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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

John 7

Verses 1-53

John 7:17

Romanes, Thoughts on Religion, pp. 167-168.

'He that doeth My will shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.' Were it not for that text I think I should sometimes sit down 'astonished,' and pray to die and get it all cleared up.

From a letter of Kingsley (in 1845).

References, VII. 17. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 28. Hugh Black, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 38. H. Drummond, The Ideal Life, p. 297. F. C. Spurr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 228. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading, p. 1. John Watson, The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 133. D. W. Simon, Twice Born and other Sermons, p. 34. J. H. Jowett, The Examiner, 3rd May, 1906, p. 420. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 219; ibid. vol. viii. p. 212. VII. 19. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 16. VII. 24; Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 278. VII. 26, 40-43. ibid. vol. i. p. 83. VII. 27. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 277. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 408. VII. 30-33. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 17. VII. 30-36, 40-52. Ibid. vol. i. p. 391. VII. 31. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 232. VII. 33, 34. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 299. VII. 34. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 213. VII. 35. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 298. VII. 37. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lesson for the Christian Year, pt. iv. p. 294. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1875. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 50; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 226; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 447. VII. 37, 39. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 310. VII. 37-39. F. Hall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 404. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 278. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 122; ibid. vol. iv. p. 167.

From Strain to Rest

John 7:38

The characteristic of our age is strain; and it is certainly as perceptible in the Church as in the world. We live in such publicity, among such a thronging crowd of tidings, that there is little repose left in our lives. Fresh impressions constantly strike the brain and the heart, so that we are fretted, worn, and peace-less. Now, while the Gospel makes room for honest weariness weariness in work, not of it it will not tolerate our modern distraction. If Christ promised and left any gift, that gift was peace; and those who have not proved His word there may be ignorant of it everywhere. There are deeps in Scripture to supply all our need till the probation of the Church militant has reached its appointed end.

The causes of the present religious strain are twofold; the anxieties growing from within, and those pressing from without.

I. Looking inward, it cannot be said that the Christian temper of the times is indolent. Many are working up to the limit of their power, and some even beyond it. The Churches are constantly assuming fresh burdens. New services and societies are being added to those in existence, till now the Christian worker finds hardly a day sometimes hardly an hour unclaimed. Christians are beset by remonstrances and appeals to give more and to do more, and they are not unwilling to respond. But too often even obedience leaves them harassed and fretful. Though they have wearily abdicated leisure, their toils bring them no rest, and they find it hard to see the fruits of their selfsacrifice.

But our Lord said, 'He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water'. In other words, there should come from the faithful an energy streaming forth like rivers flowing eastward, westward, northward, southward. Theirs should be a life which fills the world with blessing as quietly as the sunrise. It should and it might be like His own life, for its secret is such an indwelling of the Spirit as He Himself possessed. None breathed so deeply of the Holy Ghost as Christ did, and so His life was calm at the heart, for all its outward tumult.

II. It is by saving ourselves that we save others, and only so. Work out your own salvation: that is our first business. It is indeed the one business of life which is ours, our own. Nor could anything be shallower than the notion that this is selfish work. It is by working out our own salvation that we are able to work out the salvation of others. The Gospel is not like a spell or nostrum which produces its effects through any one who commands it. It is not a power of miracle which may belong to a man whatever his spiritual condition. He that believeth on me out of him shall flow rivers of living water. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with power.

III. Life in the Spirit reverses and counteracts the forces of disintegration and decay. How busy these are, and how ready are we to yield to them! How soon we close the door give over hoping confess ourselves of the older generation with our best work past But in Christ our youth is renewed like the eagle's. Time flows on, bringing his appointed signs. But grey hairs and diminished strength bear false witness against us if we are filled with the Holy Ghost. Whatever the past has been, the future may be better. If it has been barren and faithless, there is time to repair it; if it has been full of trust and labour, the time to come may be marked by faith more peaceful and labour more abundant. Age need touch our spirits as little as it touched the young angels in the holy grave, and life before God may be an ascent from height to height till we appear at last in Zion.

W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 87.

References. VII. 38. J. H. Jowett, The Examiner, 31st May, 1906, p. 636. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 64. VII. 38, 39. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1662. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 141. VII. 39. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. pp. 61, 279; ibid. vol. vi. p. 368. VII. 40. Ibid. vol. i. pp. 84, 86. VII. 40-62. Ibid. vol. v. p. 296. VII. 41. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 17. VII. 42. Ibid. vol. v. p. 89. VII. 43. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2710. VII. 44. J. Flanagan, Man's Quest, p. 130. VII. 46-62. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 141.

The Originality of Jesus

John 7:46

I. The style of Christ's teaching. There are at least two characteristics which at once suggest themselves the words of Jesus are simple and pictorial. And this is as it should be if His Gospel be for the people without distinction. To clothe great thoughts and revelations of transcendental truths the 'heavenly things,' as Jesus named them in simple words is at once the pinch and power of the pulpit. You will have observed Christ's fondness for pictures, tropes, and figures. But the moral benefit of this peculiarity of style must not be overlooked. It is grimly hinted at in the sibylline words 'that seeing they may see and not perceive' words themselves fashioned after the manner of the parables in which light and shade compete for the mastery.

II. The spirit of Christ's teaching. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this element, for as He claims that His words are the Father's, it is necessary that the Spirit of God should breathe through them. 'My teaching is not Mine but His that sent Me' (John 7:16 ). If we start from the doctrine that the Word was God, we feel no surprise at such sayings as 'the Word was full of grace and truth,' and endued with measureless supply of the Spirit of God; we expect that He shall speak of His own intuitively, out of a conscious fullness of life, love, and power. Let us then see how far this expectation is warranted and realised by an inquiry into the various modes in which the Spirit of God manifests itself in our Lord's words. (1) The first is sympathy. 'Tis His sympathy that gives Jesus His unique and marvellous power over souls. (2) Another characteristic is His tenderness, described by Faber in one of his hymns 'huge tenderness'. Whether He is our Shepherd, Saviour, Father, or Friend, this one indispensable quality endears Him to us. (3) Consider next His earnestness of spirit. The nature and worth of the work on hand may and does account for this trait; the work is salvation to be accomplished for man, in man, and through man. (4) But to crown all, His spirit betrays marvellous hopefulness, amounting even to optimism both in work and deed.

III. The matter of the Saviour's speech will lead us to the verdict of the officers sent to take Him, 'Never man so spake'. (1) His speech is above all original. I think I include all that is to be said on this head when I say in a word God speaks when Christ speaks. (2) There is, too, a tone of authority in all He says. Jesus was more than the Reformer of an obsolete religion. He was the founder of the eternal religion of humanity. (3) I need hardly dwell on its suitableness for all time. The fact remains to this hour there is not a human need for which there is not a Divine remedy. (4) Lastly, He speaks direct to the conscience and 'Never man so spake'.

J. B. Meharry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 187.

References. VII. 46. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 961. K. C. Anderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 137. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 286.

The Evidence That Counts

John 7:48 ; Luke 7:22

I. Let me say first that our faith demonstrates itself as it satisfies our instincts. In other words, the faith of Jesus Christ today is authenticated by human experience. You may talk for a year up in the clouds, but come down to earth, and talk to men who know something about it, and they declare to you that in Jesus Christ they have found a satisfaction for their conscience they never found before; that in His fellowship they have realised that peace which passeth understanding; that this faith has implanted in them a great conviction that purifies their whole nature, and constrains them to daily obedience to the commands of righteousness. They will tell you it has satisfied their instinct for futurity; it has given them a great and blessed hope that lifts them above trouble, above despair. It is not a question for disputation by idle theorists; it is a question of experience. Nature is a great witness chamber, where everything testifies for itself. What is the Church? It is another great witness chamber where men high and low, rich and poor, young and old, bear their personal testimony to the power and to the grace and to the preciousness of Jesus Christ. And their witness is true. There can be no perjury here, no illusion here. When you get a million men from one generation to another to bear witness, surely it is worth a cart-load of the chatter of criticism and speculation. To-day Jesus Christ does not send you to the academic representatives to know what they think. He sends you to men with understanding, consciousness, heart, who have proved these things. 'Ye are My witnesses,' says Christ. He is authenticated in the witness of the sacramental host.

II. Then there is another great source of demonstration. Jesus Christ not only satisfies human instinct, but the cross of Jesus Christ transforms human character. There must be reality in that which transforms character. You cannot change a man with a myth. 'Go and tell John the blind see, and the deaf hear, and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, and the dead raised.'

III. Christianity not only satisfies the instinct of humanity, it not only transfigures character, but it prompts glorious service and sacrifice. Do not forget that. 'Go and tell John you see these works of amelioration and blessing; that I sacrifice Myself for the degraded and the lost.' Dear brethren, is not that what the Church of God is doing today? If you were to take the Church of God out of this world, where would the great ministers to humanity be found? What are these critics of the Church of God? What do they do? They mark time! They waste ink and paper! What is the Church doing? Why, in a thousand ministries of compassion and mercy in this land and in all lands it gives its gold, its blood, that it may uplift men and bring them to a better life and make a better race. That is a thousand times better than all the chaff of the summer-time threshing floor of mere talkers, and critics, and dreamers. Sacrifice, service something that is real, that is expensive: that is the demonstration. We have a whole army of talkers, we have whole regiments of critics. We have no need of them! They are wasting time. While the theorist speculates and dreams, all the time the Christian Church is instructing the ignorant, leading the erring to the Cross, pointing the dying to a grander life, breaking the clod, sowing the seed, and reaping the harvest of the redeemed and sanctified humanity into the garner of God.

W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxviii. p. 177.

References. VII. 39. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 103. VII. 47. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p. 94.

John 7:48-49

Nothing is more galling to the merely respectable than to be brought in contact with religious ardour.

R. L. Stevenson.

John 7:49

It is unworthy a religious man to view an irreligious one either with alarm or aversion; or with any other feeling than regret and hope and brotherly commiseration.

Carlyle.

References. VII. 49. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 267; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 91; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 518. VII. 51. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 333. VII. 52. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 280; ibid. vol. viii. p. 219. VII. 53. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 3003. D. Macleod, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 125. H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 327. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 325; ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p. 10.

The Homing of the People

John 7:53 ; John 8:1

Our text shows us the homeless Christ. His disciples had their houses to go to, houses perhaps of mud and clay, but homes in spite of that But with that infinite separateness, as it has been called, which ever and anon fell upon all His relations, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

But Christ had an earthly home once, and not very long before. He had His home in Joseph's cottage, and as He was supposed to be the Son of Joseph, no doubt He was used to call that home 'My father's house'. It was very humble, but all we can read or imagine shows that it must have been very happy. The Holy Child cast the mantle of His own radiance over all His surroundings. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. When the time came, He took His share in the bearing of the burden, and at last perhaps He bore it altogether. It seems as if when Joseph died He became the Head of the house, and His own hands ministered to His necessities, and the necessities of those who were with Him. The hands that were in after days to touch the little children in their innocence and the harlots in their filth, that were to carry the reed of scorn, that were to be nailed on the tree, were hands worn and soiled by labour. But I say that the home was happy. We have a most revealing glimpse in the words of Mary when He had just left her. She said at the marriage, 'Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it'. He had been subject to them, but they had been subject to Him, though unconsciously; they were all at the touch of His fingers. Our Saviour homes His people He is their homemaker in the house, in the Church, in heaven.

I. First comes the home where father, mother, children dwell together. Every thoughtful observer has perceived that in our times many things threaten the home, and that the home must be defended at all hazards by the Christian Church. The family is to Jesus the indispensable unit Its foundation is laid in His pure, severe, and final law of marriage. The home is not to be at the mercy of uncontrollable temper, or of unbridled and shifting desires. It is to be the refreshment of all who live in it, their blessedness, their peace, their reward, and their discipline their discipline in forbearance and in self-respect.

Now, there cannot be a home without a house, and multitudes of our people have to live in houses which cannot be turned into homes, dens where self-respect and decency and humanity are continually outraged. It is well that the Church has been called on to confront the problem. No doubt the Church has taken on a look of unreality and misdirected energy. There has been for years little observable contact between ecclesiastical and theological discussions and the human needs of modern life. It has been said too truly that to the vast majority of those who were most concerned in the social question, the Christ of the Churches has become an object of complete indifference, if not of positive scorn. Christ is honoured as a human, unmysterious leader of the poor, utterly removed from the tradition and the creeds of Christian worship. The Church has to retrieve the lost ground, and that in many ways. Already a beginning has been made, already we perceive that we have to take part in legislation and administration. Already it is perceived that Christian men are doing Christian work when they devote themselves in Councils and in Parliament to the cause of social reform. We have also to break up the huge aggregations of poverty in our great cities that are unrelieved by the presence and example of the well-to-do. The first duty of many Christians is to make their homes among the poor, and until this duty is more generally fulfilled, progress will lag.

But while giving the fullest place to this duty, the Church has to go far beyond it. The problem is not solved in the least if we have houses and nothing but houses. The house must be turned into a home, and it may be that the more house the less home. We can see it not seldom in human life. The little house where the young couple were so happy and so poor is exchanged for the mansion, but the mansion is not half so much home as the cottage was. If we could lodge each family in London in a palace, London might be further from God than she is now. For a home you must have a homemaker, and when the Church sends forth home-makers, she is working surely for the homing of the people.

Christians must never forget, as the public mind becomes more and more engrossed with economics, that reformers have had their day and done their work, but Christ Jesus and He alone still gives new life. He is not primarily the deviser of a social system, but the quickener of the individual. Instead of regeneration by organisation, He offers regeneration by inspiration. He sees life changed, shaped, and glorified by the life of God, and regards the future of society with a splendid and unfaltering hope. Without Him no social changes will make the burden of loss lighter or the fountain of tears less bitter.

II. The Church is to be also the home of the people. For many, for most, the Church is a second home; but for a multitude it is all the home they can have. Cardinal Newman has written beautifully on the Church as a Refuge for the Lonely. 'My house,' said Jesus, 'shall be called a house of prayer for all,' not a house of preaching, nor a house of philanthropy, nor a house of amusements, but a house of prayer. All men are capable of prayer, and growth in grace is a growth in knowledge of what the life of prayer may come to be. 'My house is a house for all.'

III. One word on the home above. When we have homed the people in the earthly home and in the Church, our work is not done. They are to be homed at last with Christ.

Your own Bishop Simpson of America once was preaching on heaven, and suddenly electrified the audience by a cry of his fatherly heart. 'Oh,' said he, 'what would heaven be to me without my Willie?' It is not that the bereaved would have them back. They will never know earthly cares and fears. They are 'thrice three times walled in emerald from our mortal mornings grey'. But we are indeed strangers and pilgrims on the earth, men and women for whom life is full of deaths, little deaths and great deaths. But what of it if through them the summer land calls us to its bosom, and if Christ is waiting to receive us to Himself in the land where homes are safe.

W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 205.

References. VIII. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 3003. J. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 133. H. S. Seekings, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 327. C. D. Bell, Hills that Bring Peace, p. 287. VIII. 1, 2. D. Macleod, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 125. VIII. 1-11. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 10; ibid. vol. ii. pp. 405, 409, 421; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 161. VIII. 2. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 302. VIII. 6. J. Wills, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 403. VIII. 10, 11. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 96. VIII. 11. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 188. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 51. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 33. F. W. Aveling, ibid. vol. liii. p. 211.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 7". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/john-7.html. 1910.