Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

John 16




(f) Their relation to the world and the promise of the Paraclete explained more fully (John 16:1-33).

( α) Though the world will hate them, it is still expedient that He should depart from them (John 16:1-7)

( β) The coming of the Paraclete and His office (John 16:8-15);

( γ) His own departure and return. Their sorrow the birth-pangs of joy (John 16:16-24);

( δ) He promises a full revelation of the Father (John 16:25-28).

( ε) Their faith is now weak, though they think it strong (John 16:29-32); their future shall be one of tribulation, but He has overcome the world (John 16:33).]

Verse 1

(1) These things have I spoken unto you.—Comp. Note on John 15:17. Here, too, the reference is to the things which he had just said (John 16:17-27). He had foretold them of the hatred of the world and also of the witness of the Spirit.

That ye should not be offended.—Comp. Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:21; Matthew 24:10, et al. In St. John the word occurs only here and in John 6:61.

Verse 2

(2) They shall put you out of the synagogues.—Comp. Notes on John 9:22; John 12:42.

Will think that he doeth God service.—Better, will think that he offereth to God a sacrificial service. The word rendered “doeth” in the Authorised version, is the technical word for offering sacrifice. (Comp., e.g., Notes on Matthew 5:23; Matthew 8:4.) The word rendered “service” means the service of worship. This will be seen by a comparison of the other instances where it occurs in the New Testament—they are Romans 9:4; Romans 12:1, and Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:6. A Rabbinic comment on Numbers 25:13, is, “Whosoever sheddeth the blood of the wicked is as he who offereth sacrifice.” The martyrdom of Stephen, or St. Paul’s account of himself as a persecutor (Acts 26:9; Galatians 1:13-14), shows how these words were fulfilled in the first years of the Church’s history, and such accounts are not absent from that history’s latest page.

Verse 3

(3) Because they have not known the Father, nor me.—Comp. Note on John 15:21. He repeats that ignorance of God is the cause of the world’s hatred and persecution, and adds here that it is ignorance of God revealed in Himself. There is a special force in the mention of this ignorance in connection with the previous verse. Men think that in exclusion, and anathemas, and persecutions, and deaths of men made like themselves in the image of God, they are offering to God an acceptable sacrifice. They can know nothing of the true nature of the living Father who pitieth every child, and willeth not the death of a sinner, and gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. They know nothing of the long-suffering and compassion of the Son of Man, who pleaded even for His murderers, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Verse 4

(4) But these things have I told you . . .—He recurs to the thought of John 16:1. (Comp. also John 13:19; John 14:29.) He strengthens them by forewarning them. When the persecution comes they will remember His word, and find in it support for their faith and evidence of His presence with them.

These things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.—While with them, He would spare them, and it was against Himself that the hatred of His foes was directed. When He shall have left them they will represent Him, and must stand in the foreground of the battle.

These words seem to be opposed to Matthew 10 and parallel passages, where our Lord did tell the Apostles at the time of their call of the persecutions which awaited them. (See especially John 16:17; John 16:21; John 16:28.) The passages are not, however, really inconsistent, for “these things” in this verse (comp. John 16:3; John 16:1, and John 15:21) refers to the full account He has given them of the world’s hatred and the principles lying at the foot of it, and the manner in which it was to be met by the Spirit’s witness and their witness of Him. These things which the infant Church would have to meet, and meet without His bodily presence, He told them not at the beginning.

Verse 5

(5) But now I go my way to him that sent me.—(Comp. John 13:1; John 14:12.) The work of His apostleship on earth was drawing to its close, and He was about to return to the Father from whom He had received it. This was to Him matter of joy, and if they had really loved Him would have been so to them. They would have thought of the future before Him, as He was then thinking, in the fulness of His love, of the future before them.

And none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?—Peter had asked this very question (John 13:36), and Thomas had implied it (John 14:5), but what the words here mean is, “None of you are out of love for Me asking about the place whither I am going. Your thoughts are not with Me. It is to you as nothing that I am returning to Him that sent Me.”

Verse 6

(6) Sorrow hath filled your heart.—The thought of their own separation from Him, and of the dark future which lay before them, so filled their hearts that it left room for no thoughts of Him, and the brightness of the glory to which He was returning.

Verse 7

(7) Nevertheless I tell you the truth.—The words He is about to utter are words of strange sound for the ears of disciples, and He prefaces them by an appeal to His own knowledge and candour in dealing with them, as in John 14:2. The pronoun bears the weight of the emphasis, “I, who know all.”

It is expedient for you that I go away.—“There is no cause,” He would say, “for the deep sorrow which has filled your hearts. It is for your advantage that I, as distinct from the Paraclete, who is to come, should go away” (John 14:16). Yes; for those who had left all to follow Him; for those who had none to go to but Himself (John 6:68); for those whose hopes were all centred in Him, it was—hard and incomprehensible as the saying must have seemed—an advantage that He should go away.

For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.—Better, . . . the Advocate will not come unto you. (Comp. Excursus G.) For the connection between the departure of Christ and the coming of the Advocate, comp. Notes on John 7:39, and Acts 2:33. We may not fathom the deep counsels of God in which the reason of these words is to be found; but the order fixed in these counsels was that the Son of Man should complete His work on earth, and offer the sacrifice of Himself for sin, and rise from the dead, and ascend to the Father’s throne, before the Advocate should come. The Son of Man was to be glorified before the Spirit was to be given. Humanity was to ascend to heaven before the Spirit could be sent to humanity on earth. The revelation of saving truth was to be complete before inspiration was to breathe it as the breath of life into man’s soul. The conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment could only follow the finished work of Christ.

But if I depart, I will send him unto you.—Our translators have sought to show the distinction between the words used in the earlier clauses, “I go away,” and that used here, “I depart”; but probably few English readers will have observed it. The former word means, “I go away from you,” the latter, “I go away to the Father.” For the thought of this clause, comp. Note on John 14:16; John 15:25.

Verse 8

(8) And when he is come, he will reprove the world.—Better, as in margin, convince the world. (Comp. John 3:20; John 8:46.) The only other passages where it occurs in the Gospels are in Matthew 18:15, and Luke 3:19. It is not in the better reading of John 8:9; but it occurs not unfrequently in the Epistles. (See especially Note on 1 Corinthians 14:24.) This conviction of the world is by witness concerning Christ (John 15:26). It is the revelation to the hearts of men of the character and work of Christ, and, therefore, a refutation of the evil in their hearts. The result of this conviction is two-fold, according as men embrace it, accept its chastening discipline, and are saved by it; or reject it, and in the rejection harden their hearts, and are thus condemned by it. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.) The effect of St. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost is the first great historical comment on this verse; but the comment is continued in the whole history of the Church’s work. The remainder of the verse enumerates the three steps in this conviction, which are more fully defined in the three following verses.

Verses 8-11

The Spirit and the World

And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged.—John 16:8-11.

1. Sin, righteousness, judgment, are three of the greatest terms in the vocabulary of men. And they stand for tremendous spiritual realities by which our state is conditioned and our destiny determined. The words that stand for these realities are to be found in all languages; and in some languages (and particularly in the language of the New Testament) the terms are characterized by intellectual precision and beauty. Yet in the time of Christ they had come to stand for lost ideas. The terms were there, but the meaning had faded out of them. They had been lowered and belittled; they had suffered deterioration generation after generation; they had received into themselves foreign and alien significations by which their meaning had been still more obscured and perverted; and though they were still in the speech they failed to convey to the understanding and to the conscience of men the tremendous realities for which they stood. And nothing could have arrested the decline of these terms; nothing could have prevented their gravitating into the region of dead speech, speech from which true vitality had gone; nothing could have prevented that consummated deterioration but the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the mission of the Holy Ghost. It was by Christ that sin was reproved and righteousness revealed and judgment assured; and it is by the Holy Ghost that sin, righteousness, and judgment are continually revealed, attested, and brought home to the hearts and consciences of men.

2. Did Jesus Christ, then, come to give the world a new thought about sin? Did He come to reveal to men a different pattern of righteousness? Did He come to say a new thing concerning judgment? No. It is remarkable that Jesus said very little that was new. Every truth He uttered we may find in the Old Covenant; but He picked up the truths that were partially seen and imperfectly understood, shrouded in the mists and mysteries of man’s finite conception. He put them into simplicity, into plainness, into proportion and perspective, and He gave us a fair and perfect temple of truth. This is what He has done for the race concerning these three great thoughts which break in upon a man when he is awakening to spiritual being. The message of Christianity to the world is this: that sin has now a new centre, righteousness a new possibility, and that judgment is wholly altered by this new sin centre and this new possibility of righteousness: “of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father.”

3. Let us take the three together before we examine them singly.

(1) To know what sin is we must know what righteousness is. To be quite sure of righteousness, we must be sure how it will stand at the end in relation to sin. It must stand over sin, and judge it, and destroy it. Judgment is not primarily punishment, nor is it a mere declaration of the state of the law, but it is the actual final establishment of righteousness upon the wreck of sin. The stroke of sin upon sanctity can only evoke judgment, which by the grace of Christ becomes salvation. In the world it is sin that judges righteousness, and does with it what it will. In the Kingdom of God it is righteousness that judges sin, and does with it the will of God—it destroys it.

(2) With the awakening of the spiritual consciousness in man there always comes a threefold conviction, conviction concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. When the earliest consciousness of a man’s spiritual nature breaks in upon him, the three facts that he faces, immediately and necessarily, are those referred to in the text,—sin, righteousness, judgment,—and the consciousness concerning each is a double consciousness of the spiritual realm that lies beyond, and of his own personal relationship to that spiritual realm.

The words suggest to us the three moral ingredients of healthy public opinion in a Christian country. Every society, every nation, has its public opinion, its common stock of hopes, fears, prejudices, likings, enthusiasms, repugnances, tastes, points of view,—the common stock to which all contribute something, and by which in turn all are influenced. The old-world cities, each of them had a public opinion of its own—Rome, and Athens, and Jerusalem; and now too, wherever men meet and exchange thoughts, and know themselves to be bound to each other by the ties of race, or of common interests, or of historical associations, there grows up inevitably a common fund of thoughts and phrases which may be barbarous or enlightened, as the case may be, but which is always influential. Like the smoke and vapours which hang visibly in the air over every large centre of human life, to which every hearth contributes something, and by which every window is more or less shaded, so in the world of public thought and feeling there is a like common product of all the minds which think and feel at all, which in turn influences more or less all the contributors to it. And what I am now insisting upon is, that this inevitable product and accompaniment of human society,—public opinion,—if it is Christian, must contain a recognition of the three solemn facts—sin, righteousness, judgment.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, 351.]



“He will convict the world in respect of sin.” Now the world as such knows nothing of sin; and yet it is the root of all that from which it suffers. It is the root, it is the explanation of all the numberless forms of damage and deterioration that human character suffers. Sin is the source whence all the ills of human life and human society arise. Many terms are needed to describe the manifestations or results of sin. The world is well aware, for example, of defects of human character, and it can describe them in detail. It says of a man that he is unjust, or that he is cruel, or proud, or sensual, or covetous; and yet these are but minor terms to specify this or the other manifestation of a deep, central, fundamental evil of the world, the very existence of which, as a fundamental evil, the world has never understood. It is very touching and very pathetic to observe that while the world had large, immense experience of sin it had little or no sense of sin.

Mr. Gladstone once spoke of the absence of the sense of sin as perhaps the greatest peril of modern society. And I think it is not too much to say that, apart from the person of Christ and the mission of the Holy Ghost, we not only have no guarantee that the sense of sin would be maintained, but we have every reason to believe that it would again die out; and that while men would be irritated and angered by this and the other evil and wrong in society, their conscience concerning the mystic and root evil would as before show itself utterly inadequate to the exigencies of the case.1 [Note: F. W. Macdonald.]

1. The world must be convinced of sin. Let us take due account of the fact that conviction of sin is a profoundly intelligent matter, and worthy, in that view, to engage the counsel of God in the gift of His Son. If we have any such thought as that what is called conviction of sin is only a blind torment, or crisis of excited fear, technically prescribed as a matter to be suffered in the way of conversion, we cannot too soon rid ourselves of the mistake. It is neither more nor less than a due self-knowledge—not a knowledge of the mere understanding, or such as may be obtained by philosophic reflection, but a more certain, more immediate sensing of ourselves by consciousness; just the same as that which the criminal has, when he hides himself away from justice; fleeing, it may be, when no man pursueth. He has a most invincible, most real, knowledge of himself; not by any cognitive process of reflection, but by his immediate consciousness—he is consciously a guilty man. All men are consciously guilty before God, and the standards of God, in the same manner. They do not approve, but invariably condemn themselves; only they become so used to the fact that they make nothing of it, but take it even as the normal condition of their life.

(1) It is not easy to convince men of sin.—Confucius is said to have once exclaimed, in an outburst of despondency, “It is all over! I have not yet seen one who could perceive his fault and inwardly accuse himself.” Confucius is not alone in that verdict upon human nature. The lament is suggestive. It implies the enormous difficulty of bringing an average man to admit his fault. It implies also that, with his many virtues and excellences, Confucius did not achieve a character of such ideal perfection that his contemporaries felt themselves smitten with shame by his transcendent example. And it implies that the common conscience needs to be reinforced with supernatural influence and vitality before it can assert itself and compel confession and repentance.

A friend told me this tale, a few years ago, as we paced together the deck of a steamship on the Mediterranean, and talked of the things unseen. The chaplain of a prison, intimate with the narrator, 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 were 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.1 [Note: Bishop Moule, From Sunday to Sunday, 190.]

(2) Conviction of sin is necessary.—“He shall convince the world of sin.” The first outstanding characteristic of the whole Gospel message is the new gravity which it attaches to the fact of sin, the deeper meaning which it gives to the word, and the larger scope which it shows its blighting influences to have had in humanity. Apart from the conviction of sin by the Spirit using the Word proclaimed by disciples, the world has scarcely a notion of what sin is, its inwardness, its universality, the awfulness of it as a fact affecting man’s whole being and all his relations to God. All these conceptions are especially the product of Christian truth. Without it, what does the world know about the poison of sin? And what does it care about the poison until the conviction has been driven home to the reluctant consciousness of mankind by the Spirit wielding the Word? This conviction comes first in the Divine order.

I do not say that the process of turning a man of the world into a member of Christ’s Church always begins, as a matter of fact, with the conviction of sin. I believe it most generally does; but without insisting upon a pedantic adherence to a sequence, and without saying a word about the depth and intensity of such a conviction, I am ready to assert that a Christianity which is not based upon the conviction of sin is an impotent Christianity, and will be of very little use to the men who profess it, and have no power to propagate itself in the world.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The Holy of Holies, 274.]

I remember seeing, in my early childhood, the dear and beautiful subject of the following incident, the aged widow of a farmer in my father’s parish. My mother took me to visit Mrs. E. one day in her farm-kitchen. It was, I think, in 1849. 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 breath.2 [Note: Bishop Moule, From Sunday to Sunday, 191.]

2. The sin of which the world has to be convinced is the sin of unbelief. The Spirit convinces men of sin “because they believe not on me.” He shows them that unbelief is sin. It is the root of sin. The greatest sin that men can commit is the rejection of Christ. The message of the Gospel is so framed that no apology shall be able to extenuate the act of refusing it. Men shall never say that it is too hard to be understood; for its sublimest revelations have in them a simplicity that makes them intelligible even to illiterate persons, and appreciated by children. They shall never say that the doctrines of the Gospel are unreasonable; for the light which it throws upon intricate social problems, the complete and unanswerable replies that it gives to questions unsettled before, the plain and sober goodness and the eminent reasonableness that lie at the root of its laws, all of which qualities men can understand, shall prove to them that they ought to accept those supernatural features which are beyond their comprehension. They shall never say that its purpose is unnecessary; their own hearts and life shall tell them, and the condition of the world around shall cry aloud in their ears, that sin is an unconquerable power; that the sources of crime, disorder, and social debility are as prevailing as they are pestilent; that no remedy of human preparation has ever succeeded in effectually checking them; and that it is the business of all men, unitedly, personally, and constantly, to endeavour to remove them; when, therefore, the Gospel of Jesus presents itself to a despairing world as another hope of deliverance, a last hope, men shall never be able to object to it as unnecessary. Finally, they shall not decline to accept it because it can point to no witnesses or examples of its power. These shall always be at hand, comprising a mighty and ever-accumulating argument, a vast “cloud of witnesses,” spreading themselves over the world, not like distinct and eccentric meteors to dazzle and perplex, but like a dawn coming from that quarter of the horizon where men expect the day—a mild, genial, useful glory, the luminous ordinance of God Himself. So convincing did the Holy Ghost make the Gospel, and does still make it, defending it by every proof that can tell upon the convictions of men. Wherever Christ is preached, hearers shall be condemned because they believe not on Him. Possibly they may not be convinced, certainly they shall be convicted.

Men say they understand that cruelty, treachery, and lust bring their punishment sooner or later. But what they cannot understand is that the mere fact of refusing to believe is the sin of sins. A typical writer of the period says: “Science is but a new way of applying the mind to everything. It has affirmed the right and duty of investigation and verification. It has set up a new kind of intellectual morality, which has substituted the duty of inquiry for the duty of belief. The immediate result has been in England a sudden and amazing diminution of intolerance, a wonderful and wholly unexpected increase of mental freedom.” In other words, conscience may speak about other sin, but in the case of unbelief the thing forbidden does not appear to be in its own nature wrong, and “Don Worm” refuses to bite.

The appeal must be to what is elemental in human nature and experience. Content to be judged by that appeal, we maintain that the conscience bears witness that unbelief is the sin of sins. If ever conscience speaks out it is when this sin is committed on the levels of human life. As Bunyan puts it, they shut up Mr. Conscience, they blind his windows, they barricade his door, they cut the rope of the great bell on the housetop which he is wont to ring, that the town of Mansoul may not be disturbed. But sometimes Mr. Conscience escapes and rings his bell. For the sin of all sins to which the conscience bears witness is the sin of mistrusting and despising love. There is so little love in this world, and there is such a hard need of it. Multitudes have to go through life famished for lack of love. Even the most favoured have very few really to love them. If we have no love, human or Divine, then indeed life ceases to be worth living. “I would rather,” said one, “be condemned to be led out and hung if I knew one human soul would love me for a week beforehand and honour me afterwards, than live half a century and be nothing to any living creature.”1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 21.]

3. Unbelief is always seen at last to be want of belief in Christ. The Spirit, says Jesus, will convince the world of sin, “in that they believe not on me.” He will show the real nature of sin. “How shall we work the works of God?” it was asked; and it was answered by Christ, “This is the work of God, to believe on him whom he hath sent.” Sin is not measured by a law, or a nation, or a society of any kind, but by a Person. The righteousness of God was not in a requirement, system, book, or Church, but in a Person, and sin is defined by relation to Him. He came to reveal not only God but sin. The essence of sin is exposed by the touchstone of His presence, by our attitude to Him. He makes explicit what the sinfulness of sin is; He even aggravates it. He rouses the worst as well as the best of human nature. There is nothing that human nature hates like holy God. All the world’s sin receives its sharpest expression when in contact with Christ; when, in face of His moral beauty, goodness, power, and claim, He is first ignored, then discarded, denounced, called the agent of Beelzebub, and hustled out of the world in the name of God.

What is the belief that saves? We are asking the question in order that we may discover the unbelief that is sin. The belief that saves is that conviction which produces the abandonment of the whole life to the King. When I have believed that He is able to do all that I want, and I have ceded to Him all my life, then have I believed. A man does not believe the truth he holds, to borrow a very popular phrase, but he believes the truth that holds him. You have never yet believed on Jesus until you have abandoned your whole life to His Lordship, and trusted your soul to His Saviourhood, and never a man so believed but He “broke the power of cancelled sin, and set the prisoner free.”1 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]

4. What means does the Holy Spirit use in order to convince the world of the sin of unbelief in Christ?

(1) He puts an environment of new ideals before the mind.—He testifies of Christ, and in so doing makes us see how in His humanity all Divine excellences have come down into the midst of men and made themselves a new law to the conscience. We are not, after all, in a universe dominated by avarice, envy, falsehood, animalism, but by unselfishness, sanctity, truth, spiritual principle.

Some little time ago I was passing through a country lane, and saw a flock of sheep feeding on the hillside. They seemed to be milk-white, justifying the Scriptural metaphor, “He scattereth the hoarfrost like wool,” and fit to be welcomed as pets into a drawing-room. In comparison with the green pastures in which they were feeding, their fleeces seemed bleached into spotlessness. Not long after, a snowstorm came, and I had occasion to pass by the same field. But the sheep did not seem to be the same creatures at all. The background had changed as if by magic, and they were in a new world, the conditions of which served to bring out their griminess. They looked speckled, dingy, piebald, and anything but clean in comparison with the glittering snows in which they were nestling. The collier, rising out of the pit into the sunshine after a night of toil, scarcely looked grimier than those spotless sheep of yesterday. The stainless and dazzling snow served to bring into view all the dust from the roadside, all the bits of blackthorn from the hedges, all the carbon flakes ejected from the chimneys of the adjoining town that had been caught in their fleeces.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, 53.]

(2) The Spirit comes with a new atmosphere of sympathy and graciousness, unlike that which exists in the world and provokes to ingenuous self-justification. He who comes under this ministry feels almost instinctively His right to search the heart and bring every delinquency before a Divine tribunal. It is useless to attempt concealment, for the Spirit knows us more thoroughly than we know ourselves, and can constrain the most reluctant natures into a consciousness of their own evil. Indeed, the desire to cloak or dissemble silently disappears, for we instinctively recognize that His revelations, however unwelcome, are benevolent in motive. Whilst the full revelation of Divine love cannot be vouchsafed at this stage, we see at once that the attempt to convict us is not that of some competitor who is trying to smite us down. He acts upon us, not like the angry storm which leads men to bar their doors and close their shutters, but like the soft south wind, which opens every labyrinth of the heart and life to the light. It is no treachery or ill-will or unrelenting antagonism that is bringing home to us the unwelcome facts of the past, but helping and healing beneficence. In the most vivid revival of the half-forgotten sin there is no malicious exaggeration. His enforcement of the fact of our guilt is recognized as a gentle and tender effort to teach us those forgotten realities of law with which we have to reckon, and to put us into a better position for dealing with them. Whatever pain He inflicts, it is inseparable from the cure of a dire disease, and from the process of arousing faculties marked hitherto by ominous numbness and dormancy. He brings the hard rebel world, ever on the alert to justify itself, into an atmosphere that is something more wonderful than even the essence of compassionate fatherhood.

(3) A new power of moral discernment is aroused.—In what is called Christendom, there has been a manifest uplifting of the moral standards, and a correspondent quickening of the moral sensibilities, both of individual men and of whole races and peoples. In the people of the old dispensation and of the great pagan empires long ago converted to the Cross, moral ideas have now taken the place, to a great extent, of force; the coarse blank apathy of sin is broken up; the sense of duty is more piercing; and it is even as if a new conscience had been given respecting the soul in its relations to God. It is as if men had seen their state of sin glassed before them, and made visible in the rejection of Christ and His cross. Jews and pagans had before been made conscious at times of particular sins; we are made conscious, in a deeper and more appalling way, of the state of sin itself, the damning evil that infects our humanity at the root—that which rejected and crucified the Son of God, and is in fact the general madness and lost condition of the race.

Immediately after the departure of Christ from the world, that is, on the day of Pentecost, there broke out a new demonstration of sensibility to sin, such as was never before seen. In the days of the Law, men had their visitations of guilt and remorse, respecting this or that wrong act; but I do not recollect, even under the prophets, those great preachers of the Law and sharpest and most terrible sifters of transgression, a single instance where a soul is so broken or distressed by the conviction of its own bad state under sin as to ask what it must do to be saved—the very thing which many thousands did, on the day of Pentecost, and in the weeks that followed, and have been doing even till now.1 [Note: Horace Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, 115.]



“He will convict the world in respect of righteousness.” The Gospel of the Son of God is not the Gospel of forgiveness merely. It is also the Gospel of life and power, a great message, declaring that to the man who believes on Him, the living Lord, there comes new life-force, a new dynamic of virtue; and therefore the sin that ruins is the sin of unbelief. Merging into that first statement is necessarily the second statement of the text. “Of righteousness,” said Jesus, “because I go to the Father.” Who else could have uttered these words? If we can say that we shall go to the Father, our going is through the merit and for the sake of another, but none introduced the Man of Nazareth to the Father. He asked no mercy; when He ascended on high He did not appear in Heaven’s court in virtue of what another had done, but stood unafraid in Heaven’s light, in the perfect light of His victorious manhood. He says, “I go to the Father,” and in His going to the Father He has vindicated the possibility of the perfection of righteousness as an ideal life. And yet He did infinitely more by going to the Father. He received that Spirit which, poured out, becomes the life-force for others.

1. The Spirit convinces the world of the existence of righteousness.—The world as a world has but dim and inadequate conceptions of what righteousness is. A Pharisee is its type, or a man that keeps a clean life in respect of great transgressions—a whited sepulchre of some sort or other. The world apart from Christ has but languid desires after even the poor righteousness that it understands, and the world apart from Christ is afflicted by a despairing scepticism as to the possibility of ever being righteous at all.

Those who know this earth only can make nothing of righteousness. They try various definitions of it, such as equality of exchange or of condition and what is good for the greater number; but these accounts, besides failing to satisfy the idea of justice, carry no constraining authority to the individual conscience. In the New Testament age, whilst there was a strong tradition amongst the Romans in favour of orderly administration, thinking men were at a loss how to understand justice or righteousness in itself, and the general mind was not dominated by any clear conception of its nature or its authority. What was justice? What was a just man? Why was any one bound to be just? To such questions no answer was found. Our Lord says, the Spirit will bring the world to the knowledge of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold Me no more.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies, Spiritual Apprehension, 47.]

2. The Spirit convinces the world of the righteousness of Christ.—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on Him our flesh, and in the flesh condemned sin. Every thought, and word, and deed of His life was, in the highest sense, right. He lived amidst the ordinary surroundings of men, exposed to the same temptations, corruption, and weakness, a thoroughly Divine life, which could not fail to heighten the standard of the world. He was God manifest in the flesh. Of Him, alone, of all those born of woman, it could be said in the fullest meaning of the words: “He hath done all things well.” Here, then, was the world’s need supplied by the living Model of a perfectly holy life. But the world was by no means willing to receive and act upon the heaven-sent Light which penetrated its darkness. Just as a person long accustomed to the foul atmosphere of a dirty, unhealthy room, will resent with indignation any attempt to let in a breath of purifying air, so the degraded human race arose with one accord to reject the example of righteousness God had sent into their midst. This was the condemnation that light had come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Jesus Christ never thought of Himself: their whole thoughts were centred on self. His heart was set on things above: theirs on the gratification of their own needs, desires, and pleasures. They were covetous and filled with worldliness: He had no earthly possessions, not even a place where to lay His head. They were proud and self-willed: He was meek and lowly, and His daily endeavour was to do His Father’s will. So, because it was clear that one or other of these standards must be wrong, it seemed an easier plan for mankind, instead of reforming its own habits, to determine that the Lord Jesus was an impostor.

Accordingly, they banded themselves together and agreed that He was blaspheming God when He declared that He was the Divine Life—that He, the friend of publicans and sinners, was indeed the Son of the Most High, the heaven-sent Pattern of eternal righteousness. On this pretext they condemned Him to death, and nailed Him to the Cross; and then, when they had laid a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre, sealed it, and set a watch, they trusted His witness was silenced for ever. But God’s voice is not so easily silenced as sinful men desire. Jesus Christ was content to be led as a lamb to the slaughter because it was part of the eternal counsel that His blood must thus be shed for the sins of the world; but He declared most clearly, alike to friend and to foe, that His life was the only one with which God was well pleased. He set forth also most emphatically the test to which His words were to be subjected: “If I rise from the dead on the third day, and after showing unmistakable proofs of having been nailed to the cross, I ascend into heaven, then you must acknowledge that My record is true. If I thus go to My Father and you see Me no more, then you will be compelled to admit that I have spoken truth, that you have failed in convincing Me of sin, and that I am indeed the Holy One of God.”

The world that had slain Christ as unrighteous would own His righteousness when He had gone to the Father and they had seen Him no more. In all the literature of love and sorrow—and the two are never disjoined—we have this interpreted to us. It is in the withdrawal, in the departure to eternity, in the time of the lost vision that we know the righteousness we denied, or imperfectly recognized, when it was with us in its human dress. In Browning’s great poem he tells us how the murderer and ruffian husband, Guido, whose cruelty and malignity to the pure and trustful Pompilia passed all bounds, discerned her at last when she was with God. The procession entered his cell to lead him away to death, and he called out in an agony of fear—

Abate—Cardinal—Christ—Maria—God …

Pompilia! Will you let them murder me?

Pompilia, the sweet child, saint, martyr, was, in the man’s thought, exalted even above God in the power to save. In all the paths of life, even the highest, the same holds true. The background of death is needed to bring out the full meaning and force of life. The highest we have known may indeed shine upon us through the semi-opaque routine of daily duties. But we feel as if we had never known them when they go to the Father, and the thought clutches the heart that we shall see them no more. One illustration is in every reader’s mind. Queen Victoria was loved and reverenced as perhaps no monarch ever was before her death, with a love and reverence that grew with time. But how infinitely the devotion of her people was enhanced when she went to the Father and they saw her no more! In what a new way the nation perceived how she had given them all her strength and tenderness through these long, brave, faithful, constant years!1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 208.]

3. The Spirit convinces the world that only in Christ is righteousness to be found.—There are three requisites which must be fulfilled before man, as a sinner, can feel the possibility of his righteousness. The sins of the past haunt and terrify him; they bind him with cords of fear and self-condemnation, which prevent his rising;—here, then, the sense of forgiveness is the first requisite. But the sense of sin awakens the sense of immortality, and clothes it with fear. He dare not look onward, for his sin has peopled the worlds of the future with terrors, and for his justification he needs a Deliverer who shall have explored the future worlds, and illuminated their mystery; here is the second requisite. But he needs yet more. It is not enough for the past to be forgiven, and the future brightened; he himself must possess the germ of a new, righteous, God-like life; he must be a new man, rising into that revealed immortality. These three necessities: the assurance of forgiveness of the past; the removal of the terrors of the future; the creation of a new manhood in the present, are all met by the truth that Christ has gone to the Father; and when that is revealed by the Comforter, we have the conviction of righteousness.

Newman, in a very remarkable passage, says of the saints that their lingering imperfections surely make us love them more without leading us to reverence them less, and act as a relief to the discouragement and despondency which may come over those who in the midst of error and sin are striving to imitate them. That is to say, if their lives were beautiful before God we do not ask that they should be stainless, for even the stains show us that we, too, though we fall, may rise again. But let us ask how it would have been if any speck had fallen on the life of our Lord Jesus? How would it have been with us if He had spoken one rash word, if He had cherished in His mind one single unjust thought, if one arrow of the enemy had pierced His armour? If that had been, the prince of this world would be still in power, and all our hope were dead. But He kept innocency and took heed to the thing that was right from the beginning to the end. Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him and given Him a Name which is above every name, even the saving Name. By His righteousness so dearly wrought out, we too may be made righteous. His righteousness is our beauty, our glorious dress, proof against the fires of the Last Day. We are redeemed by that voluntary substitution of the Innocent for the guilty with which the Father is well pleased.1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 214.]

(1) “Because I go to my Father.” What is the meaning of “because”? It is this: If He had not been right in the claims He made He could not have gone to the Father when He died. If He went to the Father, if His Spirit convinced men that He was there and was acting from there, then He had been right in the claims He made about His relations to the Father and about His judgment of the world, and especially of Israel’s sin. The apostolic fact of His resurrection was proof that Israel’s God confirmed the claim of Christ, and gave judgment for Him against Israel. That was what settled the matter for St. Paul. As soon as He was convinced that God had raised up Christ and set Him at His right hand in glory, the whole fabric of his Judaism gave way. God would not raise a fanatic, impostor, or blasphemer. The Spirit convinced St. Paul that Jesus was the Holy One and the Just—nay, the very Righteousness of God; that the sin of sins lay with the people who thought themselves the best of the good.

(2) “And ye see me no more.” We are often like His disciples among these deep mysteries—we cannot tell what He saith. And yet the Holy Spirit makes the meaning as clear as it can be made to mortals. We are to lose the earthly vision that we may gain the heavenly. We are to lose the vision after the flesh that we may win the vision after the Spirit. Even in the highways of earthly love this may be understood—the more excellent glory of the spiritual love. “Love,” says our greatest poet, “is not time’s fool,” and perhaps the finest love-line in our language was written by another poet, hardly less great, to his wife:—

To you who are seventy-seven.



“He will convict the world in respect of judgment.” We miss the note of judgment in our day. Our convictions do not start from a sense that we are convicted. We want to be convinced by evidence where we should be convicted by the Spirit. This is an element that has dropped out of our view of the Cross, and therefore out of much Christian life; Christ crucified, we think, took the pain of sin but not its penalty, its sorrow but not its curse. We have of late done justice to the idea of sacrifice in connexion with the Cross; but in the same proportion we have lost the idea of judgment. We have revived the ethical idea of the Kingdom of God, but we have not grasped the idea, which fills both Old Testament and New Testament, that it could be set up only by a decisive act of holy judgment upon the kingdom of the world. The Cross was indeed the Divine sacrifice, but sacrifice is not a final idea without judgment. It is not an end in itself,—except to the ascetics,—it is a means. But judgment is an end, it is final in its nature, because it is the actual vindication of holiness and the establishment of righteousness, and beyond holiness and its victory we cannot go.

1. He will convince the world that there is judgment in the earth.—It is evident that if by the enlightening operation of the Holy Spirit sin is known, and righteousness is known, the ground is then laid for judgment, because judgment is only the just, and proper, and true estimate of righteous men and wicked men. The Holy Spirit, therefore, convinces the world of judgment—that is to say, He brings out in prominent and living characters the whole idea of judgment; of there being a division in the world; of there being two kinds of people in the world, good and bad, righteous and wicked.

There stands up everywhere in Scripture the pillar of fire and of cloud, and it comes between the camp of Israel and the camp of the Egyptians, and gives light by night to the one, but cloud and darkness to the other. The Gospel is especially penetrated by this idea of judgment; it declares the enmity of the world to God, and distinguishes between the world and those who are not of the world; it separates the followers of Christ from the world; it announces that Christ will manifest Himself to His disciples and not unto the world. It says, “Woe unto the world because of offences”; it says that “we cannot serve two masters”; that we cannot have the treasure of our heart in earth and in heaven at the same time. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Himself described as the Judge who thus separates between the righteous and the wicked, who places the sheep on the right hand, and the goats on the left; “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”1 [Note: J. B. Mozley, Sermons, Parochial and Occasional, 164.]

(1) Judgment is yet to come.—It is very hard on the lower planes of life to convince the world of judgment, to persuade men that there is an infallible reckoning for all transgression, that no sin can be permanently concealed, that in the end the hidden things of darkness will come to light, and will receive their just reward. It is hard to bring this home even in the case of offences that come within the province of criminal law. A man will commit a murder and believe that he will never be found out, that the blood will not speak. He will cover over the body with sand, not thinking that one day the skeleton arm will push itself through and appeal to the sky. And yet the vast majority of people have been so convinced of judgment in the realm of criminal law that they never put themselves within its reach. How are they convinced of judgment? There is only one way. They are convinced by the judgment of an actual transgressor, by the manifested sin of a criminal. People read in the newspapers day by day of the strange ways in which the dead are avenged, and they are convinced of judgment. And yet there is always an obstinate remnant that fixes its eyes on the crimes not yet expiated, and thinks that it may sin and escape.

(2) Judgment is now.—It is evident that Christ referred to a judgment that had then and there commenced, for the words have a present meaning. “The prince of this world has been judged.” We can most easily understand this by referring to a precisely similar utterance in the 31st verse of the 12th chapter: “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The Saviour had just declared that by His death He should give life to the world. He had just glanced into the awful struggle that was approaching, and His soul was troubled. He had just received from heaven the assurance of final victory, and then He declared, with the glory of the triumph already brightening, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The judgment, therefore, to which He pointed was that conquest which He had already commenced of the dominion of evil, and the final victory over it which He should gain on His Cross. And the same meaning must be attached to the word “world” here, so that the verse may be rendered thus: “He shall convince the world that evil is conquered, overthrown, and shall finally pass away.”

“The last judgment” is a phrase which we have almost robbed of its effect because we have used it chiefly for a remote and pictorial future. We have dwelt on the final date of judgment, and lost sense of a state of judgment, a judgment always there, and always final in its nature. We have pictured it in ways which have emptied it of spiritual awe, and reduced it to little more than physical terror and moral impotence. We do not realize that the prince of this world has been finally judged, and that we live in a saved world only because we live in a judged world. Either with the orthodox we have made judgment a cosmic catastrophe (and astronomy is full of them, and geology has made them too familiar), or we have reduced it, with the liberals, to the historic process on its ethical side, with its moral crises, and jail-deliveries, and fresh starts, from time to time. We have lost the note of judgment from the Cross, and so from our moral world. And we have lost it, with the orthodox, in a distant judgment scene, or with the liberals, who made it the mere Nemesis of history, which is too slow and subtle to curb the pushing hour. “The world’s history is the world’s judgment,” says Schiller. He wished to recall the last judgment from its remoteness to be a power in the heart of present things and living conduct. But there is something more true than Schiller’s famous phrase. It is not the world’s history, but Christ’s history that is the world’s judgment. And especially is it Christ’s Cross.1 [Note: P. T. Forsyth, Missions in State and Church, 72.]

2. “Because the prince of this world hath been judged.” Who is the prince of this world? The phrase “this world” is frequently used in the New Testament to express the collective forces that are on this earth opposed to God; and in speaking of a Prince, Christ manifestly implies that evil forces are not separated, but combined and connected things; that they form a great living power, a kingdom of wrong. But the phrase means more than this; it points to a personal Evil Spirit as lord of that evil kingdom. Not in the sense that he is the cause of it all, but that he is representative of it, as being the greatest and the first. According to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, evil began far back in the spiritual world, and came from thence to man. Interpreting the phrase thus, we have the idea of evil as a power mysteriously connected with the invisible world, and of an Evil Spirit as its representative.

Do you think of the prince of this world as one who holds in his tyranny a world of victims who are miserable because they struggle in his yoke? That is not the conception here at all. He represents here all that is most congenial to the world’s way. He is the personalized spirit of a willing and admiring world. He is the organ of a world proud of its representative. He has its confidence. He is the agent of methods which the world thinks essential to its prosperity and stability, which make its notion of eternal life. The world he represents has no idea that its moral methods can be bettered or its principles overthrown. To its mind the moral is an impertinence and the spiritual is a superstition—feeble, but capable of becoming dangerous. It must therefore be fought. And its antagonist is just as sensible of the antagonism. There is no compromise possible. They were destined to meet in a struggle which is inevitable and a judgment which is final—and that meeting was in the Cross.1 [Note: P. T. Forsyth, Missions in State and Church, 71.]

(1) The Spirit will convince the world that the prince of this world has been judged by showing that Christ has conquered sin through obedience to the will of God. And where was this so perfectly accomplished as in His life and death? All forces were in action to turn Him from submission. From first to last He was perpetually tempted to forsake Him chosen path of obedience. The cold, the hunger, and the lonely temptation of the wilderness formed but the prelude to the long struggle with the Evil One, which culminated on Calvary. It was the same temptation throughout to assert His own will against His Father’s will. It opened with the challenge in the wilderness, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread”; “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down”; and closed with the last taunt, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” But the cry, “It is finished,” was the herald of conquest—the proclamation to the world that one Man had stemmed the tide of evil and broken its force. The moment of seeming defeat was the moment of mightiest victory.

(2) The Spirit will show that by this victory the perpetuity of evil is shattered. The darkest lie of the Evil One is this—that evil is an eternal power. Before the advent of the Gospel, the world was beginning to believe in the omnipotence of wrong. The slavery wrought by sin was so complete that men were losing faith in anything that could conquer evil, and were sinking into a dreary and hopeless fatalism. Just note the two great facts which, as the results of sin, lay at the root of this state: (a) Suffering. Men felt the pressure of its mystery. It seemed to belie the goodness of God, to darken the heaven of His love, and prove sin to be irresistible. Its shadow rested on the ages of the past, and projected itself with a grim certainty into the future. Now suffering, in all its deepest dreadfulness, Christ endured. He became the High Priest of sorrow. He grew glorious through it. “He was perfected through sufferings,” and thus revealed it to man as the education of a Father. (b) Death. The great mystery, the spoiler of human hopes, the divider of friend from friend, the sign-manual of sin’s dominion. He became subject to its power. It seemed to conquer Him. It seemed to divide Him from the Father, but really it was the pledge of their eternal union. Rising from the grave, He ascended to the heavens, thus consecrating death for all men as a pathway to the Father’s home. Such was Christ’s conquest. It was the crisis of earth’s history, the judgment and overthrow of the “prince of this world.”

All hail! dear Conqueror! all hail!

Oh what a victory is Thine!

How beautiful Thy strength appears!

Thy crimson wounds, how bright they shine!

Thou camest at the dawn of day;

Armies of souls around Thee were,

Blest spirits, thronging to adore

Thy flesh, so marvellous, so fair.

Ye heavens, how sang they in your courts,

How sang the angelic choirs that day,

When from His tomb the imprisoned God,

Like the strong sunrise, broke away!1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]

The Spirit and the World


Bushnell (H.), Christ and His Salvation, 98.

Davies (J. Ll.), Spiritual Apprehension, 40.

Forsyth (P. T.), Missions in State and Church, 51.

Hull (E. L.), Sermons preached at King’s Lynn, 2nd Ser., 14, 29.

Jenkins (E. E.), Life and Christ, 143.

Liddon (H. P.), Sermons on Some Words of Christ, 342.

Maclaren (A.), The Holy of Holies, 279.

Moule (H. C. G.), From Sunday to Sunday, 188.

Mozley (J. B.), Sermons Parochial and Occasional, 160.

Nicoll (W. R.), Sunday Evening, 3, 21.

Selby (T. G.), The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, 43.

Wilkinson (G. H.), The Invisible Glory, 233.

Christian World Pulpit, lvi. 120 (Macdonald); lxii. 395 (Campbell Morgan).

Verse 9

(9) Of sin, because they believe not on me.—This should not be interpreted, as it very frequently is, of the sin of unbelief, but of sin generally; unbelief in Christ is stated as the cause of sin. Sin is missing the aim of life, the disordered action of powers that have lost their controlling principle. Christ is the revelation to the world of the Father’s love. In union with God through Him the soul finds the centre of its being, and the true purpose of its life. By the witness of Christ the Holy Spirit convinces men that He is the centre of the moral harmony of the Universe, and that through Him their spirits have access to God. This conviction reveals to them their sin, because they believe not on Him. Its effect is salutary or condemnatory, according as we are convinced and converted by it, or refuse its influence and remain convicted.

Verse 10

(10) Of righteousness, because I go to my Father.—In the conviction of sin, the world is convinced of its own sin by the Spirit’s representation of Christ to it. That representation of Christ brings also the conviction of righteousness, but this is the righteousness of Christ, not that of the world. The conviction of Christ’s righteousness necessarily precedes that of the heart’s own sin. The light makes the darkness visible, and the revelation of the darkness shows the clearness of the light. The special reason of the conviction of righteousness is the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. Men had called Him a sinner (John 9:24), and His crucifixion was the world’s assertion that He was a malefactor (John 18:30); but even when He was hanging upon the cross there came to the centurion’s mind the conviction, “Truly this Man was innocent” (see Luke 23:47); and moreover His return to the Father was Heaven’s witness to His righteousness. For the way in which this conviction was brought home to the hearts of the Apostles, and through them to the hearts of mankind, comp. especially Acts 2:27; Acts 2:31; Acts 2:36-37. See also Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:7.

And ye see me no more.—The word means, “look upon,” “behold.” The going to the Father would cause that they should gaze upon His bodily presence no more; but the Spirit’s witness of Him, which would convince the world of sin and righteousness, would be, to them a truer presence of their Lord than any which physical eye could see. The eye of the spirit sees the reality; the eye of the body only looks upon the appearance.

Verse 11

(11) Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.—Comp. Notes on John 3:17-18, and John 12:30-31. The tense here is perfect, marking the completion of the condemnation. “The prince of this world hath been and remaineth judged.” The conviction is regarded from the point of view of the coming of the Advocate when Christ’s work shall have been completed. That work is the redemption of the world, and is, therefore, the condemnation of the prince of this world. The conviction of this judgment follows upon that of sin and upon that of righteousness. The two kingdoms stand out in clear distinction. The power of the prince of this world is overcome by the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The King of Righteousness is in victory seated upon His throne, and claims mankind, whose nature He has assumed and whom He has redeemed, to be free from sin and servants of righteousness.

It is not within the scope of these Notes to discuss the theories of interpretation, and the many difficulties which attend every interpretation of John 16:7-11. All that can be attempted is to place the reader in possession of what seems to be the simplest meaning of the words. A more full treatment is the less necessary as a complete discussion of the whole subject is easily accessible in the Sermons of the late Archdeacon of Lewes, preached before the University of Cambridge, in 1840. The Notes attached to the Sermons are an exhaustive summary of the views held in ancient and modern times by men most capable of judging. (See J. C. Hare, Mission of the Comforter, Ed 3, 1876.)

Verse 12

(12) I have yet many things to say unto you.—The “many things” are defined by the next verse to be things with regard to which the Spirit of Truth shall be their guide—i.e., they are parts of the revelation which the minds of the disciples are not yet fitted to receive.

Ye cannot bear them now.—Comp. John 15:15. The statements are not opposed to each other. On His side there is the readiness to impart to them as friends all things that He had heard from the Father. But revelation can only be made to the mind which can accept it; and for those who have only in part understood what He has told them there are many things which cannot now be borne.

Of what the “many things” were, we have only this general knowledge. They would include, doubtless, the doctrinal system of the early Church, and they would not exclude all the lessons which the spirit of God has taught the Church in every age.

The fact that there were truths which Christ Himself could not teach is a lesson which men who profess to teach in Christ’s name have too seldom learnt. St. Paul found in it a rule for his own practice. He, too, fed men with milk because they could not bear meat. (Comp. Note on 1 Corinthians 3:3.) It is true, indeed, that no one can teach who does not possess a higher knowledge than that of his pupil; but it is no less true that no one can really teach who does not take the lower ground of his pupil’s knowledge, and from that lead him to his own. Truths which the cultured mind accepts as obvious would appear no less so to the peasant if he were carefully taught them. Too often the weaker brother finds a stumbling-block in the very steps which should lead him to a higher truth, because he approaches them blindly, and without a guide. For the breach which exists between the higher Christian thought of our day and the faith of the masses of the people, Christian teachers are in no small degree responsible, and the only means by which the chasm may be bridged is to teach Christ’s truths as He Himself taught them.

Verse 13

(13) Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come.—Comp. Note on John 14:17.

He will guide you into all truth.—Better, . . . into all the truth. The words do not mean that the Holy Spirit will fully guide them into truth, but that He will be their guide into the fulness of truth. The word rendered “guide,” occurs again in Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39; Revelation 7:17; and metaphorically, as here, in Acts 8:31. A comparison of these passages will show that its meaning is “to point out the way,” “to lead one on his way.” The fulness of truth is for the disciples an unknown territory. They are spiritually as blind men, feeling after the truth, but not able to see it. The Spirit of Truth will take them by the hand, and, step by step, as they have strength to follow, will guide them into the territory, and unfold to them the treasures it contains. The promise has a special meaning for the disciples to whom it was spoken; but it holds good for every disciple who seeks to know the truth. We may pray,—without doubt that the prayer is in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and without doubt that it will be answered—

“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,

And lighten with celestial fire.

Enable with perpetual light

The dulness of our blinded sight.”

The scribes, “instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, and bringing forth out of their treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52), may know that they can seek, and not seek in vain, a higher than human guidance, and may hope “by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort.”

For he shall not speak of himself.—Comp. Notes on John 5:19; John 7:17-18. The Holy Spirit’s power to guide into the truth depends upon the fact that He, like the Son Himself, will represent to the world the eternal truth of God. He, too, is subordinated to the Father, and His work is to seek the glory of Him that sent Him. (Comp., on the other hand, John 8:44, where the essence of the lie is that the devil speaketh of his own.)

And he will shew you things to come.—Better, and He will announce to you the things to come. (Comp. Notes on Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:20.) We must again be on our guard against drawing limits which Christ has not drawn. These words, too, have their fulfilment in the Spirit’s illumination in all time; but we may still find their first and special meaning in the Revelation to the Apostolic Church, of which St. John’s Apocalypse is the most prominent example.

Verse 14

(14) He shall glorify me.—The pronoun is here full of emphasis. The thought is that the future guidance of the Spirit promised in John 16:13, will be the revelation of the many things of Christ Himself which they cannot bear now (John 16:12).

For he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.—Better, as in John 16:13, . . . . announce it unto you. This is the test of the Spirit, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God.” (Comp. Notes on 1 John 4:1-2.) The revelation of Christ is not an imperfect revelation which the Holy Spirit is to supplement. It is a full revelation imperfectly received, and His office is to illumine the heart, and bring home to it the things of Christ.

Verse 15

(15) All things that the Father hath are mine.—He has told them that the Spirit’s work is to glorify Him, to receive of His, and announce to the world. The ground of this saying is in the fact that the Son is the Revealer of the Father, and that the fulness of the truth (John 16:13) is given unto Him. The words appear from the context not to express the spiritual relation of the Son to the Father, but the fulness of the communication to Him in His human nature of the divine truth which He should reveal to man. (Comp. Notes on John 1:18; John 8:42; John 10:36; John 17:10; Matthew 11:27; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:2-3.)

He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.—Better, He taketh of Mine, and shall declare it unto you. The present expresses the unchanging relation of the Spirit to the Son. It should be noted that in these verses (14 and 15) there is an implication of the following doctrinal truths. They are implied, let us remember, in the words of our Lord Himself, and that they are implied and not stated increases the force of their meaning:—(1) The divinity of the Son: “He shall glorify Me;” “All things that the Father hath are Mine.” (2) The personality of the Holy Ghost: “He shall receive of Mine.” The Greek word, ἐκεῖυος, expresses this in the most emphatic way. The word is used of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8; John 16:13, and in John 14:26; John 15:26. (3) The Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity: “the Father;” “I” “He.”

Verse 16

(16) A little while, and ye shall not see me.—The better reading is, A little while, and ye no longer behold Me. For the sense, comp. Notes on John 14:18-19. The time here referred to is that between the moment of His speaking to them and His death.

And again, a little while, and ye shall see me.—The time here referred to is the interval between His death and the Day of Pentecost. That the vision is to be understood of our Lord’s presence in the person of the Paraclete (John 14:18-19), is confirmed by John 16:23. Note that in this clause the verb (“see”) is different from that in the preceding clause (“behold”). The latter refers rather to the physical, and the former to the spiritual, vision. (Comp. John 20:6-8.)

Because I go to the Father.—The majority of the better MSS. omit these words at this place. They have probably been inserted here from the end of the next verse. (Comp. Note there.)

Verse 17-18

(17, 18) Then said some of his disciples among themselves.—Better, Therefore said . . . The question arises out of what He has said. They draw aside and discuss the matter privately. It is beyond their comprehension, and seems to be contradictory.

A little while, and ye shall not see me.—Better, A little while, and ye behold Me not, as in John 16:16.

Because I go to the Father.—So far they have quoted word for word what He had said in the previous verse. They now connect it with what He had said in John 16:7; John 16:10, and this forms the ground of their surprise. There He had spoken of their beholding Him no more because He goeth to the Father. Here He speaks of a little while, after which they shall not behold Him, and again a little while, after which they shall see Him. They cannot reconcile these things. They cannot tell what He saith.

Verse 19

(19) Now Jesus knew they were desirous to ask him.—The purpose of His enigmatic saying (John 16:29) has been accomplished. Their attention has been excited, and they have taken the first step towards knowledge. They inquire among themselves, and this spirit of inquiry which He reads in their hearts (comp. John 2:25; John 6:6) He proceeds to answer. The first part of His answer is concerned with their difficulty about the “little while.” In John 16:28. He answers their thought about His going to the Father.

Verse 20

(20) Verily, verily, I say unto you.—Comp. Note on John 1:51.

That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.—Comp. John 20:11, and Luke 23:27. In the original the contrast between the sorrow of the disciples and the joy of the world is rendered the more striking by the order of the words, “Weep and lament shall ye, but the world shall rejoice.” The tears and the scoffs at the cross were the accomplishment of this prophecy.

And ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.—The expression is a full one. It is not simply that they shall pass from sorrow to joy, but that the sorrow itself shall become joy. They will rejoice in the presence of the Lord, when after a little while they will see Him and will feel that the separation necessarily went before the union, and that the sorrow was itself a matter of joy because it was the necessary cause of the joy (John 16:7, and John 20:20).

Verse 21

(21) A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow.—The Greek is more exactly, the woman . . . hath pangs—that is, “the woman in the well-known illustration.” (See Note on John 15:15.) This figure was of frequent use in the prophets. (Comp. Isaiah 21:3; Isaiah 26:17-18, and especially Isaiah 66:7-8; Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 22:23; Jeremiah 30:6; Hosea 13:13-14; Micah 4:9-10.)

That a man is born into the world.—The word is the wider word for “human being.” (Comp. Note on John 1:51.) The thought is of the joy of maternity swallowing up the pangs of child-birth. These cease to exist, but that continues. She forgets the one in the fulness of the other.

For the phrase “into the world” comp. John 1:9; John 18:37.

Verse 22

(22) And ye now therefore have sorrow.—The same word is used. The hour of their travail-pangs was at hand; but it would pass away, and the fulness of joy would come in the constant presence of their Lord. Their sorrow would be but temporary; their joy would be abiding. The point of comparison between their state, and the familiar illustration of a woman in travail, is the passage from extreme suffering to extreme joy. We are not justified in taking the illustration as a parable, and interpreting it of the death of Christ as the birth-pang of a perfect humanity. This is the general interpretation of the more mystical expositors, and has been unfolded with great truth and beauty; but it is not an exposition of the present text.

But I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.—In John 16:19 He had said “Ye shall see.” This is the obverse of the same truth. He will again. be with them, and see them as they will see Him. The words include too the thought of His deep sympathy with them. He sees them now in the depth of their sorrow, and feels with them in that. He will see them again in the time of their joy, and will rejoice with them in that.

And your joy no man taketh from you.—The reading is doubtful. Some of the better MSS. have the future “. . . shall take from you.” “No man” is better rendered indefinitely, no one, as, e.g., in John 10:18; John 10:29. (Comp. Matthew 28:20, and Romans 8:38-39, and Notes there.)

Verse 23

(23) And in that day ye shall ask me nothing.—Comp. Acts 1:6. The time here referred to is, as we have seen (John 16:16), the time of the gift of the Paraclete, who shall fully illumine them, so that they shall not need to ask the meaning of new thoughts and words as they have done hitherto. (Comp., e.g., the certain knowledge of Peter’s speech in Acts 2. with the misunderstandings of these last days of the Lord’s ministry.)

Verily, verily, I say unto you.—Comp. John 1:51. As we have so often found, these words precede a truth of -weighty import.

Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.—The more probable reading is, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, He will give it you in My name. The thought is that the prayer is offered in Christ’s name (comp. Note on John 14:13, and in this context John 16:24), and that the answer to every such prayer is in virtue of His name. The fact that we pray in His name makes it certain that the prayer will be answered. The fact that the prayer is answered is proof that it was in Christ’s name.

Verse 24

(24) Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name.—Comp. Note on John 14:13. They had not up to this time received the Holy Spirit. When He came, He was as the presence of Christ dwelling in them. Under His influence their will became the will of Christ, and their thoughts the thoughts of Christ, and their prayers the prayers of Christ. They had not yet so learnt Him .as to pray in His name. It would be otherwise in that day.

Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.—The future is thought of as already present, and they are directed to ask, as though they had already entered into the new region of spiritual life. The pangs of the present travailing are passing away (John 16:22). The fulness of joy is already at hand. (Comp. Note on John 15:11.)

Verse 25

(25) These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs.—Better, as in the margin, . . . in parables. So in the second clause of the verse and in John 16:29. (Comp. Note on John 10:6.) “These things” refers specially to what He had just said from John 16:16 onwards. There is a sense in which it is necessarily true of all Christ’s teaching, and of all teaching in words. They are but parables until the truth which they contain has been thought out by the man that hears them. For the disciples much of Christ’s teaching remained in a parabolic form, until the Spirit brought all things which He had said to the mind, and quickened their minds so that they could grasp its meaning. (Comp. e.g., John 2:20-22.)

But the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs.—For “proverbs,” read parables, as in last verse. For the time referred to, comp. John 16:16; John 16:23. In that time He will be present with them in the Advocate, and will no longer need parables or words, but will, to the depth of their spirit, communicate to them in all fulness and plainness the eternal truth of the Father (John 16:13 et seq.).

Verse 26

(26) At that day ye shall ask in my name.—Comp. Notes on John 16:23-24. When guided by the Paraclete, the life will be subject to the will of Christ, and the prayer will be in His name.

And I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you.—These words have often been taken to mean, “That I will pray the Father for you, is a matter of course, of which I need not tell you; but this sense is excluded by the following verse. The thought is rather, “I do not speak of praying for you, because in the presence of the Advocate you will yourselves be able to pray in My name to the Father.” His prayer is thought of as not necessary for them, and yet the form of the words implies that He will pray for them if it should be needed. While their hearts are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and they maintain communion with the Father, they will need no other Advocate, but “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Comp. John 14:16; John 17:9, which refer to the time which precedes the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Verse 27

(27) For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me.—Comp. Notes on John 14:21; John 14:23. The introduction of the thought again here reminds us that, although in the fulness of the higher spiritual life there is communion between the Father and the human spirit, because the Father Himself ever loveth the heart which can receive His love, this power to receive the love of the Father is itself the result of loving the Son, who has revealed Him. Our Lord is leading them to the fuller truths of spiritual communion with God, and even tells them that this will be independent of mediation; but the very words which tell them that it will be independent of mediation, tell them that all depends upon His own mediation and the manifestation of the love of God in His own person.

And have believed that I came out from God.—The reading is uncertain. Several of the better MSS. read, “. . . that I came forth from the Father.” (Comp. the first words of the next verse and John 13:3.) The perfect tenses represent their love and faith as completed, and continuing in the present. It is striking that the order of the words makes faith’ follow love. This order may be chosen to mark emphatically the connection between the Father’s love for the disciples and their love for the Son; but it also suggests that their convictions were the result of having their hearts opened by love so that they received the truth.

Verse 28

(28) I came forth from the Father.—Comp. Note on John 16:19. He repeats with emphasis that which in the last verse He stated as believed by them—“It is true. I did come forth from the Father, and came into the world. But what follows from this? Heaven, and not earth, is My home. I leave the world again and return to the Father.” They had accepted the truth of the Incarnation, but in this there was already implied the truth of the Ascension, and in the truth of the Ascension there was implied the gift of the Paraclete, and the spiritual return and constant presence of Christ in the Church (John 16:7 and John 14:14-18).

Verse 29

(29) Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.—Better, . . . parable, as in John 16:25. (Comp. Note there.) The emphasis is upon the word “now.” He had told them (John 16:25) that the hour would come when He would speak to them no more in parables, but tell them plainly of the Father. His last words have explained what they before could not understand, and it seems to them that the illumination promised in the future has already come.

Verse 30

(30) Now are we sure that thou knowest all things.—Comp. John 16:19; John 16:23. The “now” is emphatic, as in the previous verse. They see in His present knowledge of their thoughts, and in the light which has come to them from the statements of John 16:28, the fulfilment of the promise which He has made for the future (John 16:23). They think that the day has already come when they shall ask Him nothing, for He knows all things, and communicates to them the fulness of truth.

By this we believe that thou camest forth from God.—They had believed this before (John 16:27), but here, as frequently, St. John remembers the development of their faith. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.) They find, in His knowledge of their thoughts (John 16:19), and in the full solution which He gives to their difficulties, ground for a new faith; and upon this new proof of His divinity they have a new faith in Him. (Comp. the instance of Nathanael’s faith at the end of John 1)

Verse 31

(31) Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe.—Comp. Note on John 1:50. Here, as there, the words do not necessarily ask a question; and, although many expositors prefer to take them interrogatively, a sense more in harmony with the context is got by understanding them as an assertion. Our Lord did not doubt their present faith (John 17:8); but He knew that the hour of their full illumination had not yet come, firmly as they believed it had. Their present light was as the flash of the meteor—brilliant, but passing away. The clear and steadfast light of day was in the future, of which He has spoken to them. They think the hour of full knowledge has come. He sees the time when they shall all be scattered and leave Him alone, close at hand. It is this thought which He expresses to them—“Now ye do believe: Behold, the hour cometh . . .”

Verse 32

(32) Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:31; Matthew 26:56.

Every man to his own.—Or, his own lodging in Jerusalem, which must be here intended. That is, as the margin renders it, “to his own home.” (Comp. Note on John 1:11.)

And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.—They would each flee to his own place of sojourn. He, too, though apparently left alone, had His own home in the presence of the Father, which was ever with Him. The fact of their leaving Him could not in truth have added to His sense of loneliness. He must, even when surrounded by them, have always been alone. The thoughts of His mind were so infinitely beyond them, that the true sympathy which binds souls in companionship could never have had place. And yet He was never alone, for His life was one of constant communion with the Father. (Comp. the consciousness of this in John 8:29.) Once only do we find the vision of the Father’s presence eclipsed for a moment by the thick darkness of the world’s sin; but the wail of agony, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) is straightway followed by the assurance of His presence, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46.)

Alone and not alone. It was so in the human life of our Lord; it is so in the life of His followers. There is a sense in which each one is alone; and there is a depth of being into which no human friend can ever enter. There is a loneliness which of itself would lead to despair, were it not that its very existence tells of and leads to the never-failing communion with God:—

“Who hath the Father and the Son

May be left—but not alone.”

Verse 33

(33) These things I have spoken unto you . . .—At the conclusion of the discourse He sums up in a single thought what was the object of it, “Peace in Him. In the world, indeed, tribulation, but this as conquered in Him, and not interrupting the true peace in Him.” The thought is closely allied to that of the last verse, “Alone and not alone;” “Troubled, and yet having peace.” He had spoken of this from John 14:1 onwards, and from John 15:18 to John 16:4 specially of the tribulation which awaited them. (Comp. St. Paul’s experience of these contrasts in 2 Corinthians 4:8 et seq.)

That in me ye might have peace.—Comp. Notes on John 14:27; John 15:7.

In the world ye shall have tribulation.—The reading of the better MSS. is, “In the world ye have tribulation.” It is the general statement of their relation to the world. The two clauses answer to each other—the one defining the origin of their inner, the other of their outer life. The life in the world is but the life as it is seen by others; the true life is that which is in communion with God through Christ, and that is one of never-failing peace, which no tribulation can ever affect. Peace is the Christian’s birthright, and his joy no one taketh from him (John 16:22, John 14:27).

But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.—The pronoun is strongly emphatic, “I have Myself overcome the world.” He speaks of the assured victory as though it were already accomplished. (See Note on John 16:11 and John 12:31; John 13:31.) Here is the reason why they should take courage and be of food cheer. He is the Captain of their salvation, and has already won the victory. The enemies they fear, the world in which they have tribulation, are already captives following in the Conqueror’s train. They themselves have pledges of victory in and through His victory.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.