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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

John 16

Verse 5

CHRIST’S SORROWFUL SURPRISE

‘None of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?’

John 16:5

As we think over these words, spoken by our Lord on the night before He died, we may seem to discern through them a tinge of many feelings, no one of which completely characterises them. Sorrow and reproof and pity all occur to us as we try to imagine what may have been foremost in His thoughts as He spoke. And yet we feel, perhaps, that all these are held back and checked, as it were, from becoming predominant in the words, that they are flowing round rather than uttered through them.

But it can scarcely be doubted, I think, that there is in the complex and mysterious feelings that the words bear some element of surprise, and something that sounds almost like disappointment.

He had been preparing them for His departure. Two great groups of thoughts had been constantly before Him, constantly throbbing through His words: thoughts of His goal, thoughts of their need. And it was strange to Him that their minds should be so wholly absorbed in the latter, so unexcited and unconscious about the former.

I. The teaching of the words bears plainly on us all.—They bid us ask ourselves whether the great truth of our Lord’s victory and exultation, the disclosure of the height to which He has lifted manhood, has ever told on our thoughts and lives as He would have it tell. ‘None of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?’ We may almost imagine Him, brethren, speaking so to us with our poor views of human life, our subjection to sorrow, our despondency. Our loss of heart, our halting, timid aspiration show so little sense of His great victory of our sins, so little energy of thought and care about the glory whither He has entered.

II. The answer to the question, ‘Whither goest Thou?’ can indeed be given in this life, but partially and very gradually. So then let us ask, ‘Lord, whither goest Thou?’ and let us hear the reply in His own words, ‘To Him that sent Me.’

( a) The true calling of the human soul is into the very presence of Almighty God. It is for that that we somehow, somewhere, are beginning to prepare ourselves. Whatever hope we have must ultimately mount, if it is to be realised at all, to that height. There is no lower point at which it can in the end abide. The gap that must be spanned is indeed of inconceivable vastness. We may have given up thinking; we may never, perhaps, have adequately thought how far our present character falls below our ideal; and our ideal, confused and sinful as we are, must be very far below what once it might have been.

‘Lord, whither goest Thou?’ Again His words give the answer: ‘Unto My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ ‘To prepare a place for you; that where I am, there ye may be also.’

( b) Out of all misery and persecutions and oppressions the hearts of men in every age have been lifted up by that hope, by the revelation of their victorious Redeemer, waiting to bid them enter into His joy. ‘Behold, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.’ ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Those words of the first martyr Stephen have sounded on, more or less plainly and anxiously, through the manifold patience of the saints. We may wonder sometimes how men ever found the strength and courage that they showed for His Name’s sake; how, for instance, they ever bore to stand alone in the glaring space of the great amphitheatre, ringed round with hatred and contempt and laughter, waiting for the wild beasts to be let out on them. We may wonder at the quiet unconquerable love with which long years of trial are turned to means of grace and ways of witnessing for God.

( c) The minds of those mho so endured followed Christ in His ascending. They have dwelt on the disclosure of that Kingdom which He has opened for them. They have looked to Him, away from all that this world offers or inflicts. There is the secret of their independence and tranquillity. And perhaps we too may find that sorrow would have less power to fill our hearts, that anxiety would be less apt to hinder our prayers, that we could rise more freely above the cares of this life if we more often thought of our Lord beckoning to us, as it were, from the throne of His glory, holding out to us the hope He died to win for us, the joy of those who have tried to keep close to Him in this life, are led on to be with Him where He is in the life to come.

—Bishop F. Paget.

Illustration

‘How can the Christian busied only with earth ascend whither Christ has ascended? How can he who has all his treasure on earth find treasure also in heaven? How can he triumph if he has not suffered? How can he be glorified if he has not been humiliated? How can he be exalted if he has not been abased? How can he tread the Royal Courts of Heaven if he has not trodden the royal road of the Cross? What the Church of God needs to-day is not numbers, but consistent faithful followers: not addition, but subtraction. It needs not so much grafting as pruning; not planting, but weeding. It needs men and women who will do their duty without coaxing and wheedling; men and women who can stand alone, who, when they have done their duty, will not be expecting the praise of men, but who will find their reward in their service.’

Verse 7

BEFORE PENTECOST

‘It I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’

John 16:7

The men who had spent three and a half years with Christ would have been left utterly desolate and comfortless unless enriched by the advent of the New Comforter. But the promise was fulfilled. Their loss was turned to gain, their sorrow to lasting joy. Yes, it was good for these disciples that Jesus left them. They were far better Christians after Pentecost than when Jesus was in their midst.

Even the daily influence of the sinless Christ, known after the flesh, could not free them from the carnal mind.

I. It came out in their dread of the Cross.—They hated the thought of it, they would not listen to the Saviour when He wished to speak about it; so Moses and Elijah came down from heaven to give the sympathy which those carnal disciples could not give.’ ‘They spake of the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.’

II. It came out in their strange ignorance of spiritual truths.—‘I have meat to eat that ye know not of.’ They wondered who had given Him bread. ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ They thought it was because they had brought no loaves with them. ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’ They understood not the reference to one Sacrifice for sins, the antitype of the Passover Lamb.

III. And it came out in their narrow, mean, revengeful spirit.—They grudged their suffering Master the ointment that Mary so freely poured upon Him, ‘Rebuke him, Master,’ they cried, ‘for he followeth not with us,’ though he was doing a good work in the Master’s Name. ‘Send her away, for she crieth after us,’ of the poor heathen suppliant that sought deliverance for her devil-possessed daughter. ‘Shall we call down fire upon them from heaven?’ of some villagers of Samaria, whilst after Pentecost the same two men laid fatherly hands upon the believers in that district, the prototype of all our services for Confirmation or laying on of hands, and they received the Holy Ghost.

And the same change is wrought in every Christian who receives the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

—Rev. F. S. Webster.

Illustration

‘The expression, “I will send,” seems again to point to the equal procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son and the Father. In another place it is, “The Father will send.” Here, “I will send.” After all, no text throws more light on this deep verse than Psalms 68:18: “Thou hast ascended up on high, and received gifts for men; that the Lord God might dwell among them.” These words surely point out that the Holy Ghost’s dwelling among men was a gift purchased by the Son.’

Verse 7

BEFORE PENTECOST

‘It I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’

John 16:7

The men who had spent three and a half years with Christ would have been left utterly desolate and comfortless unless enriched by the advent of the New Comforter. But the promise was fulfilled. Their loss was turned to gain, their sorrow to lasting joy. Yes, it was good for these disciples that Jesus left them. They were far better Christians after Pentecost than when Jesus was in their midst.

Even the daily influence of the sinless Christ, known after the flesh, could not free them from the carnal mind.

I. It came out in their dread of the Cross.—They hated the thought of it, they would not listen to the Saviour when He wished to speak about it; so Moses and Elijah came down from heaven to give the sympathy which those carnal disciples could not give.’ ‘They spake of the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.’

II. It came out in their strange ignorance of spiritual truths.—‘I have meat to eat that ye know not of.’ They wondered who had given Him bread. ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ They thought it was because they had brought no loaves with them. ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’ They understood not the reference to one Sacrifice for sins, the antitype of the Passover Lamb.

III. And it came out in their narrow, mean, revengeful spirit.—They grudged their suffering Master the ointment that Mary so freely poured upon Him, ‘Rebuke him, Master,’ they cried, ‘for he followeth not with us,’ though he was doing a good work in the Master’s Name. ‘Send her away, for she crieth after us,’ of the poor heathen suppliant that sought deliverance for her devil-possessed daughter. ‘Shall we call down fire upon them from heaven?’ of some villagers of Samaria, whilst after Pentecost the same two men laid fatherly hands upon the believers in that district, the prototype of all our services for Confirmation or laying on of hands, and they received the Holy Ghost.

And the same change is wrought in every Christian who receives the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

—Rev. F. S. Webster.

Illustration

‘The expression, “I will send,” seems again to point to the equal procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son and the Father. In another place it is, “The Father will send.” Here, “I will send.” After all, no text throws more light on this deep verse than Psalms 68:18: “Thou hast ascended up on high, and received gifts for men; that the Lord God might dwell among them.” These words surely point out that the Holy Ghost’s dwelling among men was a gift purchased by the Son.’

Verse 8

THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE WORLD

‘And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.’

John 16:8

We are prepared to understand how it is that our Saviour should put His finger, as it were, upon the sin of the world, that He should have declared unbelief to be its characteristic sin—the sin which in the last resort will have proved the most hurtful of all.

I. ‘He shall reprove the world of sin because they believe not in Me.’—Unbelief is, or it issues in, the neglect or the rejection of God’s ‘great salvation.’ Many have exclaimed when they have weighed such words, ‘We never thought the sin of unbelief to be so serious.’ The world to-day is of the same opinion, and if we differ it is because the Spirit of God has taught us better.

II. But our Saviour says of the Holy Ghost, ‘He shall reprove the world of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more.’ If the world’s estimate of sin be defective, its estimate of righteousness must likewise be equally untrustworthy. He who does not regard sin as God views it, must be without true conceptions of righteousness, which is its opposite. The world does not recognise the truth that sin is at bottom the alienation of the heart from God and its idolatry of self. And further, the notions about righteousness current amongst men generally are very low compared with the standard which we find in the Sermon on the Mount. The world’s ideal of it does not excel even if it equals ‘the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’ which our Saviour rebuked in such scathing terms. Righteousness as He enforced it must be inward, it must be sincere, it must be all-embracing in its scope.

III. The Holy Ghost ‘shall reprove the world of judgment’; and the reason given is this, ‘because the prince of this world is judged.’ Now when the world’s sin, that is, its unbelief, is condemned, when its ideals of righteousness have been unmasked and shown to be inadequate, then it follows ‘that the prince of this world is judged.’ His overthrow is henceforward only a matter of time. He will not be suffered to go on ‘deceiving the nations.’ The Lord will consume him with the breath of His mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of His coming. It follows that the process of judgment has already begun. Christians condemn the prince of this world in the degree in which they become partakers of the spirit of Christ.

—Rev. F. K. Aglionby.

Illustration

‘ “This incident,” writes Bishop Moule of Durham, “is so far within my own ken that I remember seeing, in my early childhood, the dear and beautiful subject of it, the aged widow of a farmer in my father’s parish. My mother took me to visit Mrs. Elliot one day in her farm-kitchen. It was, I think, in 1848. I still see the brightness, the sweet radiance, of that venerable face; it shone, as I now know, with Jesus Christ. At the age of about eighty-one, after a life of blameless kindliness, so that to say she had ‘never done harm to any one’ was from her no unmeaning utterance, she was, through the Holy Scriptures, convinced of sin. ‘I have lived eighty years in the world,’ was her cry, ‘and never done anything for God!’ Deep went the Divine work in the still active nature, and long was the spiritual darkness. Then, ‘the word of the Cross’ found its own way in her soul, and ‘believing, she rejoiced with joy unspeakable.’ Three or four years of life were yet given her. They were illuminated by faith, hope, and love in a wonderful degree. To every visitor she bore witness of her Lord. Nights, wakeful with pain, were spent in living over the beloved scenes of His earthly ministry; ‘I was at the well of Samaria last night’; ‘Ah, I was all last night upon Mount Calvary.’ In extreme suffering an opiate was offered, and she declined it; for ‘when I lose the pain I lose the thought of my Saviour too.’ At last she slept in the Lord, gently murmuring, almost singing, Rock of Ages, with her latest voice. Wonderful is the phenomenon of the conviction of the virtuous. But it is a phenomenon corresponding to the deepest facts of the soul.” ’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CONVICTIONS OF THE SPIRIT

The word ‘reprove’ is an unfortunately weak rendering of the true meaning. It has been amended both in the margin and in the Revised Version. Instead of ‘reprove’ we have ‘convince’ and ‘convict.’ The difference is enormous. It has often been pointed out that to ‘reprove’ the world is no new thing. A thousand writers, sacred and profane, have reproved the world, and the world has given little heed. But the work of the Spirit is widely different. He shall convict those in whom He comes of sin, of their own sin; He shall convict them of the need of righteousness, of the beauty of holiness; He shall convict them of the judgment that has been passed once for all upon the spirit of worldliness.

I. Conviction of sin is the work of the Holy Ghost.—No other power, no other influence or means can produce it. It is the prerogative of the Spirit. It needs the thunderbolt power of God to penetrate through the toughened armour-plating of worldliness. Only the piercing light of His direct revelation can dispel the dark illusions that hinder our sight, and show us the disconcerting reality.

II. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict of righteousness.—The reason that he gives is ‘because I go to the Father.’ This sounds rather cryptic until we remember another statement concerning the same Spirit that ‘He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall show it unto you.’ The righteousness of which we are to be convinced is the righteousness of Christ—a righteousness so approved and acceptable to God that He Who possessed it could say, ‘I go to my Father.’ You will perhaps say this work is unnecessary. There is a conviction that says, ‘I am fully persuaded of the sinless righteousness of Jesus’ and yet remains impotent, and there is a conviction that brings this perception into vital relationship to the whole personality; that says ‘the righteousness of Christ must be my righteousness; that is the goal of my endeavour, the purpose of my life, the end and aim of my being, and I cannot rest until I have gained something of it, that so I may “come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” ’ This is the work of the Spirit.

III. We are to be convicted of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I think this is a statement concerning which many may err. They are likely to think that the judgment mentioned means the judgment of the Last Day. That, however, is not the meaning. It refers to the judgment which the life and death of Jesus have passed upon the spirit of the world. In the light of the Spirit we look back upon the tremendous conflict. On the one side is the rejecting and persecuting crowd dominated by the spirit of the world; on the other there are the life and death of the Man of Love and Righteousness. For a moment we are arbiters of truth. But the Spirit of Truth convinces us once for all that the prince of the world is tried, judged, condemned, and for ever discredited. Our eyes are open for a truer discernment. Henceforth we know that the standards of the world are false measures.

Rev. Walter H. Green.

Illustration

‘There is such a thing as an abortive, or fictitious, conviction, the cold result of a sheer dread of personal consequences, where the will all the while remains in itself centred on evil. The chaplain of a prison had to deal with a man condemned to death. He found the man anxious, as he well might be; nay, he seemed more than anxious; convicted, spiritually alarmed. The chaplain’s instructions all bore upon the power of the Redeemer to save to the uttermost; and it seemed as if the message was received, and the man were a believer. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the chaplain had come to think that there was ground for appeal from the death-sentence; he placed the matter before the proper authorities; and with success. On his next visit, very cautiously and by way of mere suggestions and surmises, he led the apparently resigned criminal towards the possibility of a commutation. What would he say, how would his repentance stand, if his life were granted him? The answer soon came. Instantly the prisoner divined the position; asked a few decisive questions; then threw his Bible across the cell, and, civilly thanking the chaplain for his attentions, told him that he had no further need of him, nor of his Book.’

Verse 8

THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE WORLD

‘And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.’

John 16:8

We are prepared to understand how it is that our Saviour should put His finger, as it were, upon the sin of the world, that He should have declared unbelief to be its characteristic sin—the sin which in the last resort will have proved the most hurtful of all.

I. ‘He shall reprove the world of sin because they believe not in Me.’—Unbelief is, or it issues in, the neglect or the rejection of God’s ‘great salvation.’ Many have exclaimed when they have weighed such words, ‘We never thought the sin of unbelief to be so serious.’ The world to-day is of the same opinion, and if we differ it is because the Spirit of God has taught us better.

II. But our Saviour says of the Holy Ghost, ‘He shall reprove the world of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more.’ If the world’s estimate of sin be defective, its estimate of righteousness must likewise be equally untrustworthy. He who does not regard sin as God views it, must be without true conceptions of righteousness, which is its opposite. The world does not recognise the truth that sin is at bottom the alienation of the heart from God and its idolatry of self. And further, the notions about righteousness current amongst men generally are very low compared with the standard which we find in the Sermon on the Mount. The world’s ideal of it does not excel even if it equals ‘the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’ which our Saviour rebuked in such scathing terms. Righteousness as He enforced it must be inward, it must be sincere, it must be all-embracing in its scope.

III. The Holy Ghost ‘shall reprove the world of judgment’; and the reason given is this, ‘because the prince of this world is judged.’ Now when the world’s sin, that is, its unbelief, is condemned, when its ideals of righteousness have been unmasked and shown to be inadequate, then it follows ‘that the prince of this world is judged.’ His overthrow is henceforward only a matter of time. He will not be suffered to go on ‘deceiving the nations.’ The Lord will consume him with the breath of His mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of His coming. It follows that the process of judgment has already begun. Christians condemn the prince of this world in the degree in which they become partakers of the spirit of Christ.

—Rev. F. K. Aglionby.

Illustration

‘ “This incident,” writes Bishop Moule of Durham, “is so far within my own ken that I remember seeing, in my early childhood, the dear and beautiful subject of it, the aged widow of a farmer in my father’s parish. My mother took me to visit Mrs. Elliot one day in her farm-kitchen. It was, I think, in 1848. I still see the brightness, the sweet radiance, of that venerable face; it shone, as I now know, with Jesus Christ. At the age of about eighty-one, after a life of blameless kindliness, so that to say she had ‘never done harm to any one’ was from her no unmeaning utterance, she was, through the Holy Scriptures, convinced of sin. ‘I have lived eighty years in the world,’ was her cry, ‘and never done anything for God!’ Deep went the Divine work in the still active nature, and long was the spiritual darkness. Then, ‘the word of the Cross’ found its own way in her soul, and ‘believing, she rejoiced with joy unspeakable.’ Three or four years of life were yet given her. They were illuminated by faith, hope, and love in a wonderful degree. To every visitor she bore witness of her Lord. Nights, wakeful with pain, were spent in living over the beloved scenes of His earthly ministry; ‘I was at the well of Samaria last night’; ‘Ah, I was all last night upon Mount Calvary.’ In extreme suffering an opiate was offered, and she declined it; for ‘when I lose the pain I lose the thought of my Saviour too.’ At last she slept in the Lord, gently murmuring, almost singing, Rock of Ages, with her latest voice. Wonderful is the phenomenon of the conviction of the virtuous. But it is a phenomenon corresponding to the deepest facts of the soul.” ’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CONVICTIONS OF THE SPIRIT

The word ‘reprove’ is an unfortunately weak rendering of the true meaning. It has been amended both in the margin and in the Revised Version. Instead of ‘reprove’ we have ‘convince’ and ‘convict.’ The difference is enormous. It has often been pointed out that to ‘reprove’ the world is no new thing. A thousand writers, sacred and profane, have reproved the world, and the world has given little heed. But the work of the Spirit is widely different. He shall convict those in whom He comes of sin, of their own sin; He shall convict them of the need of righteousness, of the beauty of holiness; He shall convict them of the judgment that has been passed once for all upon the spirit of worldliness.

I. Conviction of sin is the work of the Holy Ghost.—No other power, no other influence or means can produce it. It is the prerogative of the Spirit. It needs the thunderbolt power of God to penetrate through the toughened armour-plating of worldliness. Only the piercing light of His direct revelation can dispel the dark illusions that hinder our sight, and show us the disconcerting reality.

II. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict of righteousness.—The reason that he gives is ‘because I go to the Father.’ This sounds rather cryptic until we remember another statement concerning the same Spirit that ‘He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall show it unto you.’ The righteousness of which we are to be convinced is the righteousness of Christ—a righteousness so approved and acceptable to God that He Who possessed it could say, ‘I go to my Father.’ You will perhaps say this work is unnecessary. There is a conviction that says, ‘I am fully persuaded of the sinless righteousness of Jesus’ and yet remains impotent, and there is a conviction that brings this perception into vital relationship to the whole personality; that says ‘the righteousness of Christ must be my righteousness; that is the goal of my endeavour, the purpose of my life, the end and aim of my being, and I cannot rest until I have gained something of it, that so I may “come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” ’ This is the work of the Spirit.

III. We are to be convicted of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I think this is a statement concerning which many may err. They are likely to think that the judgment mentioned means the judgment of the Last Day. That, however, is not the meaning. It refers to the judgment which the life and death of Jesus have passed upon the spirit of the world. In the light of the Spirit we look back upon the tremendous conflict. On the one side is the rejecting and persecuting crowd dominated by the spirit of the world; on the other there are the life and death of the Man of Love and Righteousness. For a moment we are arbiters of truth. But the Spirit of Truth convinces us once for all that the prince of the world is tried, judged, condemned, and for ever discredited. Our eyes are open for a truer discernment. Henceforth we know that the standards of the world are false measures.

Rev. Walter H. Green.

Illustration

‘There is such a thing as an abortive, or fictitious, conviction, the cold result of a sheer dread of personal consequences, where the will all the while remains in itself centred on evil. The chaplain of a prison had to deal with a man condemned to death. He found the man anxious, as he well might be; nay, he seemed more than anxious; convicted, spiritually alarmed. The chaplain’s instructions all bore upon the power of the Redeemer to save to the uttermost; and it seemed as if the message was received, and the man were a believer. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the chaplain had come to think that there was ground for appeal from the death-sentence; he placed the matter before the proper authorities; and with success. On his next visit, very cautiously and by way of mere suggestions and surmises, he led the apparently resigned criminal towards the possibility of a commutation. What would he say, how would his repentance stand, if his life were granted him? The answer soon came. Instantly the prisoner divined the position; asked a few decisive questions; then threw his Bible across the cell, and, civilly thanking the chaplain for his attentions, told him that he had no further need of him, nor of his Book.’

Verses 8-9

THE REPROOF OF THE COMFORTER

‘And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin … because they believe not on Me.’

John 16:8-9

How does the Comforter convict us of sin? It is written, ‘Of sin, because they believe not in Me.’

I. The serious element in all sin is that it means the rejection of Christ.—You remember what Christ said of the Pharisees: ‘If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin.’ Once we have seen or heard Christ we are left without excuse for any sin.

II. As all true holiness comes from trusting Jesus, so all sin comes from failing to believe in Him.—Covetousness is the valuing ‘uncertain riches’ more than the living God Whose blessing maketh rich. Worldliness is the filling the heart with the love of pleasure, so that there is no room for the love of Christ. Selfishness and pride are just saying, ‘All of self and none of Christ.’ Yes, the evil of sin is that it closes the heart to Christ. A little more faith in His love, and you would not shrink from placing your whole life at His disposal. A little more confidence in His all-sufficiency, and you would lose all fear of men, and know that He can satisfy every longing of your heart, without any of the pleasures of sin, without any of the gains of unrighteousness.

III. The Comforter is the Advocate of Jesus in our hearts, it is His work to bring Jesus before us, to make us see Jesus, to keep us in remembrance of His perfect love.

This, then, is the reproof of the Comforter—not that our flesh is corrupt, our hearts unclean, our affections sordid, our resolution weak, but that whereas there is for us in Christ a perfect remedy for all this, we through our unbelief avail ourselves of it so little. We fail to enter into the fullness of blessing because we believe not in Christ.

—Rev. F. S. Webster.

Verse 12

MANY THINGS TO BE REVEALED

‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.’

John 16:12

Limited knowledge, even on the most deeply interesting subjects of human thought, is a necessity of our present state. These limitations on our knowledge of Divine things are for our profit—a merciful adaptation to our present needs and circumstances.

I. They show us our need of the illuminating influence of God the Holy Ghost.—The mental vision requires training. Darkness, in measure, will overhang our conceptions of the Divine Being under any conditions; but, for the ends of practical comfort, a good deal of this mystery disappears, according as our minds are ‘filled with the Spirit.’ The blind man at Bethsaida, in the first stage of his recovery, saw ‘men as trees walking.’ But, as the healing effect proceeded, and his eyes became strong enough to bear the light, he saw men no longer as trees, but as men. It will be so with us. In a little while we may be able to understand these things better, but we ‘cannot bear them now.’

II. But our Lord’s words are, no doubt, to he taken in a more absolute sense.—Many things He had to say which they could not bear to hear, because of their own transcendent vastness, their dazzling brilliancy; things which it would confound all mortal faculties to look upon (see Revelation 1:17; 2 Corinthians 12:4). We believe this to be the case with regard to many things which have yet to be told us concerning the mystery of the Divine existence. The only effect of such disclosures, if made to us now, would be to produce that blindness which comes of excess of light. Still, one comforting thought seems to underlie these words of our Lord—that, necessary and beneficial as this limited knowledge of Divine things is now, it will not always be so. ‘I have yet many things to say to you, and I will say them—but not now. What I am, what I purpose, what I do, thou knowest not now,’ the Holy One might say to each of us, but ‘thou shalt know hereafter.’

And, oh, how many are the subjects connected with the practical aspects of our faith; there is—

( a) The work of the Holy and Everlasting Three, in the perfecting of our salvation—our infinite obligations to the loving and pitying Father, Who devised from all eternity the scheme of our redemption. He calls us by His grace; He orders outward providences for our good; He chooses us as vessels of mercy. Are there no explanations to be given of these things? Or is it that we ‘cannot bear them now’?

( b) Again; will not the Blessed Jesus have many things to tell us concerning Himself? Must we not anticipate with joy the time when we shall be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of Christ’s love? This baffles us now. It is a ‘love which passeth knowledge.’ And—

( c) Will He not have many things to tell us of the work of God the Holy Ghost? At present all He has told us—doubtless all He considers we could bear to hear—is ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit’ ( John 3:8). And with this knowledge we must be content. We leave all those gracious but untraced dealings of God with our souls, just as we leave the great mystery of the Triune God, among the secret things which belong to the Lord our God ( Deuteronomy 29:29).

Enough that our Lord has told us many things—all, in fact, that it is necessary for us to know—the love of the Father, calling us; the Blood of the Son, atoning for us; the grace of the Spirit, sanctifying us; and the way opened for us thereby to a home in heaven, and the fruition of endless life in the Presence of God.

—Prebendary Daniel Moore.

Illustrations

(1) ‘A well-known writer has told us how she was taught by her mother the nature and attributes of God. “I asked my mother one day who God was, and I was told to come again the next day, and at the same hour; and I came and repeated the question, ‘Who is God?’ and she told me to wait another day, and then I should be answered. And then, when my curiosity was raised to the highest pitch, and when my sense of the importance of the subject was immensely enhanced by the repeated postponement of the answer, I came once more, and my mother explained, in words which I shall never, never forget, how great and awful and beautiful a Being God is, and what is told us about His attributes, about His relations to the world. And all this she did in simple words and as a child’s mind could bear it.” Such a lesson as that she was not likely to forget, and it was not forgotten.’

(2) ‘There is a picture of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette on their wedding day, which some of you may have seen, and which suggests this thought. All as yet looks as bright as a great position and the smile of friends and human cares and prospects can make it. The young couple are scarcely more than children; it is the unclouded morning of a summer day. “I have many things to say unto you,” might well have been the motto of those young lives. As yet the long anxiety, the indecision, the struggle, the flight, the enforced return, the trial, the imprisonment, the brutalities of the Temple, the scaffold—all these are bidden. Each stage of trial was bearable when it came; each brought with it lessons of moral and spiritual truth which else might never have been learned. It could not have been borne if prematurely disclosed.’

Verse 13

GUIDANCE INTO TRUTH

‘When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.’

John 16:13

The coming of the Holy Ghost was no mere isolated event in the history of the Kingdom of God. It was a great epoch—the opening of a new era in the life of man, the ushering in of a new dispensation.

I. He did not come as one that would come and go. He came to stay: to abide with us for ever.—He came as the Spirit of Christ to take up His dwelling in Christ’s Church, which is His Body, until He should come again. It is this great truth which underlies the whole teaching of our Blessed Lord in the farewell words which He spoke to His disciples on the eve of His Passion. It is in this light that we must understand His exceeding great and precious promises, and most of all the promise of my text, ‘He shall lead you into all the truth.’ The words of our Lord, taken with their context, might seem to imply that the teaching of the Holy Ghost would bring with it some fresh revelation of Divine truth. But it is manifest that the promise was fulfilled, not so much by the revelation of any new dogmas, concerning which Christ Himself had been silent, as by the enlightening of the Apostles to understand more fully and more clearly what they had already learned from the teaching of our Lord Himself. The accurate rendering of the words of my text seems to demand such an interpretation. ‘He shall lead you into all the truth.’

II. The Holy Ghost had no new revelation to make to mankind.—His mission was that of an interpreter and guide. He was not to speak from Himself. He was to take of the things of Christ to declare them to His Church. Christ Himself, His work, His words, and His life, were to be the subjects with which the Holy Ghost should deal, interpreting their deep significance, their power, their loveliness, to the sons of men. Such an interpretation could not be made at once in all its completeness; it must be gradual and progressive, proportioned to the needs and capacities of successive generations. Age after age His work would still go on, guiding the Church and guiding individuals into all the truth, opening up new aspects of the truth, enlarging our conceptions of words and events already familiar, declaring to us their special message for each particular age, building up from generation to generation the great temple of the truth.

III. The history of the Church of Christ has furnished a continuous illustration of the fulfilment of Christ’s promise.—We see it in the gradual growth and development of Christian doctrine and Christian worship. The formation of the creeds themselves was in strict accordance with this interpretation of Christ’s promise. There is nothing to be found in them which was not already contained in the teaching of the Apostles and afterwards in the Holy Scriptures; but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the creeds present these truths in a concentrated and practical form. Even the later additions made to them by the Councils of the Church contain nothing new in themselves, but only a fresh presentation of truth to meet the circumstances of particular times and to guard the sacred deposit from some prevalent error or from some practical defect. And so it has ever been in the history of the Church. From age to age we can hardly fail to trace in the development of Christian faith and Christian life the overruling guidance of the Holy Ghost, directing the minds of men for a time to some particular aspect of the truth, according as His infinite wisdom and love discerned a convenient season or foresaw some coming need. From the Day of Pentecost until now He has been leading us into all the truth. Our own branch of the Catholic Church, even within the past century, will furnish us with helpful illustrations of this principle and with no uncertain evidence of the guiding hand of the Holy Ghost.

IV. Does it not seem to you that in the light of Christ’s promise, and in the face of our manifold needs, there is a call for increased devotion to God the Holy Ghost?—What we need is an age of God the Holy Ghost, an age in which there should spring up and increase a deeper and more continual sense of His Presence with us and His personal love towards us, and a more ready trust in the unceasing and unfailing guidance of Him Who will lead us into all the truth. How little do we think of Him as the Companion and Comforter of our daily lives! How little do we commune with Him in our hearts or speak to Him in our prayers! How seldom do we think of Him as an object for our affection; and yet how patiently, how tenderly, has the Blessed Spirit shown His love to us amidst all the waywardness and forgetfulness of our daily lives! There are, no doubt, reasons why in the public service of the Church so few direct petitions should be addressed to God the Holy Ghost; but there are none to prevent us from speaking to Him in our private prayers.

We shall fail to estimate the full blessedness of our Saviour’s promise unless we bear in mind the ultimate meaning of His words—‘He will guide you into all the truth.’ But the final truth is God Himself—the one great reality, the first and the last—the great I AM. As the truth He reveals Himself in the face of Jesus Christ.

—Archbishop Maclagan.

Illustration

‘The great Evangelical uprising in the latter part of the past century, laying anew the deep foundation of the Christian hope; the Oxford Movement of fifty years ago, turning the thoughts of men to the constitution and characteristics of the Church of Christ, and teaching them to see in it no mere human society, but the extension of the incarnate life of Christ Himself and the sphere of the operation of God the Holy Ghost; the revival in our own days of the long-dormant privileges of Divine worship with its glad voices and its holy strains, making the hearts of them rejoice that seek the Lord—in all these various advances of Christian faith and Christian life we can hardly fail to trace the guiding of the Holy Ghost. In each and all of these movements there may have been error or defect, narrowness or extravagance, mistakes inseparable from all human operations, even when associated with the working of Divine power. But when all that is earthly has been eliminated, or in its transitory nature has passed away, there remains the precious residuum of the spiritual truth into which the Holy Ghost has guided the Church. How different does the religious history of the Church appear, even in our own generation, when we have learned to associate its events and influences, not with the names of individual leaders who were permitted to take some prominent part in the movements of their day, but to see in every phase and epoch of religious revival the unceasing fulfilment of the Saviour’s promise, “He shall lead you into all the truth.” ’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE SPIRIT AND THE CHURCH

Look back upon the chapters of the history of the Church which might be written since the Acts of the Holy Apostles, and what do you find? Is it not exactly the same that Christ said would happen? Has not the world always resisted the truth? Have not there been enemies a hundredfold, sometimes without, sometimes within? And the Church has gone through all this, which would have crushed a human society a thousand times; gone through it all because the Holy Spirit has been with her and in her, and she lives to-day in the power of that same Spirit.

I. But what about your life to-day?—Is it what it should be here in our own country? Is it even, perhaps, what it has been? Is not the faith of some shaken as when there are taken from us things we hold most dear, and when others deny the great truths of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus? Are not some to-day in perplexity? Are not some wondering in their hearts, Is the religion of Christ all that it should be? Some, too, perhaps, who say very little, who are still standing by the Church, are standing by her with a losing heart. But there is nothing to make us lose heart, nothing to make us doubt the power of Christ or of His great Church. There is no doubt about the Presence of the Holy Spirit here. He is in His Church as truly as He was at Pentecost. He is in you and me as truly as He was in those Apostles in the early days, in that little body of Christians.

II. The Holy Spirit needs invoking.—We must stir up the great gift; for He can no more guide and strengthen you and me than Christ could perform the miracle in Capernaum unless we let Him.

( a) Let us summon Him to our aid in our private prayers. Let us day by day always speak to the Holy Spirit. Let us here, in this church, as a great body, and especially at our Eucharists, call Him down in all His power. Let us individually call back one of the greatest days of our lives—I mean the day when the Holy Spirit made His way into our life—our confirmation day. Then we were sealed; then the character was stamped upon us. To-day, if we could see it, we bear the marks of our confirmation; to-day, we have the seven gifts, just the very gifts that we want this moment to make us strong. Ah, need I say that we all would do well to look back again and again in thought to our confirmation day, to that time when, indeed, the promise of Christ was fulfilled in our individual lives!

( b) Let us allow Him to be our guide, allow Him to strengthen and influence us. Oh, how we allow in this world people and circumstances again and again to influence us, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill! Let us allow the Holy Spirit, because He cannot work in us unless we open the door, unless we listen to His still small voice. It is very difficult to hear sometimes. We can look back on our own lives and see some weeks of waiting when there seemed to be no small voice, when there seemed to be no answer. But the answer came, and the answer will come to every one of you if you will listen and wait. ‘Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.’ You are part of the Church, that Church against which not even the gates of hell can prevail if you are loyal to the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is the strength, the power, and the life of the Church. And so my message to you is this: Expect dark days; remember that, in spite of all those dark days, the Holy Spirit is here, and in us, and with us. Invoke Him, believe in Him. Let Him work in your life, and your fears shall vanish, and your faith shall be made strong.

—Rev. D. G. Cowan.

Illustration

‘ “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” He who is able to make the confession has found a Divine Friend. For him the Spirit is not an influence, an energy, of One far off, but a present Comforter Whom Christ has sent to fulfil His work, a present Guide ready to lead him into all the Truth, a present Advocate waiting to gain acceptance for the deep sighings of the heart before the throne of God. So it is that Scripture speaks of His relation to us; so it is that we can understand how His Presence among men is dependent on the exaltation of Christ in His human nature to the right hand of God.’

Verse 14

THE FUNCTION OF THE PARACLETE

‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.’

John 16:14. (R.V.)

These promises have not passed away. They remain as true now, as capable of fulfilment now, as when they were first uttered.

Let us try to realise what this teaching of the Holy Spirit means, or ought to mean, to us at the present day. It is on the one hand a continuation of the teaching of Jesus. From another point of view it is in a sense a development, a fresh interpretation of the teaching of Jesus.

I. A continuation.—The Holy Spirit, being the Vicar of Christ, cannot teach anything that is opposed to the teaching of Christ. On this point our Lord’s language is quite definite and unmistakable. ‘He shall bear witness unto Me.’ ‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.’ ‘He shall guide you into all the truth: for He shall not speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak.’ The message of the Holy Spirit proceeds ultimately from the Father and the Son. It is not within His province to give an entirely new revelation to mankind. He does not speak from Himself. The lines of Christ’s revelation of Himself and of the Father have been settled once for all. Any teaching that contradicts the direct, the explicit, the undeniable teaching of Jesus Christ cannot be the teaching of the Holy Spirit. No development of Christianity is permissible that involves this contradiction. So far, then, as the main outlines of the Christian Creed are concerned, the voice of the Holy Spirit must be in the strictest sense a continuation and a carrying-on of the teaching of the Gospel.

II. The teaching of the Holy Spirit within certain limits develops, reinterprets, readjusts for each successive generation the teaching which Jesus gave while He was on earth.—Our Lord recognised very clearly that His teaching of His first disciples could not be absolutely complete and final. Take, for instance, the words: ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.’ The full development of the principles of His teaching and the application of those principles in detail, could not be communicated to the Apostles without putting on them a burden which they were unable to bear. They would not have understood what He meant. In Christ’s training of the Apostles He always kept that difficulty in view. Suppose that He had told Peter, at the time of his call in Galilee, that the Gentiles eventually would have a share in the Kingdom of God. Such a statement, if made in those early days, Peter would probably have been unable to bear. It would have confused and unsettled him; it might have ended in his leaving his Master. Peter had to be led on gradually till the force of circumstances and changed conditions compelled him to see the need of admitting Gentile converts. Then a new light burst on him, and he was able to reinterpret his Master’s sayings in this wider sense. That is a typical example of the development which results from the teaching of the Spirit. So it has been in each successive age of Christendom. Each generation has had its own needs and problems to face, and has gone back afresh to the words of Christ, and found in them a new light and helpfulness. No doubt at times there has been misinterpretation of what our Lord meant. No doubt there have been periods of stagnation and corruption in the Church, when the voice of the Spirit has been more or less stifled. But that is only what Christ foresaw. There were to be false Christs; and because iniquity was to abound, the love of the many would wax cold.

III. No doubt, too, the voice of the Spirit’s teaching has not always been distinct and unmistakable.—Different branches of the Church have interpreted some of the words of their Master in different and even in antagonistic ways. And this, too, was not wholly unexpected by Christ, for ‘in His Father’s house there are many mansions.’ But if we take a broad view of the course of Church history, is it not true that men in age after age have honestly endeavoured to put a fresh interpretation on the words of Christ, in order to meet the difficulties of their time, and by doing so have placed themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Christ’s revelation of Himself must differ in different generations, because, as He foresaw, it must be suited to the character and the conditions of each generation in turn. Only so could it last for all time. It would long ago have become a dead thing if it had been merely a cut-and-dried system of doctrines and precepts. It lives, because the ever-renewed teaching and guiding of the Spirit continually supply it with fresh life and growth.

‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.’ Our Lord in these words seems to contemplate the Holy Spirit as selecting from time to time some portion of His teaching, and developing it and emphasising it, so as to make it more real than it has hitherto been, and more fitted to give enlightenment to men’s changing doubts and difficulties. Can anything be of greater interest and value to us nowadays than this conception of the work of the Paraclete?

Rev. Dr. H. G. Woods.

Illustration

‘Suppose that we did not possess the Gospel according to John; how much vaguer our knowledge would be! We should still, indeed, have the description of the day of Pentecost; we should still have the promise of Jesus that the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him; we should still have St. Paul’s account of the work of the Holy Spirit, of the fruits of the Spirit, of life in the Spirit. But how great would be our loss if we did not possess that last discourse before the Passion, in which the writer of the Fourth Gospel has enshrined the memory (or call it, if you will, the tradition) of his Master’s teaching about the relation of the Holy Spirit to Himself and to His Church! As we think it over we cannot but feel how full of interest and of spiritual insight is the account there given of that mysterious Personality, Whom the Father was to send in Christ’s Name. As is well known, “Comforter” is a mistranslation. The Greek term “Paraclete” denotes properly the Advocate, the Counsel, Whom each follower of Christ can call in, to stand by him, to find words for him, to give him helpful suggestions, to plead for him, to act for him, in the great trial and contest, which is continually going on, and which will go on until the final Day of Judgment, between Satan and the human soul.’

Verse 14

THE FUNCTION OF THE PARACLETE

‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.’

John 16:14. (R.V.)

These promises have not passed away. They remain as true now, as capable of fulfilment now, as when they were first uttered.

Let us try to realise what this teaching of the Holy Spirit means, or ought to mean, to us at the present day. It is on the one hand a continuation of the teaching of Jesus. From another point of view it is in a sense a development, a fresh interpretation of the teaching of Jesus.

I. A continuation.—The Holy Spirit, being the Vicar of Christ, cannot teach anything that is opposed to the teaching of Christ. On this point our Lord’s language is quite definite and unmistakable. ‘He shall bear witness unto Me.’ ‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.’ ‘He shall guide you into all the truth: for He shall not speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak.’ The message of the Holy Spirit proceeds ultimately from the Father and the Son. It is not within His province to give an entirely new revelation to mankind. He does not speak from Himself. The lines of Christ’s revelation of Himself and of the Father have been settled once for all. Any teaching that contradicts the direct, the explicit, the undeniable teaching of Jesus Christ cannot be the teaching of the Holy Spirit. No development of Christianity is permissible that involves this contradiction. So far, then, as the main outlines of the Christian Creed are concerned, the voice of the Holy Spirit must be in the strictest sense a continuation and a carrying-on of the teaching of the Gospel.

II. The teaching of the Holy Spirit within certain limits develops, reinterprets, readjusts for each successive generation the teaching which Jesus gave while He was on earth.—Our Lord recognised very clearly that His teaching of His first disciples could not be absolutely complete and final. Take, for instance, the words: ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.’ The full development of the principles of His teaching and the application of those principles in detail, could not be communicated to the Apostles without putting on them a burden which they were unable to bear. They would not have understood what He meant. In Christ’s training of the Apostles He always kept that difficulty in view. Suppose that He had told Peter, at the time of his call in Galilee, that the Gentiles eventually would have a share in the Kingdom of God. Such a statement, if made in those early days, Peter would probably have been unable to bear. It would have confused and unsettled him; it might have ended in his leaving his Master. Peter had to be led on gradually till the force of circumstances and changed conditions compelled him to see the need of admitting Gentile converts. Then a new light burst on him, and he was able to reinterpret his Master’s sayings in this wider sense. That is a typical example of the development which results from the teaching of the Spirit. So it has been in each successive age of Christendom. Each generation has had its own needs and problems to face, and has gone back afresh to the words of Christ, and found in them a new light and helpfulness. No doubt at times there has been misinterpretation of what our Lord meant. No doubt there have been periods of stagnation and corruption in the Church, when the voice of the Spirit has been more or less stifled. But that is only what Christ foresaw. There were to be false Christs; and because iniquity was to abound, the love of the many would wax cold.

III. No doubt, too, the voice of the Spirit’s teaching has not always been distinct and unmistakable.—Different branches of the Church have interpreted some of the words of their Master in different and even in antagonistic ways. And this, too, was not wholly unexpected by Christ, for ‘in His Father’s house there are many mansions.’ But if we take a broad view of the course of Church history, is it not true that men in age after age have honestly endeavoured to put a fresh interpretation on the words of Christ, in order to meet the difficulties of their time, and by doing so have placed themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Christ’s revelation of Himself must differ in different generations, because, as He foresaw, it must be suited to the character and the conditions of each generation in turn. Only so could it last for all time. It would long ago have become a dead thing if it had been merely a cut-and-dried system of doctrines and precepts. It lives, because the ever-renewed teaching and guiding of the Spirit continually supply it with fresh life and growth.

‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.’ Our Lord in these words seems to contemplate the Holy Spirit as selecting from time to time some portion of His teaching, and developing it and emphasising it, so as to make it more real than it has hitherto been, and more fitted to give enlightenment to men’s changing doubts and difficulties. Can anything be of greater interest and value to us nowadays than this conception of the work of the Paraclete?

Rev. Dr. H. G. Woods.

Illustration

‘Suppose that we did not possess the Gospel according to John; how much vaguer our knowledge would be! We should still, indeed, have the description of the day of Pentecost; we should still have the promise of Jesus that the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him; we should still have St. Paul’s account of the work of the Holy Spirit, of the fruits of the Spirit, of life in the Spirit. But how great would be our loss if we did not possess that last discourse before the Passion, in which the writer of the Fourth Gospel has enshrined the memory (or call it, if you will, the tradition) of his Master’s teaching about the relation of the Holy Spirit to Himself and to His Church! As we think it over we cannot but feel how full of interest and of spiritual insight is the account there given of that mysterious Personality, Whom the Father was to send in Christ’s Name. As is well known, “Comforter” is a mistranslation. The Greek term “Paraclete” denotes properly the Advocate, the Counsel, Whom each follower of Christ can call in, to stand by him, to find words for him, to give him helpful suggestions, to plead for him, to act for him, in the great trial and contest, which is continually going on, and which will go on until the final Day of Judgment, between Satan and the human soul.’

Verse 16

ABSENT AND PRESENT

‘A little while, and ye shall not see Me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see Me.’

John 16:16

In the first part of the sentence our Lord evidently referred to the time during which His bodily Presence would be hidden from them by reason of His death and burial.

So far all is clear. But what did the Lord mean when He said, ‘I shall see you again’? The time was at hand when a different kind of contact would be possible, and intercourse would begin. After His Ascension, the disciples would feel that He was near them always. They would make Him the partner of their lives as truly as they had done in the days of His earthly sojourn. They would come to feel that, though in one sense they had lost Christ, yet in another and a higher sense they had found Him; that though He was no longer visible to the bodily eye, yet with the spiritual eye they could see Him, and rejoice in the spiritual vision vouchsafed to them with a joy which no man could take from them.

There are certain truths which are plainly suggested by our subject, all of them essential to true Christian life.

I. We ought to depend less than we are accustomed to do on the supports of earthly and bodily companionship.—These we know are very real, very blessed, and often very full of comfort and joy. But they are, in their nature, uncertain and transient. Their value changes in altered circumstances and in varying conditions of life.

II. However dark and apparently hopeless any period of life may seem, a Christian ought to cherish the confidence that God is in possession of the future.—There is a work which God intends us to do, a place He intends us to fill. We are not really so dependent as we are tempted to think on the help or companionship of any one. Separation means grief and strain and the bitter sense of bereavement and loneliness. The disciples of Christ felt this keenly, and we must pass through a like experience. But it is very instructive to remember, on the one hand, the despondency, the sinking of heart, the perplexity, the misery of the friends of Christ on the night of the betrayal; and, on the other hand, to consider the great work in the future which God intended and enabled them to do. All life is individual life. God has His plan for each one of us, and He will strengthen us to carry it out. No earthly loss, however great, can, of itself, defeat God’s purpose, and no earthly sorrow, however crushing, can wrest our future from His Hand.

III. If in one sense it is true that Christ left this world at His Ascension, in another sense it is equally true that He did not leave the world at all.—The spiritual sight which was promised to the disciples is promised also to us. The experience of Christians in all ages has proved how true it is that, though the earthly Presence is withdrawn, those who love Him are still able to see Him in another and better way.

—Bishop J. Macarthur.

Illustration

‘There was one consequence of the Lord’s departure which the disciples had not conceived of at all. He was anxious to make it clear to them. Another companionship than His was prepared for them. It would not be an outward and visible companionship, but, for that very reason, its value would be greater. The Divine Spirit would enter into them, and His Presence with them would be permanent, unchanging, secure against all the risks and disturbances which attach to outward relationships. The Spirit could not come to them till Christ had gone away. As long as Christ was with them, they would naturally cling to the outward Presence. They lacked as yet the power to apprehend and rely upon inward and spiritual help. It was inevitable that it should be so. We all instinctively cling to what is visible, and to the things with which we have contact through our bodily senses.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE LITTLE WHILE

The disciples did not know what our Lord meant. Our Lord heard their reasonings, and He came and explained to them that ‘little while.’

I. The ‘little while.’—Yet it is not so easy for us to understand it perfectly, and we must reason with ourselves even as the disciples did. Some people have thought that our Lord merely meant that there should be a spiritual seeing of Him, and that in that spiritual seeing they should have perfect rest and perfect joy; that Christ should be all in all to them. But can we limit it in that way? Our Lord was speaking of the time when the Jews should rejoice because He, the great Destroyer of the peace of Jerusalem, the One Who attacked all the corruptions of the Jewish Church, was hanged upon the Cross. Did the disciples see Him? Was not that a little time? Did He not rise again on the third day, did He not at once appear to them? So that we have an explanation of the first ‘little while’ perfectly clear to our minds and thoughts. It was simply this, the world rejoiced because the Christ was dead; the disciples wept because the Christ was dead. They looked upon Him now, they saw Him with them, they heard His words, and He had told them that a little while hence He would be passing away, and they should see Him no more. Is not that the explanation of the first ‘little while’?

II. God’s ‘little while.’—But when we come to the second ‘little while,’ there is a difficulty as to what our Lord meant. He was to go to the Father, yet do we not see Christ now? The disciples saw Him as He rose from the dead. We, too, see Him upon that Cross which is our glory, and He is to us the living One, because He was the dead. When He rose from the grave He only proved to us that the Father accepted His sacrifice, and because He had borne the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors, therefore He had come out victorious with a victory that would last for ever and ever. Christ is to us a source of constant blessing, the source of all our consolation. He lives in our faith, and, if we have any hearts, He lives in our love, He lives in our life. So when the disciples saw Him again their joy was full, because they knew that Christ had risen. And their joy was to remain that which no one could take from them; it was to last for ever. So it has ever been; and all the greatest and most devout thinkers upon this verse have been of opinion that the ‘little while’ in which Christ promised to be seen again is the ‘little while’ of God which lasts on in the Christian Church until Christ shall come again.

III. The sight of Christ.—So, too, do we not see Christ? What do we mean by saying at the end our prayers, ‘Through Jesus Christ,’ unless we see Him? It is, indeed, a sight of faith, but it is the sight the Spirit gives us of all the love, power, beauty, and work of Christ. Let us ask God the Holy Spirit to paint for us the living Christ more perfectly, to show us the praise of that endless love, and to cast His bright beams upon our own reading concerning the Blessed Lord. It is just so that we must pass the ‘little while’ here until there comes, in the soft shades of night, the voice which says, ‘Come up hither,’ and we go and meet our Lord in the bright beams of His own light.

Rev. S. Bache-Harris.

Verse 20

THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING

‘Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.’

John 16:20

What a tremendous problem suffering places before us! There are many who never have any doubts about the truth of their religion, whose faith is yet sorely tried when trouble comes upon them, and though there may be some who can say with Job, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,’ there are many more who in time of trouble are tempted to say, ‘There is no God,’ and to think themselves merely the victims of a blind chance.

I. Sorrow misunderstood.—The words of our text were spoken by our Blessed Lord to His disciples on the night of the betrayal. They realised that He was going to leave them, but their thoughts were so bent on their own loss that no one asked how the departure would affect Jesus Himself. They could not look forward and see what was to be the result of their loss. But our Lord lovingly condescended to help them. ‘It is expedient for you that I go away; because if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you.’ The withdrawal of His bodily presence was to prepare the way for the coming of His universal Presence. Our Lord thus showed to His disciples that the time of bitter sorrow awaiting them was to be followed by joy naturally springing out of the sorrow. But even our Lord’s blessed words of encouragement could not affect them: as far as we can see, they lost all hope. What an example of the pronenesss of human nature to abandon itself to the influence of the hour! That such a sorrow should be turned into joy seemed to the disciples past all understanding. But with the Resurrection came their promised joy. A light was thrown on their sorrow; they saw that they were to be made perfect through suffering.

II. Perfect through suffering.—Indeed, it is only those who have tasted suffering who can know what joy is. It is only Christianity which can give a real answer to the problems raised by suffering. Our night cannot be blacker than was the night of Christ’s disciples, yet see the wonderful way in which their sorrow was turned into joy. I know that it is sometimes difficult even to be civil to a person who suggests when we are in trouble that the trouble is for our good. Yet so it is. We are not even permitted to grieve over our sorrows. There is nothing much harder than this in the Christian life. The fact that it is difficult is all the more reason why we should set an ideal before us; otherwise that which should be for our profit will most assuredly become the occasion for falling. ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway,’ said St. Paul. That means, of course, in sorrow and sickness as well as in health and prosperity. Surely we Christians, simply because we are Christians, have every reason to rejoice whatever our earthly lot my be.

Rev. G. Smith.

Verse 22

JOY WHICH ABIDES

‘I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.’

John 16:22

Why is it that the word ‘joy’ has nearly dropped out of our vocabulary? We speak of happiness, cheerfulness, good humour, and so on; but these are all words which have their exact equivalents in classical Greek. The first Christians required a special word for ‘joy’ as a moral quality; we, it appears, do not require it. We should have a slightly uncomfortable feeling of unreality in using it freely.

I. One is inclined to fear that this most beautiful flower of the Christian life has become a little dusted and faded in eighteen hundred years.—The peculiar happiness of the Christian must have been a very real, visible, unmistakable thing in the first century. John, at the end of his long life, remembers the Saviour’s promise, ‘Your joy no man taketh from you,’ and his first epistle shows clearly that the promise had been fulfilled in his own case.

II. This visible feature of the Christian character must have lasted on slightly dimmed, perhaps through the early centuries.—In the Shepherd of Hermas, a favourite religious book of the second century—a kind of Pilgrims Progress—we read ‘Grief is more evil than any other spirit of evil, and beyond all spirits destroyeth man. Put on, therefore, gladness, which is always acceptable to God, and delight thyself in it; for every man that is glad doeth the things that are good, and thinketh good thoughts.’ Somewhat later Augustine, before his conversion, was struck with this feature in his Christian friends. He speaks of the ‘holy dignity of self-restraint, serene and quietly merry.’

III. Mediæval theology was thoroughly alive to the moral aspect of happiness and unhappiness, though in this, as in other things, it dwelt rather too much on the negative side. They tell us much about the deadly sin of ‘acedia’—‘accidie’ as Chaucer gives it in English. This now forgotten word was intended to express that compound of gloom, sloth, and irritation, which kills joy in ourselves and in those who have to live with us. It is ‘the sorrow of the world which worketh death,’ as St. Paul says. Very few people now read the mediæval casuists. Some of you have, no doubt, read Dante, and remember how those who, under the bright sun, were gloomy and sullen, are plunged into a horrible slough of despond, and the doleful lament which rises to his ear from their place of punishment. Perhaps the Middle Ages treated acedia somewhat harshly. When we are gloomy ourselves, we put it down (I do not say that we are wrong) to our nerves or our digestions, and it never occurs to us to consider whether we are or are not guilty of one of the seven deadly sins.

IV. Unhappiness is not always a sin, but happiness is always a duty.—The question of our responsibility for failure belongs entirely to God, not to us; but let us be quite clear what we ought to aim at—what success in this direction means. And I am afraid that in our days it is not very easy to find wholly satisfactory models of what we are looking for. We have met healthy, energetic people, whose excellent physique inclines them to take a cheerful view of everything, themselves especially; we know the breezy optimist, who says, like Robert Browning, ‘God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world’; we may have observed, with rather mixed feelings, the somewhat vapid hilarity of the seminary or theological college; we have probably seen, and been the better for seeing, the gentle patience and noble courage of some suffering invalid. But not one of these types gives us quite what we are seeking. Indeed, I doubt whether we often see joy written clearly on any face except a little child’s. Perhaps it is part of a childlike character which our Lord recommends to us so strongly.

—Professor Inge.

Verse 23

‘IN MY NAME’

‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you.’

John 16:23

I. The Church of God has reverently accepted the Lord’s own promise as to the efficacy of prayer.—And of prayer not merely for blessings described as spiritual, but for those which we speak of as temporal. More, perhaps, than we think is belief in efficacy of prayer weakened by distrust of which, perhaps, we are hardly conscious, due to influences scarcely known to many who yet feel them. But it is also true that many of the assaults made and ridicule cast upon the efficacy of prayer would have spent their force in vain, if Christian people had not fallen so miserably short of that intelligent, thoughtful belief to which their Lord looked forward when He said, ‘In that day ye shall ask Me no questions.’

( a) Notice that in this promise our Lord bids us ‘Ask the Father.’

( b) The Father cannot regard us, who alone of created beings here below are capable of rising up to communion with Himself, as too insignificant to be objects of His individual care.

( c) So it is that in the one sentence, ‘Ye shall ask the Father,’ we find the support of faith as we ask for temporal or for spiritual blessing.

II. But our Lord bids us ask, and assures us of an answer in His Name.—Even as He spoke, before the illumination of Pentecost, Apostles would have caught some glimpses of His meaning. To ask and to receive in the name of Christ is something far more than merely to close our prayers with the words, ‘Through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ It is that, but it involves something beyond. Prayer is offered, and it is answered by the power of Christ; it is an appeal to His living intercession and advocacy which is the reason known to many why prayer at Holy Communion has an especial value; prayer is accepted only when those who offer it are still in living union with Him, and in sympathy with His will and character.

III. An answer to prayer depends upon a living union with Christ, and our Lord adds one other condition. ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’ It is through the character of Christ, reflected in Christians—acting, speaking, working, worshipping—that men come to learn that God is indeed the Father and they are His children.

IV. Only add to these three elements of Christian prayer its basis in the revelation of the Father, Whose Name the Son became Incarnate to declare; its offering in union with the Lord Jesus Christ, its end the Divine glory, the other characteristic of Pentecost to which the Saviour points us. In prayer, whatever be its particular specific form, be thoughtful.

Rev. Chancellor Worlledge.

Illustration

‘To pray for earthly blessings is not to ask God to disturb anything. In asking for such blessings, if it be His will, we also ask implicitly for the love, and power, and self-control which were in Christ, in order that we may be fitted to behold some glimpses of those higher laws which He revealed in His work of love and mercy here below. We must remember that in the working of His plan, prayer—the simplest and humblest—the reverent prayer of the Christian child as much as the deep supplication of the grown man, have already their rightful place, and that God has already taken them all, if we offer them, into account.’

Verse 33

TWO CONTRASTED CONCEPTIONS

‘In the world’; ‘In Me.’

John 16:33

These words are part of the closing sentences of our dear Lord’s last address. They tell of a life the disciples must inevitably lead.

I. Two contrasted conceptions.—‘In the world’; ‘In Me.’ The matter treated of is the life and experience of the disciple, his field and sphere of existence. This is described, in one breath, as ‘in Me’; and, in the next, nay, is the same, as ‘in the world.’ Can these two locations belong to the same individual at the same time? Must not the man fly to and fro? Not so; in the Lord’s thought the two positions are intended to be simultaneous and combined; the contrasts, harmonious; the opposites to be poles of one sphere.

II. A simple simile may illustrate the truth. This is a matter of concentric circles. The central point is the Christian man. Around him rolls, as the necessary outer circle of his life, the world—disordered by sin, alienated from God. Whether he will or no the Christian is in it, as a man is in mid-ocean though he may be borne along by a great liner above the depths. But the same disciple is also in Christ. A concentric circle, closer and nearer, is about him in the midst of the tumult, and it is the Lord. While the outer circle rolls round that centre with all its agitation, the inner circle is the peace of God Himself. It is the Presence of Him who has overcome the world.

III. It was true of old.—In Rome, in Corinth, the saints were yet more in Christ.

IV. It is true to-day.—In toil, sorrow, pain, opposition, temptation, the children of God do still, abiding in Christ, prove more than conquerors.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.

Illustration

‘They are wise and blessed who all along listen to both voices; who believe, indeed, that God created them in love, created them for happiness; and still remember all along that when God sent His only begotten Son into this world it was for a life of humiliation and suffering; who hold fast to the true instinct that all pure happiness is God’s gift, God’s glad and loving bounty to us; and still remember that the crown of all His giving cannot be in the things of this world, and may be through the loss even of that which in all these scenes of time is best; who in the hours of true-hearted gladness still keep their hearts free to part with it, to rise and come up higher, if God bids them, even though it be by the way of the Cross. Wise and blessed are they, for they will know, when tribulation comes, what indeed it means, and it should be met without hesitation or perplexity or complaint; they will have in their hearts that inner light which can make glad even a life of toil and pain; for they will have learnt already the royalty of unmurmuring patience, and found in Christ their Lord the way of peace.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 16". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/john-16.html. 1876.