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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

John 8

 

 

Verse 10-11

DISCOURSE: 1649

THE WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY DISMISSED

John 8:10-11. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.

IT is surprising to see in what a variety of ways the wickedness of the human heart will betray itself: sometimes in the commission of gross iniquity, and sometimes in apparent indignation against it: sometimes in open hostility against Christ, and sometimes in hypocritical professions of regard for him. Who that had seen the zeal of the Scribes and Pharisees against an adulterous woman, would not have thought them the purest of the human race? Who that had heard their citations of Moses’ law, and their respectful application to Christ as an authorized expositor of that law, would not have supposed that they truly feared God, and desired to perform his holy will? Who would have imagined that the whole was only a murderous plot against the life of Christ? Yet so it was. These accusers had no indignation against the sin of adultery, nor any love to the law of Moses, nor any zeal for the honour of God: they were actuated solely by an inveterate hatred of Christ, and a determination to find, if possible, some occasion against him, that they might accuse him. Their professed object was, to punish the woman; but their real object was, to lay a snare for his life.

We forbear to notice, that in some old manuscript copies this short history is not recorded, because there can be no doubt of its authenticity; and the very care with which the early Christians examined the authenticity of every part of Scripture, is a strong proof of the genuineness of the New Testament, as it has been handed down to us.

That which we wish you particularly to observe, is,

I. In what manner Christ extricated himself

The snare laid for him was well contrived—

[The Scribes and Pharisees brought him a woman, who had been taken in the very act of adultery, and was therefore incapable of uttering a word in her own defence. The law of Moses had prescribed that all who were guilty of that crime should be put to death. If the woman were not absolutely married, but only espoused, she was still to be put to death, and that by stoning [Note: Leviticus 20:10. Deuteronomy 22:22-24.]. Hence, it should seem, the particular death to which adulterers in general were condemned, was that of stoning [Note: Ezekiel 16:38; Ezekiel 16:40.]. But the point which they referred to our Lord’s decision, was, whether they should execute the law, or not. Now there were but four things which our Lord could do: either he might acquit the woman, or condemn her, or dismiss the matter without any attention to it, or refer them to another tribunal; but whichever of these he should do, they would make it a ground of accusation against him: if he should acquit her, they would represent him as an enemy to Moses, and a patron of iniquity: if he should condemn her, they would accuse him to the Romans as resisting the government of C ζsar, and encouraging sedition: if he should dismiss the matter, they would say he shewed no zeal for the honour of God, whom he pretended to call his Father, and had no pretensions to the office of the Messiah, whose first object would be to “make an end of sins, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.” If he should refer them to any other tribunal, to whomsoever he referred them, whether to the Roman or Jewish authorities, they would equally find matter of accusation against him; either of sanctioning the usurpation of the Romans on the one hand, or of setting himself against it, on the other: so that, whatsoever he should say or do, they would lower him in the estimation of the people, and open a way for his destruction.]

And how did he escape the snare—

[At first he declined giving any answer at all; but stooped down, and wrote upon the ground. What he wrote, we know not: nor are we told precisely what he meant by that significant action [Note: The words “as though he heard them not,” are printed in italics to shew that they are not in the original: and certainly they had better not have been inserted; because it was manifest that he did hear them. But by this action he might intend to intimate, that they should take heed to what was written: or perhaps he wrote the very sentence which he afterwards pronounced.]: but his enemies, conceiving that they had gained their point, became more and more urgent for a decisive answer: he therefore addressed himself to their consciences; and as, in the case of idolatry, the law required that the witnesses should be the first in stoning the offender to death, so he bade the person that was without sin among them begin to inflict the punishment of death upon her. He did not by this intend, that under the Gospel dispensation human laws should not be executed by any who were not themselves without sin; but lie determined to confound these vile hypocrites, who, under a mask of zeal against sin, were perpetrating the greatest of all sins. To give time for his word to operate on their consciences, he stooped down and wrote again: and behold, these accusers, self-condemned in their own minds, and fearful lest their own secret abominations should be exposed to public view, withdrew as privately as they could; the elder part among them, as being most fearful of exposure, retiring first, and gradually the younger also following their example; so that in a little time not a single accuser was left. What an evidence was here of the power of conscience, when awakened by the Spirit of God, and armed against the sinner by a Divine power! Truly, the blindest must see, the most obdurate must feel, the most impudent must blush, and the most confident be confounded, when once the voice of conscience is distinctly heard: and we cannot but think it a good way of silencing a contentious and subtle adversary, to make a direct attack upon his conscience, and to fix his attention upon what has passed within his own bosom.

It is not necessary to suppose that all the accusers had been guilty of the precise sin which they laid to the charge of this woman: there was now enough of their past iniquities presented to their view to produce the desired effect, of constraining them to proclaim their own shame, and to suspend the persecution which they had so wickedly commenced. Thus was our Lord relieved from every difficulty; and his enemies “fell into the pit which they had digged” for him.]

It remains for us now to notice,

II. In what manner he dismissed the woman

We hear of no triumph that he expressed over his disconcerted adversaries: he merely asks where they were; and finding that they had withdrawn, and no longer chose to appear in the quality of accusers, he dismisses the woman,

1. With condescending kindness—

[“Woman, hath no man condemned thee? neither do I condemn thee: go thy way:” It is not my office to exercise the power of the civil magistrate; nor is it my wish to denounce the judgments of God against thee. “I came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through me might be saved [Note: John 3:17.].” Go, improve the time that is now unexpectedly allotted thee: be thankful that thou art not now sent into the presence of thy God with all thy sins upon thee: let the “space which is given thee for repentance,” be well employed: lose not an hour in seeking forgiveness with thy God. Go to thy chamber, and pour out thy soul before him: and remember, that the mercy which thou art experiencing at my hands in relation to thy body, is an emblem of what I am ready to bestow upon thy soul. “I came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost:” nor shall the vilest of the human race be condemned before me in the great and awful day, provided he penitently confess his sins, and humbly seek acceptance through me: “Though his sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool [Note: Isaiah 1:18 and Proverbs 28:13.].”]

2. With an authoritative admonition—

[Greatly as our Lord delighted in mercy, he would not so exercise it as to give the least countenance to sin. Whilst therefore he dismisses her, he adds a solemn admonition, “Go, and sin no more.” Think not lightly of thy sins, because I have expressed such tenderness towards thee; neither imagine that they will not be punished hereafter, if thou continuest in the commission of them. The “goodness and long-suffering and forbearance which thou hast experienced, should lead thee to repentance:” and, if they do not, they will aggravate thy condemnation to all eternity. Go therefore, and sin no more. Let a sense of thy past dangers deter thee: let a consideration of the mercies vouchsafed to thee stimulate thine exertions: let the hope of future mercies encourage thee: let the prospect of a future judgment fix thy purpose, and strengthen thy resolution. Above all, commit thyself to God, who alone is “able to keep thee from falling, and to present thee faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”]

Address—

1. The self-satisfied and self-applauding Christian—

[Many who are vehement against flagrant transgressors, and many too who profess an outward reverence for Christ, are yet exceeding vile in the sight of the heart-searching God. Before men, perhaps, they appear in a favourable light: but if all that they have thought and done in secret were written on their foreheads, they could not endure the sight of their fellow-creatures, but would retire from society, as these Scribes and Pharisees retired, filled with shame and confusion. Let each one of us examine the records of his own conscience; and recollect all the transactions which have passed from his youth up to the present hour: ah! who amongst us would venture, after such a survey, to justify himself? Know ye, brethren, that God sees all that has passed, whether ye see it or not: you may have forgotten it; but it is all recorded in the book of his remembrance, and will be exposed by him to the view of the whole assembled universe. Learn then to view yourselves as he views you; and to esteem yourselves as he esteems you: and know, that you never have a just estimate of your own character till you see yourselves to be the chief of sinners. Cast away, I say, your high thoughts of yourselves, and learn to lothe and abhor yourselves in dust and ashes.]

2. The sorrowful and self-condemning Christian—

[You see in the history before us how tender and compassionate the Saviour is. If then conscience have arrested you, and brought you into his presence, remember, that he is rich in mercy, and ready to forgive; and that he will never condemn any but the impenitent and unbelieving [Note: Isaiah 55:7. 1 Timothy 1:15-16.] — — —

At the same time, I would affectionately caution you against mistaking the nature of true repentance. Perhaps conscience has condemned you, and you have felt ashamed and confounded on account of your great iniquities. But if you have gone no further, you are no true penitent. The Scribes and Pharisees advanced thus far; but they sought not mercy at the Saviour’s hands: they went from him, fearing more the decrease of their reputation, than the loss of their souls. Had they been truly penitent, they would have blessed him who had thus flashed conviction on their minds, and have implored his more effectual power to change and renew their souls. Be not contented then to resemble them; but seek to know all the hidden abominations of your hearts, and to have them washed away in the Redeemer’s blood. Be assured that true repentance will lead you to Christ: and, if you do not find this effect from your convictions, you may know infallibly that your sorrow is not of “a godly sort,” and that your very repentance needs yet to be repented of.

It is of great importance for you to make these distinctions; because many continue all their days guilty, but not humbled; condemned, but not forgiven.]

3. The Christian who professes to have obtained mercy of the Lord—

[The admonition given to the woman is equally addressed to every true believer. And here must I suggest a caution against a common, but fatal error. If persons abstain from some particular sins which they have before committed, they are ready to think that they have done all that is required of them. But to turn from gross iniquities is a small matter; and to perform some particular duties is a small matter. Pride and self-complacency may carry us thus far: but the grace of God must carry us much farther. We must lay the axe to the root: we must put away “our besetting sin:” and must become “new creatures,” and “be renewed in the spirit of our minds.” Mark this expression: it conveys a more complete idea of sound conversion than almost any other expression in the whole sacred volume: contemplate it: enter into it: beg of God to reveal to you its true import. The bent of your minds was earthly: a directly opposite bent must now be given it; just as a river which recently flowed with rapidity towards the ocean, now flows with equal rapidity towards the fountain-head: the tide has turned, and completely changed its course. Thus must it be with you: heavenly things must now have the place in your affections that earthly things once held; and the delight of your soul must be in them, as that of a licentious man is in his pleasures, or an avaricious man in his wealth. To surrender up all your faculties and powers as a living sacrifice to God, is the proper fruit of his mercies, and the proper evidence of his grace. Never think then that you have yet attained, but press forward for higher degrees of grace and holiness; and make it your endeavour to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”]


Verse 12

DISCOURSE: 1650

CHRIST THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

John 8:12. Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

IT was customary with our blessed Lord to take occasion from things that were immediately before him to instil divine knowledge into his hearers. When he was at a well, he spake of himself as a fountain of living water: when mention had been made of the manna which was given to the Israelites in the wilderness, he represented himself as the bread that came down from heaven, that men might eat of it and live for ever: when he was passing though a vineyard, he set himself forth as the true and living vine, by an union with which all the branches were to bring forth fruit. Thus, it should seem, in the passage before us, being early in the temple [Note: ver. 2.], and beholding the sun shining bright upon him, he resumed his discourse which had been interrupted, and spake to all the people, saying, “I am the light of the world.”

We cannot but notice in this impressive declaration,

I. The excellency of Christ—

Of all the objects in the visible creation, the sun is the most splendid and majestic: and hence it is the most frequently selected to characterize our blessed Lord. The sun has in itself a fulness of light, and is the one source of light to the material world. In Christ also are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” and from him alone is derived all spiritual light. It is he that enlightens all,

1. By his instructions—

[To form a correct judgment of this subject, we should survey the state of the world before the coming of Christ. The darkness that prevailed is justly styled by the prophet, “gross darkness.” The most learned philosophers could not absolutely determine whether there were a God; or, if there were, whether there were one or many. They conceived that there were some beings superior to themselves; and them they called gods: but the characters they assigned to them, were such as would disgrace the lowest of the human race. They felt themselves sinners; but the methods which they devised for expiating their crimes were beyond measure absurd. They could not account for the sin and misery which they both saw and felt, nor could they prescribe any remedy for these disorders. “They were vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened: professing themselves to be wise, they shewed themselves to be very fools [Note: Romans 1:21-22.].” But “the Dayspring from on high,” the Lord Jesus Christ, “has visited us, to give light to them that sat in darkness and the shadow of death [Note: Luke 1:78-79.].” He has declared to us fully the nature and perfections of God, the means of reconciliation with him, the duties we owe to him and to each other, and whatever else can conduce to the regulating of our lives or the furthering of our happiness.]

2. By his example—

[Had precepts alone been given us, we should have been ready to construe them in such a way, as would best suit with our carnal prejudices and sensual inclinations. But by exhibiting in his own life a perfect pattern of holiness, he has cut off all occasion for doubt respecting the nature or extent of our duty. We need only to walk as he walked, and we cannot err. Do we desire to ascertain what that service is, which we owe to God? we see in him, that we should have the whole law of God written in our hearts; and that it should be “our meat and our drink to do his will.” Do we wish to know how we should conduct ourselves towards our fellow-creatures? We have an unerring rule set before us, in his unruffled meekness, his inexhausted patience, his unbounded love: in laying down his life for his enemies, he has shewn us what we are to do, at least for the brethren, if not also even for our bitterest persecutors. In short, we can be in no situation whatever, wherein his example will not serve as a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths: if it do not shew us the precise act we are to perform, it will shew us infallibly the spirit we are to exercise.]

3. By his influence—

[The sun is of use to those only who have eyes to see it. But Jesus, at the same time that he imparts light, bestows upon us also the organs of vision whereby we may behold it. He “opens the eyes of our understanding;” and “shines into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” He not only causes “the day to dawn,” but is also “the Day-star arising in our hearts [Note: 2 Peter 1:19.].” He gives the spiritual discernment whereby alone we can discern the things of the Spirit, however clearly they were before revealed. Indeed, our reason is nothing more than a taper which He has lighted up in our minds: and much more is the faculty of comprehending the deep things of God, derived from him: so that that inspired testimony concerning him is strictly true, “He is the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world [Note: John 1:9.].”]

From hence we are naturally led to consider,

II. The blessedness of his followers—

We regard with pity the inhabitants of the polar regions, who for half the year are statedly secluded from the cheering rays of the sun. We consider our quicker returns of light and darkness as incomparably more conducive to comfort and prosperity. But infinitely happier is he on whom the Sun of Righteousness has once arisen: for,

1. He shall not walk in darkness—

[Once he was guided altogether by erroneous principles. So blind was he, that he “put evil for good, and good for evil; darkness for light, and light for darkness.” Nor is this the case only with the ignorant and profane: it is equally true of those whose minds are cultivated, and whose lives are moral. Even Paul before his conversion, fraught as he was with the knowledge of the Scriptures, and zealous in the pursuit of righteousness, perpetrated the most horrible acts of wickedness under the idea of doing God service: “he verily thought with himself that he ought to do the things which he did.” But the follower of Christ, the true believer [Note: Compare John 12:46. with the text.], is not suffered to live under the influence of such delusions: his views are rectified: he beholds things in the light in which they are represented in the Scriptures; he has learned from them what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, and has his mind cast, as it were, into the very mould of the Gospel.

Once too he indulged himself in corrupt habits: whether more or less addicted to gross sin, he loved the ways of the world, and conformed himself to them: all his delight was in the things of time and sense: he lived as if he had nothing else to do, but to consult his reputation, ease, and interests in the world. But, having obtained mercy of the Lord, he now discerns the evil of such a life: he begins to see, that “to be thus carnallyminded is death:” and that there are objects infinitely nobler than those he has regarded, and more deserving his attention. Convinced of this, he “will not live any longer to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” Instead of “fulfilling any longer the desires of the flesh and of the mind,” he strives henceforth to mortify them, and labours to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”

We must add yet again, that he once walked in the darkness of distressing apprehensions. God has said, and experience proves, that “there is no peace to the wicked.” Every man in his unregenerate state is in bondage to the fear of death, and more or less under the terrors of a guilty conscience. The thoughts of death and judgment are painful to him; and he puts them far from him: he flees to business, to pleasure, to company, in order to dissipate those reflections which he cannot wholly avoid. He has an inward consciousness that he has not sought the Divine favour, and, in consequence of that, a secret fear that he shall not obtain it. From such feelings as these, the believer in Christ is happily delivered. “He knows in whom he has believed, and that his adorable Saviour is able to keep that which he has committed to him.” He has learned to reckon death among the number of his friends, and to regard it as the door of entrance into his Father’s presence. Instead of being harassed with a “fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation,” he enjoys “that peace of God which passeth all understanding.”]

2. He shall have the light of life—

[There is a light which proceeds from life, and leads to life; and that light is his blessed portion. A dead man has no light at all: but a living man has senses given him, on purpose to guard him from things destructive, and to lead him to things conducive to his welfare. The sight, the hearing, the smell, the taste, the touch, have all their appropriate uses; and each has its peculiar office, in circumstances where the others can find no scope for exercise. They are so many sentinels, that guard every avenue of ill, and that give warning on the first approach of evil. Thus protected is the follower of Christ: he has spiritual senses, which, being of quick perception to discern good and evil, give early notice of the things which might prove fatal to the soul. They serve as “a light to his feet, and a lantern to his paths.” Solomon justly observes, that “the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly [Note: Proverbs 20:27.].” This candle being duly trimmed, his way is made plain before his face; and he is enabled to walk without stumbling: “He walks in the light, as God is in the light;” and thus maintains sweet fellowship with God, and a sense of his pardoning love in Christ Jesus [Note: 1 John 1:7.]. If at any-time, through temptation or distress, this light burn dim, he cries to his Lord and Saviour, who has promised to send him fresh supplies of his Spirit; and speedily does “light arise to him in his obscurity, and his darkness becomes as the noon-day [Note: Isaiah 58:10.].” Thus guided through his whole life, he arrives at last at those blessed regions, “whereof the Lamb is the light [Note: Revelation 21:23.],” and where “his Lord shall be an everlasting light, and his God his glory [Note: Isaiah 60:19.].”]

Application—

[You can easily conceive the difference both in the feeling and the safety of one that walks in midnight darkness, and of one that travels in the light of the noon-day sun. O that all would make a just application of this thought to their own case, and resolve without delay to become followers of Christ [Note: John 12:35-36. Jeremiah 13:16.]!]


Verse 21

DISCOURSE: 1651

MEETNESS FOR HEAVEN NECESSARY

John 8:21. Whither I go ye cannot come.

THE generality of men conceive that there is no difficulty in securing heaven: and hence they use no efforts to obtain an entrance there. If told, that, in their present state, they could not by any means obtain admission to the Saviour’s presence, they would account it a very uncharitable and unwarrantable assertion; and would be as unable to account for it as our Saviour’s hearers were when they asked, “Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.” But they consider not what kind of a place heaven is, or what state of mind is necessary for the enjoyment of it. It is certain, however, that what our Lord again and again said to his hearers [Note: John 7:33-34; John 13:33. with the text.], is applicable to us at this day. They indeed expected a Messiah, whilst they rejected him whom God had sent; and therefore our Lord says so repeatedly, “Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me:” and so far his address to them is not applicable to us, who all acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ. But what he adds, is as applicable to us as ever it was to them; since in an unregenerate and unconverted state it is impossible for us ever to behold the face of God in peace.

I am aware that this is an observation that must occasion pain: but, if such persons still exist as those to whom the declaration was made, it is surely the office of love and charity to apprise them of it. You will therefore receive my friendly suggestions in the spirit with which they are offered to you, whilst I shew,

I. To whom this declaration was made—

They are here clearly described by our Lord himself:

1. The worldly-minded—

[“Ye are of this world: I am not of this world.” Now the worldly are not only put in a state of contrast with the Saviour himself, as in this and other places [Note: John 17:14; John 17:16.], but with the children of God also: they are represented as being “wiser in their generation than the children of light [Note: Luke 16:8.];” and as hating them on account of their stricter course of life: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: John 15:19.].”

Now it is really not difficult to discover, to which of these opposite parties we belong. Let us only ask, Which we more esteem? which we more desire? which we more delight in, the things of time and sense, or the things which are invisible and eternal? — — — I ask not, Which of the two engages more of our time? for our social and civil duties require a great deal of our time: and God himself permits us to labour six days, and to reserve the seventh only for him. But the question is, On which of the two is our heart fixed? Which do we mainly affect, the things of this, or of the future world? If only we mark, which of the two chiefly engages our thoughts, when our minds are free to fix upon the things which are most interesting to us, we shall then see the real bias of our minds, and our true character as before God — — — God has expressly warned us, that “if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.];” and therefore we are assured beyond all doubt that the lovers of this present world are justly placed among those to whom the declaration in our text pre-eminently pertains.]

2. The unbelieving—

[“If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” Now there is as great a difference between the believer and the unbeliever, as between those who are of this world, and those who are of God. Only see the conduct of believers, and the matter will be as clear as the light itself. The true believer is humbled for his sins, and, under a consciousness of his utter inability ever to reconcile himself to God, he flees to Christ, and lays hold on him, and relies wholly upon his meritorious blood and righteousness, and glories in him as all his salvation and all his desire. The unbeliever, on the contrary, neglects him, and seeks for himself some other ground of hope, if not openly and professedly, yet in the real feelings and dispositions of his soul.

Now it is easy to ascertain, whether from day to day we are bewailing our sinfulness and fleeing to Christ for refuge, as to the hope that is set before us; or whether we be resting satisfied with some attainments of our own, and only complimenting Jesus with the name of Saviour, without labouring to obtain an interest in him, and cleaving to him with our whole hearts. The exercises of our soul this very day will suffice to shew us, in a great measure, to which of these classes we belong: and whether we be not of those who shall “die in their sins, and never be with Christ where he is.” Beyond all doubt, the unbelieving soul will be excluded from his presence, and never be suffered to taste of his saving benefits.]

Does this appear uncharitable? Then let me remind you, that it is the declaration, not of a fallible man, but of our Lord himself; and let me set before you,

II. The grounds and reasons of it—

It were quite sufficient that our Lord has declared it, even though we were not able to account for that which he has spoken: but we may well and satisfactorily account for the exclusion of such persons from the presence of God, and from the felicity of heaven. For,

1. There is nothing in heaven suited to their taste—

[What do those persons affect as their supreme happiness on earth? Do they say with the Psalmist, “Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us [Note: Psalms 4:6.].” No: they desire nothing beyond the things of time and sense. Some indeed affect only carnal, whilst others delight themselves chiefly in intellectual, pursuits: but still the objects of their desire belong to this world only; and there is no scope for the enjoyment or pursuit of them in heaven. Here a man may have sensual gratifications of various kinds. But feasting, and dancing, and music, and all the other things which are here considered as sources of happiness, terminate with this life: and the man who derives all his satisfaction from them, will find nothing in heaven to please his appetite. And on this very account heaven would be no heaven to him, but only like a prison, where nothing palatable, nothing desirable was afforded to the unhappy tenant. He would be altogether out of his element: and what would be happiness to others, would be misery to him.]

2. They have an utter incapacity to enjoy heaven, even if they were admitted there—

[Supposing for a moment, as our Lord says, that, “instead of coming into that sheepfold through the door, they have climbed up some other way,” and obtained by some artifice admission into the assembly of the just; what pleasure could they find either in the company or the employments of heaven? Could they delight themselves in a Holy God, whose purity would appal them, and who could not look upon them but with the utmost abhorrence [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.]? Could they find pleasure in the sight of that Saviour, whom they have all their life long despised, and whose very “blood they have trodden under foot” by continuing in sin? Would the presence of the glorified saints and angels be any source of comfort to their minds? With no one of them would they have the slightest possible communion: nor would so much as one of those holy beings admit them into their society. Methinks such persons getting into heaven, would resemble King Uzziah, who went into the temple of God to offer incense: the priests, filled with disgust at his leprous state, “thrust him out thence; yea, he himself also hasted to go out [Note: 2 Chronicles 26:20.]:” so little did the sanctuary of the Most High God become him, and so little would their intrusion prove a source of happiness to them.

But neither would they find any comfort in the employments of heaven. Never having obtained favour with God, or an interest in the Saviour’s merits, they could never join in the songs of praise which are offered there continually by the whole assembly of the redeemed. Nay, as in a concert here on earth, a man unskilled in music, with an inharmonious voice, and an instrument untuned, would, by his efforts to join the choir, only disturb the harmony of the whole, so it would be with them in heaven, where their every note would produce the most hateful discord, and their odious deformity create one universal feeling of disgust.]

3. They are excluded from heaven by an absolute and irreversible decree—

[Persons are not the subjects of God’s reprobation: characters are. When St. Peter says, that “some stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto they were appointed [Note: 1 Peter 2:8. See Doddridge on the place.],” the meaning is, not, that they were appointed to stumble or to disobey, but that God had appointed, that they who would not obey the word, should find it a stumbling-block to them; and that they who would not make it “a savour of life, should find it to be a savour unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].” Now God has ordained that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9.]:” and that into heaven “nothing shall enter that defileth [Note: Revelation 21:27.].” In particular he has declared, that even the friendship of the world is incompatible with love to him [Note: James 4:4.], and that he who believeth not in Christ, shall perish everlastingly [Note: ver. 24. with John 3:36.]. Now I ask, Will God reverse these decrees for us? Will he act contrary to his word for us? “Is he a man, that he should lie, or the Son of man, that he should repent? Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good [Note: Numbers 23:19.]?” Know then, that “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die [Note: Romans 8:13.];” and to hope for heaven in a carnal and unconverted state is only to deceive your own souls.]

Let me then request of you two things:

1. Inquire what measure of preparation you have for the enjoyment of heaven?

[There is “a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light [Note: Colossians 1:12.].” There is a preparation of heart for it, without which heaven would be no heaven to you. An ignorant clown would find no pleasure in the conversation of men of science, or in the polished society of courtiers. He would soon wish to leave such scenes, and to return to the company that was better suited to his habits, and intelligence. Now in heaven there is one continued effusion of praise from every soul around the throne. Saints and angels join in one general chorus of praise and thanksgiving to God and to the Lamb. Inquire then whether you have learned that song? Inquire whether you have yet tuned your harps, that you may bear your part in that concert? If you have not yet learned to play the higher parts of praise and thanksgiving, can you at least sound the lower notes of humiliation and contrition? Nor think it hard to be put on this inquiry. It is not your minister, but an inspired Apostle, that calls for it at your hands: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobate [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.]?” Examine carefully whether the things of this world or the felicity of heaven be the higher in your esteem, and the object of your more diligent pursuit? You can easily ascertain your proficiency in earthly things: search then and see whether ye be growing daily in grace, and in a conformity to the Divine image? This inquiry will be made at last by the heart-searching God; and his sentence will be passed upon you in perfect accordance with your real state. I entreat you therefore to “judge yourselves” now, whilst “space is given you for repentance,” that you may not be judged of the Lord, when your state will be irremediable and final.]

2. Let the testimony of your conscience produce in you its appropriate effects—

[If conscience bear witness that you have lived to yourselves and to the world instead of living for God and for eternity, begin without delay to implore mercy at the hands of God, and to seek that renovation of heart and life, without which you cannot be saved. Withdraw yourselves from “the world which lieth in wickedness,” and give up yourselves to Christ as his redeemed people: and let it henceforth be your daily labour to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life — — —

But if you can call God to record, that, notwithstanding your many defects, you do indeed set your affections on things above rather than on the things of time and sense, then, rejoice and bless God for the work which he has wrought in your hearts; and look to him to “perfect in you the good work he has begun.” To you, beloved, I will reverse the text, and say, “Where Christ is, there shall ye be also.” In fact, he has promised, that “where he is, there shall also his servants be.” He has actually “gone before, in order to prepare a place for you; and he will shortly come and take you to himself, that you may be with him for ever [Note: John 14:22.].” In his intercessory prayer, he declared this to be his fixed purpose: “Father, I will, that they whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me [Note: John 17:24.].” Look forward then to that blessed period, when you will be no longer at a distance from him, but enjoy his presence, and inherit his glory, for evermore.]


Verse 24

DISCOURSE: 1652

DANGER OF REJECTING CHRIST

John 8:24 : If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.

THE necessity of faith in Christ, in order to salvation, is not to be considered as a mere arbitrary appointment: it arises out of the very state into which mankind are fallen: a state in which it would be impossible for them to enjoy God, even if they were admitted into his immediate presence. They are at present laden and defiled with sin; and could derive no comfort from the sight of a holy God. Their iniquities would for ever render them odious in his eyes, and him terrible in theirs. They must be cleansed from their sins, before they can hold any communion with him as a Father and a Friend. But they can never wash away their own sins; nor find any other means of expiation besides that which God has ordained, even the blood of his only dear Son. Nor is there any way in which they can be interested in Christ, but by believing in him. Here then we see, that, independent of any particular command respecting it, there is a necessity for faith in Christ, if ever we would be saved at all. For we cannot go to heaven with our sins upon us: and they cannot be removed, but by an atonement: and there is no atonement capable of removing them, but that of Christ; nor any means of being interested in his atonement but by faith.

That we may see this truth in its just light, we will go back to the preceding chapter. Our Lord had told his unbelieving hearers, that he should soon be withdrawn from them; and that, in consequence of their rejecting the light, “they would never be able to come where he was [Note: John 7:33-34.].” They, not able to comprehend his meaning, supposed that he intended “to go among the Gentiles:” whither they, on account of their religion, could not follow him [Note: John 7:35-36.]. The next day he renewed to them the same solemn warning; saying, “I go my way; and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins. Whither I go, ye cannot come [Note: ver. 21.].” On this, instead of humbly inquiring into his meaning, they scoffingly and impiously asked, “Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come [Note: John 8:22.].” ‘No,’ says our Lord, ‘your sins will be a very sufficient barrier to keep you from me. You are altogether, in every disposition of your hearts, directly contrary to me: and in this state you will be left till death: and so dying, it will be impossible you should ever come where I am going, that is, into the beatific presence of my Father: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins [Note: ver. 23, 24.].’ ”

Now, this solemn warning is as applicable to us as to those to whom it was more immediately delivered: and, that we may not slight it as they did, I will proceed to shew,

I. What is comprehended in the faith here spoken of—

At first sight, it appears as if nothing more were required than to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah; and that, consequently, all who bear his name may be considered as possessed of the faith here spoken of. But if we go back to the time of our blessed Lord, we shall see that the faith, of which he spake, comprehended,

1. A full persuasion of his Messiahship—

[This was necessary then: and it is no less necessary now. And we greatly mistake, if we think this a common attainment amongst those who call themselves Christians. The generality have no better reasons for believing Jesus to be the Messiah, than the Mahomedans have for their faith in that arch-impostor. I mean not however to say, that every Christian must have studied this point so accurately as to be able to answer all the objections of infidels: but, so far as to be able to “give a reason of the hope that is in him,” and to justify the reliance which he places on the Saviour, every true believer should have studied the point, and made up his mind upon it. Circumstances, I grant, may have been so unfavourable to the attainment of this knowledge that a person’s views may be very indistinct: but, where these have not been such as to preclude a reasonable hope of his acquiring this necessary information, a want of it may well cause him to doubt whether he has ever possessed any true faith at all.]

2. A cordial acceptance of him under that character—

[A speculative assent to the mere abstract truth of his Messiahship was never such a faith as he approved. Many there were who could not resist the evidence of his miracles, who yet were regarded by him as no better than aliens, in whom he could place no confidence [Note: John 2:23-25.]. To exercise faith aright, we must receive him in all his offices: we must view him as that Prophet, whom God has sent by his word and Spirit to enlighten us: and as that Great High-Priest, who has made atonement for us, and now intercedeth for us within the vail: and as that King also, who is to reign over us, and to have “every thought of our hearts brought into captivity” to his holy will. Here, then, the subject before us opens to our view. Faith is not a speculative assent; but a practical affiance, that leads us to the Saviour for every thing that we stand in need of, for “wisdom, for righteousness, for sanctification, and for complete redemption.” Then only do we truly believe, when we can say with the Apostle Paul, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].”]

3. An entire devotion to him, as his disciples—

[This our Lord expressly required of all his followers: “If any man will be my Disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Nay, he required that this should be done in defiance of the whole world. He declared, that if any man hated not his father and mother, yea, and his own life also, in comparison of him, he could not be his Disciple. Now, all this is essential to true faith. Whatever was requisite in those days, is requisite still. A man must be wholly given up to Christ; having no will but his; and no object, but to advance his glory. If we have true faith, we shall “henceforth live no more to ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again.”]

Nothing less than this will constitute a living faith: and our Lord’s assertion in relation to it clearly marks,

II. The importance of it to our eternal welfare—

To “die in our sins” is a most fearful doom—

[The man, so dying, goes into the presence of his God with all his sins upon him; with those of early childhood, and those of inconsiderate youth, and those of maturer manhood, yea, and those committed even to the very hour of his departure hence. Alas! what a catalogue is here! a mass numerous and heavy as the sands upon the sea-shore! And for every distinct offence must the soul receive an appropriate recompence at the hands of God. O! who can conceive the anguish of the soul at the instant of its appearance at the tribunal of its Judge! With what horror must it shrink back, to hide itself, if it were possible, under rocks and mountains! And now, when challenged by his God, how mute is he, who once would vindicate himself with such assured confidence! Not for one action of his whole life can he now offer any excuse, nor urge any reason why he should not be consigned to the bottomless abyss in hell. Thither, therefore, is he cast, with all his sins upon him; nor carries he with him so much as a ray of hope to cheer those regions of darkness and despair. Now he knows, what once he was so averse to believe, what “a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the Living God.” Such is the doom that awaits the whole unbelieving world: “They drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and they are tormented with fire and brimstone, in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night [Note: Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46. Revelation 14:10-11.].”]

And this must be the doom of all who believe not in Christ—

[Our Lord has assured us of it: yea, he has repeated it again and again [Note: Shewn in the Introduction.]. And wherefore has he so solemnly affirmed it? Was he disposed to create unnecessary alarm? or did he feel any pleasure in denouncing woes? No: it was from love he spake: he desired the salvation of his hearers; and, therefore, whilst he encouraged them with words of grace, speaking to them with a wisdom and a tenderness that “never man spake,” he warned them of the consequences of rejecting his gracious invitations. Let it not, then, be thought unkind in us, if we also, “knowing the terrors of the Lord, persuade men [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:11.].” It is not to excite unnecessary fears that we thus speak, but to avert the judgments that are impending over your heads. We would not willingly grieve you; but we dare not “prophesy unto you smooth things; we dare not prophesy deceits.” Our God has told us, that, “if we forbear to sound the trumpet of alarm, our own souls must perish.” Nor will you be at all benefited: for “you will die in your iniquities; and your blood will be required at our hands [Note: Ezekiel 33:8-9.].” If you doubt the truth of what we affirm, look at the frequent appeals which God makes to yourselves — — — look at the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man believed not in Christ, nor gave himself up to him: and when he died, “he died in his sins:” and the next that you hear of him is, that he was “in hell, lifting up his eyes in torments.” His five brethren, who inherited his wealth, were following his steps; never dreaming whither he was gone, or whither they themselves were hastening. The man in torments earnestly entreated that one might be sent from the dead, to warn his surviving brethren of the certain issue of their course. But that favour could not be granted. They had Moses and the prophets: and, if they would not receive their testimony, no other would be given them. So then you may see the certain consequence of unbelief: and, if you will not credit the testimony of the Lord Jesus, nothing remains for you, but to feel to all eternity what you cannot now be prevailed upon to believe and shun [Note: Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 12:25; Hebrews 10:28-29.].]

Permit me now to recommend to you,

1. An inquiry into your state, in relation to this matter—

[Do not take it for granted that you are believers in Christ. The Jews thought that they believed Moses, whilst they were acting in direct opposition to his words. And, as they deceived themselves, so do ye, whilst you imagine that you can be saved in any way but that of a total surrender of yourselves to Christ. You must be Christ’s now, if you would be his hereafter: and if you will not give yourselves up to him, you must “die in your sins.” I know how averse we are to believe this. Of the thousands that die around us daily, we never entertain a thought whether they died in their sins or not? It seems to us a matter of course, that a person dying goes to a state of happiness: and if a doubt were expressed in relation to the happiness of any one connected with us, we should resent it as the grossest insult. But, I pray you, brethren, whatever charity ye exercise towards others, be careful not to deceive yourselves. Others you may well “leave to their own Master:” but respecting yourselves let no doubt be suffered to remain. Call to mind the description we have before given of a saving faith, and examine yourselves by it. This is the advice of the Apostle Paul: “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.].” Let your state be ever so good, you can suffer no loss by self-examination: the gold sustains no injury by being tried by the touchstone: nor can ye, if true believers, by the strictest scrutiny. I entreat you, therefore, to “prove your own selves: so shall you have rejoicing in yourselves alone, and not in the delusive testimony of others [Note: Galatians 6:4.].”]

2. A consideration of the doom that awaits the unbelieving soul—

[Doubtless, such a consideration must be painful. But yet, how much better were it to reflect on that doom, whilst by timely penitence it may be averted, than to sustain it through the endless ages of eternity. Reflect, I pray you, what it is to die in your sins? Think what your state would have been at this very hour, if you, by disease or accident, had been taken unprepared into the presence of your God? Ask yourselves, Whether at this moment you have any scriptural ground to believe that your sins have been blotted out; and that, if you were removed hence this very night, your transition would be from a world of vanity to a world of bliss? Think of the unhappy souls that are now gone beyond the reach of mercy; the hearers of our Lord, for instance, who would not regard his warnings, but turned them into ridicule: Would they, think ye, make light of such warnings now, if for a few short hours they could be restored to your state? Ah! think how soon their state may become yours! Methinks the very possibility of such an event is enough to make you tremble. “To-day, then, whilst it is called to-day, harden not your hearts, lest you provoke God to swear, in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest.”]

3. An attention to the blessed truth which our text implies—

[When our Lord says, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins,” who does not see what a glorious promise is implied in it; that, if we do believe in him, we shall not die in our sins? Yes, this blessed truth is declared throughout the whole Scriptures. Hear what the Apostle said to the jailor. Under a dread of God’s wrath, the convinced sinner cried, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and the answer which the Apostle gave was clear and full: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and thou shalt be saved [Note: Acts 16:31.].” The same say I to you: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through the Lord Jesus Christ is preached unto you the remission of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Acts 13:38-39.].” O! it is a blessed truth, that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus [Note: Romans 8:1.]!” Their iniquities are blotted out, as “a morning cloud [Note: Isaiah 44:22.]:” they stand before God “without spot or blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:27.];” “nor does God himself behold any iniquity in them [Note: Numbers 23:21.].” Believe, then, in Christ, and “live unto him; so, whether living or dying, ye shall be the Lord’s [Note: Romans 14:8.].”]


Verse 36

DISCOURSE: 1653

THE LIBERTY WHICH CHRIST GIVES HIS PEOPLE

John 8:36. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

WE are exceedingly backward to acknowledge our true state and condition. In consequence of this we disregard the remedy provided for us, and deprive ourselves of all the blessings of salvation. Nevertheless our gracious Saviour endures us with much long-suffering, and repeats to us the overtures of love and mercy. Thus he acted towards those who denied their need of freedom [Note: He might have shewn that their assertions were false: for their ancestors had been in bondage both in Egypt and in Babylon; and at that very time the whole nation was under the Roman yoke. But our Lord waved the subject of civil liberty, and fixed their attention on a freedom of a very different kind: he shewed them that, though they were the natural descendants of Abraham, they were the servants of sin, and should on that account, like Ishmael, be cast out: while they only, who were the sons of promise, should, like Isaac, abide in the house for ever. (Compare ver. 35. with Galatians 4:28; Galatians 4:30.) Then, speaking of himself as in a more peculiar manner “the Son,” and as the seed in whom all nations should be blessed, he again repeated his offer, and encouraged them to accept it.]: thus also he addresses himself to us at this time.

It will be profitable for us to consider—

I. In what respects we are in bondage—

We of this nation may justly boast of our civil freedom; but we are, like all the rest of our species, under spiritual bondage.

1. Under the curse of the law—

[The law of God requires perfect and perpetual obedience. It denounces also a curse against us for every transgression [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. Its precepts have been violated by us in ten thousand instances [Note: Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23.]. We all therefore, without exception, are obnoxious to its curse. This may well be considered as a state of wretched bondage [Note: Galatians 3:23. ἐφρουρούμεθα συγκεκλεισμένοι strongly expresses the idea of close custody.].]

2. Under the power of sin—

[Sin has infected all the members of our body, and the faculties of our soul [Note: Psalms 53:3.]. What can be conceived to argue a state of slavery so much as this [Note: John 8:34.]? This construction is so obvious, that no Christian can doubt respecting it [Note: Romans 6:16.]. The church of old confessed her iniquities to have been a sore bondage [Note: Isaiah 26:13.], and St. Paul himself could find no better image whereby to express the evil and bitterness of his indwelling corruptions [Note: Romans 7:14; Romans 7:23.].]

3. Under the tyranny of Satan—

[The influence of Satan over us is often denied and ridiculed; but the wickedness of men is ascribed in Scripture to his agency [Note: Ephesians 2:2.], and every impenitent sinner is expressly said to be in bondage to him [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.].]

4. Under the fear of death—

[Many will shew a contempt for death on a field of battle, but all fear it in its more gradual approaches. Hence even the bravest are averse to meditate on death and judgment. This is declared to be a state of wretched bondage [Note: Hebrews 2:15.].]

Surely the Egyptian or Chaldean yoke was light in comparison of this; yet all may obtain a release from this yoke.

II. How we may be delivered from it—

Vain are all attempts to liberate ourselves by our own strength—

[We cannot make satisfaction for one single breach of the law. To do this were beyond the power of the highest archangel. Nothing but the blood of Christ can ever atone for sin [Note: Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11-12; Hebrews 10:14.]. We cannot by any means renew and sanctify our own hearts. There is not in us a sufficiency even to think a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]. Our inclination and ability to do good can come from God alone [Note: Philippians 2:13.]. It is not in the power of fallen man to resist the assaults of Satan. There is provided for us armour of a heavenly temper, and in that alone can any man hope to obtain the victory [Note: Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:13.]. We are no less unable of ourselves to disarm death of its sting. In spite of all our efforts its terrors will appal the stoutest heart.]

But “the Son” of God is able and willing to deliver us—

[Christ, as “the Son,” is heir and Lord of all things [Note: Hebrews 1:2.]. The very intent for which he came into the world was to give us liberty [Note: Isaiah 61:1.]. He has paid down his own life as the price of our redemption [Note: 1 Peter 1:18-19.], and therefore may claim us as “his purchased possession.” He is also commissioned to liberate us by his power [Note: Luke 11:20-22.]. All fulness resides in him for this very purpose [Note: Psalms 68:18.]; nor will he withhold this blessing from any believing soul [Note: John 1:12.].]

Unspeakably blessed are they to whom this blessing is vouchsafed—

III. What glorious liberty we may obtain—

The liberty which sinners enjoy is merely ideal; but that which Christ will give, is real and substantial [Note: ὄντως.].

1. He will free us from all our bondage—

[The law shall never be suffered to execute its curse upon us: [Note: Romans 8:1.] Christ gave himself up as our surety, on purpose to redeem us from it [Note: Galatians 3:13.]: it shall have no more power over us than a dead man over the wife that survives him [Note: Romans 7:1-4.]. Sin also shall be cast down from the throne which it has erected within us; nor, though it may renew its assaults, shall it ever regain its dominion [Note: Romans 6:6-14.]. Christ will never suffer this great end of his death to be frustrated [Note: Titus 2:14.]. Satan himself too shall yield to the all-conquering arm of Jesus [Note: Romans 16:20.], and flee from the face of the very meanest of his saints; [Note: Contrast 2 Timothy 2:26. with James 4:7.] Nor shall death appear any longer formidable as an enemy [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:55.]; it shall be accounted our gain, and numbered amongst our treasures [Note: Philippians 1:23. 1 Corinthians 3:22.].]

2. He will introduce us to a state of perfect freedom—

[There is “a glorious liberty into which God’s children shall be brought.” Christ will pour into their hearts a spirit of adoption [Note: Romans 8:15.], and admit them to the most intimate fellowship with himself [Note: Revelation 3:20.]. The most difficult duties also he will render pleasant to their souls [Note: Psalms 119:32.]; nor will he confine his blessings to this present life. To all eternity shall his redeemed delight themselves in him: their capacity of enjoyment shall be inconceivably enlarged; and every power be freely exercised in its proper functions.]

Inferences—

1. How glorious a Saviour is Jesus Christ!

[There is no bond-slave whom he will not liberate. He offers too this liberty “without money, and without price.” He even esteems himself glorified in conferring it upon us. Let us all admire and adore his goodness, and by faith apply to him for this perfect freedom.]

2. How just will be the condemnation of those that perish!

[None ever perish but through their own fault; their condemnation is the consequence of their obstinate attachment to the bonds in which they are held [Note: John 3:19.]. O that men would reflect how they will one day condemn themselves! Let it be remembered that such offers of mercy will never be made to us in the eternal world. This is a day of grace; but there will come a day of vengeance [Note: Isaiah 61:2.]. Let every one then lay the blame where it is justly due, and follow without delay the salutary advice of David [Note: Psalms 2:12.]—]


Verse 39

DISCOURSE: 1654

THE TRUE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM

John 8:39. If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.

THERE is in men an extreme readiness to deceive themselves in reference to their state before God. Any delusion, however absurd, shall serve them for a ground of hope; and they will cling to it with as much confidence as if it were an express declaration of God himself. The Jews conceived that the mere circumstance of their descent from Abraham was sufficient to justify their expectation of the Divine favour, at the very time that they were living in all manner of iniquity. John the Baptist expostulated with them upon this head: “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.” St. Paul also warned them, that “all were not Israel who were of Israel; neither, because they were all the seed of Abraham, were they therefore, in a higher and more refined sense, his children [Note: Romans 9:6-7.].” No: “if they were Abraham’s children, in this sense,” they, as our blessed Lord here told his persecutors, would do the works of Abraham. Here we have a test whereby our spiritual relation to Abraham may be ascertained: and we shall do well to consider it,

I. For the informing of our judgment—

The more we enter into the true import of this declaration, the more shall we be convinced that it contains,

1. A reasonable test—

[There are enthusiasts in the world who will persuade themselves that they are the Lord’s people, because they have had a revelation of it from heaven, or a dream whereby it has been made known to them; or, because they have had some portion of the Holy Scriptures applied to their souls in so forcible a manner as to convince them that the testimony came to them from God himself. But all this is a mere delusion. I say not that God may not reveal to any man whatsoever he pleases: but I do say, that we have no reason whatever to expect that God will make known to us, by revelation, any thing which, without such a miraculous interference, may be easily and safely deduced from his blessed word. He has told us, that “a tree is to be known by its fruits;” and that the same means whereby we ascertain the quality of what is natural, must be used for the discovering of what is spiritual; or, in other words, that men are to be known and judged by the fruits which display themselves in their lives. This we all acknowledge to be reasonable, in forming our estimate of a tree; and it is no less so as a test for discovering the state and quality of our souls.]

2. An impartial test—

[There is no man whatever who may not here find a glass in which to behold his own face. The old, the young, the rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, may all judge themselves by this test. Of course, some allowance must be made for the different capacities of men, and the different opportunities which they have enjoyed of serving God. We do not expect the same degree of improvement from one who has possessed but two talents, which we look for from him who has had ten talents committed to his care. “From him to whom God has committed much, he will expect the more.” But, making due allowance for these circumstances, every child of man may apply to himself this test, and may form, by means of it, a just estimate of his real character.]

3. A certain test—

[We are assured, by our Lord himself, that “a good tree cannot bring forth corrupt fruit, nor can a bad tree bring forth good fruit.” There is but one principle in the world that will sanctify the soul, and that is faith. And this principle, if genuine, cannot but be productive of universal holiness. Hence we may lay it down as an infallible rule: “By this, the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: he that doeth not righteousness, is not of God [Note: 1 John 3:10.].”]

Now, then, let us adopt this test,

II. For the trying of our state—

Of course, our first endeavour must be to learn what were Abraham’s works; for, till we have ascertained that point, we cannot institute a comparison between him and us, or learn with any accuracy how far we resemble him. Now, our Lord complained of his hearers, that, instead of believing his word and obeying his voice, they sought to kill him: “Now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth which I have heard of God. This did not abraham.” No:

Abraham believed all that God revealed to him, and obeyed all that God commanded him—

[God revealed to him, that he should have, by Sarah, a son, from whom should proceed a progeny numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sands upon the sea-shore; and, finally, a seed, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. But no less than five-and-twenty years did he wait for this promised seed; even till, according to the course of nature, he could not have a child; he being one hundred years old, and Sarah ninety. But did his faith fail him? No: “he never once staggered at the promise through unbelief;” but against hope, he believed in hope; “being fully persuaded, that what God had promised, he was able also to perform [Note: Romans 4:16-21.].”

At the same time that this revelation was given him, a command was also issued, that he should “leave his country, and his kindred, and his father’s house; and go to a land which should in due season be pointed out to him [Note: Genesis 12:1-4.]:” and without hesitation did he yield obedience to this strange mandate [Note: Hebrews 11:8.]. Another more remarkable command was given him afterward, even to take this very child of promise, and offer him up for a burnt-offering on a mountain that should be pointed out to him. Instantly, without so much as communicating with his wife upon the subject, he took the lad, and prosecuted his journey with him, for the space of three days, to the place appointed; and there proceeded to offer him up, in the way that had been enjoined. Here was another act of obedience that never had its parallel since the foundation of the world [Note: Hebrews 11:17-19.].]

Now, then, see whether you do these works of Abraham—

[Of course, we have not ourselves received either the same revelations or the same commands. But we may see whether we have the same principle of faith as he, and whether it operate to produce the like obedience. To us is that Promised Seed revealed; and we are told to look for all blessings from him. Yes, Christ is that Promised Seed, in whom alone can any child of man obtain the blessings of salvation. Are we then going to him, and relying on him, and receiving from him all that we need for the salvation of our souls? Are we looking to him daily, and to him alone, for “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and complete redemption?” O! inquire whether you are thus living a life of faith on the Son of God, as having loved you, and given himself for you — — —

Then see, whether, in compliance with God’s command, you have come out from the ungodly world, and set out upon a journey towards that land, that good land flowing with milk and honey, which, however, you never have seen, nor can see till your pilgrimage shall have come to a close. And are you, in your way thither, sacrificing to God your dearest interests and most darling lusts? Say, do you take your very Isaac, and sacrifice him with your own hand? This will shew you whose children you are: for none but a child of Abraham can ever so resemble that father of the faithful: whilst it is equally certain that “every child of his will thus walk in his steps [Note: Romans 4:12.].”]

Application—

1. Make use then, I pray you, of this test, for the ascertaining of your state—

[You are not Christians because you were born of Christian parents, and have been educated in the Christian faith. True Christianity is seated in the heart, and displays itself in the life [Note: Romans 2:28-29. Cite, and expatiate on this.] — — — And remember, there is no medium between children of God and children of the wicked one: so that, if it cannot be said with truth that God is your Father, it must be said, “Ye are of your father the devil [Note: ver. 44.]:” and with him must you take your portion, even “with him, whose ye are, and whom ye serve.” I pray you, then, “examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; and prove your own selves” with the utmost diligence; lest, while ye call yourselves Abraham’s children, and hope to “sit down with him for ever in the kingdom of your God,” you be disclaimed by him at the last, and be “thrust out of the mansion [Note: Luke 13:28.]” where he dwells, and where no unclean thing can ever enter.]

2. And use also this example as a stimulus to your exertions—

[See the heights to which your father Abraham attained; and strive, to the utmost of your power, not to come short of them — — —]


Verse 42

DISCOURSE: 1655

LOVE TO CHRIST A TEST OF OUR RELATION TO GOD

John 8:42. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me.

IF experience did not convince us, we could scarcely believe that presumption should be so rooted in the heart of man as we find it is. That it should exist, not only without any grounds, but in opposition to the strongest possible evidence, and be held fast with a pertinacity which nothing can shake, is truly surprising. Yet so it is: men believe that God is their Father, though not one feature of his image is found upon them, and their resemblance to Satan is complete. The Jews accounted themselves children of God merely because of their carnal descent from Abraham, his friend: and when our Lord endeavoured to shew them, from their works, that they could have no spiritual relation either to Abraham or to God, they could not so much as understand his words; so strange and incomprehensible did his distinctions appear. But, as he had just before shewn them that their works disproved their relation to Abraham, so now he appeals to their works as undeniable evidences that they were not children of God; “If God were your Father, ye would love me.”

In discoursing on these words, we shall,

I. Consider the test here proposed—

Our Lord is proving that his obstinate opponents neither were, nor could be, children of God: and he gives them a test whereby they may try themselves. Now this test was the most easy, and most certain, that could be imagined: for if they were children of God,

1. They would have in themselves a disposition to love—

[God is love; and all his children bear his image, especially in this particular. However vile they may have been in their unregenerate state, “living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another,” by regeneration their evil dispositions are mortified, and a spirit of humility and love becomes the governing principle of their souls. This change is universal: it is the leading feature by which every child of God is known. The want of it, whatever else we may possess, infallibly proves us children of the wicked one. “Though we should know all the mysteries of our holy religion, and have a faith that can remove mountains, and give all our goods to feed the poor, and even give our bodies to be burnt for Christ, if we had not the principle of love in our hearts, we should be only as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.”]

2. They would find in Christ whatever was suited to conciliate their regard—

[This our Lord particularly specifies. He had “proceeded and come forth from God,” in a way in which no creature ever had [Note: The terms here used, being never used in reference to any other person, are supposed to denote his eternal generation. But though there is ground for the remark, we would not lay much stress upon it.]. He was the Messenger of the Lord of Hosts: he had not come of his own mind, like the false prophets, but was sent from God; as his credentials abundantly testified. Nor was he doing his own will, but the will of Him that sent him: nor did he seek his own glory, but the glory of Him that sent him. Seeing then that he was the Father’s Messenger to them; that he was come not only to reveal the way of salvation to them, but to obtain salvation for them, by bearing their sins in his own body on the tree; seeing that in the prosecution of this work he had displayed such unerring wisdom, such indefatigable diligence, such invincible patience, such almighty power, and such unbounded love; could they do otherwise than love him, if they were children of God? Could they be blind to so much excellence, and insensible of so much kindness, if God were their Father? Impossible. It could not be that God should leave his own children so much under the power of the devil, as to reject the mercy he had prepared for them, and destroy the Messenger whom he had sent to redeem them.]

That we may see more clearly the suitableness of this test, we will,

II. Compare it with other tests which men devise for themselves—

Every man has some ground on which he builds his hopes, and some test whereby he tries his title to heaven. This test varies according to the attainments which each person has made, or thinks he has made, in religion; every one fixing his own standard, and so drawing the line as to include himself within the number of God’s elect. They are children of God, because,

1. They have committed no gross sin—

[Be it so: they have kept within the bounds which the world prescribes for our moral and religious conduct: but is this sufficient to prove them children of God? Yea, rather, does not the complacency which they feel in consequence of this partial obedience prove them indisputably to be children of the devil? What is, in fact, the language of their hearts? Is it not this? ‘It is needless to love and serve God: to obey his law is quite superfluous: all that we need to do, is, to abstain from gross sin: if we do that, we need not alarm ourselves about the displeasure of God: we are in no danger of perishing: we need not trouble ourselves about a Saviour: we have all the righteousness that God requires, and may look forward with confidence to our final acceptance with him.’ Yes, this, I say, is the language of their hearts: and I leave you to judge how far such a state of mind can be an evidence of their being children of God. In truth, all the gross sins that they could possibly commit would not more clearly prove them children of the devil, than this impiety: the weight and number of their sins indeed might be increased; but, as a test, nothing can be more decisive of their state, than such vain confidence as this.]

2. They approve of the doctrines of the Gospel—

[It matters little what doctrines we embrace, unless they operate to the renovation of our souls. Our Lord intimates that many will express a considerable degree of zeal in his cause, preaching his Gospel, and casting out devils in his name, who yet will be rejected by him at last, because they did not experience any sanctifying efficacy from his Gospel; “their saying, Lord, Lord, will not avail them any thing, because they did not the will of his heavenly Father.” Indeed a knowledge of the Gospel tends rather to aggravate the guilt of those who do not practically embrace it; because they sin against greater light, and against the convictions of their own conscience. The Jews were filled with zeal for the law of Moses, and were ready to put our Lord to death for supposed violations of it: but were they therefore children of God? No: though they pretended such high respect for the law, they did not themselves keep the law, as our Lord told them; and that very law would condemn them in the last day. It is plain therefore that an assent to any system of divine truth can never be an adequate test of our relation to God.]

3. They have experienced a change both in their views and conduct—

[This comes to nearly the same point as the two preceding: for the circumstance of our having formerly been more erroneous in our views, or more vicious in our conduct, can never make us right, if we stop short of that change which God requires. It is true that a reformation of our life seems to manifest the operation of divine grace, and in that view to sanction a confidence that we are children of God: but Herod still continued a child of the devil, notwithstanding, in compliance with John’s admonitions, “he did many things.” The stony-ground hearers are represented as experiencing a great and joyful change; and the thorny-ground hearers even bring forth fruit, and continue to do so to their dying hour; yet neither the one nor the other are acknowledged by God as his children, because they “bring not forth fruit unto perfection.”]

4. But view, in opposition to all these tests, the one which our Lord proposed to the Jews—

[That is perfect and complete; and will decide the point beyond all possibility of mistake. Let it only be clearly ascertained that we love Christ, and our relation to God will be unquestionable: for though it may be said, that the love of Christ is not of itself a performance of all our duty; yet it must be said, on the other hand, that it is a principle which will yield universal obedience: nor is it possible to have a true love to Christ in our hearts without loving, and longing to fulfil, the whole will of God. Whilst therefore the tests which men adopt for themselves are universally defective and fallacious, this is perfectly adequate to the end proposed: for no man can be a child of God who cannot abide that test; nor can any man be a child of Satan, if the love of Christ be found in his heart.]

Let us then proceed to,

III. Try ourselves by it—

The inquiry is simple: Do we love,

1. His person?

“To them that believe, he is precious;” “fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely.” Is he so to us? Have “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father?” Have we seen him to be “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person?” Have we seen concentered in him all divine and human excellence, so as to be constrained to say, “Who is like unto Thee?” And do we “account all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of him?” If we love him aright, our love to him must infinitely exceed all creature-attachment: life itself must have lost its value, in comparison of his will and his glory. To say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his,” must be the summit of our ambition, more in our estimation than ten thousand worlds. Inquire then whether this be indeed the habit of your minds? The splendour of the sun eclipses the feebler radiance of the stars: and in like manner will the glory of the Sun of Righteousness, if it be indeed beheld by us, cause all sublunary glory to vanish from before our eyes.]

2. His ways?

[“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,” saith our Lord himself. We know how strongly even creature-affection will operate to make us consult the wishes, and perform the will, of the object beloved: and the love of Christ will assuredly operate in the same manner: it will “constrain us to live, not to ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again.” His commandments, whatever self-denial they may require, will never appear grievous; but we shall account his service to be perfect freedom. In proportion as “God enlarges our hearts,” it will be our delight to “run the way of his commandments.” How is it then with us in this respect? Are we panting after higher degrees of holiness, and labouring with augmented diligence to do whatsoever will be pleasing in his sight? Are we “forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to that which is before,” accounting nothing attained whilst any thing remains to be attained, and longing to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God?” This, this is the fruit of love: and if we say that we love Christ whilst we are strangers to this frame, “we are liars, and the truth is not in us [Note: 1 John 2:4.].”]

3. His salvation?

[It cannot fail but that, if we love Christ, we must love that glorious plan of salvation which he has revealed to us, “and glory above all things in the cross of Christ:” there will appear a suitableness in it, a perfect correspondence with all our wants and necessities. The atonement which Christ has offered for us will be regarded with wonder and admiration, as the most mysterious fruit of divine wisdom, and the most stupendous effort of divine love. The opening made by it for the harmonious exercise and united display of all the divine perfections will fill the soul with rapture, and constrain it to vie with all the hosts of heaven in singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing: therefore blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”]

4. His glory?

[We shall not be indifferent to this, if we love him in truth: we shall wish that his name may be known, his salvation enjoyed, and his glory be exalted, throughout all the earth. As those who preceded his advent longed for his appearance upon earth, so shall we long for his fuller manifestation to the world, that heaven itself may be brought down to earth, and all the kingdoms of the world be his undivided empire. It will grieve us to see that any of the human race are ignorant of him, and that he is dishonoured by so many of those who enjoy the light of his Gospel: and we shall be praying from our inmost souls, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” If we can do any thing for the conversion of Jews or Gentiles, we shall gladly exert ourselves to the utmost; if by any means we may be the honoured instruments of extending his dominion, even though it should be only over the soul of one single individual.

What now does conscience say to these things? Have we indeed the love of Christ in us; and does it extend thus to every thing relating to him, his person, his ways, his salvation, his glory?]

Address—

1. To those who can stand this test—

[Happy indeed are ye, who, when Christ puts the question to you, “Lovest thou me?” can answer, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Ye assuredly are children of God; and, “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” — — — Yet remember, that your evidence of this relation exists only in proportion as the love of Christ reigns in your souls. If any sin whatever have dominion over you, your evidence is destroyed, or rather, it is evident you are not the Lord’s. This is so strongly asserted by God himself, that we would wish you never for one moment to lose sight of it, lest your presumption be like that of the Jews, and issue, like theirs, in everlasting ruin [Note: 1 John 3:6-10.].]

2. To those who are condemned by it—

[These, alas! are the great majority of the Christian world. If the love of self, or the love of the world, had been the test of our relation to God, then would he have had many children amongst us, whose evidence would be clear, and their claim indisputable. But we must stand or fall by another test, even by that proposed by our Lord himself [Note: Compare 1 Corinthians 16:22.]. See then what ye have to do. You have not to fulfil the whole law in order to become children of God; (that were indeed a hopeless case:) but to get the love of Christ in your hearts. And can you feel any backwardness to that? Methinks, the difficulty should be to refrain from loving him. Only think who he is; and what he has done and suffered for you: think what excellencies unite in him, and how great will be the comfort of loving him: think how willing he is to reconcile you to God, and to bring you into the family of heaven. Only believe in him, love him, and give yourselves to him; and all shall yet be well with you, both in time and eternity.]


Verse 46

DISCOURSE: 1656

UNBELIEF TRACED TO ITS SOURCE

John 8:46. If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?

ONE would reasonably suppose, that if Almighty God were to become a man, and to labour for the instruction of his creatures in a way of daily and familiar intercourse, and were to confirm his testimony by miracles without number, it would be impossible for men to withstand the influence of his word. But the experiment has been made; and men have shewn a degree of perverseness, of which one could scarcely have conceived them capable. Sometimes they would endeavour to justify their opposition, by accusing our Lord Jesus of violating the law of Moses. But they were invariably put to shame; the falsehood and malignity of their charges being exposed by him with unanswerable force and demonstration. It was to opponents of this description that he addressed the words before us: “Which of you convinceth me of sin? And, if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?”

From these words, I will take occasion to mark,

I. The prevalence of unbelief—

Men believed not even our Lord himself—

[He spoke to more advantage than any other person ever did: he spoke with more wisdom: his very enemies were constrained to say, “Never man spake like this man [Note: John 7:46.].” He spoke with more authority: in this respect he differed widely from the Scribes and Pharisees [Note: Matthew 7:29.], yea, and from Prophets and Apostles too: “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” was with him a common mode of uttering his instructions. He spoke with more grace, so that his adversaries themselves wondered at the gracious words that proceeded from his lips [Note: Luke 4:22.]. He confirmed his word with more miracles: for he alone, in the short space of three years, wrought more miracles than ever were wrought, either before or since, from the foundation of the world to the present moment. Moreover, in confirmation of all that he said, he appealed to Moses, whom the Jews themselves professed to venerate, and of whose inspiration they had no doubt. Yet the people would not believe him: though they could not controvert one word that he uttered, yet would they not receive his declarations. The tidings which he brought to them were such as one might have supposed they should receive with all readiness of mind: yet would they not believe him. He declared himself sent from God to be their deliverer from sin and Satan: and he assured them, that if they would believe in him, he would make them “free indeed [Note: ver. 36.];” free from the guilt of all their sins; free from the condemnation due to them; free also from the power and dominion of sin; and free to serve their God in newness of heart and life. But still it was all in vain: for they would not believe his testimony in any respect.]

Nor are his servants believed at this day—

[Every faithful servant of Christ bears the same testimony that Christ himself did; and his one object is, to commend Christ to men as the Redeemer of the world. We declare, that men are in a state of bondage; that no man can deliver himself; that Christ is sent of God to be the Saviour of the world; and that “all who believe in him shall be justified from all things.” We cannot work miracles in confirmation of this doctrine: but we can appeal to the miracles by which it was confirmed in the days of Christ and his Apostles. And not only to the Scriptures do we refer, in proof of our declarations, but to the authorized standard of truth contained in the Articles and Homilies of the Established Church. We bring also the very prayers which every member of the Established Church uses from time to time; and we do not hesitate to say, that every doctrine not contained in those formularies is undeserving of any serious regard. Yet will not men believe us, any more than they believed our blessed Lord. They will cry out against us, as introducing new doctrines, though they are so fully maintained by our own Church, and by all the Apostles and Prophets from the foundation of the world. Let a minister preach any self-righteous doctrines subversive of the Gospel, and he will be credited by all: but where the Gospel comes, a division immediately ensues; and, if some receive the word, vast multitudes will be found to reject it.]

To account for this unbelief, I will point out,

II. The source from whence it flows—

Men can give no satisfactory reason for it: for they have in their own minds somewhat of a conviction, that what they oppose is true. Hence our Lord said, and we also may adopt his words, “If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?” The true reason of men’s unbelief is, that they have within them “an evil heart,” from whence it proceeds [Note: Hebrews 3:12.]. In answer to our Lord’s question, then, I will tell you why you do not believe.

1. You will not inquire into what you hear—

[Men hear us, as they heard our blessed Lord: but they will not examine whether what they hear agrees with the voice of inspiration, or whether it corresponds with their own experience. We tell them of their guilt: we declare to them their danger: we make known to them the way of salvation: but whether they assent to what they hear, or dissent from it, they alike are sunk in unbelief; because they will not take the pains necessary for investigating the subject, or ascertaining the agreement of our statements with the truth of God. In this the inhabitants of Thessalonica shewed themselves peculiarly defective, whilst the Ber ζans prosecuted a wiser and better plan: “The Ber ζans were more noble than those at Thessalonica, in that they searched the Scriptures daily, to see if these things were so: and therefore many of them, it is said, believed [Note: Acts 17:11-12.].” If men will leave truth unexplored, it is no wonder if they doubt its excellence, or deny its very existence.]

2. You are averse to the truth, as far as it comes before you—

[Our Lord’s hearers “believed him not, because he told them the truth [Note: ver. 45.].” And so it is now. If we declare to you your undone state, you do not like to hear of it. If we affirm the impossibility of saving yourselves by any thing that you can (In, and the indispensable necessity of looking for salvation through Christ alone, you are offended, and represent us as depreciating good works, and encouraging licentiousness. If we call you to renounce the world, and to give up yourselves to the service of your God, you are displeased, because we would tear you from your idols, and call you to a life which you do not affect. Our Lord tells us, that “the world hated him, because he testified of it that its works were evil [Note: John 7:7.].” And this constitutes the peculiar guilt of unbelief; as our Lord has said: “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world; and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved: but he that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God [Note: John 3:19-21.].” We have a striking example of this in the chief priests and elders, who demanded by what authority our Lord drove the buyers and sellers from the temple. He, instead of giving them a direct answer, put a question to them concerning John, desiring them to say, “whether his baptism was from heaven, or of men.” They saw, that if they acknowledged it to be from heaven, he would ask, “Why then did ye not believe him?” and, not choosing to confess the truth, declined answering his question at all [Note: Matthew 21:23-27.]. Thus the same dishonesty prevails amongst us: and, even when convinced in our minds respecting the truth of a statement, we refuse to admit its truth, because it militates against our principles or habits.]

3. You are determined to hold fast your lusts, which are condemned by it—

[Men love the world, and will hear of nothing that requires them to renounce it. They desire to stand high in the estimation of men, and will not conform to sentiments or habits which will endanger the loss of it. They are often persuaded in their minds that what they hear is true and good; but then they consider how far their adoption of it will interfere with their worldly interests. Among the chief rulers, we are told, many believed on Christ: 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.].” And hence our Lord said to his hearers, “How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only [Note: John 5:44.]?” This is at the root of unbelief, in all instances where much instruction has been given; “Men hate to be reformed; and therefore cast God’s word behind them [Note: Psalms 50:17.].”]

Address—

1. Those who persuade themselves that they already believe—

[If an assent to the truths of Christianity were real faith, there would be no further room for that complaint which, all the Prophets and Apostles made, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed [Note: Isaiah 53:1.]?” But it is not faith; or, at least, it is only “the faith of devils [Note: James 2:19.].” Saving faith would bring you to a cordial reception of the Lord Jesus Christ in his proper character, as the Redeemer of men, and the Saviour of the world. The Jews denied that they were in bondage [Note: ver. 33.]; and so do the generality of men amongst ourselves: and hence they disregarded the offer of a Deliverer, as we also do. But this proved them to be in unbelief: and it proves the same respecting us. I pray you, brethren, deceive not yourselves with the idea that you are believers, whilst your faith is inoperative and unproductive. If your faith do not bring you to Jesus as your only hope; if it do not bring you to him to be made free indeed—free from sin, as well as free from guilt; I declare unto you, that you are yet in unbelief, “you are yet in your sins [Note: ver. 24.].” Whilst you imagine that an unproductive assent to the Gospel is saving faith, you deceive your own souls. You may call us Antinomians, for exalting the exclusive efficacy of faith to save the soul: but you are the Antinomians, who maintain your faith to be saving whilst it produces no sanctifying effects upon you.]

2. Those who think that they have no occasion for faith—

[It has been said, that his faith cannot be wrong, whose life is in the right. But no man’s life can be right, till he is united unto Christ by faith. He wants that principle which alone can sanctify the soul. But, let our sanctification be ever so perfect, will any man presume to put that in the place of Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Will any man rely on his own merits, rather than on Christ’s obedience unto death? Ah! fatal error! Not even Paul himself could be saved by the works of the law; and therefore he “desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in him [Note: Philippians 3:9.].” And in this way must every one of you be saved. You must renounce all dependence on yourselves, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ as your only hope. If you will not believe this, go and try the experiment: go and try by your own righteousness to satisfy the justice of Almighty God; and by your own arm to vanquish all your spiritual enemies. But both the one and the other of these things are impossible to mortal man: and therefore go with all humility to the Son of God; and know, that “if the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed.”]


Verse 56

DISCOURSE: 1657

ABRAHAM’S VIEWS OF CHRIST

John 8:56. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

ONE cannot read any of our Lord’s discourses without seeing the need of a spiritual discernment. For want of it, his hearers could not understand his plainest assertions. It being his object to convey spiritual instruction, he used such expressions as were suited to that end: but his hearers annexed only a carnal sense to them, and therefore conceived of him as talking like a maniac; “Thou hast a devil, and art mad.” One expression in particular gave them the highest offence: he had said, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death:” this they interpreted as relating to the death of the body; and, well knowing that Abraham and the prophets had all died, they could not endure such arrogance as that assertion implied; since it, in fact, exalted him above Abraham himself. Though they misconstrued his meaning, our Lord would not deny the inference which they drew from his words; but, on the contrary, confirmed it; and told them, that, contemptible as they thought him, Abraham himself had “eagerly desired to see his day [Note: This must be the sense of ἠγαλλιάσατο in this place; else there would be a manifest tautology.],” and, on being favoured with a sight of it, “had greatly rejoiced.” At this they stumbled still more: and, on being further assured by him that he existed before Abraham was born, they took up stones to stone him.

In the assertion before us, however ridiculous it appeared to their carnal apprehensions, is contained a most important truth: to illustrate which, we shall shew,

I. What were Abraham’s views of Christ—

To mark this with precision is no easy matter. If we suppose that Abraham understood the types as we do, his views of Christ were complete indeed: for, from the appearance of Jehovah to him in human shape [Note: Genesis 18:2; Genesis 18:22; Genesis 18:25; Genesis 18:27; Genesis 18:30.], he would behold the incarnation of Christ; and from Melchizedec, to whom Abraham himself offered tithes of all that he possessed, and from whom also he received a blessing [Note: Genesis 14:17-20.], he would know the everlasting priesthood of Christ, and the necessity of depending on him for all spiritual blessings. Moreover, from his being ordered to offer Isaac upon an altar on Mount Moriah (the very place where Christ was afterwards crucified;) and from Isaac being restored to him, when in Abraham’s purpose he was already dead; he would learn the sacrifice of Christ by the hand, as it were, of his own Father [Note: Isaiah 53:10.], and his resurrection from the dead. And as he is said to have made this offering “by faith,” and to have “received his son from the dead in a figure,” we are by no means certain that he did not see the mystery contained in that remarkable transaction [Note: See Hebrews 11:17-19.]. But we wish always to lean to the safe side in our interpretations of Holy Writ, and rather to assert too little than too much: we therefore content ourselves with ascribing to Abraham such views only as the New Testament writers have clearly assigned to him. He saw then,

1. The person and work of Christ as a Saviour—

[He saw that there was some particular person who should spring from him, distinct from, and superior to, all his other descendants [Note: Galatians 3:16.]. He saw that the covenant which God had condescended to make with him was confirmed and ratified in that particular individual [Note: Galatians 3:17.]. He saw that that person was to be a source of blessings to mankind; and that, not to one nation only, but to all the nations of the earth. He saw, that though the land of Canaan was promised to him and his posterity, this was not the only, or the chief, blessing which they were to inherit: on the contrary, he regarded Canaan only as a type of a better inheritance [Note: Hebrews 11:9-10; Hebrews 11:13-16.]; and saw distinctly, that grace and glory were the special benefits which the promised Seed should obtain for them [Note: Luke 1:68-75. Compare with Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:18.]. Whether he knew precisely in what manner Christ was to obtain these things for us, we do not undertake to determine; but that Christ was to be the one fountain of these blessings to the world, he knew assuredly: for on that very truth he grounded all his hopes of salvation.]

2. The method of a sinner’s justification through him—

[We are continually told, “that Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness.” But was it the act of faith that constituted his justifying righteousness before God? If so “he has whereof to glory;” (in direct opposition to St. Paul’s assertion); and he was saved by works, and not by faith only [Note: Romans 4:1-5.] (for faith, as an act of our own, is a work, as much as love, or any other act). No: it was by the object of faith that he was justified, even by that promised Seed, who died for him upon the cross: and it was to that promised Seed that he looked for a justifying righteousness before God [Note: Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:18.].

It may be said, in opposition to this, that St. James says he was justified by works, and particularly by offering up his son Isaac upon the altar [Note: James 2:21-23.]. But a very little consideration will suffice to shew, that he does not contradict the assertions of St. Paul. When was Abraham justified? I answer, the very moment he believed the declaration of God with respect to the promised Seed [Note: Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:5-6.]. But this was long before any of those acts of obedience for which we might suppose him to have been justified: it was no less than twenty-four years before he was circumcised [Note: Compare Genesis 12:4. with 17:1, 24 and Romans 4:9-12.]: and consequently, forty, if not fifty, years, before that act of obedience which St. James refers to [Note: Genesis 22:1-2.]. This indisputably proves, that the offering up of Isaac was not the ground of his justification before God; but that it was only an evidence of the truth and sincerity of that faith whereby he was justified. The righteousness of Christ was that by which he was justified; his faith was only the means of his justification; and his works were the evidence of his justification: by faith he apprehended Christ; and by offering up his son (from whom Christ was to spring), he shewed the reality and strength of his faith.

This great truth, that we are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one grand point in which the whole Gospel centers: and this point Abraham saw, not only in reference to himself, but in reference also to the whole world; as well those who should not derive their natural descent from him, as those who should [Note: Galatians 3:8-9.]. Other things he might see more or less distinctly; but this he saw as clearly as we ourselves can do; yea, happy would it be for many, if they saw it half so clearly as he did [Note: Romans 4:18-22.].]

From knowing what his views of Christ were, we shall be at no loss to say,

II. Why he so exulted in them—

Though we should estimate his knowledge by the lowest standard, the event which he foresaw could not fail of being a source of much joy to him,

1. Because of the mystery contained in it—

[Frequently does St. Paul characterize the Gospel as a “mystery that from eternity was hid in the bosom of God,” and as containing “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Colossians 2:3.].” Another Apostle represents the very “angels in heaven as desiring to look into it,” and to search out, if possible, its immeasurable extent [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-12.].

Do we wonder then that Abraham rejoiced in the manifestation of this to his soul? To see such a display of the divine perfections, all exhibited in the person of one who should spring from his loins; to see a descendant of his own effecting what all the angels in heaven would in vain have endeavoured to effect; to see him, by his own obedience unto death, bringing more honour to God than all the obedience of angels ever brought, and more good to man than he would have enjoyed if he had never sinned at all; I say, to see such “a day” as this, might well fill him with all the rapture that feeble mortality could sustain. When this mystery began to be more fully manifested in the incarnation of Christ, a multitude of the heavenly host, astonished, as it were, at the display of the Divine glory, commenced a new song, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men.” And from that period it has been the one theme of praise and adoration among saints on earth and saints in heaven. Yea, so glorious, so inexhaustible is the subject, that after millions of years it will be as new and interesting as ever: and to all eternity, notwithstanding it will be progressively unfolded to the admiring universe, it will be found to have a length and breadth, a depth and height, that can never be explored.]

2. Because of the benefits conveyed by it—

[If he had only his own personal benefit in view, he could not but rejoice: for, what an amazing benefit is it for a guilty creature to say, “Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song, he also is become my salvation [Note: Isaiah 12:2.]!” It is not possible for any one to have this sweet assurance, and not adopt the language of exultation actually used by the Church of old, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord: my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels [Note: Isaiah 61:10.].” Indeed it is said of every believer, that “though lie has not personally seen Christ, yet he cannot but rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and full of glory [Note: 1 Peter 1:8-9.].” But doubtless he looked to the salvation of a ruined world: and what joy must not that excite! See in what raptures David was, at the prospect which was opened to him [Note: Psalms 98. Read, and quote, the whole psalm.]! See how, at the period of our Saviour’s advent, every heart rejoiced! how Mary exclaimed, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour!” how the embryo infant, of six months’ existence only in the womb of Elizabeth, leaped for joy at the approach of the blessed Virgin, in whom the Saviour was but just formed [Note: Luke 1:44.]! Hear, at the time of his nativity, with what ecstatic joy the angels proclaimed his advent, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord [Note: Luke 2:10-11.]!” Hear how every person, to whose ears it was at all welcome, exulted in it! how Zacharias “blessed God;” and Simeon desired his dismission from the body, accounting that he had attained all that was valuable in life, now that he had seen and embraced the infant Saviour [Note: Luke 2:27-32.]! Behold, when salvation by Christ was proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, how all the converts forgot every personal concern, and spent all their time in blessing and praising God [Note: Acts 2:44-47.]. So it was, wherever the glad tidings were proclaimed [Note: Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39.]. No wonder then it was so with Abraham, when he heard, as it were, an universal jubilee proclaimed: his heart at least, if not his lips, gave vent to its feelings, in the expressive language of the prophet, “Sing, O ye heavens, for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein; for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel [Note: Isaiah 44:23.].”]

We cannot conclude without inquiring, What effect has the arrival of this day on you [Note: If this be preached on Christmas-day, it will admit of that application. But the true reference is to the gospel-day.]?

[How many who live under the meridian light of the Gospel have never yet attained the knowledge nor the joy that Abraham possessed, though he lived two thousand years before the Lord Jesus came into the world! The greater part of those who bear the Christian name, even when commemorating the Saviour’s advent, celebrate it only in a way of carnal feasting; thus making his being “manifested to take away our sins” an occasion of multiplying their transgressions against him. But woe be to those who so mock and insult the Saviour of the world: truly their mirth will have a very different issue from what they expect. I call upon you then to examine, what effect the contemplation of this mystery has produced on you? Has it filled you with admiration, and gratitude, and joy? and does this effect of it remain upon your mind from day to day? Tell me, if Abraham so exulted in it when he saw it only prospectively, and at the distance of two thousand years, should you view it with indifference, who are privileged to behold it in its meridian splendour? Methinks the frame predicted by the Prophet Isaiah, should be that of every soul amongst you: “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for him; we will be glad, and rejoice in his salvation [Note: Isaiah 25:9.].” My dear brethren, be not satisfied, if this be not your experience: be assured, you know nothing of the Saviour’s love, nothing, at least, as you ought to know it, if it have not produced this effect upon you. If you be Abraham’s children, you will “walk in the steps of your father Abraham,” believing in Christ, and rejoicing in him; not indeed in the prospect of his advent in the flesh, but in the prospect of that day which is now fast approaching, when all, both Jews and Gentiles, shall be gathered to him, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God — — — You will also look forward to that day, when he will come again in the glory of his Father, and of all his holy angels, to judge the world—for ever to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe.”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 8:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/john-8.html. 1832.


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