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In the narrative of Sir Walter Scott's last days at Abbotsford, Lockhart tells how one morning he had his chair wheeled 'into the library, and placed by the central window, that he might look down on the Tweed. Here he expressed the wish that I should read to him, and when I asked from what book, he said: "Need you ask? There is but one?" I chose the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel; he listened with mild devotion.'
Reference. XIV. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 290.
The Sum and Substance of the Christian Faith
I would ask you to regard those words 'Ye believe in God, believe also in Me' as containing in their short and simple phrase the whole sum and substance of the Christian faith. There are many religious controversies going on at the present day, but those pure words from our Lord to His disciples at the most solemn and critical moment of His life concentrate the whole of His Gospel in that short sentence.
I. The Force of this Saying of Our Lord's lay in the introductory words, 'Let not your heart be troubled'. Every Jew was familiar with the sayings, 'We will not fear though the earth be moved. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.' Whatever trust of whatever kind men put in God they are called upon by our Lord to put in Him. You will observe the extraordinary and peculiar personal character which is given to our faith by this appeal. The essence of our Christian faith consists in our being in Jesus Christ. We realise that the essence of our faith should consist in putting in that Personal Human Being, Jesus Christ, exactly the same kind of faith as the Jew put in God, as we ourselves put in God the Father.
II. By Means of a Personal Belief in Jesus Christ. we are brought into immediate communication and contact with Him. We are called upon to believe not in a past, not in a distant, but in a present Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to claim every human being as His follower and as His believer. The one supreme issue in life is Do you believe in Jesus Christ as you believe in God, do you submit to Him and trust Him?
III. When a Man Realises that He is the Living God, then the Love of Jesus Christ becomes the strongest and most active force in a man's life. How many a man has been saved from sin by the remembrance that Christ loves him! The great trouble of life is that we have not realised our Lord Jesus Christ as a living person always near us.
IV. His Appeal is surely the Most Beautiful and Sincere in all the World. He makes it not merely because of His Christian personality, not merely in consequence of that love which His words and His acts must needs arouse in us; it is because it is the appeal of one who shed His blood in substantiation of the statements and the claim He made. It is a claim written in blood. And that is the foundation of His appeal, 'If ye believe in God believe also in Me'.
V. Christ Asks us to Believe in Him as our Saviour. 'If any man sin,' said St. John, 'we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.' Is that not the most wonderful thing that can be said to any congregation?
The Consolation of Christ
I. It is marvellous indeed that the Lord Jesus should think of any other than Himself at such a time as this. His own awful burden of sorrows is pressing upon Him as never before. Over Him hung the black shadow of that dreadful death. Here in the upper room He sits at the last supper. And now it is that the face, so sad, so troubled, looks around on the little company. There is a great silence. We wait expecting the sorrowing Saviour to appeal to them for constancy and sympathy. But instead of that He forgets Himself. His thought is only of them. Towards them His heart goes out in eager tenderness, and yearning over them with an infinite pity He saith: 'Let not your heart be troubled'. Of one thing now let us be perfectly sure nothing can ever make our Lord forget us.
II. If we turn from the Master to the disciples the words seem equally strange. For them trouble seemed to be the only fitting thing. Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. What did it mean? It meant this: 'Yes, all is black and dreadful, but do not let it drive you from Me Come near to Me trust in Me. In spite of all, find in Me your strength and refuge.' There never is, there never can be, any dark and awful revelation which is to drive us away from Him.
III. Once again turn the words and see in them the two sides of this great trouble. The disciples saw one side only, and were troubled indeed. The Lord Jesus saw the other, and said: 'Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God: believe also in Me'. They saw only one side of the mystery the grief, the loneliness, the shame, the agony. But the blessed Lord stood and saw the other side the glory that should follow. Well might He whisper: 'Let not your heart be troubled: neither let it be afraid'.
M. G. Pearse, Naaman the Syrian, and other Sermons, p. 197.
The God of Christian Faith
The word used here by our Saviour and translated 'be troubled 'does not signify any kind of sadness and sorrow, nor are we to understand that it is either desirable or possible to banish all sadness and sorrow from the mind of any son of man under the conditions that prevail upon this earth. The word used by Jesus signifies to be agitated, perplexed and thrown into confusion. Let us examine more closely the truth that faith in God will save us from a troubled or distracted heart; and then it will be important to note that faith in God involves faith in Jesus Christ.
I. That faith in God will save us from a troubled or distracted heart. 'Belief in God' is a 'living belief that rules the life. The God in whom Jesus requires belief is not any shadowy kind of God, but definitely the God of the Hebrews an ethical God, possessing (a) Righteousness, the central idea among the Jews. (b) Wisdom, the necessary accompaniment of perfect righteousness. (c) Love, a characteristic that was only germinal in the Old Dispensation, yet sufficiently revealed to necessitate its further unfolding. Living belief in such a God requires living sympathy with His ethical Life. It is the God within us, having become the life of our Life, that becomes the motive-power of our life's course, and the assurance of eternal glory.
II. But our consideration of this subject is very incomplete until we examine the further suggestion made by our text that belief in God involves belief in Jesus Christ. 'Believe in God and believe in Me.' The juxaposition of the clauses is awe-inspiring. There is a clear claim put forward by Christ that His disciples shall repose in Him the same absolute, unquestioning, unlimited faith that they repose in God. We are not asked to believe in God and in some one that is not God. The latter would be ridiculously unnecessary after the former. Nor are we asked to believe in two gods, as some superficial theologians sarcastically aver. God is one. He is one ethically and therefore metaphysically, for the ethical is the heart of the metaphysical. It is only in the God revealed in Christ that man can find final stability and rest. It is far less a matter of the intellect than of the heart. You may plead that you cannot help your intellectual bias, but you can help your moral condition. For this, at any rate, you are responsible; and to reject God in Christ is to reject the true moral ideal for human life.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 61.
References. XIV. 1. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 126. T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 126. H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 226. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 730. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 219; Ibid. vol. vi. p. 472. A. Maclaren, Eospositions of Holy Scriptures St. John, p. 253. XIV. 1, 2. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 260. XIV. 1-3. R. S. Simpson, The Scottish Review, vol. vii. p. 387. XIV. 1-4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1741. C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 72.
I. Christ in these words is clearly speaking of the intermediate state. 'My Father's house' was the name which He gave to the Temple. He draws an analogy between the earthly and the heavenly sanctuary. The Temple had 'many mansions,' which were used for a threefold purpose (a) I need not say that the Temple was a place of worship. (b) Just as the Mosque of St Sophia, in Constantinople, is not only a place of worship, but also a Mohammedan college, so the Temple was a great school of instruction, (c) The Temple, like the Vatican, which with its many chambers is the dwelling of the Pontifical household, was the home of a priesthood.
II. I now call your attention to a simple argument from Nature founded on the words: 'I go to prepare a place for you'. Everywhere in the natural world we see a wonderful adaptation, even in the lowest forms of organic life, to their surroundings. When we consider this universal law of adaptation in the world of Nature, we see that the higher the state of organic life the more careful is the provision for the wants, the comfort, the happiness of the creature. If, then, the 'intermediate state' be a higher and nobler stage of existence than this, the 'God of preparations 'will provide for the saints in heaven 'mansions' perfectly adapted to their present condition.
J. W. Bardsley, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 960.
What is a mansion? What is the meaning of the word mansion as it fell from those gracious lips? Is the word translated mansion a familiar word in the New Testament? Does it occur frequently, and introduce its subtle music into the common language of the day? Or is it a peculiar word, sparsely occurring on the radiant pages of the new revelation? What is a mansion? It would be difficult, you would reply, to say in one word what it is, but it indicates, greatness, fineness, a surrounding estate, an environment of forest or of sea it may be; certainly a mansion is something great, noble, hospitable, having Welcome written in capitals of gold over every portal. Is that your notion of mansion? It is not the notion of the text. How often does the word occur in the New Testament? Only twice. Where is the other place of occurrence? In this chapter: 'Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our mansion with him, our abode with him.' The same word, but so domestic, so accessible, so homelike, so utterly unlike the definition which has just been tendered to us and which in the name of Christ we reject. Our abode, our manse, mansion, dwelling-place, resting-place, our hotel, our guest-chamber. That brings the text very near us, so near us that our nostril can inhale its fragrance, and our eyes though dim with age may catch at least an outline of its charming beauty. Manse is defined as a clergyman's dwelling-place; it is the beginning of mansion. In My Father's house are many manses. Manse, mansa in low Latin, a farm, a farm with a field or two, an agricultural place of corn and orchards and gardens. In My Father's house are many stopping-places, resting-places, refreshment-rooms, places where the soul can eat and drink and go many days in the strength of this Divine recuperation. In My Father's house are many abodes, many places where you can stop for a night or two, many hostelries on the sweltering road and the uphill journey; places above whose front doors is, Halt, and rest, and receive the welcome of the Divine love.
I. We have, first of all, the home idea abodes. Where abidest thou? Lord, abide with me: abide with us, for the day is far spent; and He went in to abide with them, to make them for a moment, as it were, His abode; and He turned their simple home into one of God's mansions, manses, farms by the way; and they were glad of it; the house was never the same again to them as it was that quiet evening; it burned into a new identity, it glowed into a more infinite and tender significance. The Gospel is full of domesticity. Jesus liked to go into people's houses. What if this Man of the home life, who had no home of His own, turned in His inmost heart tenderly and appreciatively to the idea of people living in roofed houses, each with a fire of its own, each with a pillow built against the inroads of weariness? Lifting up the whole idea of our domestic life, He said, In My Father's house are many refreshment-rooms, many resting-places, many abodes; you need not walk too far at a time, because if you know the road, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the moment you are weary there is the hostelry, immediately there on your right hand, in front of you; and lo! you knew it not. This is God's way; He prepares the hostelry, He gets things ready for the travellers, He builds homes as well as the heavens.
II. Then we have the pilgrim idea. The picture is that of a man on a journey; the road may be uphill, it may be hot, dusty, difficult; Jesus says, In My Father's house there are many stopping-places, why not stop at one now? And how welcome is the idea of resting when we are consciously and helplessly weary! In My Father's house are many manses, calling-houses, resting-places; tarry for the night; the earlier you rise tomorrow the more certainly shall I know that your rest has been refreshing, and, being refreshed with God's rest, you want to be going, and to declare plainly that you seek a country; you say, My rest is not here, but yonder, over the river.
III. There are many suitable hotels on the journey of life, every one of which has been appointed by Christ and provided by Christ, furnished, enriched, and made suitable, comfortable by Christ. Do not build any hotel of your own.
In My Father's house are many resting-places, places where you can sit down and refresh yourselves. (1) There is one very commodious hotel where I live most of my time; I have never seen anything like it before; it is called the Bible hotel.
(2) There is another manse on the road which is less and less frequented. It is a fine old building, though. We used to call it the Sabbath-house. It is in a sad state of dilapidation now.
(3) Here is a very excellent refreshment-room on the road you are travelling, and it is not so well frequented as it used to be. It is called the Prayer-manse; that is the manse, mansion, mansa, farm, where people talk to God. Is not that an extraordinary idea? They do not see Him with the eyes of the body, but I watched the people in that hotel many a time, and they are so quiet, so serene; their eyes burn with a strange light, they clasp their hands, they turn heads upward to the heavens, and they speak into it what seems to be an infinite vacuity; but, having done so, they rise and ask for the enemy and dare him to his face. They are more than conquerors through Him who loved them.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. i. p. 259.
Life After Death
A candle does not go out when you blow it out, it does not really go out, it passes into another sphere, scientists tell us; and if the candle does not go out, is the personality likely to go out? Why, there was the Bishop of Lincoln, writing two days before he died letters of farewell quite himself, without much pain at the end, sending me a beautiful message which I shall treasure all my life, dictating it, quite himself, in mind, brain, loving heart, everything; do you mean to suppose that he has gone out, that he has ceased to exist? If the candle does not go out, personality cannot go out.
Now, as I think over with you what the good news amounts to I mean when you have got it it almost paralyses you by its glory. But when you quietly think it over, and think what the secret amounts to I think you will find it amounts to five things.
I. The first, of course, is that there is the Happy Land, this place of peace beyond the veil.
II. Secondly, we shall be the same in the other world. Five minutes after death you will be exactly the same person as five minutes before. As a matter of fact, death makes no difference whatever to a person. The real terror of death is that it is no change at all. If five minutes after death you are the same as five minutes before, you are living in a fool's paradise if you think death is going to change you from sinner into saint. You have to be changed before death, 'He that is holy, let him be holy still;'
'and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.' Therefore, we make a mistake about death if we think it is going to change us from sinner into saint.
But, on the other hand, what a comfort to know that that dear friend is the same on the other side, still loving us, still caring for us, still praying for us, still the same to us! Why, it is everything.
III. Then, thirdly, as we turn over the secret, we become certain that in that world beyond the grave there will be a growth in character. I mean, people often say, and it is a real difficulty, 'My friend, So-and-So, he was not very good and was not very bad; certainly not at all fit at once to go and join with the saints and the angels in Paradise'. Your conscience says: 'Well, I do not think so yet'. I do not feel myself ready, you say. 'If I was to die to-night I should feel I might be redeemed, restored, forgiven, but I should feel that I wanted a great deal of preparation to go and live for ever in the presence of the holy angels among the holy saints.' And that is the truth underlying what is called purgatory. When you have all the teaching about the cleansing fires brought in, it is, of course, to meet the obvious difficulty that our friends do not seem ready, and we do not seem ready. But there is another fire which makes people grow, better than the fire spoken of, of purgatory, and that is the glorious sunshine of Paradise. I fully believe that your little child and your friend are growing; we do not stop growing. If we stop growing, we stop living. But what we believe is what I believe is that in the sunlight of Paradise we go on at the feet of Jesus growing in grace, growing in character, and getting more and more fit to spend eternity in heaven. And we believe that there will be glorious growth in grace, knowledge, purity, holiness, in the life beyond the grave.
IV. Then, fourthly, 'It is better,' said St. Paul, 'to depart and be with Christ, far better'. He did not seem to mind dying at all. And it certainly is a fact, as far as I can understand the secret, that the first person we shall see in the other world is Jesus Christ Himself. Do remember that Jesus Christ Himself with the marks of the cross in His hands and His feet.
V. Then, fifthly, I believe it is revealed to us that in that Happy Land not far, far away (I do not believe it is far, far away, I believe that Happy Land is much nearer than we think; we cannot see it because it is behind the veil), but in that Land, that Happy Land, there will be no more trial, and no more pain, and no more sorrow, and no more temptation at all; and there you have the secret. 'In My Father's house are many abiding places, and if it were not so I would have told you.' Now the question is, how is this secret affecting us? What effect has it on you, my brother, or on you, my sister? There is no good coming here singing pretty hymns about the other world, no good coming to the service and just going away again. The question is: Here is this revealed secret of God brought to us through the ranks of the enemy by our Rescuer; what effect has it upon your life and mine?
Bishop Winnington-Ingram, C hristian World Pulpit, vol. lxvii. p. 385.
The Frankness of Jesus Christ
I have wondered most of my life why Christ spoke these words at the time He did. They seem unsatisfactorily explained, whether connected with the first clause of the phrase or the last clause. Dr. Marcus Dods comments: 'Had there been no such place and no possibility of preparing it, He necessarily would have told them, because the very purpose of His leaving was to prepare a place for them'. Somehow this does not find me. Neither is Dr. John Ker, also a writer of genuine insight, much more satisfactory. He says: 'There might be some misgivings in their minds, and these words are thrown in to quiet them. Had you been deceiving yourself with falsehood, I should have felt bound to undeceive you.' It is along these tracks that most of the explanations run.
But should we not rather say that Christ spoke these words with a smile? 'If it were not so, I would have told you. You know My way by this time. It has been My wont to check and thwart and dash your hopes. Things you desired, things you believed, things you dreamt of mightily I have told you over and over again that they were not so. Now you are right at last. You thought that there were many mansions in the Father's house. You clung to that faith when the rest went. I knew it all the time, and I never said a word to contradict you, because it was a true and sure hope, truer and surer and sweeter than you knew. If it had not been so, I would have told you; but it is so. This time you may let your hearts go free; beyond death there are no disappointments.'
If I am right, the passage expresses the perfect and lifelong frankness of Christ.
I. Let me recall a few of Christ's words, words which reveal that frankness of truth wherein we put our trust. At the very budding and beginning of His career He said: 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake'. He warned one who would follow Him of the hazards he was running. 'Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.' He told the children of the bride-chamber that the days of mourning would come when the bridegroom was taken away from them. He said that He came to send a sword through the closest and dearest earthly ties. His disciples saw Him pass that sword through His own relationships. 'Who is My mother or My brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother.' He declared that His disciples would be hated of all men for His name's sake. He rejected, to the marvel of His disciples, those who seemed to promise best, those who might have brought to the little company worldly influence and wealth. When He sent the rich young ruler away, the disciples asked, and no wonder, 'Who then can be saved?' He told them, when the time came, that He would soon perish in Jerusalem. He was to suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. They thought that His kingdom was to come in Jewry, come in a crash of splendid triumph; but it was not so. They dreamed that when that kingdom came they would sit near Him on His throne; but He warned them that the exaltation could not be, unless they drank of His cup and were baptised with His baptism of fire. His destiny was the cross, and they also had to be cross-bearers in His train. One by one down went tower and temple, all the earthly city of their thoughts and hopes. But the heavenly hope which was in their minds also, that survived. The new Jerusalem was no dream. If it had been, He would have told them, as He had told them in unwelcome and darkening words many a time, that their hopes were vain, that their realisation could never be. Now at least and at last they were right. 'In My Father's house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you.'
II. Christ thus throws forward their hopes on heaven. He warns them that on earth for the few years they lingered their lot was to be hard and bitter enough. And yet, speaking always with the rigidity and the exactness as well as the frankness of truth, He tells them that even here and in this world there are to be great alleviations, rich compensations. When Peter said, 'Lo, we have left all and have followed Thee,' Jesus answered and said: 'Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.' This is the compression of Christ's teaching on reward, and it is well that we should understand it.
None of the saints, it has been said, has found starvation instead of love, and the saying is true and faithful. However rich we may once have been in earthly love, and however poor we may be today, we may be a hundred times richer if only the heart is open for the entrance of the Infinite and Living Love.
And a hundred times more land? How can that be? What is it to possess land or to possess anything material? We can only possess what we can appropriate. A possession is good only as it ministers to our good. A millionaire buys a huge library, and hires a librarian at a small salary. To the millionaire the books are pieces of furniture. The librarian has a secret thirst for knowledge, and every book is in its measure a helper and friend. He takes down Milton, and feels the morning freshness and the summer heat of Comus . He puts Shakespeare to the question. The great poets and prophets and consolers of the race bring him their message. Who possesses the library? Does not the librarian possess it a thousand times more than the millionaire? So when we are related to God as dear children we possess everything.
One point has to be specially emphasised. The reward of fidelity is here defined by Christ as immediate and not deferred. The persecution and the possession go together. Sometimes there are visible crowns laid on heads that have grown grey in the service of great causes. Much more often crowns do not come. There is but little glory in ordinary triumphs. There is much ignominy in public honour. There is much apathy in the world's fidelity and much fickleness in its love, and on these we are never to set our hearts. The persecutions and the peace go together. Without the one we shall never know the full depth of the other.
But here, as elsewhere, Christ throws the stress on the other life. The best paraphrase of this verse is Luther's, 'If the devil with his tyrants hunt you out of the world, you shall still have room enough'. As Bunyan put it, 'Children, the milk and honey are beyond this wilderness'.
III. We see, then, that what Christ cared for supremely was not quantity, but quality. He did not seek to gather a multitude who followed Him for the loaves and fishes, mercenaries who would flinch at the critical hour. He knew that these would in the long-run weaken His Church, chill its life and ardour and courage, put it to shame before the world. He left very few believers behind Him, but they were the small transfigured band whom the world could not tame. Even if but one man is faithful to a cause, that cause is not lost However dark the skies may be, there is a rift in the darkness, and that rift will widen and conquer. Men of one mind and one purpose, single-hearted and faithful, and visibly without care or fear, will in due time bring others round them. A glowing centre of fire will subdue the black mass to itself.
IV. We learn from these words to trust Christ more than ever, to trust His silences as well as His promises. Golden is the speech of Christ: golden also is His silence.
Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him without the camp bearing His reproach. Let us esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt Let us give all for love, and count the world well lost Let us count the cost and pay it, pay it in obedience to an impulse which in its turn is obedient to reason, to the exalted, the transfigured, the unworldly reason. In the great words of Lessing, 'He who does not lose his reason in certain things has none to lose'.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 155.
Faith must be allowed its place in facing the problems of the future life. For the time being the disciples are required to depend, not so much on what they can see and feel and apprehend, as upon what their Master knows. With humble, pathetic, painstaking persuasion, He solicits their trust in His personal truth and fidelity. 'If it were not so, I would have told you.' The fact that Jesus never repudiates the hopes which rise within the heart of Peter and James and John, and in our heart no less, is a proof that should content us, for Jesus is one who never misled a follower, even by silence.
References. XIV. 2. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 68. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 72. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 86. E. W. Shepheard-Welwyn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 317. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p 168. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 97. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 163. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 366. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 129. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 176. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2751. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 171. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for To-day, p. 331. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 209; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 156. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 263. XIV. 2, 3. C. Bosanquet, Blossoms from the King's Garden, p. 185. J. Bateman, Sermons Preached in Guernsey, p. 172. C. F. Aked, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 21. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 272. XIV. 3. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, p. 216. XIV. 4-7. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 281.
Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life
I. Christ is the way, for He recovers man from his godless wandering. The metaphor views man in the light of his practical obliquities. A few false and fatal steps have served to separate him from the fountain of eternal good. Sin hides the Father's face. It sweeps us on its mighty and insidious current beyond reach of the Father's house. A way is that which makes movement in some specific direction possible. Movement towards God is impossible without the work of Jesus Christ the Mediator. Jesus Christ brings together in His own person the two most distant objects the whole circle of the universe can contain. God dwelling in unapproachable light, and man wallowing in guilt, worldliness, transgression. II. Christ is the truth, for He recovers man from his godless error. The metaphor looks upon man from his intellectual side. Men are estranged from God in their thinkings, 'alienated from the life of God by reason of the ignorance that is in them'. Christ answers our intellectual need. 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.' Scientific truth puts us into intelligent relation with the world of established scientific fact Historic truth put us into intelligent relation with the facts that have determined the growth of particular types of government and civilisation. Sociological truth puts us into intelligent relation with the facts that have moulded the social life of mankind. Jesus Christ puts us into intelligent relation with all the vital facts of God's being and nature and government.
III. Christ is the life, inasmuch as He raises men from their godless insensibility and death. He is the great life-centre. He stands forth in the midst of the universe to counterwork the disintegration and decay that set in when the tie binding all life to its first centre was ruptured by transgression. Our shrinking at death will be best cured by the Divine love and friendship of which Jesus the Mediator is the minister in our hearts.
IV. Christ's words present a corrective to all distracted faith. He asks from His followers concentrated thought and attachment and expectation. All saving prerogative, all teaching wisdom, all ennobling inspiration, are gathered into His own person. The text also suggests a warning against all low and dishonouring views of the Saviour's work and person. In these words Christ expressly puts Himself between God and the souls of all mankind.
That I May Know Him
The fullness of the precious words of our text can probably never be taken in by man. He that attempts to unfold them does little more than scratch the surface of a rich soil.
I. The Way. Christ is 'the Way' the way to heaven and peace with God. He is not only the guide, and teacher, and lawgiver, like Moses; He is Himself the door, the ladder, and the road, through Whom we must draw near to God. He has opened the way to the tree of life, which was closed when Adam and Eve fell, by the satisfaction He made for us on the cross. Through His blood we may draw near with boldness, and have access with confidence into God's presence (Ephesians 3:12 ).
II. The Truth. Christ is 'the Truth' the whole substance of true religion which the mind of man requires. Without Him the wisest heathen groped in gross darkness, and knew nothing rightly about God. Before He came even the Jews saw 'through a glass darkly,' and discerned nothing distinctly under the types, figures, and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Christ is the whole truth, and meets and satisfies every desire of the human mind.
III. The Life. Christ is 'the Life' the sinner's title to eternal life and pardon, the believer's root of spiritual life and holiness, the surety of the Christian's resurrection life. He that believeth on Christ hath everlasting life. He that abideth in Him, as the branch abides in the vine, shall bring forth much fruit. He that believeth on Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live. The root of all life, for soul and for body, is Christ.
For ever let us grasp and hold fast these truths.
The way which He left trodden in the earth, the way which is Himself, was not a means of flight from a strange and hostile waste, but the token and the instrument of universal Divine care and use. It was the highway, the way which bore witness to the King's authority, and gave free movement as well as guidance to the King's servants, when they went forth to do His work or came home to His presence. The disciples who followed Him in such a way, or walked in Him as such a way, were by it brought into relations of intercourse and affection with all that surround them, while they were at the same time led to see it stretching forth into all ages and all worlds.
That the Son should say, 'I am the way, no man cometh unto the Father but by Me,' teaches us that so nship alone deals with fatherliness as fatherliness; that we must come to God as sons, or not come at all.
McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement, p. 299 f.
References. XIV. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 245; vol. xvi. No. 942, and vol. li. No. 2938. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, pp. 137, 153. J. T. Stannard, The Divine Humanity, pp. 23, 36, 51. N. D. Hillis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 250. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 285. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 118. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. pp. 249, 271. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 177. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 154. E. J. Lyndon, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 132. J. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 1. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 106. J. Aldis, Penny Pulpit, No. 1710, p. 719. J. R. Illingworth, University and Cathedral Sermons, p. 21. J. W. Boulding, Sermons, pp. 191, 207, 231. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 66. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, pp. 112, 123, 137. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 129. XIV. 6, 7. J. B. Brown, The Divine Mystery of Peace, p. 21. XIV. 7. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 375. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 181. XIV. 8. R. C. Cowell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 225. G. H. Morrison, The Scottish Review, vol. i. p. 561. D. W. Simon, Twice Born and other Sermons, p. 60. D. W. Simon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 259. XIV. 8, 9. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 72. Bishop Creighton, The Heritage of the Spirit, p. 129. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 311. Bishop Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 129. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. pp. 161, 260. XIV. 8-11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 291.
The Unrecognised Christ
We do not consider enough the wonderful patience of Christ in His training of the Twelve, as He prepared the little patch of soil for the seed. How often it could be said even of His teaching, 'They understood not His saying'. It was not unbelief so much as Spiritual obtuseness. Our Lord was seeking to comfort them at His approaching departure. Thomas asked for fuller information when the Master spoke about going somewhere which He calls the Father's house. Part of Christ's reply was that to know Himself was to know the Father also. 'And from henceforth,' He added, 'ye know Him and have seen Him.' Philip's request shows that he did not understand the inference of these words; for he interrupted with the prayer, 'Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us'. It was a spiritual density and obtuseness on Philip's part, a want of insight; but when we charge this on Philip are we not made to pause by the thought of our own obtuseness? History is full of instances of the ultimate importance of the little, unregarded, unrecognised events, and of the ultimate triviality of some of the things that bulked large in men's eyes.
I. If this is true of events in our personal and national life, how much more true and more common are mistakes in the far subtler region of spiritual judgment. Thus it is far harder to know persons from this point of view than to estimate events. The finer a man is in temperament and the more exceptional he is in nature and character and endowments, the more readily is he misunderstood or neglected.
II. And what shall we say of the same charge of obtuseness made against us with regard to Christ? It is a charge that can be made against His Church as well as against His word. He is the unrecognised Christ still. Can His heart feel no pang that He should have been so long time with us, so long exercising His redemptive ministry and men do not know Him?
III. Yet it is not all an unhappy thought, however much self-reproach we may have for our obtuseness. There is comfort and sweet content in the thought that the love of Christ is not dependent on our complete recognition of Him. There is comfort in the thought that though we are blind to Him, though we are intermittent in our thought of Him and fickle in our love, He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
Hugh Black, Edinburgh Sermons, p. 164.
The Patient Master and the Slow Scholars
I. This question of our Lord carries in it a great lesson as to what ignorance of Christ is. Not to know Christ as the manifest God is practically to be ignorant of Him altogether.
II. These words give us a glimpse into the pained and loving heart of our Lord. (1) I think we shall not misunderstand the tone of this question if we see in it wonder, pained love, and tender remonstrance. (2) But there is more than that, there is complaint and pain in the question the pain of vainly endeavouring to teach and vainly endeavouring to help, vainly endeavouring to love. (3) But this question reveals not only the pain caused by slow apprehension and unrequited love, but also the depth and patience of a clinging love that was not turned away by the pain.
III. This is a piercing question addressed to each of us.
We think there is a touch of impatience in the, 'Have I been so long time with you?' Our conscience puts the impatience there, but that does not make it really there. There is weariness, keen regret, pathetic longing, heart-sickening hope deferred in it 'So long time, and yet?' But the love of Christ has a length quite as marvellous as its breadth and depth and height. So long time! And yet He went on and explained all over again the matter which had puzzled Philip.... So long time with you and me, and yet! and yet! We look at ourselves and repeat, 'Yes, Lord, and yet!' And He answers, 'And yet I will not leave thee, I am here still. End the long, long, long time of wearisome waiting, and let us have no "yet" between us more.'
Henry Sloane Coffin, The Creed of Jesus, pp. 279, 280.
A son may reveal a father in two ways; either by being like him so entirely in his image as to be justified in saying, He that hath seen me hath seen my father or by manifesting a constant reverential, loving trust, and thus testifying that the father is worthy of such trust. Jesus revealed the Father in both these ways.
J. Erskine, The Spiritual Order, p. 250.
References. XIV. 9. James Orr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 245. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 236. H. D. Rawnsley, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 287. XIV. 10. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 188. XIV. 11. C. S. Macfarland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 115. A. G. MacKinnon, The Scottish Review, vol. iv. p. 132. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 390.
Going to the Father
You can unlock a man's whole life if you watch what words he uses most. Did you ever notice Christ's favourite words? They are such words as these: world, life, trust, love. But none of these was the greatest word of Christ. His great word was new to religion. That word was Father. The world's obligation to the Lord Jesus is that He gave us that word. Not one man in a hundred, probably, has a central word in his Christian life; and the consequence is this, that there is probably nothing in the world so disorderly and slipshod as personal spiritual experience. Now the thing which steadied Christ's life was the thought that He was going to the Father. If we take this principle into our own lives, we shall find its influence tell upon us in three ways: I. It explains life. What is my life? Whither do I go? Whence do I come? these are the questions which are not worn down yet, although the whole world has handled them. To these questions there are but three answers. (a) The poet tells us, and philosophy says the same, only less intelligibly, that life is a sleep, a dream, a shadow. Whither am I going? Virtually the poet answers, 'I am going to the Unknown'. (b) The atheist's answer is just the opposite. Whither am I going? 'I go to dust,' he says; 'death ends all.' And this explains nothing. (c) But the Christian's answer explains something. Where is he going? 'I go to my Father.' This is not a definition of his death there is no death in Christianity; it is a definition of the Christian life. Now this explains life. It explains the two things in life which are most inexplicable (1) For one thing, it explains why there is more pain in the world than pleasure. (2) And why there is so much that is unexplained.
II. It sustains Life. Take even an extreme case, and you will see how. Take the darkest, saddest, most pathetic life of the world's history. That was Jesus Christ's. See what this truth practically was to Him. It gave Him a life of absolute composure in a career of most tragic trials. This is the Christian's only stay in life. It provides rest for his soul, work for his character, an object, an inconceivably sublime object, for its ambition.
III. It completes Life. It is quite clear that there must come a time in the history of all those who live this life when they reach the Father. When they are yet a great way off, the Father runs and falls on their neck and kisses them. On this side, we call that Death. It means reaching the Father. 'Pray moderately,' says an old saint, 'for the lives of Christ's people.' Pray moderately. We may want them on our side, he means, but Christ may need them on His. There are three classes to whom these words come home with a peculiar emphasis: (1) They speak to those who are staying away from God. 'I do not wonder at what men suffer,' says Ruskin, 'I wonder often at what they lose' (2) They speak, next, to all God's people. (3) And this voice whispers yet one more message to the mourning. Did death end all? Is it well with the child? It is well. The last inn by the roadside has been passed that is all, and a voice called to us, 'Good-bye! I go to my Father.'
Henry Drummond, The Ideal Life, p. 77.
Greater Works (For Hospital Sunday)
Did the Saviour really mean it? That His followers in the centuries to come were to do increasingly greater works than He, the Son of God, was then doing?
This, then, is our theme Christ's prophecy of the greater works of His followers and the conditions of its fulfilment. One of the great motives of our Lord, and one great feature of His work, was the alleviation of the physical ills and pains of life. He did great and wondrous works. How stands the fulfilment of His prophecy? Is it true that greater works than these are done today?
I. The Witness of the Hospital. Watch the line of children as they are carried crippled and helpless into the surgical ward of a great hospital, then see them a few weeks later pass out straight in limb, rejoicing. Diseases most dreaded and horrible are, through the marvels of inoculation, losing half their terror. Is it not a fact, then, a fact in which the Saviour Himself must most of all rejoice, that in the hospitals of our land are performed in one week more cures, many times more, than are recorded as done by our dear Lord during His whole life? At the back of all the hospitals, and medical science, and surgery, stands the Christ. From Him came and still comes the great efficient motive. His birth, His teaching, His life, stand in vital relation to the great modern movement of nursing and healing. A really great physician must be a really great man, with the doors of his mind and heart open Godward as well as man ward.
II. The Witness of Accumulated Knowledge. The other condition of progress in beneficent works is the appreciation of the value of accumulated knowledge. The opening of blind eyes and the unstopping of deaf ears were but the parables of His greater work the giving of spiritual light and truth to men. His death upon the cross typified the uplift with which the sacrifice of His life would draw all men to Him. He left a body of followers devoted, pure, and true, and best of all with a conviction that whatever Christ may have done or they might do in the conversion of men, the purification of society, and the renewal of spiritual life, the world was bound to see far greater works than theirs. Think for a moment what century after century, generation after generation of Christian teaching, nurture, and experiences have done. The little baby born this morning has already within him the precious inheritance of generations of Christian civilisation, Christian homes, and Christian standards. As he develops his whole conception of life and character is higher than that of a few generations back.
III. The Witness of Character. And finally character, though it be partly inherited, partly the accumulation of spiritual experience, is sustained only by personal faith in Christ. No husband can be saved by his wife's religion. No woman can be saved by her religious ancestry. Each one must turn to the Master and with simple life follow Him. And to him who believeth who can tell the increase of hope, character, and noble works that will come to us and our children as the generations pass on?
Thoughts on God's Greatness
The great weakness of our religious life is that we so inadequately apprehend the greatness of God; and the consequence is that we are feeble in our religious life all round. We are feeble in our prayers, feeble in our hopes, feeble in our expectations, feeble in our faith, and therefore feeble in our efforts. It is pitiable how the children of God will be so unlike their Father, so ungenerous, so petty, so jealous, so careless about the reputation of others.
I. Yes, it would make all the difference; for those who walk with God become themselves great, and it is impossible to walk with God and keep petty insincerities, petty jealousies, and petty untruths. Therefore there will be a change, a complete change, in many a life, if we really rise and live in the greatness of God.
II. And secondly, the miracles in the Bible will become natural. We many of us remember how hard it was to believe in the miracles at first. But the difficulty and the mistake was that we did not rise high enough into the right atmosphere of the greatness of God. You will find in a book to which I have written a preface for Lenten reading, by Canon Holmes, Prayer and Action, you will find a simple illustration which will appeal to schoolboys. He pictures a cricket match, and the ball, by the law of gravitation, driven towards the boundary and certain at last to fall; but at full speed a man, rushing with outstretched hand, catches the ball just in time and, without breaking the law of gravitation, changes the issue of the match. He asks this simple but far-reaching question: Is it conceivable that a man, God's viceroy, by his very will can modify without breaking one of God's laws, and God not be able to do the same? You have only to make the statement to see the absurdity and the pettiness of the position. No, when once one believes in the greatness of God, then, while one thanks God deeply for working by fixed laws because what science calls the uniformity of nature faith calls the fidelity of God working for His children's good by laws that we have learnt to call the laws of nature; while we acknowledge that, we hold it absurd not to believe that when it comes to the great Incarnation to which the attention of the whole world has been called, that God Himself, by a higher law than the one we know (not against that law at all, but by a higher law which cuts our observed uniformity in nature at an unexpected angle), by that higher law, that God should do an act, do a deed which we can only partially understand. I believe because I believe in the greatness of God, in the wonderful signs and miracles of the New Testament.
III. Then, thirdly, we shall expect miracles to take place today in the church where we worship. I was speaking in the Midlands lately, and a middle-aged lady who was staying in the house where I was, said kindly in the evening, 'You did help me, Bishop, by your sermon today'. I said, 'I am very glad; it is very encouraging to be told when one helps anyone. But,' I added, 'would you mind telling me in what way I helped you? 'Why,' she said, 'I am in middle life, and I had got accustomed to think that my character and habits were set; there I was, good or bad. I could not be altered. But your sermon convinced me that I could be altered, that I could be altered for the better.' Now that simple remark just shows where one is wrong. We expect nothing and we get nothing. According to your faith be it unto you. But we have no faith. We think we have arrived at the position of the average man or woman, and we remain so. Yet if we believe this glorious truth, if we believe in the greatness of God; if we believe that He is a being of spiritual power and moral greatness, then the tremendous truth comes home that you can be made into a saint of God; that you can be changed, changed from a selfish person into an unselfish one.
IV. Fourthly, we must expect to do miracles. I know that seems to some here almost blasphemous presumption. But it is not blasphemous to claim the promise of God. It is not blasphemous to rise to what God expects us to be and to do. 'He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto the Father.'
V. Lastly, if we believe in the greatness of God we shall not fear death. Is it not true that many of us, even those who call themselves Christians, are all our lifetime subject to bondage, bondage of the fear of death? We are born into the other world as quietly and peacefully as we were born into this. Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. 'Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when it shall fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.' It is a picture of outstretched hands to receive you as you pass into the other world.
Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, 15th March, 1911.
References. XIV. 12. Caleb Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 117. R. J. Campbell, British Congregationalist, 22nd August, 1907, p. 155.
The Eclipse of Miracle
We have here three things: a parallel, a contrast, and the secret of the contrast.
I. The text presents us with a parallel. Christ teaches that there shall be a relation of likeness or identity between His own personal works and the works carried on by believing disciples after His departure. 'He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also.' The first living relation in Christ's works was with the Father. They were a continuous testimony of the Father to the Son before the world. 'The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.' The second living relation embodied in Christ's works was with the Holy Spirit. The third living relation in Christ's works was with man. He promises that if we will only make our faith all that He wants, He will bring our poor, struggling life up to the level of His own majestic life in its faith-creating influence and efficiency.
II. The text contains a contrast. There is to be a splendid advance in the character of the believer's achievements, an advance that will make them transcend even the Lord's own personal works amongst men. 'Greater works than these shall he do.' Christ had always thought more of the moral elements and relations in His works and those of His disciples, than of the merely miraculous. Let us try to get a little further insight into Christ's estimate of the two different types of work. (1) The physical conditions that constituted Christ's works miraculous are often realised in connection with spiritual work upon a much more commanding scale. (2) The spiritual works effected by believers in Jesus Christ bring about that conviction which is the great end of miracle by more effective methods. (3) Our work transcends miracle because the spirit, which is the special sphere touched by it, is more delicately sensitive than the body, which is the sphere in which miracle was wrought. (4) The spiritual works it is the believer's high privilege to do outshine Christ's personal miracles, because spiritual work is the key to the final destruction of all physical evil and disability at the last day.
III. The text points out the secret of this contrast between Christ's works and those of His favoured followers. The secret has a Divine and a human side. (a) Christ's presence at the right hand of the Father is the pledge and sign that sin has been dealt with, man's unfitness to receive these high and holy gifts has been taken away, the burden which crushed human nature into impotence removed, and the Father's hand opened to His reconciled people in more than its ancient wealth of blessing, (b) This secret of transcendent power has an earthly as well as a heavenly side. 'And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do.' The manifestation of all the energies of the Divine can only come through the believing request of the disciples. (1) Let us never forget the dignity and beneficence of all spiritual work. It is a nobler manifestation of power than miracle, and will exalt those who are its instruments in a yet higher degree. (2) This promise suggests the plenary character of the Pentecostal endowment. Christ makes His own miracles the patterns of our spiritual works. (3) These words suggest the obligation resting upon us to maintain unbroken communion of spirit and life with Jesus Christ. Christ's wonder-working power arose within Him, as the expression of His complete union with the Father. 'The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do.' This lofty power pledged to us must come in precisely the same way.
References. XIV. 12-14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 301. XIV. 13. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 109. XIV. 14. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 113. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 276. XIV. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1932. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 37; ibid. vol. x. p. 175. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 312. XIV. 16. W. G. Holder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 330. J. Johns, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 418. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 185. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 201. Bishop Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 1. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 131. J. B. Brown, The Divine Mystery of Peace, p. 65. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1074. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, A Mission of the Spirit, p. 190. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 389. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 107. J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 131. C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 93. British Congregationalist, 31st May, 1906, p. 545. XIV. 16, 17. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 36. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 62. Spurgeon, ibid. vol. i. No. 4. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for To-day, p. 283. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 320. XIV. 16-18. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 294. XIV. 17. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 122. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 754, and vol. xxxv. No. 2074.
This was one of the favourite texts of Melanchthon. He quoted it with deep feeling after the death of Luther. See especially his letters of 19th February and of 1st March, 1546. On the latter date he wrote to Justus Jonas: 'On this journey, when I was alone and my grief broke forth anew, I thought of our miseries, of the guidance of the Church and the University, and of our orphaned state. Amid these thoughts I support myself with the words of the Son of God, οὐκ αφήσω ἡμᾶς ὀρφαυοὺς .'
References. XIV. 18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. Hi. No. 2990. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 369. Ibid. Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 85. XIV. 18, 19. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 330. XIV. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 968, and vol. li. No. 2953. B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 40. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 193. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 251. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 161. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 426. XIV. 19, 20. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 321.
The Brightness of the Day of Christ
John 14:20 ; John 16:23
Some thoughts are suggested by the phrase 'that day,' used by our Lord to describe the period between Pentecost and the Return. It seemed to the disciples, as He spoke, that it was to be ushered in by a harsh and lowering dawn and a bitter east wind. But He assured them that it was to be a day of growing brightness. We who live in it are often blind to this: ignorant of its work and its reward. The work of this day is, in brief, study and prayer: the result is to be unity and peace.
I. 'In that day ye shall ask Me no questions.' He would no more be at their side to solve their problems. But instead of His visible presence they were to have the illumination of the Holy Ghost. Their life would be lighted by His teaching. This meant advance in privilege. There are better things than external infallibilities and authorities. These are withdrawn. Nor are we left with puzzles that yield to ingenuity, or prizes to be attained by a few giant steps. The wealth of revelation in word and deed is not increased. No new word remains to be spoken; and as we cannot add, it is at our peril if we take away. But the further the mine is worked, the richer is the lode. Under the Divine teaching we begin to understand what it is truly to possess the unsearchable riches of Christ We learn what the real proportions of truth are, as the Spirit takes of the things that are Christ's and glorifies them. Christ shall give thee light, is the promise for all that day.
II. The conditions of this schooling are not easy. Our teacher exacts patient study, complete docility, and the earnest effort to bring life up to the level of knowledge That will be impossible unless we pray, and unless prayer is answered. And so the day is to be a day of prayer fulfilled. Prayer is properly and representatively the action of religion. Is it true that the faith and practice of prayer are growing in the Church? If so, all is well. But if prayer in any of its elements is dying, nothing will make up for its loss. No knowledge of the letter of Scripture, no keenness of speculative thought, no enlarged benevolence will take its place. Prayer is not merely petition, but petition and importunity are of its essence. Prayer is an exacting and difficult work to nature. It is easy only in full view of the great redemptive sacrifice.
III. Disciples thus loyal and prayerful would be one. As believers advance in knowledge of the Son and the Father they will come nearer to unity, and the unity of believers means the conviction of the world. The prayer of the High Priest for all believers in all the day is still lifted: ' That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world 'may believe that Thou hast sent me'. This is far more than a mere moral unity; it is, as Westcott says, in some mysterious mode which we cannot distinctly apprehend a vital unity.
IV. To the Church of the future will also come the manifestation beyond question of Christ's supernatural peace.
'Day, it has hardly come, it will surely come by and by.' We may feel that its brightness is far off, and that our own life is waning. Be it so. This day of Christ leads on to a brighter day of direct manifestation. We are near a fuller knowledge than will ever be given to the Church Militant. 'At present there is a covering upon the face of all people, as there is a covering on the glory of the Lord. He is folded and withheld, and so are we. The body, while conveying and betraying, operates also to hinder and hide. It hangs a curtain between us and ourselves no less than between ourselves and others. We are restrained and concealed behind it Some day, at the touch of death, it will drop from us, and then we shall flow out and be displayed. May it be said of us then, "Naked, and not ashamed".'
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 275.
References. XIV. 20. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 24. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 333. XIV. 20, 21. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, p. 340. XIV. 21. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 343. J. Reid, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 455. Joseph Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 103. Bishop Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 68. XIV. 22. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 406. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 29. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 18. XIV. 22, 23. James Black, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 244. XIV. 22-24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 360.
It seems to me that there is a treasure hid in such sayings as these, 'I will manifest Myself unto him,' 'we will make our abode with him,' which few among us even guess at. We read the words as we might walk over the turf under which there is hidden gold.
Josephine E. Butler.
References. XIV. 23. John Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 179. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2895. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 79. Expositor, (4th Series), vol. x. p. 52; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 341. XIV. 24-26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1842. XIV. 25, 26. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 301. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 361. XIV. 26. J. C. Hill, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 5, and vol. vi. No. 315. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 187. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol i. p. 269. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Beading, p. 133. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 363. D. L. Moody, The Fulness of the Gospel, p. 107. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 109. J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 76. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 345; ibid. vol. vi. p. 244; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 94.
The Gift of Peace
What the world cannot give, the worldly cannot take. Even Christ can only give His gifts to His own. The world pays the world's work with the world's wages; Christ pays His own servants in a different coinage.
Our Lord tells us that He has a peace of His own to give, and that He gives it not as the world giveth. He does not say whether the world also has a peace of its own to give, or not; He only says that His way of giving it is not like the way in which the world gives whatever it has to give.
I. Is there a peace of the world? In point of fact, if by peace is meant inward satisfaction, freedom from any sense of inward disharmony and disappointment, I think that the world very seldom gives peace to its devoted servants. The earthly-minded has a better chance of peace than the worldly-minded, though it is a shame to use the word peace of that bovine contentment and dull insensibility which is the reward or punishment of consistently 'minding earthly things'. I know that there have been some successful men, not spiritually-minded, who have been able to look back with satisfaction upon their careers. But these men have not been typical worldlings. They have loved their work for its own sake, which is more than half-way to loving it for Christ's sake. We are right to love our work, and be keenly interested in it. People who run away from life, who shrink from dipping their feet in the flowing river of time, are condemning the Creator for making the world and sending them into it We are sent into the world to 'serve our own generation' by the will of God. There is a work in the world which we were meant to do, and which will remain undone if we shirk it. This work must be done heartily and eagerly, as unto the Lord, even though it is apparently concerned only with perishable things. Perishable things for the sake of the imperishable, and imperishable things for their own sake that is the rule for an immortal spirit sent by God into a world of change and chance.
II. But what does our Lord mean when He says, 'Not as the world giveth, give I unto you'? What is the difference in method between His way of giving and the world's? We have seen that the nature of the gift is probably very different But there is evidently a great difference also in the way in which the gift is bestowed.
The world says: 'If you want to win my prizes you must claim them and take them. You must know exactly what you want to get, and keep your mind steadily fixed on that goal, and that only. You must allow nothing to divert your attention, and must never forget that you have one end in life and only one.' There are some terrible people who really serve the prince of this world in this whole-hearted manner.
But Christ does not say to us, 'Claim My gift of peace and take it'. He does not say to us, 'You are sent into the world to win peace for yourselves; win it at all costs'. He does not bid us forget everything else, and be ready to surrender everything else, in order to be at peace with ourselves. No, the peace of Christ is the free gift of Christ It is given, not as the world giveth, which gives nothing for nothing; it is given as God giveth, who gives all for love. If peace were merely negative freedom from toil and distraction, it might be directly aimed at It is quite possible to lay our plans for reducing spiritual friction to a minimum. But against this sort of peace Carlyle cries out from the depths of his strong Puritan conscience: 'Peace! a brutal lethargy is peaceable!' The noisome grave is peaceable! We hope for a living peace, not a dead one.'
Peace must not be sought directly. 'In God's will,' says Dante, 'is our peace.' And 'this,' said another great man, 'is the way of salvation to look thoroughly into everything and see what it really is; with your whole heart to do what is just and say what is true, and one thing more, to find life's fruition in heaping good on good so close that not a chink is left between.'
III. There are times when the eternal world seems very real and the changing phantasmagoria of the visible world very unsubstantial. At other times it is just the opposite with us. But we must not wait till we can see the invisible. The vision of God is not to be won in that way. The faith which is the human condition of Christ's gift of peace demands a brave venture. We have, as it were, to plunge into the torrent, not seeing but trusting that the everlasting arms are ready to support us. Faith is strengthened by every exercise of it, and this is why the paradox is true, that the most energetic and enterprising service goes together with the deepest and most untroubled inward peace. Faith is strengthened by every act of faith; there is no doubt about this fact And love, says St. Paul, is the proper energy or activity of faith this is one of the profoundest sayings of the great Apostle.
W. R Inge, Church Family Newspaper, 24th June, 1910.
The Gift of Peace
'My peace I give.' Now if we would rightly interpret this word we must get quite away from its ordinary everyday significance. It is usually associated with quietness, motionlessness, inactivity. We do not find the symbol of peace in some little quiet sheet of imprisoned water, whose surface is never rippled by a passing breeze. Peace is not stagnancy; it is rather superlative motion. Peace is a certain perfect relationship when everything is moving in its appointed place.
I. It is the peace of union with God. We are purposed for union with our Lord. Every call in the Scriptures is a call to a rectified communion with our Maker. That union has been broken, and broken by nothing but sin. And if peace is to be regained the union must be restored. This is peace: man's life moving in God's life in frictionless communion.
II. It is the union of peace with self. This union is consequent upon the greater union of self with God. Harmony is established among my powers when I come into union with my God. I do not mean to say that every rebellious power will be immediately brought into tune with the will of the Highest, but that is now the commanding tendency of the life.
III. It will be the peace of union with brother. Let me say at once that this will not be occasioned by the affability of weakness. There will be in his life a delicate considerateness, and he will be willing to fit in with other people with courtesy and grace.
J. H. Jowett, The British Congregationalist, 6th August, 1908, p. 122.
We are in spirit gathered around the Son of man almost at the very moment of His exit from this scene of earth and time. He is, so to say, making His will; in modern phrase, He is disposing of His possessions, He is devising and bequeathing legacies. We may easily and happily imagine ourselves to be present at the distribution of His property. In a sense we can readily understand the Saviour is His own executor; again and again He says, 'I give'. We want to know what it is that He gives, and to whom He gives it, and for what purpose He bequeaths it. Surely this is an interesting spectacle and a thrilling engagement. The Son of God is just about to leave the earth, and He calls His friends together, and through them He calls the Church of all coming ages, and He devises and bequeaths and endows and enriches with both hands and with His whole heart. We should delight to be present when such a testator devises His property.
The words now quoted from the Gospel of John may be regarded as a motto rather than a text It is a motto pointing towards detailed statements; the particulars of the devising in which Jesus Christ is now at this historical moment engaged. Every word of His was always more precious than jewels; if possible the closing words are more precious than any that went before them. There is a softness, a light, a starry gleam about them which almost compels us to mix our metaphors and devise new ones, that we may represent the feebleness of our impoverished expression. Let us be as near Him as we can that we may hear the will. It is not the will of some dying plutocrat or pauper. It has nothing to do with gold and silver and houses; it has to do with blessings, comforts, inspirations, and assurances that exhaust all language and turn the soul into one fervent dream and brilliant but speechless imagination. His voice will be low and tender, but well heard if well listened to. We could hear much if we listened much.
I. Hear these beautiful words spoken by the Son of man: 'I have given you an example'. He took a towel and girt Himself, and took a basin filled with water, and He began to wash the feet of the disciples, and He wiped them with the towel with which He was girt, and then He said, 'Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet For I have given you an example.' We have nothing to do with the literal illustration. We deprive ourselves of the greatest spiritual blessings by insisting upon the literal word and the literal instance. The example was not one of feet-washing, it was one of humility, condescension, brotherly service, willingness to help, accounting everything dignified and beautiful that was inspired and illustrated by the Lord.
That is one clause of the will which we are now reading.
II. Another clause reads thus: 'My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you; peace, My peace, Divine peace, I leave with you'. He does not distribute His clothes, He distributes His soul. That is the will! Blessed are they who are included in this devising and bequeathing. I know of no man who is excluded from this will, if he be of a broken heart and a penitent spirit Peace knows nothing of panic. Where the peace of God is there is no fear, there is no night, there is no more sea, there is no more death.
III. The third clause of the will is a very tender one: 'I will not leave you comfortless; I will send you another Paraclete, Advocate, or Comforter: if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I go away I will send Him unto you; He shall not speak of Himself, He shall take of the things that are Mine and show them unto you, and He will lead you into all truth; He will show you things that are coming, He will bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever that I have said unto you.' These will be the festive times, the consciously realised Holy Spirit. The resurrection penetrates all things and gives all things true and beautiful their Divine embodiment and expressiveness. We are in the age of the Spirit; we are now realising this special covenant in the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. Still there seems to be something more in the will if the reader would but continue his recitation of its terms. There is another clause: is it not the sweetest clause of all? 'I will come again, and receive you unto Myself.' The will would now seem to be complete. We can live upon a promise spoken by such lips; but we shall have to live a long time before we can understand these little words, 'I will come again'. You think you understand them because their meaning is on their face. It is not. The meaning of God is never on the face of things. A lily requires an interpreter; a blade of grass requires an angel to unfold its meaning to the observing eye. 'I will come again' in a thousand ways, in My own way; not at all of necessity in your way, or through the channel of your imagination; I will come in My own way and be there if you will look for Me. I am always there; My coming is from the beginning and is eternal; it is in your consciousness that the miracle must take place The light has never left us 'Lo, I am with you alway unto the end of the age'; He is a God nigh at hand, and not afar off. He is accessible and approachable every moment of the day, but we are not always equally sensitive to His presence. What we therefore have to pray for is that we may be made sensitive so that we may feel the air, and feel the air within the air, and learn little by little this great word, 'God is a Spirit'.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 2.
References. XIV. 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 300, and vol. v. No. 247. J. Cameron Lees, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 94. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 236. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 86. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 155. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 277. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 30. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 2. J. Wordsworth, The One Religion, Bampton Lectures, 1881, p. 295. C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 112. W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 249. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 372. XIV. 28. C. S. Macfarland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 133. H. Bonner, Sermons and Lectures, p. 126. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 196. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1871. H. Bushnell, Christ and his Salvation, p. 295. XIV. 28, 29. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 382.
The Danger and the Pain of the Pure
There is something of paradox in this word which arrests attention. He speaks as if He could not talk because He had to fight. The fight was manifestly to Him the gravest of all struggles it was with the prince of the world and yet He declared that the prince of this world had nothing in Him. What makes a conflict with the prince of evil so terrible to us is that he has so much in us. Yet to Christ the terror of the battle was that Satan had nothing in Him, and so great was this terror that He could hardly spare strength to speak.
I. Our Lord's words cost Him something: 'Hereafter I will not talk much with you'. 'What,' says a famous writer, 'is anything worth until it is uttered? Is not the universe one great utterance? Utterance there must be in word or deed to make life of any worth. Every true pentecost is a gift of utterance.' But for the most part our words are idle; they come with no sweat of brain or heart. Yet never can we say anything fruitful, or sweet, or strong, without cost without labour, feeling, effort, soul behind it. Every word of Jesus will outlive earth and heaven.
II. 'Hereafter I will not talk much with you.' Solemn are the silencings of life, the strange hush that drops on lips once gay, free, lilting. He means it this stilling of pulse and voice whether it comes after the battle or before, and His purpose is that our life, if more silent to man, should be fuller of utterance to Him.
III. See our Lord's estimate of Satan. To Him the enemy of souls was terrible; how much more to us. Our war is still with elements which no progress of civilisation can rob of a single weapon. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. No possible social progress can ever change materially the conditions of the spiritual warfare, where our first foe is Satan.
IV. But whence the terror of the struggle to One in whose pure heart the enemy had no place? We can only compare remotely our own case with His, for Christ was never at any point peccable, and the obedience which He learned through suffering was simply the concrete experience of what He had to pass through that He might fulfil His calling as the author of eternal salvation. But when we descend to the brothers and sisters, humanly frail, whom we nevertheless not untruly call pure, we can understand how the danger and the pain of the temptation may be greatest in their case.
The secrets of the grim, silent battle fought by our Head, we cannot tell. Thereafter He did not talk much. But we know that He sweated great drops of blood; that He prayed that if it were possible the cup might pass from Him; that He turned round in His agony to see beside Him the mild and holy face of an angel who had brought Him strength from heaven. In that strength He prevailed for Himself, and in Him we may 'triumph so,' and find at last
Under our feet for ever
The enemies of our souls.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 75.
Our Lord hath said, 'Satan cometh and findeth nothing in Me'. Alas! how otherwise with us! The Holy Spirit cometh and findeth nothing in us!
From Edward Irving's Journal.
The Call to 'Go Hence'
Our Lord was leaving familiar scenes and tasks for new and strange circumstances and experiences. He was quitting the peaceful fellowship of that upper room for Gethsemane and the judgment hall and the cross; quitting in order to make the final and supreme sacrifice of His life.
I. The necessity indicated by the words 'Arise, let us go hence,' was beneficent in its influence. When the Master said to His bewildered disciples, 'It is expedient for you that I go away,' His declaration could only have seemed to them incredible. Yet how true it was! That going away placed the disciples of Jesus in a new position which was in itself both a revelation and an inspiration. It was with them as it often is with us. Too often our teachers and leaders must pass away from earth before their spirit can come in all its purity and power and take possession of us. His going away made Jesus more to His disciples than His continued staying would have done; but instead of an outward reliance He became an invisible inspiration; an invisible and quickening spirit, suggesting, as it were, to their own minds what to say and to do.
II. But, secondly, the words of Jesus, 'Arise, let us go hence,' are also full of the mystery and the pathos of our human life. For the story of the world from the beginning until now is a story of human fellowship always crossed and broken after a few years more or less by inevitable departures. If we are to live, and not merely exist, movement there must be onward, and not merely circular movement. The true growth of every truly living soul is made through a succession of goings hence out of circumstances, relations, positions, habits, into new scenes, surroundings, associations, duties, and experiences. What an echo there is of the whole world's grief in the passionate and bitter wail of Lear, 'Cordelia, Cordelia, stay, a little longer stay'. It is the helpless cry of our poor pleading hearts in the presence of inevitable change and loss. Things, pulsations and passions must remain, but human lives pass away. But there may be no serious disturbances and changes in our outward existence, no call out of city or neighbourhood, or from one field of labour to another, and yet there is a constant call to leave old and familiar habitations and resting-places, mental, moral, spiritual, and to arise and go hence into regions of new life, a life of new aspiration, new thought, new purpose, new endeavour. The same great necessity is often felt in the sphere of ecclesiastical relation. It is by fresh light from heaven the churches truly grow.
III. Lastly, 'Arise, let us go hence'. How often do we wish, like the first disciples, to remain in the bright and peaceful moods of religious feeling and communion those moods which put far from us the care and strife of the world. And so in our seasons of holiest tranquillity and delight the inexorable call is heard. It is not enough that we are ready to sit down with the Master at His feasts of love, to be uplifted and soothed and swept away by His words, which are spirit and life. We must rise and go out with Him, to be His companions along hot and dusty roads, in rough and hidden places, where there are no eyes to see and no hands to applaud, amid scenes of danger and suffering, and in the valley of the shadow of death. And following Him, we shall always be in the right place; we shall always take the right step; we shall not lose, but find the true blessing of life.
John Hunter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. p. 49.
References. XIV. 30, 31. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 392. XIV. 31. T. L. Cuyler, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv. p. 376. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 295. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 61. XIV. 38. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 182.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 14". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension