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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

John 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 14

DISCOURSE: 1624

THE MAN HEALED AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA

John 5:14. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

MOST men will make good resolutions in a season of affliction; but few carry them into execution when they have obtained deliverance. They, however, to whom troubles are sanctified will remember the vows that are upon them. They will repair as soon as possible, not to houses of dissipation or amusement, but to “the temple” of God; and, while others are only hardened by their mercies, these will be favoured with fresh manifestations of God’s love. The man whom our Lord addressed in the text, experienced this. When he was returning thanks for the cure he had received in his body, Jesus instructed him for the good of his soul. We shall consider,

I. The mercy vouchsafed to him.

Bethesda was a pool that possessed very singular qualities—

[The name Bethesda signifies a house of mercy. The pool so called had the property of healing all manner of disorders: its healing operations, however, were confined to certain seasons; they depended also on the agency of a superior power [Note: To ascribe them to the blood of the sacrifices stirred up in the water by a messenger from the temple, only shews to what wretched shifts infidelity is often driven by its desire to explain away the miracles of Christ.], and were limited to the first person that went into it after its waters were agitated by an angel. Multitudes of diseased persons constantly attended there; and five porches were built for their accommodation. When that healing power was first given to it cannot be ascertained; probably God had but a few years before endued it with those qualities, in order to prepare the people for their Messiah, and to typify his works.]

In the porches around this pool an impotent man had long waited in vain—

[He had laboured under an infirmity thirty-eight years, and had long attended there in hopes of a cure; but he had no friend to help him with sufficient speed; nor had the people charity enough to let him take his turn. Every one consulted his own good in preference to his; and thus his efforts were daily frustrated, and his hopes continually deferred.]

But Jesus seeing him, wrought a miracle in his favour—

[Jesus needed no solicitations to excite his pity. Though unasked, he tendered the man effectual relief. Little indeed did the man understand the import of our Lord’s question [Note: ver. 6, 7.]; but Jesus uttered the irresistible command, and instantly was health restored to this diseased man; yea, he, who but the moment before could not get into the pool for want of help, now easily took up his bed and walked: nor was he intimidated by those who accused him of violating the Sabbath. He rightly judged that the person who had power to heal him thus miraculously, had also authority to direct his conduct.]

For a short season the man knew not the name of his benefactor, but soon after enjoyed an interview with him in the temple. On this occasion the Evangelist relates,

II. The admonition given him—

It was sin which had brought this infirmity upon him—

[God often punishes transgressors even in this life [Note: Psalms 107:17-18.]. This was extremely common under the Jewish economy; nor are there wanting instances under the Christian dispensation [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:30.]. If we could dive into the secrets of the Most High, it is probable we should trace many of our troubles to sin as their proper source.]

Nevertheless this did not preclude the exercise of mercy towards him—

[Jesus was full of compassion even to the most unworthy. He often selected such to be the chief objects of his mercy [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13-16.]. Indeed, the displaying of his sovereignty, and grace, is a principal end of all his dispensations [Note: Ephesians 2:7.].]

But he solemnly cautioned him against sin in future—

[Though Jesus pities sinners, he abhors their sin; nor will he accept the persons of those who live in it [Note: Luke 6:46.]. He reminded the man of the deliverance he had experienced, and guarded him against the cause of his past calamities. This admonition too he enforced with a most weighty argument. The years of misery that the cripple had endured were nothing in comparison of hell-torments: these will hereafter be the recompence of sin; nor will any feel them so bitterly as backsliders and apostates.]

To make a right improvement of these events; we must yet further consider,

III. The instruction to be derived from both.

1. To us divine ordinances are what the pool of Bethesda was to the Jews—

[Here, my brethren, is healing for every disorder of the soul — — — But the waters have no healing virtue in themselves: “If Paul plant, or Apollos water, it is God alone that can give the increase” — — — But Jesus is present here, as he has said, “Wherever two or three are met together, there am I in the midst of them.” And his address to every individual amongst us is, “Wilt thou be made whole?” Nor should any one have reason to complain that others run away with the blessing, provided that he himself were really desirous to obtain it. It is not the most active, but the most humble, that shall succeed here. O that we were all as sensible of our wants, and as anxious to obtain relief, as were the people that frequented that pool! Verily, not one should depart without obtaining the desired benefit. Dear brethren, you are too apt to be satisfied with attending upon ordinances, and to think that the mere attendance is sufficient, though you reap no solid benefit from them. But it is not in this way that you can hope to receive any blessing from the Lord. You must be sensible of your urgent and pressing wants: you must come to God’s house, expecting to receive benefit to your souls: you must implore of him to give effect to his word, and so to accompany it with his blessing that it may prove “the power of God to your salvation.” Then shall you find “the word quick and powerful” as in the days of old; and “being renewed in the spirit of your minds,” become happy monuments of God’s power and grace to all around you.]

2. If we have derived benefit from them, we must manifest it by a holy and consistent walk—

[Every man that has received the grace of God in truth, will revolt at the idea of continuing in sin, as the Apostle did; “Shall I continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall I who am dead to sin, live any longer therein [Note: Romans 6:1-2.]?” Nor must we be unwilling to listen to the motive suggested by our Lord to this favoured man; “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” It is quite a mistake to imagine that a fear of God’s judgments is legal It is often inculcated both in the Old Testament and the New [Note: Job 36:13. Hebrews 10:38. 2 Peter 2:20-21. Revelation 2:4-5.]. And, if Paul himself cherished this principle in his bosom as an incentive to watchfulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.], who are we, that we should conceive it to be unworthy of a place in our hearts? Doubtless “the love of Christ is to influence” us in the first place: but still we are never to forget our liability to fall; since it is expressly said, “Be not high-minded, but fear;” and, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” In a word, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation to us, teaches us to deny sin of every kind, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world:” and therefore, if, like this impotent man, we have received healing of the Lord, let us glorify him by a life of open, resolute, and unreserved obedience. And if the world raise a clamour against us, let it suffice us to reply, ‘We are following the commands of our heavenly Benefactor.’]


Verse 17-18

DISCOURSE: 1625

CHRIST’S EQUALITY WITH THE FATHER

John 5:17-18. Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

THE whole Christian world is much indebted to the zeal of the blind, and bigoted, and persecuting Jews in our Lord’s day; since they elicited many important truths which might not otherwise have been brought to light. For instance, when they accused our blessed Lord of violating the Sabbath-day, they led him to mention with approbation David’s eating of the shew-bread in a case of extreme necessity (an act which we could not otherwise have ventured to justify); and to expound as a general vindication of such conduct, that declaration of the prophet, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice [Note: Matthew 12:2-7.].” Here a similar accusation leads him to vindicate his own conduct on still higher principles; namely, his own equality with God the Father, and his right to dispense with laws instituted only for the benefit of man. True, this brought upon him still severer censure from his opponents, who judged him worthy of death for so arrogant and impious a claim. But they should have seen, from the miracle which he wrought, that he was fully authorized to do what he had done, and that he was no other person than he professed himself to be.

To open this subject to you, I will shew,

I. How far the Jews were right in their interpretation of our Lord’s words—

The expression which our Lord had used was, doubtless, exceeding strong [Note: Compare Matthew 12:8. with the text.]—

[He called God his Father, evidently in a more emphatic and appropriate sense than any mere man could presume to do. The Jews at large regarded “God as their Father [Note: John 8:41.]:” but no one had ever dared to arrogate to himself so near and peculiar a relation to God as our Lord did on this occasion. The very argument he used shewed in what sense he intended his words to be taken: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” My Father continues all his works of providence on the Sabbath-days, as well as on any other day: and I, by reason of my relation to him, possess the same right, and am free therefore from all imputation of blame in exercising it. This, I say, is the force of our Saviour’s words; and if they be not so understood, they afford no vindication of himself whatever: and]

The Jews were right in their interpretation of them—

[They marked the emphatic manner in which Jesus had claimed that high and peculiar relation to the Father [Note: ἵδιον πατέρα, his own, in the most appropriate sense.]: they marked also the force of the argument founded on that relation: and they justly said, that he did arrogate to himself equality with God.

But they were wrong, exceeding wrong, in so hastily judging him a blasphemer. They, if they could not believe his words, had a vast abundance of works from which to judge, and which bore ample testimony to the truth of his assertions [Note: John 10:37-38.]. In their hasty judgment, then, they were wrong; but in their interpretation of his words they were right: for our blessed Lord, instead of correcting their views as erroneous, confirmed them all as just and true. He proceeded to declare, that neither his Father nor himself acted apart from the other: that, on the contrary, there was a perfect unity of mind, and will, and purpose, and operation between them; nothing being done by the Father, but it was done by the Son likewise; that all men might honour the Son even as they honoured the Father; and that, in fact, they who did not thus honour the Son did not truly honour the Father who had sent him [Note: ver. 19–23.].]

From hence we may see,

II. What construction we must put upon them—

If the Jews were right in their construction of our Lord’s assertion, then we must regard his words,

1. As an avowal of his own proper divinity—

[When, on another occasion, our Lord had said, “I and my Father are one, the Jews took up stones to stone him;” and when our Lord said, “Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of them do ye stone me? they answered, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God [Note: John 10:30-33.].” And truly, if he was not God, they were correct in their judgment. For what should we say if Moses or St. Paul had used such language, and founded on their relation to the Deity a right, a personal right, to supersede the laws which God himself had instituted? should we not have accounted them guilty of blasphemy? Then so was Christ, if he was no more than man. But, in fact, he spoke only what all the prophets had long since declared concerning him. “He, though a child born, and a son given, was the Mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.];” “Jehovah’s fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7.],” “Jehovah our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].” And to the same effect all his holy Apostles also testify respecting him. Did the Father create, and does he also uphold, the world? This is true of the Son likewise; as St. Paul expressly asserts: “For by him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist [Note: Colossians 1:16-17.].” Again it is said, that “God hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things; by whom also he hath made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, upholdeth all things by the word of his power [Note: Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews 1:3.].” What a confirmation is here of those words of our Lord, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work!” What a confirmation, too, of the construction put upon them by the Jews, “that he made himself equal with God [Note: ver. 19. ταῦτα καὶ υἱὸς ὁμοίως ποιεῖ, He doth the same things in the same manner.]!” Yes, truly, “being in the form of God, even in his incarnate state he thought it not robbery to be equal with God [Note: Philippians 2:6-7.]:” and the very words which were used by him on this occasion must be considered as an open avowal, on his part, that he was “God manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.],” even “God over all, blessed for evermore [Note: Romans 9:5.].”]

2. As a warrant to us to rely upon him for all that we stand in need of—

“In him,” as we have said, “dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [Note: Colossians 2:9.].” “In him, too, as Mediator, there is all fulness treasured up [Note: Colossians 1:19.],” that “out of his fulness all his people should receive [Note: John 1:16.].” He is constituted “Head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23.].” Let us only see what he did, when on earth, to the bodies of men: that he now doeth to their souls — — — Yes, pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory, would he at this instant confer on us, if we would but seek them at his hands [Note: See Mark 2:5-12. Revelation 21:17-18. Luke 23:42-43.]. Was he incessant in his labours, rendering even the Sabbath-day subservient to his great work? So will he now impart to our souls continually, and to the full extent of our necessities: and not only will he not intermit his labours on the Sabbath-day, but he will rather pursue them with redoubled energy on that holy day, sanctifying, rather than profaning, it by that blessed employment. In all this he will shew himself equal with the Father. He has said “Ye believe in God; believe also in me [Note: John 14:1.].” And “every soul that believeth in him shall most assuredly be justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.],” and “be saved by him with an everlasting salvation [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].”]

From hence then learn,

1. To dismiss prejudice from your minds—

[The Jews were blinded by prejudice, and therefore could see nothing in the miracles of our Lord to justify their affiance in him. Had they been candid, and open to conviction, what blessings might they not have enjoyed! But they turned his every word and work into an occasion of offence, and augmented their own eternal condemnation by the very means used for their salvation. And thus it is that prejudice works at this day. Multitudes are so offended at something which they account wrong, that they have neither eyes nor ears for those things which are of the greatest possible importance to their souls. A departure from some outward observance, which they venerate, shall swallow up all the best qualities that the holiest of men can possess, all the best actions that he can perform, and all the best instructions he can give. Only think, my beloved brethren, what the Jews lost on this occasion; and how different their condition now is, in the eternal world, from what it might have been if they had obeyed the counsels of our Lord; and you will see, that the advice I now give you is worthy of your deepest attention — — —]

2. To exercise a simple faith in Christ—

[In the days of his flesh, he inquired of persons who solicited his help, whether they believed him able to confer on them the desired boon: and so he now says to every one amongst you, “According to your faith be it unto you.” O what would he not do for us, if only we would call upon him? Verily, if every one of us could flock around him, importuning mercy for our souls, “virtue at this very instant should go forth from him, to heal us all.” Think you, brethren, that he is less able or less willing now to hear us, than he was in the days of his flesh? No, indeed: even “a touch of the hem of his garment” should be sufficient for the effecting all that our necessities require.]


Verses 21-23

DISCOURSE: 1626

CHRIST’S VINDICATION OF HIS OWN DIVINE CHARACTER

John 5:21-23. As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

AMONGST the various beauties by which the Holy Scriptures are distinguished, we cannot but notice the artless simplicity with which the most sublime doctrines are delivered: they are not introduced with studied care, as they would be in human compositions; but arise incidentally, as it were, out of things which have but a remote connexion with them. Our blessed Lord had healed an impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, and had bidden him to take up his bed whereon he had lain, and walk away with it. The Jews, instead of glorifying God on the occasion, accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath, and sought to kill him for having wrought this miracle on the Sabbath-day. Our Lord, in vindication of himself, said, that he did no more than what his heavenly Father did; for his Father carried on his works both of providence and grace on the Sabbath, as well as on other days; and that he himself did the same. At this answer the Jews took still greater offence. They saw that Jesus arrogated to himself a peculiar relation to God, even such a relation as was in effect an assumption of equality with God [Note: ver. 18.]. Hence “they sought the more to kill him,” on account of what they conceived to be the summit of impiety and blasphemy. Jesus was now compelled to answer for himself on these grounds: and he told the Jews, that though they were correct in supposing him to claim an equality with God, they were mistaken in imagining that he therefore set up himself against God: on the contrary, there was a perfect union of sentiment and affection, of will and operation, between them; and neither did his Father, nor he, do any thing, without the most perfect concurrence and co-operation of the other: and so far was this from interfering with God’s honour, that it was purposely arranged in the eternal counsels, in order that God might be honoured in the person of his Son: nor would God consider himself as honoured by any one, who would not honour him in the precise way which he himself had appointed.

Thus, out of this perverse conduct of the Jews arose an assertion and vindication of the divinity of Christ: they forced him to vindicate his apparent violation of the Sabbath, and then to maintain the ground he had assumed in his vindication of it: and thus we are indebted to their perverseness for one of the clearest and most important statements in all the sacred volume.

Let us now, in discoursing on these assertions of our Lord, consider,

I. The account he gives of his own character—

Had the Jews been mistaken in what they supposed to be the scope of our Lord’s assertions, he would have set them right: he would have told them plainly, that he did not intend to claim equality with God. But, instead of intimating that they had misunderstood his meaning, our Lord acknowledged that he did claim an equality with God; and, in confirmation of that claim, he asserted that a Divine authority belonged to him, both essentially, as God, and officially, as Mediator.

1. Essentially, as God—

[It is undoubtedly the Divine prerogative to “kill and to make alive [Note: Deuteronomy 32:39.]:” nor is it possible for any creature to restore to life that which is really dead. But the Lord Jesus Christ “quickeneth whom he will.” As the Father had, by the instrumentality of his prophets, raised some to life, so Christ declared, that he would raise some by his own power. The persons, the time, the manner, were altogether at the disposal of his own will, by which alone he would be regulated in the dispensing of his favours. Moreover, he “quickeneth also the souls of men when dead in trespasses and sins;” and administers this gift also according to his own sovereign will and pleasure.

Would any mere creature have dared to arrogate to himself such a power as this? or would Jesus have given such an answer as this, if he have not designed to maintain his claim to an equality with God?]

2. Officially, as Mediator—

[When it was determined in the Divine counsels that the Son of God should assume our nature, it was determined also that the government of the universe, and of the Church more especially, should be committed to his hands; and that he should judge the world whom he had redeemed by his blood [Note: Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31.]. This, though primarily belonging, as it were, to the Father, was delegated to the Son, because he had assumed our nature [Note: ver. 27.], and because it was expedient that he who had “purchased the Church with his blood” should be empowered in his own person both to reward his friends and punish his enemies. But this office could not be executed by him, if he were not omniscient: he must know, not only every thought, word, and action, of all mankind from the beginning of the world to the end of it, but every possible circumstance that can at all tend to determine the precise quality of each. In a word, to exercise this office, he must be the omniscient God.

Judge then, whether in claiming this office he did not yet further confirm the suspicion of the Jews, that he affected an equality with God. It is not to he conceived, that, if this had not been his design, he would have answered in such a way: for, if he was not really and truly God, the whole tendency of his answer was to mislead their judgment, and to justify their accusations against him as an impious blasphemer.]

But, not contented with establishing his equality with the Father, he informs them of,

II. The regard which, in that character, he demands—

Though he affected not the honour that cometh of man [Note: ver. 41.], yet he could not possibly relinquish the honour which belonged to him both in his personal and official capacity: he could no more absolve the people from their allegiance to him as God, that he could cease to be God. He therefore shews them,

1. The extent of that honour which he requires—

[Whatever honour is due unto the Father, that Jesus claims as due unto himself; and he requires “all men” to pay it to him. Is God to be adored on account of his infinite perfections? Is he to be the one great object of our faith and love? Are we to confide in him under all circumstances, to obey him at all events, to delight ourselves in him at all seasons, even though death be threatened as the recompence of our fidelity? Such adoration, such faith, such love, such confidence, such obedience, are the unalienable right of the Lord Jesus: and it is particularly to be observed, that the putting of this honour upon the Lord Jesus was the very end and design of God the Father, when he delegated to the Son the office of governing and judging the world; “He committed all judgment to the Son, that all men might honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”]

2. The necessity of paying it to him—

[It might be thought sufficient to honour the Father: and so it was whilst the Father alone was known: but when he had revealed himself in the person of Christ, and “made all his glory to shine in his face;” when “in Christ he had reconciled the world unto himself,” and had “treasured up all fulness in Christ,” and invested him with “all power in heaven and earth” for the completion of the great work that had been assigned him; then he demanded, that all men should honour him in the person of Christ: and, if any should refuse so to honour him, he would reject their persons, and abhor their offerings: yea, whatever reverence they might profess towards him, he would deal with them as rebels against his authority, and as contemners of his mercy.

Thus our Lord obviates the great objections which might be supposed to lie against the validity of his claim. It might have been thought, that the Father would be jealous of his own honour, and consider any communication of Divine glory to his Son as an infringement of his own peculiar rights. But, behold! the very contrary is here declared: for, not only is that very communication designed by God, but all honour that is not accompanied with that communication is abhorred by him.]

Surely we may see from hence,

1. How defective are the views of the generality

[The religion of the generality is only Judaism divested of its rites and ceremonies. They acknowledge a God, who, they think, has given us commandments; in obeying which we shall secure his favour, and by disobedience to which we shall incur his displeasure. It is true, if you begin to speak of Christ, they will acknowledge all that the Gospel relates concerning him: but they make very little account of him in their religious system. How different are their views from those suggested in the text! There we see, that Christ is the fountain of all spiritual life; and that he dispenses life to men according to his sovereign will and pleasure. There we see, that to honour Christ is the only true way of honouring the Father. There we see, also, what unsearchable riches of consolation are treasured up for the believer; in that the very Person who bought him with his blood, is set over all things both in heaven and earth; and the very Person who paid that ransom for him, and renewed and sanctified him by his grace, shall judge him in the last day. Ah! what do nominal Christians lose by their ignorance of Christ! Dear brethren, know that Christ is “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” in God’s account; and that, if you would be saved by him, you must make him your “All in all.”]

2. How defective is the practice of us all

[We have spoken a little of the honour due unto the Father: but if we would have a fuller apprehension of it, let us contemplate the honour that is paid to him in heaven: let us imagine what are the feelings of all the angelic hosts, and of all the spirits of the just made perfect — — — Such then should be our views, and such our feelings towards the Lord Jesus Christ. We should begin our heaven upon earth. True it is, that when we speak of such a state, men will immediately begin to caution you against excess: they will tell you also that such a state would be incompatible with the necessary affairs of life. But where does God caution us against excess in religion, provided our religion be of a right kind? or what are those affairs which could not be conducted, if all men possessed the highest measure of true religion? Were Joseph, David, Daniel, impeded in their temporal duties by their religion? Or is there any one relation of life which will not be filled to more advantage by one who possesses true piety? The true reason why men so decry religion is, that they feel themselves condemned when they behold it exhibited in the conduct of the godly; and the less of such light they behold, the more quiet they hope to be in the prosecution of their evil ways. But we must not regard the cavils of men, or put them in competition with the commands of God. We know full well how all the ransomed of the Lord are occupied in singing praises “to Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb:” What forbids then that we should be so occupied now? It is our duty, our interest, and our happiness, to “follow the Lord fully:” and I pray God we may also follow him, and delight ourselves in him; that when we are dismissed from the body, and translated to the realms of bliss, we may change our place and our company, but not our employment!]


Verse 24

DISCOURSE: 1627

THE BELIEVER’S HAPPY STATE

John 5:24. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent we, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

THAT there will be a future judgment, we all know: and that Jesus Christ is appointed to be the Judge, is also generally acknowledged. But what his rule of judgment will be is very imperfectly understood. That our works will be inquired into, and form the ground of decision either against us or in our favour, is admitted on all hands: but that our principles will be scrutinized, and enter most essentially into the consideration of our Judge in determining our eternal state, is far from being generally expected or conceived. Yet that is declared by the Judge himself, even by our blessed Lord, and in the plainest terms. Having told us that “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son,” he adds, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Now, from the manner in which this truth is affirmed, we see at once both the certainty and importance of it: and therefore, with confidence, I will set before you,

I. The character here described—

Of course, our Lord did not mean to say, that all who heard his discourses, but that all who so heard them as to make them the rule of their faith and practice, would be saved. Consider then,

1. What the great subject of our Lord’s discourses was—

[He represented himself as sent by God the Father to expiate upon the cross the sins of men; and “to bring in an everlasting righteousness,” whereby all who should believe in him might be saved — — —]

2. What must of necessity be experienced by all who should receive it aright—

[They must feel themselves sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation. They must be convinced of the utter impossibility of ever reconciling themselves to God by any works of their own. They must see Christ to be the true Messiah, sent by God to be the Saviour of the world. To him they must apply themselves, and to God the Father through him; having no hope but in his blood and righteousness, nor any plea whatever but his obedience unto death. In the daily habit of their minds they must come to God by him with deep humiliation and with fervent prayer; and must consecrate themselves to God as his obedient servants, determined to follow, without hesitation or reserve, his revealed will.]

Such, in few words, is the character described.

We notice,

II. The blessedness connected with it—

This is set forth as it exists,

1. In prospect—

[“Never” shall a person of this character “come into condemnation.” However much he may have provoked the Divine displeasure in former times, he now enjoys “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” However God’s anger may have waxed hot against him at a former period, “it is turned away from him now,” and all “his iniquities are cast into the very depths of the sea.” He has nothing to fear. Being “found in Christ,” “there is no condemnation to him:” on the contrary, he is “presented faultless before God,” and “stands before him without spot or blemish”— — —]

2. In possession—

[“He” already “hath eternal life,” both in title and in actual possession. He can claim eternal life, as given to him by covenant and by oath. Numberless are the promises made to those who “lay hold on God’s covenant;” and he may confidently rest upon them, expecting every one of them to be fulfilled in its season: for “it is an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure:” and sooner should heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of it should ever fail.

But it is not a mere title to it that he possesses; for it is already begun in his soul. He has actually experienced, so far as it respects his soul, a transition similar to that which will hereafter take place in reference to the body. He once lay, as it were, in the grave, altogether “dead in trespasses and sins:” but now “he has passed from death unto life.” A new principle of life has been infused into him; so that he has new views, new desires, new pursuits, and new habits: and is altogether “a new creature in Christ Jesus.” “He lives no longer to himself, but unto him who died for him, and rose again.”]

The whole of this subject being so plain and obvious, I have not judged it necessary to enter very fully into it in a way of discussion, that I may have the more time to improve it in a way of application.

Two things, then, I earnestly request of you, my beloved brethren:

1. Inquire carefully into the state of your souls before God—

[Inquire whether, like Mary, you are sitting at the feet of Jesus, and receiving with obedient regard his every word. Say whether his written word be your daily study and delight; and whether you diligently apply to yourselves his preached word, for the correcting of every sinful habit, and for advancing the life of God within you — — —

Inquire whether, in obedience to his word, you are relying solely upon him, and coming to the Father through him, and pleading his merits and mediation as the only grounds of your

Carry your inquiry yet further; and see whether your transition from death to life be so clear and manifest, that it admits not of any reasonable doubt. Are you “crucified with Christ” to all the vanities of this world? and are you “living entirely by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” “receiving every thing out of his fulness,” and improving every thing to his glory?

If these things be indeed your daily experience, then is all the blessedness annexed to such a state your assured portion. But consider, I pray you, the sad alternative. If these things be in you, “you shall not come into condemnation:” but if you have only the appearance of them, and not the reality, then does condemnation await you at your departure hence; yea, our blessed Lord expressly tells you, that “you are condemned already, and that the wrath of God abideth on you [Note: John 3:18; John 3:36.].” What a fearful thought is this! How can you bear to live in such a state, or endure even to have your state a matter of doubt or suspense? If it were at an earthly tribunal only that condemnation awaited you, it were a tremendous prospect: but to be condemned by the Judge of quick and dead, and be sentenced by him to everlasting misery, is so terrible, that I wonder the apprehension of it does not utterly overwhelm you. My heart’s desire and prayer to God for you, brethren, is, that not one of you may be ever subjected to such a doom as this.]

2. Pursue with all earnestness the blessedness that has now been set before you—

[Surely it is worth seeking for, and will richly repay all that you can either do or suffer to obtain it. Were you urged to commence a life of suffering, such as the devotees of idols inflict upon themselves, you might well undertake the painful task, and submit to all that could be inflicted on you. But we call you to nothing of this kind. We invite you only to come to Christ, and to “hear his word, and to believe in the Father who hath sent him:” and shall this be deemed hard? Even in this present life, the blessedness of having a title to heaven, and the very life of heaven begun in your souls, would richly repay you: how much more, then, will all the glory and felicity of God himself, so far as a creature can enjoy it, recompense your labours? Be in earnest, brethren. There is nothing under heaven worth seeking alter in comparison of this. Let “the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom:” and in dependence on it, go to the Father, and “lay hold upon him,” and remind him of his covenant: yea, take all “his exceeding great and precious promises,” and plead them before him: and see whether it shall be in vain to call upon God. No, indeed: He will be merciful unto you: he will seal a sense of his pardoning love upon your soul; and make himself over to you as your God and portion for ever. Call to mind the assurance given you in my text: “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” Thus shall it be done to the believing soul. What more can you want to comfort and encourage you? Only come to God in his appointed way, and all this blessedness shall be yours.]


Verse 28-29

DISCOURSE: 1628

THE RESURRECTION

John 5:28-29. The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

FROM the resurrection of Christ we may infer, that we ourselves also shall rise from the dead. Indeed, he is called “the first-fruits of them that slept;” and therefore we may expect that there will be a complete harvest in due time. To this effect also we are informed in the words before us: from which we shall be naturally led to consider,

I. The certainty of the resurrection—

By many it has been “thought incredible that God should raise the dead.” But “their error proceeds from not knowing the Scriptures, or the power of God [Note: Matthew 22:23; Matthew 22:29.].” Consider then,

1. What the Scriptures speak concerning it—

[They have recorded many instances wherein the dead have been raised [Note: 1 Kings 17:17-23. 2 Kings 4:32-37. Luke 7:12-15. John 11:43-44. Acts 9:36-41 and especially Matthew 27:52-53.] — — — Even in the Old Testament there are not wanting many strong intimations of it [Note: Exodus 3:6. with Mark 12:26-27. Isaiah 26:19. Hosea 13:14. with 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 and especially Job 19:25-27.] — — — and in the New, it is declared in every page [Note: passim. See 1 Corinthians 15.] — — —]

2. The power of God to effect it—

[See what God has done: look at the whole creation; and then ask, Whether He who formed the universe out of nothing, cannot as easily re-unite our scattered atoms (whatever changes then may have undergone), and restore to every one his own body? Yes; it was the voice of Jesus that spake the universe into existence; and that same voice will call forth into renewed existence all that are mouldered in their graves. See, moreover, what our God is doing. We forbear to notice the succession of day and night, and summer and winter; or the reviviscency of birds and insects after long intervals of suspended animation. We call your attention rather to the changes wrought upon the seed that is cast into the earth: it dies, and rises again, in appearance different, in reality the same. What more striking image of the resurrection could be presented before our eyes? Surely in this we have a pattern of the change that shall be accomplished in us at the last day; and a pledge that “our bodies, which are sown in corruption, weakness, and dishonour, shall be raised in incorruption, power, and glory.”]

As no doubt can remain upon our minds respecting the certainty of the resurrection, let us next consider,

II. The issue of it—

There will be an immense difference between the states of different men—

[Who can conceive all that is implied in “a resurrection to life?” If in some respects we may borrow images from the present life in order to illustrate it, in other respects that new and heavenly life will form a perfect contrast to all that we now experience. It is true, that all the faculties of our bodies shall be employed in the service of our God: but it is also true, that they shall never clog the soul in its operations; their capacities shall be exceedingly enlarged; they shall never be subject to weariness or want of any kind; they shall be as full of activity and blessedness as the soul itself — — —

On the other hand, Who shall declare what is the full import of “a resurrection to damnation?” We are shocked at the very sound of the word “damnation:” how much more should we be so, if we knew all that is comprehended in it! It is in vain to attempt to describe the anguish which the body shall endure in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. But we are persuaded that the soul will bitterly bewail the necessity it is under of being re-united to that body, which once, instead of governing it aright, it pampered and obeyed — — — And its misery will be fearfully augmented by the increased capacity of anguish which it will derive from its union with the body — — —]

This difference will correspond with, and be founded on, their moral characters—

[The Scriptures uniformly declare the connexion that subsists between our present conduct and our future state. Nor need we be afraid of stating the truth precisely in the same manner, provided we bear in mind what is implied “in doing good, and doing evil.” To do good is, to serve God cheerfully and without reserve. Now the very first “commandment of God is, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” This at once lays the axe to the root of all self-righteousness; and necessitates us to look unto Christ both for righteousness and strength. And we do not hesitate to say, that all who serve God in conformity with this fundamental principle, shall have a resurrection to life.

If, on the contrary, we “do evil,” neglecting this adorable Saviour, and living to ourselves rather than to him, we shall certainly “come forth to everlasting shame and contempt [Note: Daniel 12:2.].”

Each of these truths is so firmly asserted in the Scriptures, that no doubt of them can be entertained [Note: Galatians 6:7-8. Romans 2:6-10.]. We want only to have them brought home with more feeling to our hearts.]

Address—

[Consider for which of these states you are preparing. You may delay, under the idea that the time will never come: but “the hour is coming,” as fast as the wings of time can bring it forward. Let not your preparation for it be deferred: for life is uncertain; and as death finds you, so will judgment find you. If you live and die obedient followers of Christ, you will be happy. If you rely not on him, or devote not yourselves unreservedly to him, it will not be in the power of God himself to save you: for “he cannot deny himself;” and he has expressly said, that all such persons shall have “a resurrection to damnation.”]


Verse 35

DISCOURSE: 1629

JOHN BAPTIST’S CHARACTER

John 5:35. He was a burning and a shining light.

IT might well be expected that the advent of the Messiah should be marked by such concurrent circumstances, as should carry conviction, to every dispassionate mind, that the person assuming that character was indeed the person predicted by Moses and the prophets. Accordingly we find, that there was a person sent as the forerunner of our blessed Lord, to prepare his way, and to bear witness to him. This person was John the Baptist [Note: John 1:6-8.], himself a most extraordinary man; so extraordinary, that the Jewish rulers doubted whether he was not the Messiah: but he disclaimed all pretensions to that honour; and rested satisfied with executing the office which had been assigned him [Note: John 1:19-27.]. To this man’s testimony our blessed Lord appealed; at the same time testifying respecting him, that “he was a burning and a shining light.”

In confirmation of this assertion respecting John, I will,

I. Point out the peculiar excellencies of his character—

Of course I cannot enter into all the parts of his character: I will content myself with specifying three things which pre-eminently distinguished him:

1. The clearness of his knowledge—

[In this he excelled all who went before him. Many prophets had spoken plainly of Christ, declaring both his sufferings, and the glory that should follow them. But they spake of Christ at a distance of several hundreds of years, and understood not the prophecies which they were inspired to record [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-11.]. But John pointed out the Messiah himself, and directed the people to Jesus, as “that Lamb of God, who, by the sacrifice of himself, should take away the sins of the world [Note: John 1:29.].” In this act, not only was the typical nature of the Mosaic offerings distinctly recognized; but the Lord Jesus Christ was made known as fulfilling in his own person what had been so long shadowed forth in the daily sacrifices. Thus did he “give the knowledge of salvation to the people for the remission of their sins [Note: Luke 1:76-77.]:” a knowledge which pre-eminently exalted John above all the prophets that had gone before him [Note: Luke 7:26-28.].]

2. The ardour of his zeal—

[The first thirty years of his life he spent in retirement, and in the closest walk with God. And, when he entered on his office as the Messiah’s harbinger, he came in the most self-denying way, “having his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; whilst his meat was locusts and wild honey [Note: Matthew 3:4.].” As to the manner in which he executed his office, nothing could exceed his fidelity. To all persons, of whatever rank, he preached with undaunted boldness; and declared, as far as he was able, the whole counsel of God. When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism, he, well knowing their hypocrisy, addressed them in these animated and pungent strains: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire [Note: Matthew 3:7-10.].” Even before Herod himself did he manifest the same undaunted courage; telling him plainly, that “it was not lawful for him to live in an incestuous commerce with his brother Philip’s wife;” and exhorting him without delay to put her away [Note: Mark 6:17-18.]. He well knew at what peril he exercised this fidelity: but no personal consideration could induce him to withhold, or modify, this salutary counsel. Herein, then, he approved himself to be a prophet indeed, and rendered himself a pattern for ministers in all ages.]

3. The holiness of his life—

[“He was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb [Note: Luke 1:15.].” And so holily did he demean himself, that Herod could not but reverence and stand in awe of him, and in many instances, comply with his admonitions [Note: Mark 6:20.]. In the whole of his ministrations his attention was particularly turned to the advancement of practical religion; enforcing upon all those peculiar duties which their situation called for, or which their peculiar circumstances tempted them to neglect. Those who were under good impressions from his ministry, consulted him, as might be expected, what they should do in order to evince the efficacy of the principles they had imbibed from him. “When some asked him, What shall we do? He answered, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none: and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” When publicans (i. e. tax-gatherers) made the same inquiry, to them he said, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” And when soldiers requested the same information, he said, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages [Note: Luke 3:10-14.].” Thus he shewed how anxious be was that all should bring religion into their daily practice; not suffering it to evaporate in mere sentiments and professions, but carrying it into effect, in the whole of their life and conversation.]

Having thus set before you the character of this blessed man, I will,

II. Commend it to your imitation—

Far, very far, in general, are men from admiring such a character as this —

[By many, even of this holy man it was said, “He hath a devil.” The Rulers and Pharisees rejected his counsel altogether, and would not submit to his baptism [Note: Luke 7:30.].” And though many were well affected towards him, and “rejoiced in his light, they rejoiced in it only for a season:” and at last he fell a sacrifice to his fidelity. Thus, at this time, if a man were to resemble him, he would find but little acceptance with an ungodly world. In fact, he would by many be thought to be more under the influence of demoniacal delusion than of sound reason and solid piety. His deadness to the world would be regarded as most contemptible fanaticism, and his faithfulness in reproving sin would be condemned as most insufferable presumption.]

Nevertheless, I cannot but earnestly commend his character to the imitation of you all—

[From ministers in particular his example demands the most respectful attention. Certainly the same degree of austerity that he practised is not necessary now. Our Lord has shewn, that under this new dispensation a greater measure of liberty is allowed, provided we be duly careful that in no instance it degenerate into licentiousness. But with respect to an entire devotion of the soul to God, and a faithful discharge of our ministry, there is to be no difference between us and John: we must be as faithful in our ministrations, and as holy in our lives, as he — — — But to Christians of every class is this bright example applicable. Every follower of Christ is called to be a “light in the world [Note: Matthew 5:14.],” yea, “a burning and a shining light.” His soul, inflamed with fire from heaven, should burn with holy love; nor should the fire, once kindled on the altar of his heart, ever be suffered to go out [Note: Leviticus 6:12.]. To all around him he should “hold forth the word of life [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.];” and so “cause his light to shine before men, that all who behold it may be constrained to glorify their Father who is in heaven [Note: Matthew 5:16.]” — — —]

Address—

1. Be “willing, then, to rejoice in his light”—

[Surely such a ministry as his, so instructive, so faithful, so convincing, is an unspeakable blessing to every one that enjoys it. And such a ministry we have, not in him only, but the holy Apostles, yea, and in multitudes of the present day. Shew, then, that you duly appreciate the labours of these men; and “be followers of them, as they are of Christ” — — —]

2. Let your joy in that light be both abiding and progressive—

[Of the myriads who were impressed by the ministry of John, there were very, very few who became steadfast in the faith. All the Disciples of John, and Jesus, and his twelve Apostles, and his seventy Disciples, amounted to no more than five hundred, after the ascension of our Lord. The great mass of those who appeared hopeful, were turned aside by fear, or by the vanities of this sinful world. Be on your guard then, brethren, against every thing that may produce this sad effect on you — — — and beg of God that your. “path may be like the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”]


Verse 39

DISCOURSE: 1630

CHRIST’S APPEAL TO THE SCRIPTURES

John 5:39. Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

WHEN our Lord professed himself to be the promised Messiah, and claimed an authority equal to that of Almighty God, it was necessary that he should bring abundant evidence of his Divine mission, and prove, by testimonies of the most unquestionable kind, his title to the honour he assumed. Nor was he backward to give all the proof which the occasion required. He appealed to the testimony of John the Baptist, whom the whole Jewish nation considered as a prophet, and whose testimony therefore ought to have great weight with them. He appealed also to his own miracles, which were so great and numerous as to be in themselves an indubitable evidence that God was with him. He further appealed to the testimony which his heavenly Father also had given to him at his baptism, both by an audible voice from heaven, and by the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon him. Lastly, he appealed to the Holy Scriptures, which the Jews themselves received as the word of God, and which bore testimony to him; even such testimony as would be found to agree exactly with his person and character in every respect. As these had existed for centuries, and might be compared with all that he had either done or taught, their testimony must be unexceptionable, and must carry conviction to every mind.

From the words before us we shall be led to notice,

I. The transcendent excellency of the Holy Scriptures—

Two things are here spoken respecting them:

1. They reveal unto us eternal life—

[Reason never could suffice for discovering the immortality of the soul. Philosophy never enabled any man so to establish the certainty of a future state, as to render it an article of general belief, or to produce any considerable influence on the minds of those around him. Many have reasoned well upon the subject, and spoken what approximated to the truth: but they never could with certainty affirm a future state of rewards and punishments; much less could they tell us how to avoid the one, and obtain the other. But the Scriptures have drawn aside the veil and shewn us that this present world is introductory to another, in which men shall exist to all eternity. The Old Testament, it is true, speaks but darkly on this point: yet was it sufficiently clear to impress the Jewish nation at large with a persuasion that both the souls and bodies of men should live in a future state of existence. The Sadducees, who were the free-thinkers of the day, were exceptions to the general rule. The national creed in these respects accorded with what was more fully revealed under the Christian dispensation. “By the Gospel, life and immortality have been fully brought to light;” yea, and the way of salvation been clearly revealed: so that we who live under its benign influence, do not merely think, but know, that there is for those who believe in Christ, a salvation treasured up, a “salvation with eternal glory.” In this respect therefore a very child amongst us is better instructed than all the wisest philosophers of Greece and Rome.]

2. They testify of Christ Jesus our Lord—

[“The testimony of Christ,” we are told, “was the spirit of prophecy” from first to last. The testimony which the Scriptures have borne to Christ is clear; not like the ambiguous answers of heathen oracles, which were so formed, as to be, without any great difficulty, accommodated to any event; but clear and precise, and incapable of any other interpretation than that which, upon the very face of it, it professed. Take, for instance, the prophecy relating to the time and place of our Saviour’s birth; and it was as much understood before his advent as afterwards, even by those who had not the grace to welcome his arrival. It was also copious, so that no one thing which could by any means be desired to designate the Messiah’s advent, was omitted. His person, his work, his offices were all described and shadowed forth: the nature of his salvation was fully delineated, and the extent of his kingdom declared. Nothing was left for any reasonable man to desire either for the rectifying of his views, or the ascertaining that those views were correct. It was in the highest possible degree convincing. The prophecies concerning him were so minute that they could never have entered into the mind of an uninspired man, nor could by any possibility have been accomplished by any contrivance or conspiracy of men. Though a Jew, our Lord Jesus was to die, not a Jewish, but a Roman death, the death of the cross. Yet in his crucifixion he was not to suffer all that was usually associated with that punishment; for “not a bone of him was to be broken.” On the other hand, there were to be inflicted on him indignities, never associated with that punishment in other instances; he was to be scourged before his crucifixion, and to be pierced to the heart with a spear after it. The very taunts with which he was to be insulted on the cross were accurately and literally foretold; as was also the cruelty in offering him vinegar in the midst of all his torments. The division of one of his garments, and the casting of lots upon the other, were among the circumstances which no human being could have divined, and which no impostor would have ventured to predict. And who would ever have imagined, that one so ignominiously treated in his death, should yet “have his grave with the rich?” The very price which was to be paid for his blood, together with the subsequent application of it in the purchase of a potter’s field, and the untimely death of the person that betrayed him, these, and a great variety of other circumstances equally minute, prove beyond a doubt that Jesus was the person testified of, and that the testimony borne of him was divine.

Had the different witnesses been contemporaneous, it might have been supposed possible that these infinitely diversified circumstances should have been devised and executed by means of a well-concerted conspiracy. But the witnesses lived in ages and places far distant from each other, even many hundreds of years apart: yet did all the prophets so harmonize with each other in all their various predictions, that no room is left for doubt but that they were wholly unconnected with each other, and altogether under the direction and influence of the Spirit of God. Thus whether we consider the testimony itself, or the witnesses by whom it was delivered, we can have no doubt but that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.]

Such then being the excellency of the Scriptures, let us contemplate,

II. Our duty in relation to them—

This is clear and manifest:

1. We must “search the Scriptures” for ourselves—

[Possessing such Divine records, we should apply ourselves diligently to the study of them. We should search them with simplicity of mind, desiring to learn from them the will and mind of God, and determining through grace to comply with them in every respect, receiving implicitly whatsoever they declare, and obeying without reserve whatsoever they command. We must not bring to them any of our own prejudices whereby to judge of them, or any thing of our own passions wherewith to limit them. We must bring to them the simplicity of a little child, submitting our own wisdom to the wisdom of our God, and our own will to the will of God. In fact, we must desire to know God’s will in order that we may do it. Like Samuel we must lend to every word of God a willing and obedient ear, saying, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” We have a most instructive example in the conduct of the blind man whom Jesus healed. Jesus asked him, “Believest thou in the Son of God?” The man immediately replied, “Who is he, Lord, that I may believe on him?” The whole bias of his soul was towards his God; and his desire of instruction was for the sole purpose of glorifying God by the strictest possible conformity to his holy will. And if we resemble him in these respects, we are assured, that we shall be enabled to “know of every doctrine whether it be of God [Note: John 7:17.].”

Of course, we must prosecute our search with all diligence, The very word, “Search,” imports, that we should sift every word, as miners sift the earth in the pursuit of precious jewels; and must exercise all our faculties about it, as dogs do in the pursuit of their prey [Note: ἐρευνᾶτε.]. A slight and cursory perusal of the Scriptures will be of little use; nor will a formal habit of reading, as some do, the psalms and lessons for the day, answer the ends for which we are to read the Scriptures. There must be in us a habit of weighing every sentiment, and of imploring God to convey to our minds its true import. Diligence of itself will not avail for the full understanding of the Scriptures. We must have the eyes of our understanding opened by the Spirit of God; and his aid will only be given to us in answer to fervent prayer. We must, in fact, never approach the Scriptures without that petition of holy David, “Open thou mine eyes, O Lord, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Hence these two, diligence and prayer, are united by Solomon as equally necessary for the attainment of divine knowledge: “If thou apply thine heart to understanding, yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding [Note: Proverbs 2:3-6.].”

But in particular we must search the Scriptures with a more especial view to derive from them the knowledge of Christ. As they all testify of him, so it should be our most anxious care to see and learn what they do testify. A mere critical knowledge of Scripture, though good, will bring with it no saving benefit. Nor will an historical knowledge of Scripture, no, nor even a speculative knowledge of its doctrines and its precepts, avail us any thing. It is the knowledge of Christ, and that alone, that will convey to our souls the blessings of salvation. “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” In the great mystery of a crucified Saviour “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge:” and “in comprehending the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Christ as revealed in that mystery, we shall be filled with all the fulness of God.” My dear brethren, even good people do not sufficiently bear this in mind. Men, in going into the fields, obtain, for the most part, that which they are in pursuit of. One obtains health, and another pleasure; but it is the botanist only that acquires the science of herbs. So in perusing the Holy Scriptures, whatever else men may obtain, none will obtain the knowledge of Christ in all the glory of his person, the extent of his love, and the fulness and excellency of his salvation, but those who go to them with this express view, and bend all the force of their minds towards the attainment of them. You will remember that the Cherubim upon the mercy-seat were in a bending posture looking down upon the ark, that peculiar symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ as mediating between God and us. This St. Peter explains to us, declaring respecting all the wonders of salvation revealed to us in the Scriptures, that “the angels are desiring to look into them [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.].” Be ye then, brethren, in this posture whenever ye take the sacred volume into your hands, and, like the Apostle Paul, seek to your dying hour to know more and more of Christ, “of the power of his resurrection, and of the fellowship of his sufferings:” for, in proportion as “ye behold the glory of Christ, ye shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]

2. Endeavour to diffuse the knowledge of them to the utmost of your power—

[The command to “search them” evidently implies the duty of promoting in others also the knowledge of them. In this respect the Christian world has done well in spreading the Holy Scriptures both at home and abroad, to an extent altogether unprecedented. And in the work of translating the Holy Scriptures, and of sending forth missionaries to diffuse the knowledge of them, this age has also excelled all that have ever gone before it [Note: If this be a subject for a Bible Society, or a Mission Society, the line of discussion must be suited to the occasion.] — — —

But who would ever have thought that a great part of the Christian world should set themselves against the circulation of the Scriptures, and should actually prohibit their people from reading them? Yet this is done by the Church of Rome in every quarter of the world. The Governors of that Church will not suffer the word of God to be read, except by their special permission, and with their corrupt glosses, which in ten thousand instances obscure and falsify its meaning. And what shall we say to this? I stand amazed at such conduct in a Church professing itself the Church of Christ. I know not whether is the greater, the impiety or the cruelty of such conduct. The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Search the Scriptures.” ‘No,’ says the Papist; ‘ye shall not search them: I will not even suffer them to be in your possession: and if they be given you, I will wrest them out of your hands.’ But if it he replied, “In them we have eternal life;” ‘I care not for that,’ says the Papist; ‘ye shall perish, rather than I will suffer you to read that book.’ ‘But Christ has said, “They testify of me;” and I want to know what they testify.’ ‘I care not for that,’ says the Papist; ‘I will not suffer you to know what they testify: you shall not hear their testimony any farther than I please to inform you of it, and then you shall know it only as corrupted and falsified by me.’ What such priests will answer at the bar of judgment, God alone knows: but I fear their doom will be very terrible, seeing that they will have to answer for the souls of thousands whom they have kept in the sorest bondage, and blinded to their eternal ruin. Judge then ye, brethren, whether ye should not endeavour to counteract this impious tyranny, and to diffuse the knowledge of salvation through the perishing millions of your fellow-subjects. I mean not that you should do this in a spirit of opposition, but in a spirit of love. And as the legislature at their request has made them partakers with you in all civil and political privileges, so do ye, unsought and unsolicited, labour to impart unto them the full enjoyment of your spiritual privileges, in the knowledge of Christ, and of his salvation [Note: Preached for the Society of Scripture Readers in Dublin, March 1830.].]


Verse 40

DISCOURSE: 1631

THE TRUE REASON OF MEN’S DESTRUCTION

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

TO doubt whether men wish to be saved or not, may appear absurd. No man would hesitate to answer such a question in the affirmative. But though every one would prefer happiness to misery, they are but few who really prefer the way that leads to happiness. The text may be addressed to the generality amongst ourselves with the same propriety as to those who rejected the invitations of our Lord in the days of old. We shall take occasion from these words to inquire,

I. What are the benefits of coming unto Christ—

To “come to Christ” is a frequent expression in the Scriptures:

Let us first consider what is implied in this act—

[It imports not an outward attendance on his person, but an inward affiance on him for salvation. It imports a coming to him with humility as sinners — — — with faith as to the only Saviour — — — and with love as to our rightful Lord and Master [Note: The full import of this act may perhaps be more clearly understood by expressing the very words and manner in which a sinner comes to Christ—“ O my Lord and Saviour, behold I am vile, and justly deserve to be for ever spurned from thy footstool, &c. But thou hast died for sinners, even the chief, &c. I have no hope but in thee, &c. O receive a poor prodigal, &c. I look for redemption through thy blood; O let thy blood cleanse me from all sin, &c. And while I trust in thy name, enable me to depart from all iniquity, &c. Be thou my only Lord, and let every thought and desire of my heart be brought into captivity to thy holy will, &c.”] — — —]

From a due performance of this act the most inestimable benefits will arise—

[Temporal, spiritual, eternal life will flow from it. Even the temporal comforts of life are enjoyed by none so much as by him who believes in Christ; nor is there any other person who holds them by so sure a tenure [Note: 1 Timothy 4:8.]. He cannot fail of possessing them as far as they will conduce to his spiritual welfare. But spiritual life is a far richer blessing; and this is the believer’s assured portion. His soul shall be endued with a new and vital principle of grace [Note: John 10:10.]. Christ himself will live in him and be his life [Note: Galatians 2:20. Colossians 3:4.]. As Lazarus when raised was enabled to perform the functions of animal life, of which he had been rendered, for a season, incapable, so shall the believer’s soul, which was once dead in trespasses and sins, be quickened to the discharge of all the duties and offices of the spiritual life. He shall enjoy sweet communion with God in secret, and find his supreme delight in fulfilling his blessed will. The man who thus daily comes to Christ for righteousness and strength is incomparably the happiest man on earth; but his happiness does not terminate with his present existence. No: he shall possess also eternal life. Believer, thou hast a never-fading crown of righteousness and glory awaiting thee at thy departure hence — — — What a recompence is this of all thy labour! What encouragement to come continually to Christ does such a prospect afford thee!]

One would suppose that, with such prospects, all should be pressing toward the Saviour with their whole hearts. Let us then proceed to inquire,

II. Whence it is that any fall short of these blessings?

The reason assigned in the text is the most just and most humiliating of any. There is no unwillingness in Christ to save us, but we are unwilling to go to him for salvation.

1. We are indifferent about life—

[We consider all pretensions to a new and spiritual life as enthusiasm, and therefore disdain to apply to Christ for it. As for eternal life, we do not wish to hear any thing about it. If the prospect of temporal advancement be held out to us, we can cheerfully and intensely bend our minds to the attainment of it; but if heaven and all its glory be offered us, we slight it utterly. We choose to talk of any subject rather than religion, and universally agree to banish that from our conversation. If at any time the thought of eternity be obtruded upon us, we turn from it with disgust; and are uneasy till some other topic be brought forward. Even in the house of God we hear of heavenly things as if they were fabulous and unworthy of our attention. We love our own ways, though they will end in death; and will not endure to be told of heaven, because we cannot reconcile our minds to the way that leads thither. To this effect is that declaration of Christ, “They that hate me, love death [Note: Proverbs 8:34-36. It is Christ who speaks here, ver. 22–31.].”]

2. We are averse to the way in which alone it is to be obtained—

[We will not come to Christ for life: this appears to be too humiliating. If we could obtain life by any works of our own, we would gladly do them; but we cannot bear to be so entirely indebted to another. We do not choose to acknowledge ourselves lost and undone. We hope to establish some righteousness of our own. Hence we neither do, nor will, come to Christ for life and salvation. Besides, this way to life is too strict: as we do not like to come with humility, and faith, so neither do we feel that love which will instigate us to devote ourselves unreservedly to his service. We think that less religion will suffice, and are determined to perish, rather than endure such drudgery. In every ungodly sinner are the words of our Saviour verified, “How often would I, but ye would not [Note: Matthew 23:37.].”]

Infer—

1. What ground for self-condemnation will there be in the day of judgment!

[Every condemned sinner, however full of excuses now, will then have his mouth shut; yea, even now a moment’s reflection must convince us, that every sinner’s condemnation is the effect of his own obstinacy. Who amongst you does not know, that he ought to read the word of God, and to seek his face, and to repent of sin, and to flee to Christ for refuge, and to give up himself to Christ in a way of holy obedience? Yet you will not do it. Your conscience at times remonstrates with you: yet you will not obey its voice: and your recollections of this in the eternal world will be one of the most bitter ingredients in the cup which you will drink to all eternity.]

2. What astonishing grace and mercy are there in the Lord Jesus Christ!

[His reproof contains in it a most gracious invitation. He addresses all of us at this instant, “Come unto me and I will give you life [Note: Matthew 11:28.].” Let none resist him any longer. Let us go to him, and he will in no wise cast us out [Note: John 6:37.].]


Verse 42

DISCOURSE: 1632

MEN’S WANT OF LOVE TO GOD

John 5:42. I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.

OUR blessed Lord “needed not that any should testify of man: for he himself knew perfectly what was in man [Note: John 2:24-25.];” and, consequently, without any reference to overt acts, could determine what was the state of every man’s soul before God. Yet, in making known his decisions upon character, he, for the most part, appealed to fact; especially if his testimony was to their discredit. In declaring Nathanael to be “an Israelite indeed, and without guile,” he referred to secret transactions, known only to God and to Nathanael himself: but, in denouncing those whom he was now addressing as destitute of the love of God, he appealed to their obstinacy in rejecting him, notwithstanding the full evidence he had given them of his Messiahship [Note: ver. 38, 40, 42.]. It is probable that this testimony of his gave great offence: yet is there occasion for it to be given respecting multitudes in the present day; and, no doubt, if he were here present, he still would be constrained to say of many, “I know you, that the love of God is not in you.”

In confirmation of this, I will shew,

I. That such characters do still exist—

[But where must we look for them? Can it be supposed that a single individual of this character is to be found in the midst of us? Go round to each individual in rotation, and ask each apart, “Have you the love of God in you?” Perhaps there is not one who would not reply, “Yes; I hope and trust I have.” Some, I can have no doubt, would be quite indignant at the question; and would answer with disdain, “What! do you suppose I am a downright reprobate?” In this respect there would be but little difference between the different classes of the community. The Moral would deem their morality a decisive proof of the point; nor would the Immoral account their immoralities any proof to the contrary: they would find reasons enough for their deviations from the straight line of duty, without impeaching the integrity of their own hearts before God, and their attachment, on the whole, to him. The Old would conclude, of course, that they could not have attained to their age without having at least secured this first principle of all religion: and the Young would intimate, that, though they make no profession of religion, they are not so destitute of it as this question would imply. All would consider it as a libel upon the Christian Church to suppose that such a character should be found within its pale, unless perhaps amongst those, whose whole habits proclaim them to be addicted to every species of iniquity.

But it was to those who had been admitted into covenant with God by circumcision, and who were attending the ministry of our blessed Lord, that the words in my text were addressed: and therefore it is more than probable, that still, even amongst professing Christians, there are some who answer to this character; and of whom, one, who had a perfect knowledge of them, might say, “I know you, that the love of God is not in you.”]

But the existence of such characters will not be doubted by any of us, when once we have seen,

II. How they may be known and distinguished—

Doubtless such characters may be known, by themselves at least, if not by their fellow-creatures also. Our fellow-creatures, it is true, can judge only by outward acts, because they cannot discern the workings of the heart: but the point may be ascertained by ourselves at all events, if on examination we find,

1. An habitual want of those dispositions which are essential to love—

[Wherever love exists, there must be an esteem of, a desire after, and a delight in, the object beloved: and these feelings must bear some proportion to the worthiness of the object himself. Now, of course, if God be that object, he must exceed in our estimation all created good, as much as the meridian sun surpasses the faint radiance of the glow-worm. And, inasmuch as we can never be happy without him, we must thirst after him, even as the hunted deer thirsts after the water brooks; and find in the enjoyment of his presence every desire of our souls completely satisfied. Now, we can be at no loss to discover how far our experience accords with this. At all events, if we be utter strangers to all these exercises of mind, the matter is clear: a voice from heaven could not make it more clear than the testimony of our own conscience has already made it. What should we ourselves judge of the professions of a fellow-creature, who pretended to feel a suitable regard for us, whilst in no one of these respects did he ever manifest it in the smallest degree? The judgment, then, that we should pass on him, we must pass on ourselves; and conclude, for a certainty, that the total absence of all these dispositions towards God proves that the love of God is not in us.]

2. An habitual indulgence of those dispositions which are repugnant to love—

[It is not an occasional failure in our duty that will prove us destitute of love to God: for, then, where would so much as one lover of God be found? But if there be in us an habitual indulgence of feelings absolutely inconsistent with the love of God, then also will the point be clearly decided. For instance, God has said, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him [Note: 1 John 2:15.].” Again, it is said, “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him [Note: 1 John 3:17.]?” Again, it is said, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments [Note: 1 John 5:3.].” Now here are marks given us whereby we may know infallibly the state of our souls towards God. If the world and its poor vanities rival him in our hearts, the matter is clear. If we have so little regard for God, that we can shut up our bowels of compassion from our destitute fellow-creatures, instead of relieving them for his sake, then also the point is decided for us. And, lastly, if our love to God do not actuate us so far as to ensure a willing obedience to his every command, then also no doubt is left about the point at issue: we are in every one of these cases declared to be obnoxious to the charge contained in our text.

I say, again, an occasional defect will not warrant so distressing a conclusion; but if our failure be universal, habitual, and allowed, the inference from it is undeniable; and we are declared by God himself to be destitute of any true love to him.]

Let us, then, in reference to such unhappy characters, contemplate,

III. In what an awful condition they are—

No words can adequately describe the misery of such a state. The persons who are obnoxious to this charge, are in a state,

1. Of fearful delusion—

[However pointed out by God, they put far from them the accusation, and boldly deny the charge. They cannot conceive of themselves as persons so lost to all that is good, as to have no love of God whatever in their hearts. They will admit that they do not love him so ardently, or serve him so fully, as they ought: but they will not admit that they have no love to him. They substitute some good sentiments respecting God in the place of real love to him; and thus, deceiving themselves by their own vain imaginations, they neglect to humble themselves before God on account of their extreme wickedness. Truly, if there were but one such person in the midst of us, one who was buoying himself up with some fallacious conceits, whilst God said respecting him, ‘There is a wretch that has no love to me;’ who amongst us would not be ready to weep over him? and who would not labour to undeceive him, whilst yet a discovery of his error might be available for his welfare?]

2. Of just condemnation—

[It is not possible but that such persons must be objects of God’s wrathful indignation. In fact, they are the very image of Satan himself: for what can be said worse of Satan than this, or what can characterize him more justly than this, that he has no love to God? It is not necessary that a man should have committed murder or adultery, to deserve the wrath of God. If he has no love to the Supreme Good, to Him whose perfections are infinite, to Him who every moment maintains him in existence; if he have no love to Him who gave his only dear Son to die for him, and offers his Holy Spirit to renew and sanctify him, and would gladly confer on him all the blessings both of grace and glory; his desert of God s wrath is unquestionable. St. Paul says, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha:” and there is not a creature in the universe that will not assent to the same denunciation, in reference to the wretch that loves not God.]

3. Of utter incapacity for happiness, even if he were actually admitted into heaven—

[Suppose a man, destitute of love to God, were admitted into heaven; what happiness could he find there? Amidst all the heavenly hosts, there would not be so much as one with whom he could hold communion, or have one single feeling in sympathy. As for God, the God whom he hates, he could not bear the sight of him. The sinner would know, that it was in vain for him to assume any appearances of love; for that his heart could not but be known to God, and consequently he must be an object of God’s utter abhorrence. For the employments of heaven, it is obvious he could have no taste: and he would solicit a dismission from the place, where every thing he saw and heard must, of necessity, generate in him the bitterest feelings of envy, malignity, and despair. To take his portion under rocks and mountains would be to him a deliverance from scenes to which he was utterly averse, and from vexations painful to him as hell itself.]

Now, then,

1. Let every one of us institute an inquiry into this matter—

[St. Paul exhorted the Hebrews of old to “examine themselves, whether they were in the faith:” so now I would say, “Examine yourselves,” whether there be in you any love to God. Do not take it for granted, without examination; and be careful, also, not to try yourselves by an inadequate test. Take the tests that have been before proposed; and see what is the habitual state of your minds in relation to them. To what purpose will it be to say, you love God; when the entire course of your feelings and habits declares the contrary? You cannot deceive God; nor can you prevail on him. to give in your favour a judgment contrary to truth. Bring the matter to a trial. Be not content to leave it in suspense. Indeed, if you can be content to leave it in doubt whether you love God or not, you can have no clearer proof that you are altogether destitute of his love: for the smallest sense of love to him that could exist in your soul, would make you uneasy, till you had placed the existence of it beyond a doubt.]

2. Let us not be satisfied till we can appeal to God, and say, “Thou knowest that I do love thee”—

[Thus St. Peter was enabled to reply, in answer to the question thrice put to him by our blessed Lord [Note: John 21:15-17.]: and we also should be able to make a similar appeal to the heart-searching God respecting our love to him. And why should we not? Of defects, every one of us must be conscious; yea, of such defects, that, if God were to enter into judgment with us according to them, we must perish. But of our desires after God, and our supreme delight in him, and our determination of heart, through grace, to please him, we may be conscious; and this consciousness may well abide in us, as a source of most exalted joy. I pray God that this joy may be ever yours, my beloved brethren; and that when we shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, God himself may bear testimony to us all, as having borne a distinguished place amongst his faithful, loving, and obedient servants.]


Verse 44

DISCOURSE: 1633

FAITH INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE LOVE OF MAN’S APPLAUSE

John 5:44. How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?

IT is certain that great care is requisite in interpreting the Holy Scriptures; lest, on the one hand, we explain away their meaning altogether; or, on the other hand, we take occasion, from the strength of some particular expressions, to maintain doctrines which they do not fairly establish. And the more unqualified any declarations are, the greater caution we should use in affixing to them their true import. The passage before us is of the deepest importance to every soul of man: but on the explanation of it, its force must entirely depend. Shall it be said, that no kind of faith will consist with our seeking honour from man, rather than from God? or, that the mere “receiving” of honour from man is incompatible with true faith? Either of these positions would be utterly false. Let us then proceed to the consideration of these words with that care which their importance demands; and may God, of his infinite mercy, guide me, whilst I endeavour to shew,

I. What we are to understand by “believing” in Christ!

It can never surely be meant, that we cannot receive the Scriptures as a revelation from God, or have a general view of the leading doctrines contained in them, whilst we are seeking honour from man: for the mere weighing of evidences, and determining according to evidence, are acts of the mind, which every man of sense, whatever be his feelings as to human applause, is capable of performing. Certainly much more than a bare assent must be comprehended in the faith here spoken of. It must import two things:

1. An acceptance of Christ, as he is set forth in the Holy Scriptures—

[The Scriptures speak of our “receiving the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: John 1:12. Colossians 2:6.].” We must receive him as the gift of God the Father to a sinful world; and must receive him, too, for all the ends and purposes for which he is given. If we embrace him not under all the relations, and for all the ends for which he is sent, we reject him, rather than acknowledge him; and put him away from us by unbelief, instead of receiving him into our hearts by faith. It is not optional with us to separate his offices, and to acknowledge him in those only which are agreeable to our own minds. Whatever “God has made him to us,” that he is to be with our full consent; our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our complete redemption [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].”]

2. A surrender of ourselves to him, as his obedient followers—

[Without this we can never be acknowledged by him as his: “If any man will be my Disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” And so unreserved must our surrender of ourselves to him be, that, if we be not ready even to lay down our lives for him, we shall be regarded by him in no other light than as aliens or traitors. A faith which does not operate in this manner, and to this extent, is no better than “the faith of devils:” it is “dead,” and will leave the soul dead to all eternity [Note: James 2:19-20; James 2:26.].

Such, then, is the faith of God’s elect; and such the faith of which our Lord speaks in the words before us; a faith that “works by love,” and “purifies the heart,” and “overcomes the world.”]

Having ascertained what is meant by faith, we proceed to shew,

II. Who they are who are declared incapable of exercising it—

[The mere “receiving” of honour from man has no such effect: for the good man passes “through honour as well as dishonour, and through good report as well as evil report.” It is the seeking of honour from man that is here spoken of; that is, the seeking of it, either independently of “the honour that cometh from God,” or in preference to it. All desire of man’s approbation is not wrong: a child may properly seek the approbation of his parent; a servant, of his master; a subject, of his prince. But to make man’s approbation the main object of our pursuit, is to put man in the place of God: and this can never be pleasing to the Supreme Being; who is “a jealous God,” and “will not give his glory to another [Note: Isaiah 42:8.].” Nor is it necessary that what we do should be substantially and in itself evil, in order to provoke God to jealousy: our actions may be good in themselves; and yet, if they be done to please man, their character is altogether changed, and they become hateful in the sight of God. Almsgiving and prayer are good; but if either the one or the other be done in order to obtain applause from man, it is vitiated, and debased, and execrable: and fasting itself is odious, when proceeding from no better principle than this [Note: Matthew 6:1-5; Matthew 6:16-18.]. It was this base desire of man’s applause which chiefly characterized the Pharisees of old [Note: Matthew 23:5.]: and, where-ever it prevails, it destroys all pretensions to uprightness before God, and all hope of ever being acknowledged by Christ, as his Disciples: as St. Paul says, “If I yet pleased men, I could not be the servant of Jesus Christ [Note: Galatians 1:10.].”

In like manner we err, if we seek man’s approbation, in preference to the honour that cometh of God. The two often stand in competition with each other; or rather, I should say, are always opposed to each other, where the higher duties of Christianity are concerned: for, of “the circumcision of the heart, which is in the Spirit and not in the letter,” we are told, “its praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Romans 2:29.].” Indeed the praise of God is frequently not to be obtained without incurring the deepest odium from men. But, when that is the case, there must be no hesitation on our part whom to obey, and whose honour to seek. Our reply to the whole universe must be, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” Neither parental authority, nor brotherly affection, must have any weight with us in opposition to God: for, if “we come to Christ, and hate not father and mother, and brother and sister, yea, and our own lives also,” in comparison of him, “we cannot be his Disciples [Note: Luke 14:26.].”

But in these two respects the persons described in our text are essentially defective. In respect of moral virtue, as it is called, they may be exemplary enough; and it is even taken for granted that they are so, by their “receiving of honour from men,” which may be supposed to be accorded to them on account of their virtues: but, inasmuch as they do not utterly despise man’s approbation in comparison of God’s, and even “glory in shame” itself for the Lord’s sake, they are incapable of exercising a true and saving faith in the Lord Jesus. I say again, It is not the immoral man, of whom our Lord speaks, but of the man who, from any cause whatever, prefers the praise of man before the praise of God.]

But why can they not exercise faith in Christ? Let us inquire,

III. Whence their incapacity arises—

The disposition to prefer the applause of man,

1. Unfits them for discerning truth—

[External evidences, as I have before observed, they may judge of: but the real excellency of the Gospel is hid from their eyes. The glory of Christ, and the beauty of holiness, they cannot appreciate; because they possess not that spiritual discernment whereby alone they can be seen [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. There is a film over their eyes: “their eye is evil; and therefore their body and soul are full of darkness [Note: Matthew 6:22-23.].” Sin and “Satan have altogether blinded them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.].” The sublimer truths, when offered to their view, produce only the effect which a flood of light does when poured upon a disordered patient in a dark chamber. “They hate the light, and will not come to it [Note: John 3:19-20.]:” and when truth is set before them, they reply, “This is a hard saying: who can hear it [Note: John 6:60.]?” Especially if they be called to renounce self altogether, and to glory in Christ alone, they have no ears to hear it: they are like those of whom our Lord said, “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my words [Note: John 8:43.].”]

2. Indisposes them for walking according to the light they have—

[Much, doubtless, they may see: but they are kept in bondage by “the fear of man that bringeth a snare.” As far as relates to a speculative view of the truth, they may have a strong conviction of it; so strong as, in the common acceptation of the term, to be said to possess faith. Thus we are told, respecting many who beheld our Lord’s miracles: “Among the chief rulers, many believed on him: but, because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God [Note: John 12:42-43.].” Here their incapacity to give themselves up to Christ is marked as proceeding from the very same cause to which it is ascribed in the text: “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Thus it is that this evil principle operates in ten thousand instances, keeping men from an attendance on public ordinances, from the society of the Lord’s people, and from that public confession of Christ, whereby they ought to glorify his name.]

3. Leads them into courses directly contrary to the truth—

[A desire of worldly favours draws men, of necessity, not only to a neglect of what is good, but also to the positive commission of evil. The world will never he satisfied, till they bring us, in some measure at least, into a conformity with their views and habits. The compliances which they first desired are perhaps innocent: but gradually they increase their demands upon us, till they ensnare our feet, and defile our conscience, and lead us to dishonour our holy profession, if not altogether to renounce the faith.]

Now let me make this subject—

1. A matter of appeal—

[Our blessed Lord appeals to the persons themselves, whose spirit he reproves. And I also will venture to ask of you, my brethren, Whether you have not found in your converse with others, that a love of man’s applause, wherever it has obtained, has proved a bar to the introduction of light into their souls; so that either you could produce no conviction upon their minds, or, if you have silenced their objections, you could not prevail upon them to act agreeably to the light they had received? I ask also, in reference to yourselves, Whether, if at any time you have suffered your minds to be influenced by that unworthy principle, it has not rendered your views of truth obscure, and your compliance with it difficult? I will yet further ask, Whether a carnal and a spiritual mind be not opposed to each other, as darkness to light; and whether the prevalence of one must not, in proportion as it prevails, dispel the other? Yes: it is an acknowledged and unquestionable truth, “that we cannot serve God and Mammon.” If, then, the intimation in our text be confirmed by all that we see in others, and all that we experience in ourselves, let it be treasured up in our minds as a rule of action, and be referred to continually for the regulation of our hearts and lives.]

2. A ground of exhortation—

[Look not for the honour that cometh of man; for it is not to be obtained without sacrifices that are far too costly for so worthless an acquisition. Let your hearts be right with God. Let his revealed will be your sure directory: and regard nothing in opposition to it. Seek to please him at all events, though you should displease the whole world. I mean not by this, that you should not listen to good advice: for it is highly desirable that you should “walk wisely in a perfect way.” But let that advice alone be followed, that is founded on the word of God. And be careful to keep a conscience void of offence: and so to walk before God, that you may be approved of him, and receive from him at last that testimony of his approbation, “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”]


Verse 45-46

DISCOURSE: 1634

UNBELIEF REBUKED

John 5:45-46. Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.

THERE is nothing more painful to a pious Minister, than to reflect, that, instead of having to present all his hearers to God as his children, saying, “Here am I, and the children thou hast given me,” he will have to stand at the bar of judgment as an accuser of by far the greater part of them, and to appear as a swift witness against them. To the majority of them, the most successful minister must say, with our blessed Lord, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” But, whether they be called as accusers or not, the inspired writers will undoubtedly execute that painful office; as our Lord here testifies to his unbelieving audience: “Think not that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuses you, even Moses, in whom ye trust: for had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.”

Let me now, in faithfulness to your souls,

I. Set before you the charge which the whole inspired volume brings against us—

Strong was that charge which Moses exhibited against the Jews—

[Much “had he written respecting Christ.” The whole ceremonial law was one typical adumbration of him — — —the moral law itself, as denouncing a curse against every one that should transgress it in the slightest instance, was, in fact, intended to shew men their need of Christ, and to shut them up to that way of salvation which he should open for them [Note: Romans 3:21-22 and Galatians 3:22-24.]. The prophecies which he revealed were many and clear: he set forth Christ as “the seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head;” and as “the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the world should be blessed;” and above all, as “that prophet who should in due time be raised up like unto himself; to whom all must take heed, at the peril of their souls.”

Now to these writings our blessed Lord appealed continually, in confirmation of his divine mission. But the Jews, whilst they pretended the highest veneration for Moses, actually made their regard for him their plea for rejecting Christ. But this shewed that they did not understand the writings of Moses, and that they did not, in fact, believe any one of those things which he had spoken: for if they had understood him, and believed his testimony, they would of necessity have believed in Christ, of whom he testified. We may suppose him, then, as accusing these people before God the Father to this effect: “Thou seest, O God, what a zeal they profess for me: but it is all hypocrisy, for, instead of receiving my testimony respecting their Messiah, they shut their eyes and ears against every word that I have spoken; and make no other use of my testimony, but to pervert it, and to found upon it their rejection of that very Saviour whom I have revealed.”]

But stronger far is that charge which the whole inspired volume brings against us—

[We profess to believe in the written word, both of the Old and New Testament: and if any one were to brand us with the name of infidels and deists, we should be filled with indignation against him, as uttering a gross calumny. But how do we manifest our faith? The Scriptures tell us, that “except we repent, we must perish.” But who believes it? Who is stirred up, by that declaration, to real penitence and contrition? The Scriptures tell us, that we must look to Christ for salvation, as the wounded Israelites did to the brazen serpent. But where do we find that intense earnestness to obtain relief, and that utter renunciation of every other hope but that revealed to us in the cross of Christ? The Scriptures require us to live by Christ, exactly as the Israelites lived by the manna which they gathered, and the waters of the rock that followed them. But where do we find persons making this continual use of Christ, if I may so speak; and living altogether by faith in the Son of God, who loved them and gave himself for them? The Scriptures tell us, that “having been bought with a price, we must glorify Christ with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.” But where do we find persons employing every member of their body, and every faculty of their soul, for the glory of Christ?

Behold, then, what an accusation the whole inspired volume brings against us. ‘See, Lord, this people! Thou knowest how fully thy holy will is revealed in every page of thy word: yet who regards it? Who regards any word contained in this volume, provided he has any interest to serve, or any lust to gratify, by the violation of it? I accuse the whole Christian world, with the exception of a very few, as hypocrites: for, with all their professed regard for thy revealed will, they violate it in all its most essential points; and with their boast of being Christians, they live altogether as if they were down-right heathens.’]

Now then, having stated the charge, I will proceed to,

II. Put you upon your trial in relation to it—

Of the little flock who believe in Christ, I will say nothing. I will confine myself to the great mass of my hearers, who have never yet been renewed by the grace of God. And I ask,

1. Is not the charge true of you?

[Look, I pray you, and examine the matters before proposed. See in what state you are, as it respects repentance for sin, and faith in Christ, and holy obedience to the commands of God. Compare yourselves with the Scriptures which ye profess to believe: see whether you are “cast into them, as into a mould;” and whether ye are really living as the Apostles did? I will not ask whether you have attained the eminence of Paul; for to that none of us can pretend: but are we followers of him, as he was of Christ? And if he were to see the daily habit of our minds, would he acknowledge us as imbued with the same spirit with him, and as treading in the same steps? — — — It is evident, then, that we are guilty before God; and that the accusations which Moses, and the Prophets, and the Apostles, are exhibiting against us, are true [Note: See John 12:48. where all this is plainly asserted.].]

2. Are ye not then deeply criminal?

[We are in the habit of reprobating infidels as amongst the vilest of men. And far am I from intending, in any respect, to lessen the abhorrence with which they are viewed, and should be viewed. But it may well be doubted, whether the great mass of Christians be not in a worse state than they. For infidels, however profane, are at least consistent: they do not profess to believe the Scriptures: they regard them all, and every thing contained in them, as “a cunningly-devised fable.” But the Christian world profess to receive the Bible as the word of God, and to expect that men shall be dealt with in judgment according to the plan proposed in it: yet do they in their lives give the lie to all that they profess. If they really believed in that word, they would believe in Christ, and love him, and serve him, and glorify him. Could a man believe that his house was on fire, and ready to fall upon him, and not flee out of it? It is a delusion altogether: and in pretending to believe at all, they only lie unto the Holy Ghost.]

3. Are ye not utterly inexcusable?

[What excuse can you offer in vindication of yourselves? Is not every part of the inspired volume brought before you in its season? Ye know that “we have kept back nothing that was profitable unto you,” but “have declared unto you the whole counsel of God.” But, at all events, the inspired volume has been in your hands, and ye might have drunk water at the fountain-head. It has been accessible to you at all times: and if it have been “a fountain sealed,” whose fault is that? Has not God promised, by his Holy Spirit to open it? and has not Christ told you, that “if you would ask of him, he would give you living waters, which should be in you a well of water springing up unto everlasting life?” What is there that has been wanting to you? Has there been any defect of evidence? No: the evidence has shone forth as bright as the sun. Has there been any want of encouragement? No: there is not any species of encouragement that has not been poured upon you as a flood. Nothing has been wanting, but a humble and docile spirit. It is your own pride, and worldliness, and unbelief, that has kept from you the blessings of salvation: and you have none but yourselves to blame.]

Application—

[I say, then, confess your hypocrisy, and humble yourselves for it — — — And take the Holy Scriptures, and “search them with all diligence; and pray to the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth.” But mark more especially what they speak of Christ; for “of Him they testify in every part [Note: ver. 39.]:” and, having found him, believe in him, and surrender up yourselves to him: and let your whole life attest the consistency of your character, and the integrity of your hearts before God.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 5:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/john-5.html. 1832.


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