpose of the Gospel lies in the mention here of Andrew as ‘Simon Peter’s brother.’ We have not yet heard anything about Simon Peter. The Evangelist has never mentioned his name, and yet he takes it for granted that his hearers knew all about Peter, and knew him better than they did Andrew. That presupposes a considerable familiarity with the incidents of the Gospel story, and is in harmony with the theory that this fourth Gospel is the latest of the four, and was written for the purpose of supplementing, not of repeating, their narrative. Hence a number of the phenomena of the Gospel, which have troubled critics, are simply and sufficiently explained.

But that by the way. Passing that, notice first the illustration that we get here of how instinctive and natural the impulse is, when a man has found Jesus Christ, to tell some one else about Him. Nobody said to Andrew, ‘Go and look for your brother,’ and yet, as soon as he had fairly realised the fact that this Man standing before him was the Messiah, though the evening seems to have come, he hurries away to find his brother, and share with him the glad conviction.

Now, that is always the case. If a man has any real depth of conviction, he cannot rest till he tries to share it with somebody else. Why, even a dog that has had its leg mended, will bring other limping dogs to the man that was kind to it. Whoever really believes anything becomes a propagandist.

Look round about us to-day! and hearken to the Babel, the wholesale Babel of noises, where every sort of opinion is trying to make itself heard. It sounds like a country fair where every huckster is shouting his loudest. That shows that the men believe the things that they profess. Thank God that there is so much earnestness in the world! And now are Christians to be dumb whilst all this vociferous crowd is calling its wares, and quacks are standing on their platforms shouting out their specifics, which are mostly delusions? Have you not a medicine that will cure everything, a real heal-all, a veritable pain-killer? If you believe that you have, certainly you will never rest till you share your boon with your brethren.

If the natural effect of all earnest conviction, viz. a yearning and an absolute necessity to speak it out, is no part of your Christian experience, very grave inferences ought to be drawn from that. This man, before he was four-and-twenty hours a disciple, had made another. Some of you have been disciples for as many years, and have never even tried to make one. Whence comes that silence which is, alas, so common among us?

It is very plain that, making all allowance for changed manners, for social difficulties, for timidity, for the embarrassment that besets people when they talk to other people about religion, which is ‘such an awkward subject to introduce into mixed company,’ and the like,-making all allowance for these, there is a deplorable number of Christian people who ought to be, in their own circles, evangelists and missionaries, who are, if I may venture to quote very rude words which the Bible uses, ‘Dumb dogs lying down, and loving to slumber.’ ‘He first findeth his own brother, Simon!’

Now, take another lesson out of this witness of the disciple, as to the channel in which such effort naturally runs. ‘He first findeth his own brother’; does not that imply a second finding by the other of the two? The language of the text suggests that the Evangelist’s tendency to the suppression of himself, of which I have spoken, hides away, if I may so say, in this singular expression, the fact that he too went to look for a brother, but that Andrew found his brother before John found his. If so, each of the original pair of disciples went to look for one who was knit to him by close ties of kindred and affection, and found him and brought him to Christ; and before the day was over the Christian Church was doubled, because each member of it, by God’s grace, had added another. Home, then, and those who are nearest to us, present the natural channels for Christian work. Many a very earnest and busy preacher, or Sunday-school teacher, or missionary, has brothers and sisters, husband or wife, children or parents at home to whom he has never said a word about Christ. There is an old proverb, ‘The shoemaker’s wife is always the worst shod.’ The families of many very busy Christian teachers suffer wofully for want of remembering ‘he first findeth his own brother.’ It is a poor affair if all your philanthropy and Christian energy go off noisily in Sunday-schools and mission-stations, and if your own vineyard is neglected, and the people at your own fireside never hear anything from you about the Master whom you say you love. Some of you want that hint; will you take it?

But then, the principle is one that might be fairly expanded beyond the home circle. The natural relationships into which we are brought by neighbourhood and by ordinary associations prescribe the direction of our efforts. What, for instance, are we set down in this swarming population of Lancashire for? For business and personal ends? Yes, partly. But is that all? Surely, if we believe that ‘there is a divinity that shapes our ends’ and determines the bounds of our habitation, we must believe that other purposes affecting other people are also meant by God to be accomplished through us, and that where a man who knows and loves Christ Jesus is brought into neighbourly contact with thousands who do not, he is thereby constituted his brethren’s keeper, and is as plainly called to tell them of Christ as if a voice from Heaven had bid him do it. What is to be said of the depth and vital energy of the Christianity that neither hears the call nor feels the impulse to share its blessing with the famishing Lazarus at its gate? What will be the fate of such a church? Why, if you live in luxury in your own well drained and ventilated house, and take no heed to the typhoid fever or cholera in the slums at its back, the chances are that seeds of the disease will find their way to you, and kill your wife, or child, or yourself. And if you Christian people, living in the midst of godless people, do not try to heal them, they will infect you. If you do not seek to impress your conviction that Christ is the Messiah upon an unbelieving generation, the unbelieving generation will impress upon you its doubts whether He is; and your lips will falter, and a pallor will come over the complexion of your love, and your faith will become congealed and turn into ice.

Notice again the simple word which is the most powerful means of influencing most men.

Andrew did not begin to argue with his brother. Some of us can do that and some of us cannot. Some of us are influenced by argument and some of us are not. You may pound a man’s mistaken creed to atoms with sledge-hammers of reasoning, and he is not much the nearer being a Christian than he was before; just as you may pound ice to pieces and it is pounded ice after all. The mightiest argument that we can use, and the argument that we can all use, if we have got any religion in us at all, is that of Andrew, ‘We have found the Messias.’

I recently read a story in some newspaper or other about a minister who preached a very elaborate course of lectures in refutation of some form of infidelity, for the special benefit of a man that attended his place of worship. Soon after, the man came and declared himself a Christian. The minister said to him, ‘Which of my discourses was it that removed your doubts?’ The reply was, ‘Oh! it was not any of your sermons that influenced me. The thing that set me thinking was that a poor woman came out of the chapel beside me, and stumbled on the steps, and I stretched out my hand to help her, and she said “Thank you!” Then she looked at me and said, “Do you love Jesus Christ, my blessed Saviour?” And I did not, and I went home and thought about it; and now I can say I love Jesus.’ The poor woman’s word, and her frank confession of her experience, were all the transforming power.

If you have found Christ, you can say that you have. Never mind about the how! Any how! Only say it! A boy that is sent on an errand by his father has only one duty to perform, and that is to repeat what he was told. Whether we have any eloquence or not, whether we have any logic or not, whether we can speak persuasively and gracefully or not, if we have laid hold of Christ at all we can say that we have; and it is at our peril that we do not. We can say it to somebody. There is surely some one who will listen to you more readily than to any one else. Surely you have not lived all your life and bound nobody to you by kindness and love, so that they will gladly attend to what you say. Well, then, use the power that is given to you.

Remember the beginnings of the Christian Church-two men, each of whom found his brother. Two and two make four; and if every one of us would go, according to the old law of warfare, and each of us slay our man, or rather each of us give life by God’s grace to some one, or try to do it, our congregations and our churches would grow as fast as, according to the old problem, the money grew that was paid down for the nails in the horse’s shoes. Two snowflakes on the top of a mountain gather an avalanche by the time they reach the valley. ‘He first findeth his brother, Simon.’

II. And now I turn to the second part of this text, the self-revelation of the Master.

The bond which knit these men to Christ at first was by no means the perfect Christian faith which they afterwards attained. They recognised Him as the Messiah, they were personally attached to Him, they were ready to accept His teaching and to obey His commandments. That was about as far as they had gone. But they were scholars. They had entered the school. The rest would come. It would be absurd to expect that Christ would begin by preaching to them faith in His divinity and atoning work. He binds them to Himself. That is lesson enough for a beginner for one day.

It was the impression which Christ Himself made on Simon which completed the work begun by his brother. What, then, was the impression? He comes all full of wonder and awe, and he is met by a look and a sentence. The look, which is described by an unusual word, was a penetrating gaze which regarded Peter with fixed attention. It must have been remarkable, to have lived in John’s memory for all these years. Evidently, as I think, a more than natural insight is implied. So, also, the saying with which our Lord received Peter seems to me to be meant to show more than natural knowledge: ‘Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas.’ Christ may, no doubt, have learned the Apostle’s name and lineage from his brother, or in some other ordinary way. But if you observe the similar incident which follows in the conversation with Nicodemus, and the emphatic declaration of the next chapter that Jesus knew both ‘all men,’ and ‘what was in man’-both human nature as a whole, and each individual-it is more natural to see here superhuman knowledge.

So then, the first point in our Lord’s self-revelation here is that He shows Himself possessed of supernatural and thorough knowledge. One remembers the many instances where our Lord read men’s hearts, and the prayer addressed to Him probably, by Peter, ‘Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men,’ and the vision which John saw of ‘eyes like a flame of fire,’ and the sevenfold ‘I know thy works.’

It may be a very awful thought, ‘Thou, God, seest me.’ It is a very unwelcome thought to a great many men, and it will be so to us unless we can give it the modification which it receives from the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and feel sure that the eyes which are blazing with divine omniscience are dewy with divine and human love.

Do you believe it? Do you feel that Christ is looking at you, and searching you altogether? Do you rejoice in it? Do you carry it about with you as a consolation and a strength in moments of weakness and in times of temptation? Is it as blessed to you to feel ‘Thou Christ beholdest me now,’ as it is for a child to feel that, when it is playing in the garden, its mother is sitting up at the window watching it, and that no harm can come? There have been men driven mad in prisons because they knew that somewhere in the wall there was a little pinhole, through which a gaoler’s eye was always, or might be always, glaring down at them. And the thought of an absolute Omniscience up there, searching me to the depths of my nature, may become one from which I recoil shudderingly, and will not be altogether a blessed one unless it comes to me in this shape:-’My Christ knows me altogether and loves me better than He knows. And so I will spread myself out before Him, and though I feel that there is much in me which I dare not tell to men, I will rejoice that there is nothing which I need to tell to Him. He knows me through and through. He knew me when He died for me. He knew me when He forgave me. He knew me when He undertook to cleanse me. Like this very Peter I will say, “Lord, Thou knowest all things,” and, like him, I will cling the closer to His feet, because I know, and He knows, my weakness and my sin.’

Another revelation of our Lord’s relation to His disciples is given in the fact that He changes Simon’s name. Jehovah, in the Old Testament, changes the names of Abraham and of Jacob. Babylonian kings in the Old Testament change the names of their vassal princes. Masters impose names on their slaves; and I suppose that even the marriage custom of the wife’s assuming the name of the husband rests originally upon the same idea of absolute authority. That idea is conveyed in the fact that our Lord changes Peter’s name, and so takes absolute possession of him, and asserts His mastery over him. We belong to Him altogether, because He has given Himself altogether for us. His absolute authority is the correlative of His utter self-surrender. He who can come to me and say, ‘I have spared not my life for thee,’ and He only, has the right to come to me and say, ‘yield yourself wholly to Me.’ So, Christian friends, your Master wants all your service; do you give yourselves up to Him out and out, not by half and half.

Lastly, that change of name implies Christ’s power and promise to bestow a new character and new functions and honours. Peter was by no means a ‘Peter’ then. The name no doubt mainly implies official function, but that official function was prepared for by personal character; and in so far as the name refers to character, it means firmness. At that epoch Peter was rash, impulsive, headstrong, self-confident, vain, and therefore, necessarily changeable. Like the granite, all fluid and hot, and fluid because it was hot, he needed to cool in order to solidify into rock. And not until his self-confidence had been knocked out of him, and he had learned humility by falling; not until he had been beaten from all his presumption, and tamed down, and sobered and steadied by years of difficulty and responsibilities, did he become the rock that Christ meant him to be. All that lay concealed in the future, but in the change of his name, while he stood on the very threshold of his Christian career, there was preached to him, and there is preached to us, this great truth, that if you will go to Jesus Christ He will make a new man of you. No man’s character is so obstinately rooted in evil but that Christ can change its set and direction. No man’s natural dispositions are so faulty and low but that Christ can develop counterbalancing virtues, and out of the evil and weakness make strength. He will not make a Peter into a John, or a John into a Paul, but He will deliver Peter from the ‘defects of his qualities,’ and lead them up into a higher and a nobler region. There are no outcasts in the view of the transforming Christ. He dismisses no people out of His hospital as incurable, because anybody, everybody, the blackest, the most rooted in evil, those who have longest indulged in any given form of transgression, may all come to Him; with the certainty that if they will cleave to Him, He will read all their character and all its weaknesses, and then with a glad smile of welcome and assured confidence on His face, will ensure to them a new nature and new dignities. ‘Thou art Simon-thou shalt be Peter.’

The process will be long. It will be painful. There will be a great deal pared off. The sculptor makes the marble image by chipping away the superfluous marble. Ah! and when you have to chip away superfluous flesh and blood it is bitter work, and the chisel is often deeply dyed in gore, and the mallet seems to be very cruel. Simon did not know all that had to be done to make a Peter of him. We have to thank God’s providence that we do not know all the sorrows and trials of the process of making us what He wills us to be. But we may be sure of this, that if only we keep near our Master, and let Him have His way with us, and work His will upon us, and if only we will not wince from the blows of the Great Artist’s chisel, then out of the roughest block He will carve the fairest statue; and He will fulfil for us at last His great promise: ‘I will give unto him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it.’


Verse 43

John

THE FIRST DISCIPLES: III. PHILIP

John 1:43.

‘The day following’-we have a diary in this chapter and the next, extending from the day when John the Baptist gives his official testimony to Jesus, up till our Lord’s first journey to Jerusalem. The order of events is this. The deputation from the Sanhedrim to John occupied the first day. On the second Jesus comes back to John after His temptation, and receives his solemn attestation. On the third day, John repeats his testimony, and three disciples, probably four, make the nucleus of the Church. These are the two pairs of brothers, James and John, Andrew and Peter, who stand first in every catalogue of the Apostles, and were evidently nearest to Christ.

‘The day following’ of our text is the fourth day. On it our Lord determines to return to Galilee. His objects in His visit to John were accomplished-to receive his public attestation, and to gather the first little knot of His followers. Thus launched upon His course, He desired to return to His native district.

These events had occurred where John was baptising, in a place called in the English version Bethabara, which means ‘The house of crossing,’ or as we might say, Ferry-house. The traditional site for John’s baptism is near Jericho, but the next chapter [John 2:1] shows that it was only a day’s journey from Cana of Galilee, and must therefore have been much further north than Jericho. A ford, still bearing the name Abarah, a few miles south of the lake of Gennesaret, has lately been discovered. Our Lord, then, and His disciples had a day’s walking to take them back to Galilee. But apparently before they set out on that morning, Philip and Nathanael were added to the little band. So these two days saw six disciples gathered round Jesus.

Andrew and John sought Christ and found Him. To them He revealed Himself as very willing to be approached, and glad to welcome any to His side. Peter, who comes next, was brought to Christ by his brother, and to him Christ revealed Himself as reading his heart, and promising and giving him higher functions and a more noble character.

Now we come to the third case, ‘Jesus findeth Philip,’ who was not seeking Jesus, and who was brought by no one. To him Christ reveals Himself as drawing near to many a heart that has not thought of Him, and laying a masterful hand of gracious authority on the springs of life and character in that autocratic word ‘Follow Me.’ So we have a gradually heightening revelation of the Master’s graciousness to all souls, to them that seek and to them that seek Him not. It is only to the working out of these simple thoughts that I ask your attention now.

I. First, then, let us deal with the revelation that is given us here of the seeking Christ.

Every one who reads this chapter with even the slightest attention must observe how ‘seeking’ and ‘finding’ are repeated over and over again. Christ turns to Andrew and John with the question, ‘What seek ye?’ Andrew, as the narrative says, ‘findeth his own brother, Simon, and saith unto him, “We have found the Messias!”‘ Then again, Jesus finds Philip; and again, Philip, as soon as he has been won to Jesus, goes off to find Nathanael; and his glad word to him is, once more, ‘We have found the Messias.’ It is a reciprocal play of finding and seeking all through these verses.

There are two kinds of finding. There is a casual stumbling upon a thing that you were not looking for, and there is a finding as the result of seeking. It is the latter which is here. Christ did not casually stumble upon Philip, upon that morning, before they departed from the fords of the Jordan on their short journey to Cana of Galilee. He went to look for this other Galilean, one who was connected with Andrew and Peter, a native of the same little village. He went and found him; and whilst Philip was all unexpectant and undesirous, the Master came to him and laid His hand upon him, and drew him to Himself.

Now that is what Christ often does. There are men like the merchantman who went all over the world seeking goodly pearls, who with some eager longing to possess light, or truth, or goodness, or rest, search up and down and find it nowhere, because they are looking for it in a hundred different places. They are expecting to find a little here and a little there, and to piece all together to make of the fragments one all-sufficing restfulness. Then when they are most eager in their search, or when, perhaps, it has all died down into despair and apathy, the veil seems to be withdrawn, and they see Him whom they have been seeking all the time and knew not that He was there beside them. All, and more than all, that they sought for in the many pearls is stored for them in the one Pearl of great price. The ancient covenant stands firm to-day as for ever. ‘Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.’

But then there are others, like Paul on the road to Damascus or like Matthew the publican, sitting at the receipt of custom, on whom there is laid a sudden hand, to whom there comes a sudden conviction, on whose eyes, not looking to the East, there dawns the light of Christ’s presence. Such cases occur all through the ages, for He is not to be confined, bless His name! within the narrow limits of answering seeking souls, or of showing Himself to people that are brought to Him by human instrumentality; but far beyond these bounds He goes, and many a time discloses His beauty and His sweetness to hearts that wist not of Him, and who can only say, ‘Lo! God was in this place, and I knew it not.’ ‘Thou wast found of them that sought Thee not.’

As it was in His miracles upon earth, so it has been in the sweet and gracious works of His grace ever since. Sometimes He healed in response to the yearning desire that looked out of sick eyes, or that spoke from parched lips, and no man that ever came to Him and said ‘Heal me!’ was sent away beggared of His blessing. Sometimes He healed in response to the beseeching of those who, with loving hearts, carried their dear ones and laid them at His feet. But sometimes, to magnify the spontaneity and the completeness of His own love, and to show us that He is bound and limited by no human co-operation, and that He is His own motive, He reached out the blessing to a hand that was not extended to grasp it; and by His question, ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ kindled desires that else had lain dormant for ever.

And so in this story before us; He will welcome and over-answer Andrew and John when they come seeking; He will turn round to them with a smile on His face, that converts the question, ‘What seek ye?’ into an invitation, ‘Come and see.’ And when Andrew brings his brother to Him, He will go more than halfway to meet him. But when these are won, there still remains another way by which He will have disciples brought into His Kingdom, and that is by Himself going out and laying His hand on the man and drawing him to His heart by the revelation of His love. But further, and in a deeper sense, He really seeks us all, and, unasked, bestows His love upon us.

Whether we seek Him or no, there is no heart upon earth which Christ does not desire; and no man or woman within the sound of His gospel whom He is not in a very real sense seeking that He may draw them to Himself. His own word is a wonderful one: ‘The Father seeketh such to worship Him’; as if God went all up and down the world looking for hearts to love Him and to turn to Him with reverent thankfulness. And as the Father, so the Son-who is for us the revelation of the Father: ‘The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ No one on earth wanted Him, or dreamed of His coming. When He bowed the heavens and gathered Himself into the narrow space of the manger in Bethlehem, and took upon Him the limitations and the burdens and the weaknesses of manhood, it was not in response to any petition, it was in reply to no seeking; but He came spontaneously, unmoved, obeying but the impulse of His own heart, and because He would have mercy. He who is the Beginning, and will be First in all things, was first in this, that before they called He answered, and came upon earth unbesought and unexpected, because His own infinite love brought Him hither. Christ’s mercy to a world does not come like water in a well that has to be pumped up, by our petitions, by our search, but like water in some fountain, rising sparkling into the sunlight by its own inward impulse. He is His own motive; and came to a forgetful and careless world, like a shepherd who goes after his flock in the wilderness, not because they bleat for him, while they crop the herbage which tempts them ever further from the fold and remember him and it no more, but because he cannot have them lost. Men are not conscious of needing Christ till He comes. The supply creates the demand. He is like the ‘dew which tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.’

But not only does Christ seek us all, inasmuch as the whole conception and execution of His great work are independent of man’s desires, but He seeks us each in a thousand ways. He longs to have each of us for His disciples. He seeks each of us for His disciples, by the motion of His Spirit on our spirits, by stirring conviction in our consciences, by pricking us often with a sense of our own evil, by all our restlessness and dissatisfaction, by the disappointments and the losses, as by the brightnesses and the goodness of earthly providences, and often through such agencies as my lips and the lips of other men. The Master Himself, who seeks all mankind, has sought and is seeking you at this moment. Oh! yield to His search. The shepherd goes out on the mountain side, for all the storm and the snow, and wades knee-deep through the drifts until he finds the sheep. And your Shepherd, who is also your Brother, has come looking for you, and at this moment is putting out His hand and laying hold of some of you through my poor words, and saying to you, as He said to Philip, ‘Follow Me!’

II. And now let us next consider that word of authority which, spoken to the one man in our text, is really spoken to us all.

‘Jesus findeth Philip, and saith unto him, “Follow Me!”‘ No doubt a great deal more passed, but no doubt what more passed was less significant and less important for the development of faith in this man than what is recorded. The word of authority, the invitation which was a demand, the demand which was an invitation, and the personal impression which He produced upon Philip’s heart, were the things that bound him to Jesus Christ for ever. ‘Follow Me,’ spoken at the beginning of the journey of Christ and His disciples back to Galilee, might have meant merely, on the surface, ‘Come back with us.’ But the words have, of course, a much deeper meaning. They mean-be My disciple. Think what is implied in them, and ask yourself whether the demand that Christ makes in these words is an unreasonable one, and then ask yourselves whether you have yielded to it or not.

We lose the force of the image by much repetition. Sheep follow a shepherd. Travellers follow a guide. Here is a man upon some dangerous cornice of the Alps, with a ledge of limestone as broad as the palm of your hand, and perhaps a couple of feet of snow above that, for him to walk upon, a precipice on either side; and his guide says, as he ropes himself to him, ‘Now, tread where I tread!’ Travellers follow their guides. Soldiers follow their commanders. There is the hell of the battlefield; here a line of wavering, timid, raw recruits. Their commander rushes to the front and throws himself upon the advancing enemy with the one word, ‘Follow’ and the coward becomes a hero. Soldiers follow their captains. Your Shepherd comes to you and calls, ‘Follow Me.’ Your Captain and Commander comes to you and calls, ‘Follow Me.’ In all the dreary wilderness, in all the difficult contingencies and conjunctions, in all the conflicts of life, this Man strides in front of us and proposes Himself to us as Guide, Example, Consoler, Friend, Companion, everything; and gathers up all duty, all blessedness, in the majestic and simple words, ‘Follow Me.’

It is a call at the least to accept Him as a Teacher, but the whole gist of the context here is to show us that from the beginning Christ’s disciples did not look upon Him as a Rabbi’s disciples did, as being simply a teacher, but recognised Him as the Messias, the Son of God, the King of Israel. So that they were called upon by this command to accept His teaching in a very special way, not merely as Hillel or Gamaliel asked their disciples to accept theirs. Do you do that? Do you take Him as your illumination about all matters of theoretical truth, and of practical wisdom? Is His declaration of God your theology? Is His declaration of His own Person your creed? Do you think about His Cross as He did when He elected to be remembered in all the world by the broken body and the shed blood, which were the symbols of His reconciling death? Is His teaching, that the Son of Man comes to ‘give His life a ransom for many,’ the ground of your hope? Do you follow Him in your belief, and following Him in your belief, do you accept Him as, by His death and passion, the Saviour of your soul? That is the first step-to follow Him, to trust Him wholly for what He is, the Incarnate Son of God, the Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and therefore for your sins and mine. This is a call to faith.

It is also a call to obedience. ‘Follow Me’ certainly means ‘Do as I bid you,’ but softens all the harshness of that command. Sedulously plant your tremulous feet in His firm footsteps. Where you see His track going across the bog be not afraid to walk after Him, though it may seem to lead you into the deepest and the blackest of it. ‘Follow Him’ and you will be right. ‘Follow Him’ and you will be blessed. Do as Christ did, or as according to the best of your judgment it seems to you that Christ would have done if He had been in your circumstances; and you will not go far wrong. ‘The Imitation of Christ,’ which Thomas a Kempis wrote his book about, is the sum of all practical Christianity. ‘Follow Me!’ makes discipleship to be something more than intellectual acceptance of His teaching, something more than even reliance for my salvation upon His work. It makes discipleship-springing out of these two-the acceptance of His teaching and the consequent reliance, by faith, upon His word-to be a practical reproduction of His character and conduct in mine.

It is a call to communion. If a man follows Christ he will walk close behind Him, and near enough to Him to hear Him speak, and to be ‘guided by His eye.’ He will be separated from other people, and from other paths. In these four things, then-Faith, Obedience, Imitation, Communion-lies the essence of discipleship. No man is a Christian who has not in some measure all four. Have you got them?

What right has Jesus Christ to ask me to follow Him? Why should I? Who is He that He should set Himself up as being the perfect Example and the Guide for all the world? What has He done to bind me to Him, that I should take Him for my Master, and yield myself to Him in a subjection that I refuse to the mightiest names in literature, and thought, and practical benevolence? Who is this that assumes thus to dominate over us all? Ah! brethren, there is only one answer. ‘This is none other than the Son of God who has given Himself a ransom for me, and therefore has the right, and only therefore has the right, to say to me, “Follow Me.”‘

III. And now one last word. Think for a moment about this silently and swiftly obedient disciple.

Philip says nothing. Of course the narrative is mere sketchy outline. He is silent, but he yields. Ah, brethren, how quickly a soul may be won or lost! That moment, when Philip’s decision was trembling in the balance, was but a moment. It might have gone the other way, for Christ has no pressed men in His army; they are all volunteers. It might have gone the other way. A moment may settle for you whether you will be His disciple or not. People tell us that the belief in instantaneous conversions is unphilosophical. It seems to me that the objections to them are unphilosophical. All decisions are matters of an instant. Hesitation may be long, weighing and balancing may be a protracted process, but the decision is always a moment’s work, a knife-edge. And there is no reason whatever why any one listening to me may not now, if he or she will, do as this man Philip did on the spot, and when Christ says ‘Follow Me,’ turn to Him and answer, ‘I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.’

There is an old church tradition which says that the disciple who at a subsequent period answered Christ, ‘Lord! suffer me first to go and bury my father,’ was this same Apostle. I do not think that at all likely, but the tradition suggests to us one last thought about the reasons why people are kept back from yielding this obedience to Christ’s invitation. Many of you are kept back, as that procrastinating follower was, because there are some other duties which you feel, or make to be, more important. ‘I will think about Christianity and turning religious when this, that, or the other thing has been got over. I have my position in life to make. I have a great many things to do that must be done at once, and really, I have not time to think about it.’

Then there are some of you that are kept from following Christ because you have never yet found out that you need a guide at all. Then there are some of you that are kept back because you like very much better to go your own way, and to follow your own inclination, and dislike the idea of following the will of another. There are a host of other reasons that I do not need to deal with now; but oh! brethren, none of them is worth pleading. They are excuses, they are not reasons. ‘They all with one consent began to make excuse’-excuses, not reasons; and manufactured excuses, in order to cover a decision which has been taken before, and on other grounds altogether, which it is not convenient to bring up to the surface. I am not going to deal with these in detail, but I beseech you, do not let what I venture to call Christ’s seeking of you once more, even by my poor words now, be in vain.

Follow Him. Trust, obey, imitate, hold fellowship with Him. You will always have a Companion, you will always have a Protector. ‘He that followeth Me,’ saith He, ‘shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ And if you will listen to the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him, that sweet old promise will be true, in its divinest and sweetest sense, about your life, in time; and about your life in the moment of death, the isthmus between two worlds, and about your life in eternity-’They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the sun nor heat smite them; for He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them.’ ‘Follow thou Me.’


Verses 45-49

John

THE FIRST DISCIPLES: IV. NATHANAEL

John 1:45 - John 1:49.

The words are often the least part of a conversation. The Evangelist can tell us what Nathanael said to Jesus, and what Jesus said to Nathanael, but no Evangelist can reproduce the look, the tone, the magnetic influence which streamed out from Christ, and, we may believe, more than anything He said, riveted these men to Him.

It looks as if Nathanael and his companions were very easily convinced, as if their adhesion to such tremendous claims as those of Jesus Christ was much too facile a thing to be a very deep one. But what can be put down in black and white goes a very short way to solve the secret of the power which drew them to Himself.

The incident which is before us now runs substantially on the same lines as the previous bringing of Peter to Jesus Christ. In both cases the man is brought by a friend, in both cases the friend’s weapon is simply the expression of his own personal experience, ‘We have found the Messias,’ although Philip has a little more to say about Christ’s correspondence with the prophetic word. In both cases the work is finished by our Lord Himself manifesting His own supernatural knowledge to the inquiring spirit, though in the case of Nathanael that process is a little more lengthened out than in the case of Peter, because there was a little ice of hesitation and of doubt to be melted away. And Nathanael, starting from a lower point than Peter, having questions and hesitations which the other had not, rises to a higher point of faith and certitude, and from his lips first of all comes the full articulate confession, beyond which the Apostles never went as long as our Lord was upon earth: ‘Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.’ So that both in regard to the revelation that is given of the character of our Lord, and in regard to the teaching that is given of the development and process of faith in a soul, this last narrative fitly crowns the whole series. In looking at it with you now, I think I shall best bring out its force by asking you to take it as falling into these three portions: first, the preparation-a soul brought to Christ by a brother; then the conversation-a soul fastened to Christ by Himself; and then the rapturous confession-’Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.’

I. Look, then, first of all, at the preparation-a soul brought to Christ by a brother.

‘Philip findeth Nathanael.’ Nathanael, in all probability, as commentators will tell you, is the Apostle Bartholomew; and in the catalogues of the Apostles in the Gospels, Philip and he are always associated together. So that the two men, friends before, had their friendship riveted and made more close by this sacredest of all bonds, that the one had been to the other the means of bringing him to Jesus Christ. There is nothing that ties men to each other like that. If you want to know the full sweetness of association with friends, and of human love, get some heart knit to yours by this sacred and eternal bond that it owes to you its first knowledge of the Saviour. So all human ties will be sweetened, ennobled, elevated, and made perpetual.

‘We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.’ Philip knows nothing about Christ’s supernatural birth, nor about its having been in Bethlehem; to him He is the son of a Nazarene peasant. But, notwithstanding that, He is the great, significant, mysterious Person for whom the whole sacred literature of Israel had been one long yearning for centuries; and he has come to believe that this Man standing beside him is the Person on whom all previous divine communications for a millennium past focussed and centred.

I need not dwell upon these words, because to do so would be to repeat substantially what I said in a former sermon on these first disciples, about the value of personal conviction as a means of producing conviction in the minds of others, and about the necessity and the possibility of all who have found Christ for themselves saying so to others, and thereby becoming His missionaries and evangelists.

I do not need to repeat what I said on that occasion; therefore I pass on to the very natural hesitation and question of Nathanael: ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ A prejudice, no doubt, but a very harmless one; a very thin ice which melted as soon as Christ’s smile beamed upon him. And a most natural prejudice. Nathanael came from Cana of Galilee, a little hill village, three or four miles from Nazareth. We all know the bitter feuds and jealousies of neighbouring villages, and how nothing is so pleasant to the inhabitants of one as a gibe about the inhabitants of another. And in Nathanael’s words there simply speaks the rustic jealousy of Cana against Nazareth.

It is easy to blame him, but do you think that you or I, if we had been in his place, would have been likely to have said anything very different? Suppose you were told that a peasant out of Ross-shire was a man on whom the whole history of this nation hung. Do you think you would be likely to believe it without first saying, ‘That is a strange place for such a person to be born in’? Galilee was the despised part of Palestine, and Nazareth obviously was a proverbially despised village of Galilee; and this Jesus was a carpenter’s son that nobody had ever heard of. It seemed to be a strange head on which the divine dove should flutter down, passing by all the Pharisees and the Scribes, all the great people and wise people. Nathanael’s prejudice was but the giving voice to a fault that is as wide as humanity, and which we have every day of our lives to fight with; not only in regard to religious matters but in regard to all others-namely, the habit of estimating people, and their work, and their wisdom, and their power to teach us, by the class to which they are supposed to belong, or even by the place from which they come.

‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ ‘Can a German teach an Englishman anything that he does not know?’ ‘Is a Protestant to owe anything of spiritual illumination to a Roman Catholic?’ ‘Are we Dissenters to receive any wisdom or example from Churchmen?’ ‘Will a Conservative be able to give any lessons in politics to a Liberal?’ ‘Is there any other bit of England that can teach Lancashire?’ Take care that whilst you are holding up your hands in horror against the prejudices of our Lord’s contemporaries, who stumbled at His origin, you are not doing the same thing in regard to all manner of subjects twenty times a day.

That is one very plain lesson, and not at all too secular for a sermon. Take another. This three-parts innocent prejudice of Nathanael brings into clear relief for us what a very real obstacle to the recognition of our Lord’s Messianic authority His apparent lowly origin was. We have got over it, and it is no difficulty to us; but it was so then. When Jesus Christ came into this world Judaea was ruled by the most heartless of aristocracies, an aristocracy of cultured pedants. Wherever you get such a class you get people who think that there can be nobody worth looking at, or worth attending to, outside the little limits of their own supercilious superiority. Why did Jesus Christ come from ‘the men of the earth,’ as the Rabbis called all who had not learned to cover every plain precept with spiders’ webs of casuistry? Why, for one thing, in accordance with the general law that the great reformers and innovators always come from outside these classes, that the Spirit of the Lord shall come on a herdsman like Amos, and fishermen and peasants spread the Gospel through the world; and that in politics, in literature, in science, as well as in religion, it is always true that ‘not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.’ To the cultivated classes you have to look for a great deal that is precious and good, but for fresh impulse, in unbroken fields, you have to look outside them. And so the highest of all lives is conformed to the general law.

More than that, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph,’ came thus because He was the poor man’s Christ, because He was the ignorant man’s Christ, because His word was not for any class, but as broad as the world. He came poor, obscure, unlettered, that all who, like Him, were poor and untouched by the finger of earthly culture, might in Him find their Brother, their Helper, and their Friend.

‘Philip saith unto him, Come and see.’ He is not going to argue the question. He gives the only possible answer to it-’You ask Me, can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ ‘Come and see whether it is a good thing or no; and if it is, and if it came out of Nazareth, well then, the question has answered itself.’ The quality of a thing cannot be settled by the origin of the thing.

As it so happened, this Man did not come out of Nazareth at all, though neither Philip nor Nathanael knew it; but if He had, it would have been all the same. The right answer was ‘Come and see.’

Now although, of course, there is no kind of correspondence between the mere prejudice of this man Nathanael and the rooted intellectual doubts of other generations, yet ‘Come and see’ carries in it the essence of all Christian apologetics. By far the wisest thing that any man who has to plead the cause of Christianity can do is to put Christ well forward, and let people look at Him, and trust Him to produce His own impression. We may argue round, and round, and round about Him for evermore, and we shall never convince as surely as by simply holding Him forth. ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.’ Yet we are so busy proving Christianity that we sometimes have no time to preach it; so busy demonstrating that Jesus Christ is this, that, and the other thing, or contradicting the notion that He is not this, that, and the other thing, that we forget simply to present Him for men to look at. Depend upon it, whilst argument has its function, and there are men that must be approached thereby; on the whole, and for the general, the best way of propagating Christianity is to proclaim it, and the second best way is to prove it. Our arguments do fare very often very much as did that elaborate discourse that a bishop once preached to prove the existence of a God, at the end of which a simple old woman who had not followed his reasoning very intelligently, exclaimed, ‘Well, for all he says, I can’t help thinking there is a God after all.’ The errors that are quoted to be confuted often remain more clear in the hearers’ minds than the attempted confutations. Hold forth Christ-cry aloud to men, ‘Come and see!’ and some eyes will turn and some hearts cleave to Him.

And on the other side, dear brethren, you have not done fairly by Christianity until you have complied with this invitation, and submitted your mind and heart honestly to the influence and the impression that Christ Himself would make upon it.

II. We come now to the second stage-the conversation between Christ and Nathanael, where we see a soul fastened to Christ by Himself.

In general terms, as I remarked, the method by which our Lord manifests His Messiahship to this single soul is a revelation of His supernatural knowledge of him. But a word or two may be said about the details. Mark the emphasis with which the Evangelist shows us that our Lord speaks this discriminating characterisation of Nathanael before Nathanael had come to Him: ‘He saw him coming.’ So it was not with a swift, penetrating glance of intuition that He read his character in his face. It was not that He generalised rapidly from one action which He had seen him do. It was not from any previous personal knowledge of him, for, obviously, from the words of Philip to Nathanael, the latter had never seen Jesus Christ. As Nathanael was drawing near Him, before he had done anything to show himself, our Lord speaks the words which show that He had read his very heart: ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.’

That is to say, here is a man who truly represents that which was the ideal of the whole nation. The reference is, no doubt, to the old story of the occasion on which Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. And we shall see a further reference to the same story in the subsequent verses. Jacob had wrestled with God in that mysterious scene by the brook Jabbok, and had overcome, and had received instead of the name Jacob, ‘a supplanter,’ the name of Israel, ‘for as a Prince hast thou power with God and hast prevailed.’ And, says Christ: ‘This man also is a son of Israel, one of God’s warriors, who has prevailed with Him by prayer.’ ‘In whom is no guile’-Jacob in his early life had been marked and marred by selfish craft. Subtlety and guile had been the very keynote of his character. To drive that out of him, years of discipline and pain and sorrow had been needed. And not until it had been driven out of him could his name be altered, and he become Israel. This man has had the guile driven out of him. By what process? The words are a verbal quotation from Psalms 32:1 - Psalms 32:11 : ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ Clear, candid openness of spirit, and the freedom of soul from all that corruption which the Psalmist calls ‘guile,’ is the property of him only who has received it, by confession, by pardon, and by cleansing, from God. Thus Nathanael, in his wrestling, had won the great gift. His transgression had been forgiven; his iniquity had been covered; to him God had not imputed his sin; and in his spirit, therefore, there was no guile. Ah, brother! if that black drop is to be cleansed out of your heart, it must be by the same means-confession to God and pardon from God. And then you too will be a prince with Him. and your spirit will be frank and free, and open and candid.

Nathanael, with astonishment, says, ‘Lord, whence knowest Thou me?’ Not that he appropriates the description to himself, or recognises the truthfulness of it, but he is surprised that Christ should have means of forming any judgment with reference to him, and so he asks Him, half expecting an answer which will show the natural origin of our Lord’s knowledge: ‘Whence knowest Thou me?’ Then comes the answer, which, to supernatural insight into Nathanael’s character, adds supernatural knowledge of Nathanael’s secret actions: ‘Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. And it is because I saw thee under the fig-tree that I knew thee to be “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.”‘ So then, under the fig-tree, Nathanael must have been wrestling in prayer; under the fig-tree must have been confessing his sins; under the fig-tree must have been longing and looking for the Deliverer who was to ‘turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’ So solitary had been that vigil, and so little would any human eye that had looked upon it have known what had been passing in his mind, that Christ’s knowledge of it and of its significance at once lights up in Nathanael’s heart the fire of the glad conviction, ‘Thou art the Son of God.’ If we had seen Nathanael, we should only have seen a man sitting, sunk in thought, under a fig-tree; but Jesus had seen the spiritual struggle which had no outward marks, and to have known which He must have exercised the divine prerogative of reading the heart.

I ask you to consider whether Nathanael’s conclusion was not right, and whether that woman of Samaria was not right when she hurried back to the city, leaving her water-pot, and said, ‘Come and see a man that told me all that ever I did.’ That ‘all’ was a little stretch of facts, but still it was true in spirit. And her inference was absolutely true: ‘Is not this the Christ, the Son of God?’ This is the first miracle that Jesus Christ wrought. His supernatural knowledge, which cannot be struck out from the New Testament representations of His character, is as much a mark of divinity as any of the other of His earthly manifestations. It is not the highest; it does not appeal to our sympathies as some of the others do, but it is irrefragable. Here is a man to whom all men with whom He came in contact were like those clocks with a crystal face which shows us all the works. How does He come to have this perfect and absolute knowledge?

That omniscience, as manifested here, shows us how glad Christ is when He sees anything good, anything that He can praise in any of us. ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.’ Not a word about Nathanael’s prejudice, not a word about any of his faults {though no doubt he had plenty of them}, but the cordial praise that he was an honest, a sincere man, following after God and after truth. There is nothing which so gladdens Christ as to see in us any faint traces of longing for, and love towards, and likeness to, His own self. His omniscience is never so pleased as when beneath heaps and mountains of vanity and sin it discerns in a man’s heart some poor germ of goodness and longing for His grace.

And then again, notice how we have here our Lord’s omniscience set forth as cognisant of all our inward crises and struggles, ‘When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.’ I suppose all of us could look back to some place or other, under some hawthorn hedge, or some boulder by the seashore, or some mountain-top, or perhaps in some back-parlour, or in some crowded street, where some never-to-be-forgotten epoch in our soul’s history passed, unseen by all eyes, and which would have shown no trace to any onlooker, except perhaps a tightly compressed lip. Let us rejoice to feel that Christ sees all these moments which no other eye can see. In our hours of crisis, and in our monotonous, uneventful moments, in the rush of the furious waters, when the stream of our lives is caught among rocks, and in the long, languid reaches of its smoothest flow, when we are fighting with our fears or yearning for His light, or even when sitting dumb and stolid, like snow men, apathetic and frozen in our indifference, He sees us, and pities, and will help the need which He beholds.

‘Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,

And thy Saviour is not by;

Think not thou canst weep a tear,

And thy Saviour is not near.’

‘When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.’

III. One word more about this rapturous confession, which crowns the whole: ‘Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.’

Where had Nathanael learned these great names? He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and he had no doubt heard John’s testimony as recorded in this same chapter, when he told us how the voice from Heaven had bid him recognise the Messiah by the token of the descending Dove, and how he ‘saw and bare record that this is the Son of God.’ John’s testimony was echoed in Nathanael’s confession. Undoubtedly he attached but vague ideas to the name, far less articulate and doctrinal than we have the privilege of doing. To him ‘Son of God’ could not have meant all that it ought to mean to us, but it meant something that he saw clearly, and a great deal beyond that he saw but dimly. It meant that God had sent, and was in some special sense the Father of, this Jesus of Nazareth.

‘Thou art the King of Israel,’ John had been preaching, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ The Messiah was to be the theocratic King, the King, not of ‘Judah’ nor of ‘the Jews,’ but of ‘Israel,’ the nation that had entered into covenant with God. So the substance of the confession was the Messiahship of Jesus, as resting upon His special divine relationship and leading to His Kingly sway.

Notice also the enthusiasm of the confession; one’s ear hears clearly a tone of rapture in it. The joy-bells of the man’s heart are all a-ringing. It is no mere intellectual acknowledgment of Christ as Messiah. The difference between mere head-belief and heart-faith lies precisely in the presence of these elements of confidence, of enthusiastic loyalty, and absolute submission.

So the great question for each of us is, not, Do I believe as a piece of my intellectual creed that Christ is ‘the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel’? I suppose almost all my hearers here now do that. That will not make you a Christian, my friend. That will neither save your soul nor quiet your heart, nor bring you peace and strength in life, nor open the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven to you. A man may be miserable, wholly sunk in all manner of wickedness and evil, die the death of a dog, and go to punishment hereafter, though he believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the King of Israel. You want something more than that. You want just this element of rapturous acknowledgment, of loyal submission, absolute obedience, of unfaltering trust.

Look at these first disciples, six brave men that had all that loyalty and love to Him; though there was not a soul in the world but themselves to share their convictions. Do they not shame you? When He comes to you, as He does come, with this question, ‘Whom do ye say that I am?’ may God give you grace to answer, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ and not only to answer it with your lips, but to trust Him wholly with your hearts, and with enthusiastic devotion to bow your whole being in adoring wonder and glad submission at His feet. If we are ‘Israelites indeed,’ our hearts will crown Him as the ‘King of Israel.’


Verse 50-51

John

THE FIRST DISCIPLES: V. BELIEVING AND SEEING

John 1:50 - John 1:51.

Here we have the end of the narrative of the gathering together of the first disciples, which has occupied several sermons. We have had occasion to point out how each incident in the series has thrown some fresh light upon two main subjects, namely, upon some phase or other of the character and work of Jesus Christ, or upon the various ways by which faith, which is the condition of discipleship, is kindled in men’s souls. These closing words may be taken as the crowning thoughts on both these matters.

Our Lord recognises and accepts the faith of Nathanael and his fellows, but, like a wise Teacher, lets His pupils at the very beginning get a glimpse of how much lies ahead for them to learn; and in the act of accepting the faith gives just one hint of the great tract of yet uncomprehended knowledge of Him which lies before them; ‘Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.’ He accepts Nathanael’s confession and the confession of his fellows. Human lips have given Him many great and wonderful titles in this chapter. John called Him ‘the Lamb of God’; the first disciples hailed Him as the ‘Messias, which is the Christ’; Nathanael fell before Him with the rapturous exclamation, ‘Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel!’ All these crowns had been put on His head by human hands, but here He crowns Himself. He makes a mightier claim than any that they had dreamed of, and proclaims Himself to be the medium of all communication and intercourse between heaven and earth: ‘Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

So, then, there are two great principles that lie in these verses, and are contained in, first, our Lord’s mighty promise to His new disciples, and second, in our Lord’s witness to Himself. Let me say a word or two about each of these.

I. Our Lord’s promise to His new disciples.

Christ’s words here may be translated either as a question or as an affirmation. It makes comparatively little difference to the substantial meaning whether we read ‘believest thou?’ or ‘thou believest.’ In the former case there will be a little more vivid expression of surprise and admiration at the swiftness of Nathanael’s faith, but in neither case are we to find anything of the nature of blame or of doubt as to the reality of his belief. The question, if it be a question, is no question as to whether Nathanael’s faith was a genuine thing or not. There is no hint that he has been too quick with his confession, and has climbed too rapidly to the point that he has attained. But in either case, whether the word be a question or an affirmation, we are to see in it the solemn and glad recognition of the reality of Nathanael’s confession and belief.

Here is the first time that that word ‘belief’ came from Christ’s lips; and when we remember all the importance that has been attached to it in the subsequent history of the Church, and the revolution in human thought which followed upon our Lord’s demand of our faith, there is an interest in noticing the first appearance of the word. It was an epoch in the history of the world when Christ first claimed and accepted a man’s faith.

Of course the second part of this verse, ‘Thou shalt see greater things than these,’ has its proper fulfilment in the gradual manifestation of His person and character, which followed through the events recorded in the Gospels. His life of service, His words of wisdom, His deeds of power and of pity, His death of shame and of glory, His Resurrection and His Ascension, these are the ‘greater things’ which Nathanael is promised. They all lay unrevealed yet, and what our Lord means is simply this: ‘If you will continue to trust in Me, as you have trusted Me, and stand beside Me, you will see unrolled before your eyes and comprehended by your faith the great facts which will make the manifestation of God to the world.’ But though that be the original application of the words, yet I think we may fairly draw from them some lessons that are of importance to ourselves; and I ask you to look at the hint that they give us about three things,-faith and discipleship, faith and sight, faith and progress. ‘Believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.’

First, here is light thrown upon the relation between faith and discipleship. It is clear that our Lord here uses the word for the first time in the full Christian sense, that He regards the exercise of faith as being practically synonymous with being a disciple, that from the very first, believers were disciples, and disciples were believers.

Then, notice still further that our Lord here employs the word ‘belief’ without any definition of what or whom it is that they were to believe. He Himself, and not certain thoughts about Him, is the true object of a man’s faith. We may believe a proposition, but faith must grasp a person. Even when the person is made known to us by a proposition which we have to believe before we can trust the person, still the essence of faith is not the intellectual process of laying hold upon a certain thought, and acquiescing in it, but the moral process of casting myself in full confidence upon the Being that is revealed to me by the thought,-of laying my hand, and leaning my weight, on the Man about whom it tells me. And so faith, which is discipleship, has in it for its very essence the personal element of trust in Jesus Christ.

Then, further, notice how widely different from our creed was Nathanael’s creed, and yet how identical with our faith, if we are Christians, was Nathanael’s faith. He knew nothing about the very heart of Christ’s work, His atoning death. He knew nothing about the highest glory of Christ’s person, His divine Sonship, in its unique and lofty sense. These lay unrevealed, and were amongst the greater things which he was yet to see; but though thus his knowledge was imperfect, and his creed incomplete as compared with ours, his faith was the very same. He laid hold upon Christ, he clave to Him with all his heart, he was ready to accept His teaching, he was willing to do His will, and as for the rest-’Thou shalt see greater things than these.’ So, dear brethren, from these words of my text here, from the unhesitating attribution of the lofty notion of faith to this man, from the way in which our Lord uses the word, are gathered these three points that I beseech you to ponder: there is no discipleship without faith; faith is the personal grasp of Christ Himself; the contents of creeds may differ whilst the element of faith remains the same. I beseech you let Christ come to you with the question of my text, and as He looks you in the eyes, hear Him say to you, ‘Believest thou?’

Secondly, notice how in this great promise to the new disciples there is light thrown upon another subject, viz. the connection between faith and sight. There is a great deal about seeing in this context. Christ said to the first two that followed Him, ‘Come and see.’ Philip met Nathanael’s thin film of prejudice with the same words, ‘Come and see.’ Christ greeted the approaching Nathanael with ‘When thou wast under the fig tree I saw thee.’ And now His promise is cast into the same metaphor: ‘Thou shalt see greater things than these.’

There is a double antithesis here. ‘I saw thee,’ ‘Thou shalt see Me.’ ‘Thou wast convinced because thou didst feel that thou wert the passive object of My vision. Thou shalt be still more convinced when illuminated by Me. Thou shalt see even as thou art seen. I saw thee, and that bound thee to Me; thou shalt see Me, and that will confirm the bond.’

There is another antithesis, namely-between believing and seeing. ‘Thou believest-that is thy present; thou shalt see, that is thy hope for the future.’ Now I have already explained that, in the proper primary meaning and application of the words, the sight which is here promised is simply the observance with the outward eye of the historical facts of our Lord’s life which were yet to be learned. But still we may gather a truth from this antithesis which will be of use to us. ‘Thou believest-thou shalt see’; that is to say, in the loftiest region of spiritual experience you must believe first, in order that you may see.

I do not mean, as is sometimes meant, by that statement that a man has to try to force his understanding into the attitude of accepting religious truth, in order that he may have an experience which will convince him that it is true. I mean a very much simpler thing than that, and a very much truer one, viz. this, that unless we trust to Christ and take our illumination from Him, we shall never behold a whole set of truths which, when once we trust Him, are all plain and clear to us. It is no mysticism to say that. What do you know about God?-I put emphasis upon the word ‘know’-What do you know about Him, however much you may argue and speculate and think probable, and fear, and hope, and question, about Him? What do you know about Him apart from Jesus Christ? What do you know about human duty, apart from Him? What do you know of all that dim region that lies beyond the grave, apart from Him? If you trust Him, if you fall at His feet and say ‘Rabbi! Thou art my Teacher and mine illumination,’ then you will see. You will see God, man, yourselves, duty; you will see light upon a thousand complications and perplexities; and you will have a brightness above that of the noonday sun, streaming into the thickest darkness of death and the grave and the awful hereafter. Christ is the Light. In that ‘Light shall we see light.’ And just as it needs the sun to rise in order that my eye may behold the outer world, so it needs that I shall have Christ shining in my heaven to illuminate the whole universe, in order that I may see clearly. ‘Believe and thou shalt see.’ For only when we trust Him do the mightiest truths that affect humanity stand plain and clear before us.

And besides that, if we trust Christ, we get a living experience of a multitude of facts and principles which are all mist and darkness to men except through their faith; an experience which is so vivid and brings such certitude as that it may well be called vision. The world says, ‘Seeing is believing.’ So it is about the coarse things that you can handle, but about everything that is higher than these invert the proverb, and you get the truth. ‘Seeing is believing.’ Yes, in regard to outward things. Believing is seeing in regard to God and spiritual truth. ‘Believest thou? thou shalt see.’

Then, thirdly, there is light here about another matter, the connection between faith and progress. ‘Thou shalt see greater things than these.’ A wise teacher stimulates his scholars from the beginning, by giving them glimpses of how much there is ahead to be learnt. That does not drive them to despair; it braces all their powers. And so Christ, as His first lesson to these men, substantially says, ‘You have learnt nothing yet, you are only beginning.’ That is true about us all. Faith at first, both in regard to its contents and its quality, is very rudimentary and infantile. A man when he is first converted-perhaps suddenly-knows after a fashion that he himself is a very sinful, wretched, poor creature, and he knows that Jesus Christ has died for him, and is his Saviour, and his heart goes out to Him, in confidence and love and obedience. But he is only standing at the door and peeping in as yet. He has only mastered the alphabet. He is but on the frontier of the promised land. His faith has brought him into contact with infinite power, and what will be the end of that? He will indefinitely grow. His faith has started him on a course to which there is no natural end. As long as it keeps alive he will be growing and growing, and getting nearer and nearer to the great centre of all.

So here is a grand possibility opened out in these simple words, a possibility which alone meets what you need, and what you are craving for, whether you know it or not, namely, something that will give you ever new powers and acquirements; something which will ensure your closer and ever closer approach to an absolute object of joy and truth; something that will ensure you against stagnation and guarantee unceasing progress. Everything else gets worn out, sooner or later; if not in this world, then in another. There is one course on which a man can enter with the certainty that there is no end to it, that it will open out, and out, and out as he advances-with the certainty that, come life, come death, it is all the same.

When the plant grows too tall for the greenhouse they lift the roof, and it grows higher still. Whether you have your growth in this lower world, or whether you have your top up in the brightness and the blue of heaven, the growth is in one direction. There is a way that secures endless progress, and here lies the secret of it: ‘Thou believest! thou shalt see greater things than these.’

Now, brethren, that is a grand possibility, and it is a solemn lesson for some of you. You professing Christian people, are you any taller than you were when you were born? Have you grown at all? Are you growing now? Have you seen any further into the depths of Jesus Christ than you did on that first day when you fell at His feet and said, ‘Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel’? His promise to you then was, ‘Thou believest, thou shalt see greater things.’ If you have not seen greater things it is because your faith has broken down, if it has not expired.

II. Now let me turn to the second thought which lies in these great words.

We have here, as I said, our Lord crowning Himself by His own witness to His own dignity. ‘Hereafter ye shall see the heavens opened.’ Mark how, with superbly autocratic lips, He bases this great utterance upon nothing else but His own word. Prophets ever said, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ Christ ever said: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you.’ ‘Because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.’ He puts His own assurance instead of all argument and of all support to His words.

‘Hereafter.’ A word which is possibly not genuine, and is omitted, as you will observe, in the Revised Version. If it is to be retained it must be translated, not ‘hereafter,’ as if it were pointing to some indefinite period in the future, but ‘from henceforth,’ as if asserting that the opening heavens and the descending angels began to be manifested from that first hour of His official work. ‘Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending.’ That is an allusion from the story of Jacob at Bethel. We have found reference to Jacob’s history already in the conversation with Nathanael, ‘An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.’ And here is an unmistakable reference to that story, when the fugitive, with his head on the stony pillow, and the violet Syrian sky, with all its stars, rounding itself above him, beheld the ladder on which the angels of God ascended and descended. ‘So,’ says Christ, ‘you shall see, in no vision of the night, in no transitory appearance, but in a practical waking reality, that ladder come down again, and the angels of God moving upon it in their errands of mercy.’

And who, or what, is this ladder? Christ. Do not read these words as meaning that the angels of God were to come down on Him to help, and to honour, and to succour Him as they did once or twice in His life, but as meaning that they are to ascend and descend by Him for the help and blessing of the whole world.

That is to say, to put it into plain words, Christ is the sole medium of communication between heaven and earth, the ladder with its foot upon the earth in His humanity, and its top in the heavens. ‘No man hath ascended up into heaven save He which came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.’

My time will not allow me to expand these thoughts as I would have done; let me put them in the briefest outline. Christ is the medium of all communication between heaven and earth, inasmuch as He is the medium of all revelation. I have spoken incidentally about that in the former part of this sermon, so I do not dwell on it now. Christ is the ladder between heaven and earth, inasmuch as in Him the sense of separation, and the reality of separation, are swept away. Sin has shut heaven; there comes down from it many a blessing upon unthankful heads, but between it in its purity and the earth in its muddy foulness ‘there is a great gulf fixed.’ It is not because God is great and I am small, or because He is Infinite and I am a mere pin-point as against a great continent, it is not because He lives for ever, and my life is but a hand-breadth, it is not because of the difference between His Omniscience and my ignorance, His strength and my weakness, that I am parted from Him. ‘Your sins have separated between you and your God,’ and no man, build he Babels ever so high, can reach thither. There is one means by which the separation is at an end, and by which all objective hindrances to union, and all subjective hindrances, are alike swept away. Christ has come, and in Him the heavens have bended down to touch, and touching to bless, this low earth, and man and God are at one once more.

He is the ladder, or sole medium of communication, inasmuch as by Him all divine blessings, grace, helps, and favours, come down angel-like, into our weak and needy hearts. Every strength, every mercy, every spiritual power, consolation in every sorrow, fitness for duty, illumination in darkness, all gifts that any of us can need, come to us down on that one shining way, the mediation and the work of the Divine-Human Christ, the Lord.

He is the ladder, the sole medium of communication between heaven and earth, inasmuch as by Him my poor desires and prayers and intercessions, my wishes, my sighs, my confessions rise to God. ‘No man cometh to the Father but by Me.’ He is the ladder, the means of all communication between heaven and earth, inasmuch as at the last, if ever we enter there at all, we shall enter through Him and through Him alone, who is ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’

Ah, dear brethren! men are telling us now that there is no connection between earth and heaven except such as telescopes and spectroscopes can make out. We are told that there is no ladder, that there are no angels, that possibly there is no God, or if that there be, we have nothing to do with Him nor He with us; that our prayers cannot get to His ears, if He have ears, nor His hand be stretched out to help us, if He have a hand. I do not know how this cultivated generation is to he brought back again to faith in God and delivered from that ghastly doubt which empties heaven and saddens earth to its victims, but by giving heed to the word which Christ spoke to the whole race while He addressed Nathanael, ‘Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ If He be the Son of God, then all these heavenly messengers reach the earth by Him. If He be the Son of Man, then every man may share in the gifts which through Him are brought into the world, and His Manhood, which evermore dwelt in heaven, even while on earth, and was ever girt about by angel presences, is at once the measure of what each of us may become, and the power by which we may become it.

One thing is needful for this wonderful consummation, even our faith. And oh! how blessed it will be if in waste solitudes we can see the open heaven, and in the blackest night the blaze of the glory of a present Christ, and hear the soft rustle of angels’ wings filling the air, and find in every place ‘a house of God and a gate of heaven,’ because He is there. All that may be yours on one condition: ‘Believest thou? Thou shalt see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on John 1:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/john-1.html.


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Sunday, August 20th, 2017
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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