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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

John 21

Verses 1-25

John 21:0

Mr. A. C. Benson says: 'I have often thought that the last chapter of St. John's Gospel is one of the most bewildering and enchanting pieces of literature I know. I suppose Robert Browning must have thought so, because he makes the reading of it, in that odd rich poem 'Bishop Blougram's Apology,' the sign, together with testing a plough, of a man's conversion, from the unreal life of talk and words, to the realities of life.'

References. XXI. 1. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. p. 11. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 349. XXI. 2. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 184. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 338.

The Practical Type

John 21:3

This is the utterance of the man of action, the practical man, who cannot bear suspense and delay, and must be up and doing.

I. Let us be thankful for the man of action. We can no more do without this type of character, than the head can do without the fingers, or the fingers without the tool which they wield. The man of thought is the brain of the community; the man of feeling is its heart; the man of deeds is its hand. While we want Plato and Kant to do our thinking for us, and poets to sing to us, and prophets to inspire us, we want our Alexanders and Caesars, and Cromwells and Wellingtons, to show how dreams may be turned into conquests: we want our Watts, and Stephensons, and Brunels, and Edisons, to prove that the thing thought of may become the thing done. And in our religious life we must have the man of affairs the organiser the man of executive energy and skill; the quiet, earnest, plodding worker, who will do what others talk of or dream over.

II. But let us look a little closer at the practical man. With all his sterling worth, he, too, has his faults, and they are largely exemplified in the character of Simon Peter. (1) The practical man is often lacking in breadth of outlook. He is strong because he sees clearly and vividly the thing to be done, and sets about doing it without delay. But many men of this kind are unable to see more than the one thing. Their little scheme is not only the one thing needful, but there is no other scheme worth thinking or talking about. In this way they often ruin their cause by claiming too much for it. We need breadth of outlook as well as intensity of action. (2) Another fault of Peter, the practical man, was his restlessness, his lack of repose, and his passion for immediate results. There is hardly any feature more characteristic of our very practical age than this restlessness of spirit, and it largely comes of a feverish impatience of results. (3) Again, the practical man is apt to gauge everything too much by outward standards. There are some realities and they are the sublimest that will not lend themselves to arithmetical computation. (4) And now, finally, we must note that the practical man is often, like Simon Peter, apt to be easily discouraged if not fickle. The men that last, whose enthusiasm fails not, whose work, though seemingly defeated, abides, are the men who look not at the things that are seen, and can be weighed, measured, estimated, but at the things that are unseen.

E. Griffith-Jones, Types of Christian Life, p. 70.

Desertion and Drudgery

John 21:3

I. There are seasons when Christ seems to be lost. There are times when Christ seems absent from the world, and evil triumphs without let or hindrance. There are times when Christ seems absent from the Church, and its worship is only fashion or routine. And there are times when Christ seems absent from the soul, and faith is dead, and comforts are departed, and one is ready to cry again with Mary, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him'. It is then that one prays, and prayer seems a mockery. It is then that the Bible loses all its dew. It is in such hours a man is prone to fall, and to clutch again at what he had forsworn. It is in such hours that, for a word of sympathy, a woman will bow down her head and weep.

II. In such seasons duty still remains.

When Simon Peter said 'I go a fishing,' you are not to regard it as a sinful impulse. It has been taken so, and by some eminent scholars, but I am quite convinced that they are wrong. It was not a counsel of despair. It did not mean that Peter was now hopeless. It was not a return to the old life in Galilee, as if the discipleship had been a dream. It was the action of a man of energy, to whom it was torture to be sitting idle, and who would fill in the hours till his Lord appeared, by doing the plain duty at his hand. But Simon Peter said 'I go a fishing' there was work to do and I am going to do it. There was no joy for him his Lord was absent but the doing of his duty still remained.

Through duty lies the road to restored fellowship. It was when they had toiled, and toiled heroically, that they discovered Jesus on the shore. There is something magnificent in their persistence all through the weary hours of that night. Time after time their nets were shot, and time after time their nets were empty. And yet they held to it till every light was quenched that had been twinkling seaward from the village, and the only sound that broke upon the silence was the calling of the night-bird on the loch. The wonder is they did not give it up. They must have been intensely disappointed. The fish were there, for other boats were taking them, and they were quite as skilful as the best. And yet they held to it all through the night, and till the dawn was crimsoning the east, and it was then that Jesus Christ came back. They did not find Him because of their success. They found Him because of their fidelity. He did not come after a day of triumph. He came after a night of toil. Not in despair, but from a sense of duty had Simon Peter cried 'I go a fishing'; and he discovered when the morning broke that duty was the road to restored fellowship.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 224.

References. XXI. 3. J. Marshall Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 118. J. H. Jowett, British Congregationalist, 27th June, 1907, p. 636. XXI. 3-6. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 13. XXI. 4. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 53. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 347. XXI. 4-6. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 305. XXI. 5. J. Reid, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 205. XXI. 6. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at Bath, p. 116. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 313. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 443. G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 234.

St. John

John 21:7

We must guard against a common error. It is often supposed that John was a soft and rather womanish character I say womanish, because, although all would agree that a womanly woman is one of the most precious things on earth, yet they would also agree that a womanish man is one of the most contemptible, and we slip into the idea that John's was a rather soft and clinging character, and we argue half-unconsciously from this, that the characters Christ loves best now are the soft and the gentle ones. It is quite true that He does take delight in them; but we must not forget that His friend was a Son of Thunder the disciple whom Jesus loved was as brave as a lion and as true as steel.

I. Strength of character that comes out, then, as the first necessity in Christ's friends not strength of body. Are we strong we who aspire to be the friends of Christ? Is it not true to say that the weakness of Christians is the greatest obstacle to the advance of Christ's Church today? (1) Think of the weakness of will in resisting temptation. (2) Or, again, think of the weakness in society in standing up for the colours of the regiment under which we pretend to fight. (3) Or think of the weakness of going by the fashion in everything, the drifting with the tide, being sceptical when it is the thing to be sceptical, taking up Buddhism when it is the clever thing to do; not letting our conscience rule our habits in society, but the customs of society rule our conscience.

II. But then, secondly, there is something which must go by the side of this, and that is, the most tender, the most gracious charity. 'Little children, love one another' it was the secret of St. John's life long before he said it. How should we stand this test of considerateness? (1) How about our servants? (2) Or those who serve in shops. (3) Or impatience at being kept waiting.

III. And St. John's third attribute was surely personal love of Jesus Himself. We may think it so much easier for St. John than for ourselves to have a personal love for Christ, but we must remember that (1) we have the enormous evidence derived from subsequent history we know by sight what they had to know by faith; (2) we have the Gospels: for what object were these Gospels preserved except that Jesus might live and move before our eyes? (3) We have prayer and the Sacraments; for what object were prayer and the Sacraments instituted, except that we might hold real communion with the same living Lord? The true disciple will still be aiming at a personal love of Christ.

Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christ and His Friends, p. 13.

John 21:7

Mr. A. C. Benson says of this passage: 'They (the disciples) go back, like men wearied of inaction, tired of agitated thought, to their homely trade. All night the boat sways in the quiet tide, but they catch nothing. Then as the morning begins to come in about the promontories and shores of the lake, they see the figure of one moving on the bank, who hails them with a familiar heartiness, as a man might do who had to provide for unexpected guests, and had nothing to give them to eat. I fancy, I know not whether rightly, that they see in Him a purchaser, and answer sullenly that they have nothing to sell. Then follows a direction, which they obey, to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Perhaps they thought the stranger for it is clear that as yet they had no suspicion of His identity had seen some sign of a moving shoal which had escaped them. They secure a great haul offish. Then John has an inkling of the truth; and I know no words which thrill me more strangely than the simple expression that bursts from his lips: "It is the Lord". With characteristic impetuosity Peter leaps into the water, and wades or swims ashore.'

On the general passage Mr. Benson says: 'I can only say that for me a deep mystery broods over the record. The glimpses of Him, and even more His absences, seem to me to transcend the powers of human invention. That these men lived, that they believed they saw the Lord, seems to me the only possible explanation, though I admit to the full the baffling mystery of it all.'

References. XXI. 7. F. Gooch, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 348. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 212. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 68. W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Times, vol. lxi. p. 23. Ibid. Church Family Newspaper, vol. xvi. p. 11. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 228; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 324. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 358. XXI. 10, 11. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 251.

A Call to Communion

John 21:12

I. The first thing and the great thing in this chapter is the revelation of Jesus Christ 'After those things Jesus showed Himself again to His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.' There must be the real Presence or there is nothing. Not a real presence in any awful mystery of bread and wine that surely is unlike all that we know of the blessed Saviour. But we must know Him as our very Friend and Brother, as they knew Him of old. 'Where Christ is, there is the Church,' said the great divine of old. Where Christ is, there, and there only, is the Sacrament.

II. The second thought is the renewal of love. 'Simon, son of Jonas, dost thou care for Me? 'Instantly Peter with heart on fire cries, 'Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee'. Again Jesus asks him, 'Simon, son of Jonas, dost thou care for Me? 'Again he cries, more passionately, 'Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee'. The third time Jesus yields to Peter and uses his own word. 'Dost thou love Me?' 'Love Thee? my Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.' Why think you, is the question asked three times? The answer is not far to seek. Because by that fire of coals in the judgment hall three times did Peter declare 'I never knew Him'; and now three times should Peter look into that face and declare, 'Thou knowest that I love Thee'. For every one of us this is the next thing. There comes the question, 'Dost thou love Me? 'He waits for the separate and personal reply.

III. The third thought is the commission for service. 'Jesus saith unto him, Simon, tend My sheep, feed My lambs, shepherd My sheep.' Love can only satisfy itself in service. It cannot live in words only, it must clothe itself in deeds.

M. G. Pearse, The Gentleness of Jesus, p. 151.

References. XXI. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 633, and vol. xxxv. No. 2072. XXI. 14. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 65. XXI. 15. C. A. Berry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 296. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 47. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 97. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 289. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1684. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 77. Ibid. Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 372. XXI. 15-17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 117. W. C. Smith, Sermons, p. 295. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 18; ibid. vol. vii. p. 312. XXI. 15-19. H. Smith, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 420. XXI. 15-23. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 257. XXI. 16. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1281.

Love for Jesus

John 21:17

There were special reasons why this question was put thrice to St. Peter, but I think I can show that it is put thrice to us. The real reason why, after getting an affirmative answer to this question, Jesus put it a second time, was because the first answer was too superficial Christ wanted an answer from a deeper place. And the reason why, after receiving an affirmative answer a second time, he put the question a third time, was that the second answer was still too superficial. He wanted an answer from a still deeper place. Now there are three places in us from which Christ wishes an answer to this question. In us you may see there are three strata the most superficial strata is Feeling, lower than that is Intellect, and lowest of all is Will, the very foundation of our whole nature and Christ wishes to have an answer from each of these places. But let me put it in this way. In the house of Life of each of us there are three storeys the basement storey, the middle storey, and the top storey and Christ comes to the door of each storey and puts his question.

I. Let us begin first with Feeling. Jesus enters the house of our Life and comes to the door of the basement storey where Feeling dwells. He knocks at the door, and when Feeling opens the door He says 'Lovest thou Me?' There are in us many feelings of very different kinds that all pass by the general name of Love. Now, among all the kinds of love that your heart has known, has love to Christ been one? That is a possible kind of love in every life, and I suppose I may say without any fear of contradiction that it is the most sacred, the most sweet, the most influential of all the species of love.

II. And now, second, Intellect. Christ has got His answer at the basement storey of the house of Life, and now He ascends the stair to the middle storey, where Intellect dwells. He stands there at the door and knocks, and when Intellect opens the door, He says, 'Lovest thou Me?' The bond which unites us to Christ is far stronger when to Feeling is added Intelligence. He likes our choice of Him to spring not only from emotion, but from judgment as well. There are two ways in which knowledge may deepen and strengthen our love of Christ. It may increase our gratitude to Him, or it may increase our admiration of Him.

III. The Will. Christ has received His answer on the basement storey at the door of Feeling, and on the middle storey at the door of the Intellect, and now He ascends to the topmost storey where the Will dwells, and there He stands and knocks at the door, and when the Will opens the door, He says, 'Lovest thou Me? 'There are two totally distinct kinds of love in this world, the love that receives and the love that gives. The love that receives absorbs its object and enjoys it. The love that gives, on the contrary, is absorbed in its object, and forgets itself: its one thought is to do good to another, and it does not change. Now our love to Christ has to be submitted to this test. Love to Christ means disadvantage and self-denial. He asks every one who says he loves Him to take up his cross and follow Him, to confess Him before men, to take on His shoulders His cause, planning for it, praying for it, working for it, giving to it: and this is the test, not emotion. We love Christ just as much as we are able to do for Him, just as much as we are able to endure for Him, just as much as we are willing to give to Him, just as much as we are willing to be nothing, that He may be All-in-all. This is the pathway to perfect love.

James Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 113.

John 21:17

Peter made those humble protestations of love and reparation for his three denials, and our Lord did not say 'You have formerly denied Me thrice, and are not worthy to feed My sheep,' but 'Feed My sheep'; for he loved much, having been pardoned much: for love is the prophet's secret; and those who have best fed God's sheep are those who have learned much love through much pardon.

Coventry Patmore.

John 21:17

Lord, within a little time I have heard the same precept in sundry places and by several preachers passed upon me. The doctrine seemeth to haunt my soul; whithersoever I turn it meets me. Surely this is from Thy providence, and should be for my profit. It is because I am an ill proficient in this point, that I must not turn over a new leaf, but am still kept to my old lesson? Peter was grieved because our Saviour said unto him the third time, 'Lovest thou Me?' But I will not be offended at Thy often inculcating the same precept, but rather conclude that I am much concerned therein, and that it is Thy pleasure that the nail should be soundly fastened in me, which Thou hast knocked in with so many hammers.

Thomas Fuller.

References. XXI. 17. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 305. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 317. J. Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 167. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2669.

The Two Girdings

John 21:17-18

I. Under Divine Providence we have each a work to do for God, each a station and duties in the Divine society: some sheep to feed, some lambs to tend.

II. The way in which we can best do this work, while it must task our own utmost capacity in wisdom and power, is yet (because it is under Divine power and wisdom) subject to changes beyond our calculation, which confound the wisdom of the wisest and lay the greatest power in the dust. Every one is familiar with Holbein's drawings, in which kings and knights and wealthy burghers, when their minds are freest from care, are touched on the sleeve by a messenger whose business brooks no delay.

H. C. Beeching, The Grace of Episcopacy, p. 163.

John 21:18

Dr. Marcus Dods wrote at the age of twenty-four: 'It is indeed a life of self-denial this, and I feel as if now for the first time I had even a dim view of what it is not to be one's own, to me a heart-rending lesson, a long and bitter lesson, one I would gladly exchange for fasting, or scourging, or what asceticism you will. Let me keep my own will, let me be my own, aim at my own idea of holiness, aid myself with my own props, and I would do most things. But this is the hard thing to learn, that in every thing, from this moment for ever, I am not only not to get my own will, but I am to desire not to get my own will, to will to be controlled by another wholly and unceasingly. This has to me at times all the pain of dissolution. It is indeed a dying to this world.'

Early Letters, p. 103.

John 21:18

Henri Perreyve wrote on this text to Charles Perraud: 'Let me repeat to you once more, even at the risk of saying the same thing always over again, that adorable verse of the Gospel in which Jesus speaks to the soul of every apostle in the person of St. Peter: "When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, thou didst choose thine own paths, thou hadst thy desires, thy wishes, thy choice. These desires were turned towards Me, and therefore I welcomed and blessed them;... but still they were thine own desires and not Mine, and thou walkedst whither thou wouldest, et ambulabas ubi volebas . But now thou art grown older, thou knowest My love better, My purposes for thee, and what I ask as thy friend. I count upon thee; thou shalt close thine eyes, thou shalt forget thy hopes, thou shalt hush thy desires for good, thou shalt stretch out thine arms like a blind man, like a little child, extendes manustuas ; thou shalt let thyself be girded by the gentle and irresistible hand of Him to whom thou hast surrendered thyself. Whether the girdle be of cord, of iron, or of fire, thou shalt let thyself be girded, alius est qui te cinget , and thou shalt let thyself be carried whither thou wouldest not, quô tu non vis , to suffering, to death, to uselessness, to inaction, which is the last of deaths.'"

Lettres de Henri Perreyve á un ami d'enfance, pp. 244, 245.

References. XXI. 18. H. Bonner, Sermons and Lectures, p. 180. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 188; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 247. XXI. 18, 19. C. Bosanquet, Blossoms for the King's Garden, p. 47. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 5. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 382. XXI. 19. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 362. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 23. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 40.

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loves

John 21:20

I. St. John is here called, first of all, 'the disciple'. And John was emphatically the disciple. He seems almost to have usurped Mary's place, and to have sat at the feet of Jesus to hear His word. Other Evangelists tell us of the deeds of Christ, but St. John tells us of His words. He learnt of Jesus, he studied those words, he turned them over in his heart. And so you and I must be the disciples of Christ. We must be willing to sit at His feet, to hear of Him and to learn the revelation which He would give to us of the Father.

II. Then, secondly, John is called 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'. He was the first to yield himself to Jesus Christ But yet our Saviour was in no way guilty of favouritism. He loved the world Nevertheless, there are some Christians who experience more of His love than other Christians. Why is this? Because they are nearer to the Source of Love. If you think of the planets above our heads, Mercury and Venus have more of the sun's light and warmth than do Jupiter and Saturn. Why? Because they are nearer to the Sun. And so it is with man.

III. Then the third line in this character of St. John is 'following'. Ah, it is no use sitting down at the feet of Jesus and learning His Word unless you follow. Here is the practical side of the Christian's character.

IV. And in the fourth place he is thus described, 'who also leaned upon His breast at supper'. I suppose the reason why St. John lay upon His breast at supper was this: that he was in great trouble. Our Lord had taken them up into that upper chamber, and had there told them plainly, that He was about to be taken from them. And John leaned upon his Master's breast. It was the only place on which he could pillow his aching head, it was the only place where he could find comfort when these sorrows were surging round about him. And Christian, you may have sorrow too. Lean upon His unchanging love, lean upon that ever-faithful heart.

V. Then one thing more. 'And he asked Him, Which is he that betrayeth Thee?' He wanted to find out the worst.

E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son and other Sermons, vol. v. p. 57.

St. John the Evangelist's Day

John 21:20

It is somewhat strange that no reference is made in the early registers of the Festival of St. John. The Venerable Bede is said to be the first writer in whose works it is mentioned; and the probability is that its first observance was merely local; in the thirteenth century, however, it became universal, and ever since has been celebrated, year after year, on the twenty-seventh day of December, with services of a high and holy character.

I. The man. His form will stand out more distinctly if we but glance at some leading circumstances in his history. He was young, perhaps in his teens, when he entered into public life; and was a Galilaean, son of Zebedee and Salome, and junior brother of James the Great, with whom he pursued the vocation of a fisherman. Like all young men of true and powerful temperament, he was capable of vehement anger, which would occasionally burst forth (St. Luke 9:51-56 ). Hence he was surnamed 'a Son of Thunder'. When the hour of danger came he never turned his back in the day of battle. Such was John: lowly, yet noble; calm, yet passionate; gentle, yet brave; simple, yet real; in the main, a man to be greatly admired and safely followed.

II. The disciple. He is now generally spoken of as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'; and this appellation he gave himself on the evening of the betrayal; for neither did Jesus nor the other disciples use it. But it was a true and proper title nevertheless: Jesus loved him unutterably. His heart went out specially to him; and John's heart was won completely by the heart of Jesus. So closely were they bound together that John companioned with Jesus wherever He went, and when He sat down John 'leaned upon His breast'. Thus John was absorbed with his Lord, and thus he rested in the calm assurance of His Divine favour. This was John's heaven on earth.

III. The Apostle. After the Ascension of Christ, John associated intimately with Peter, and this brotherly fellowship continued until they returned to Jerusalem from an evangelising tour in Samaria. From this time John seems to have taken little part in any outward movement; but he finally quitted the Holy City, and transferred his home to Ephesus. After residing here for a while, he was banished to Patmos a dreary islet in the Ægean Sea; yet albeit a wretched place, he was favoured here with the glorious visions so eloquently described in the Apocalypse. What he did in his exile, and how long he remained in it, we know not; but toward the end of the first Christian century he returned to his adopted city. He was now an old man the last survivor of those who had been with Jesus. He calls his converts in Ephesus 'my little children'; and thence, as a centre, he exercised all the holy influence he possessed. His Gospel and Epistles 'the last and richest treasures of sacred literature' show the ripeness of his experience and the depth of his wisdom. At the age of one hundred and twenty he prepared his soul for the New Jerusalem, and died peacefully at Ephesus, surrounded by his 'children'.

References. XXI. 20. W. M. Sinclair, Words from St. Pauls, p. 151. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1539. XXI. 20-22. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 10. XXI. 21, 22. T. Allen, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 88. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 106. A. H. Walker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 461. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 391. XXI. 21-25. J. D. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 404. XXI. 22. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 38. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 36. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 89. J. G. James, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 236. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 392. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 155. XXI. 23. Ibid. p. 359. XXI. 24. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 315.

The Omissions of the Gospel

John 21:25

I. The first thing that the words of St. John suggest to us is the unlikeness of their spirit to the spirit of modern biography. In our day, a biography is not considered final or satisfactory, unless it gives us every known fact in the life of its hero, large or trivial, significant or unmeaning. That was a wise proverb of the Greeks which said that 'the half is more than the whole'. An outline sketch often conveys a truer idea than a finished picture. The artist selects those characteristics which seem to him to be typical of the man, and he portrays these alone. For the rest, his picture may not reproduce this or that feature, this or that trick of gesture, with exact precision; but it does reproduce what we wish to remember, what we desire to know. This is what St. John has done in his Gospel.

II. A vivid picture! And yet we can hardly fail to be conscious at times of a desire for more knowledge of this Master of men of whom St. John wrote. Quite true is it that this brief story has affected human life as no other story has affected it And yet how much is there which has been left untold!

III. This craving is natural; but it is deliberately disappointed by the Evangelists; it was always checked by the Church. There is a grave danger of missing the greatest message of the Gospels by a too exclusive attention to that earthly ministry, to which the title The Life of Christ is sometimes too exclusively appropriated. There may be a warning of this danger in the reserves of St. John. The Church does not profess complete knowledge. Many problems still torment and vex the curious soul. Still is the question asked by many an ardent spirit, anxious to reduce the world to its own narrow rules, 'Lord, are there few that be saved?' But the answer is still the same, stern in its refusal to supply theory, unfailing in power and wisdom as a guide to life: 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate'.

IV. This is not, to be sure, the thought prominent in St. John's words at the close of the Gospel. He does not speak of impassable barriers to knowledge, of mysteries not yet disclosed because of the incapacity of our minds to receive them. For what St. John seems to say is that he knew of much which he did not think it fitting to record. It may be part of our discipline that we are kept in intellectual unrest; part of our discipline, lest in unruly pride we come to think that God is a mere creature of our imagination, a conception of which we have entire mastery. But it is also part of our inheritance; for thus is there ever more and more which we may learn.

J. H. Bernard, Via Domini: Sermons for Christian Seasons, p. 273.

Reference. XXI. 25. J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 9.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 21". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/john-21.html. 1910.