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PART V. (D.)
1. The disciples in the world, and the world’s attitude toward them (John 16:1-6).
The Promise of the Comforter.
2. To comfort them in view of coming trial the promise of the Paraclete is given more fully, and His relation to the world is set forth (John 16:7-11).
3. His enlightening influence on the disciples themselves (John 16:12-15).
4. Christ must depart, but the disciples’ sorrow shall be turned into joy when they more fully realise the Father’s love to them in Him (John 16:16-28).
5. The disciples profess their faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and are warned that their faith would have to stand the test of trial; but that, although shaken, it should not be overthrown, for Christ has “overcome the world” (John 16:29-33).
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
Chap. John 15:27. The Spirit does not teach historical facts, but reveals their true meaning. Hence the apostolic testimony and the testimony of the Spirit form but a single act, in which each contributes a different element—the one the historic narrative, the other the internal evidence and the victorious power. This relation is reproduced in our day in all living preaching derived from Holy Scripture. St. Peter equally distinguishes the two kinds of testimony (Acts 5:32) (see Westcott, etc.).
John 16:1. These things, etc.—i.e. regarding the hatred of the world (John 15:18-27), lest that should become a cause of offence to them. He will not send them unwarned into the field of bitter strife. But perhaps, also, the reference is to the comforting promises, and the views of their union with Him just given, which would comfort and strengthen them in the midst of their sufferings. Offended.—Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:21, etc.
John 16:2. They shall put you out of their synagogues, etc.—i.e. excommunicate the disciples, debar them from religious fellowship. Toward this the Sanhedrin had already taken steps (John 9:22; John 12:42). It would be a trial to the disciples to be shut out from participation in the blessings promised to Abraham’s seed. But more than that, whosoever killeth you will think he is bringing an offering to God—. So blinded would these persecutors be by their hatred to Christ and His people that they will think (δόξη) that they are serving God by this bitter hatred, so alien to the God of love. But the Rabbis taught that “every one that sheds the blood of the wicked is as he that offereth an offering” (see Westcott, in loc.).
John 16:3. These things, etc.—Such action would proclaim their entire ignorance of the true nature of God (John 15:21), in Himself and as revealed in Christ. They rejected the light, and thus did the works of darkness.
John 16:4. But these things, etc. (John 16:1).—The ἀλλά, but, indicates a break. The Lord now turns aside from the idea of future sorrow. And these things I said not at the beginning, etc.—He had spoken of future trials (Matthew 5:10; Matthew 10:17; Matthew 16:24, etc.), but not with the same fulness as now. Nor had He before told them of the manner in which the world’s hatred was to be met by the Spirit. When He was with them His presence protected and comforted the disciples. The world’s hatred fell on Him. But now, with His promise, they would be able to endure.
John 16:5-6. But now I go My way, etc.—His work was nearing its close, and this to Him was matter of rejoicing. But the disciples were so engrossed with the thought of parting with Him, and of what they were to encounter, that they had no thought of the purpose of His departure, and whither He was going, the glorious state into which He was to enter. The disciples were absorbed in themselves, and even in the questions of Peter (John 13:36) and Thomas (John 14:5) the whither was lost sight of. They did not think of the Lord’s glory, but of themselves.
John 16:7. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient, etc.—He appealed again to their conviction of the truth of His words (John 14:2). They imagined His departure to be an unmitigated evil for them; but He showed them that it was not so. His going away was the condition of His ascension and glorious sitting at the right hand of God, from whence He should send the Comforter (John 7:39). “I do not desire that you should love Me after a fleshly manner, and through being contented with this milk remain ever children” (Augustine; 2 Corinthians 5:16). He is nearer to His true disciples than if He were on earth. “The complete work of Christ was the necessary preliminary, and, in some sense, the procuring cause of that gift; and since the Word is the Spirit’s instrument, the revelation must be complete before the application of it can begin in its full energy. Christ must be at the right hand of God before He can bestow the Spirit, ascending on high that He may receive for, and give the gift to, spirits fitted to receive it by faith in His completed work” (Maclaren). The redemptive work of Jesus needed to be completed ere the Spirit could come (Hebrews 9:26).
John 16:8. And when He is come, He will reprove, etc.—i.e. He will convince or convict (ἐλέγξει) the world of fault or error. This ability to be convinced shows that there is still possibility of salvation for the world. The testimony of the disciples, filled with the Spirit, would surely convince the world of its sinfulness. The Spirit would use the testimony of the apostles regarding Christ so powerfully that, despite itself, the world would be convicted of its error, and their cause vindicated (Acts 2:37). Sin, righteousness, judgment.—The world entertains erroneous conceptions of these great facts, the greatest as regards the position of men spiritually. The world does not understand what sin is in relation to God, feels no need of righteousness, does not comprehend fully the idea of retribution, and dreams of some way of escape. From such fatal dreams the world must be awakened.
John 16:9 In respect of sin, etc.—Sin in its deepest essence is disobedience to the divine will, and therefore unbelief (Genesis 3:17). And the world’s sin had reached its highest point when it rejected Christ. To all open hearts Jesus is the manifestation of the highest good, and those who reject Him turn away from the light which reveals. Unbelief in Christ is the acme of sinfulness.
John 16:10. In respect of righteousness, because, etc.—The world being blinded as to the true idea of sin had also no true conception of righteousness. But when the full redemptive work of the Saviour was seen and understood, when men were made aware at what a cost sin needed to be propitiated—how it required the sending, the humiliation, the death of the incarnate Son—and was announced as completed by His rising and ascension, then, they would understand what sin really was, and that no mere outward reformation could take it away, that the Lord our righteousness alone could effect it (Romans 1:17; Romans 10:3, etc.).
John 16:11. In respect of judgment, etc.—This judgment began when, in meek obedience, the Saviour hung upon the cross, bowed His head, and gave up the ghost, crying, “It is finished.” The serpent’s head was bruised (Genesis 3:15). But the power of evil, though vanquished and retreating, is not yet finally overcome, and may yet make desperate efforts to retrieve the lost position (2 These. 2; Revelation 13:0, etc.). But Christ’s judgments are in the world; and year by year the kingdom by God is advancing to triumph.
John 16:12. I have yet, etc.—The disciples were like spiritual children. They required “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). See how the risen Christ had to reprove the two on the way to Emmaus as “fools, and slow of heart,” etc. (Luke 24:25). They required the inner illumination of the Spirit. Nor was Christ’s work all accomplished. The final and most important part of it had yet to come. And that the disciples could not then understand; they could not conceive of it until it was past, and its purposes revealed to them.
John 16:13. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, etc.—πνεῦμα, neuter, but pronoun ἐκεῖνος (masc.) shows that the Spirit is a person. Guide.—Christ is the way of truth; the Spirit guides men to and in Him the living way. He shall not speak of Himself, or from Himself.—He shall declare the will of the Father as Christ did (John 8:38-40; John 14:24; John 15:15). This is the test of His guidance. His divinity is clearly shown in the words, “He shall show you things to come.” None but God can do this. The things that are coming (see Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6).—The course of the Church’s progress would be revealed to them (see especially Revelation 2:0; Revelation 3:0).
John 16:14. He shall glorify, etc.—The Son glorifies the Father. And the Spirit, teaching the glorious truths of Christ’s redemptive work to men, shall glorify the Father and the Son (John 16:15) in every redeemed soul. “The Son is of the Father alone; but the Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son” (Augustine).
John 16:15. All things that the Father hath, etc. (Colossians 1:19).—Thus He is the complete revelation of the Father. It is a stupendous claim; but is it not borne out by the person and work of the Redeemer? The three divine hypostases are united in man’s redemption.MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 16:1-15
Chap. John 15:26 to John 16:4. True witnesses of Christ.—The Spirit was to testify of Christ in the minds and hearts of the disciples. He would make clear the word spoken by Christ in their souls. He would come with power into their hearts, witnessing to their spirits that they were God’s children. They realise that their treasure is in heaven; and in silent hours that treasure is revealed to them, and they are blessed in the knowledge. They are bound in one, and the Spirit is the messenger passing between them. The Spirit witnesses that they have found their Lord and Saviour, and the Spirit testifies to Christ that they are children of God. For this cause the Spirit will witness through God’s children (John 15:27).
I. The source of this witness-bearing.—
1. “When the sunbeams have borne witness to the planets and the moon as to the source of their light, they in turn shine in the night and bear witness of the source of their light. When the sunshine bears witness in the flowers of the source of their life, then they bear witness to it in their varied beauty and their sweet odours.” So should it be with Christians and Christ.
2. They bear witness to His power in their lives. They are as lights in the world, as the salt of the earth. And whatever is revealed in Scripture by the Holy Spirit regarding the meaning and aim, the contents and fruit, of the work of Jesus, remains as the directory for this witness-bearing.
II. Its steadfastness.—
1. This witnessing for Jesus excites the hatred of the world, which seeks to isolate believers and excommunicate them from participation in the divine service. The disciples speedily came under the ban of the Jewish authorities. It had been threatened before. But after the descent of the Spirit, when the true nature of the religion of Christ was perceived, then the hatred of Jewish bigotry broke out in bitter persecution. They were not allowed to witness for Christ in temple or synagogue; and the hatred of their persecutors followed them into strange countries (Acts 9:1-2).
2. Not only so, but the persecution took a bitterer form, and the protomartyr Stephen was the first of those who fell under the hands of those who thought they were doing God service in slaying him.
3. As the years sped on Roman persecutions took the place of the Jewish. When any misfortune came upon a country, men imagined it was the wrath of the gods because the “new superstition” was permitted to extend. And the cry was, “To the lions with these Christians, and then things will mend!” This they did because they knew not the Father nor Christ.
4. And it descended to pre-Reformation times, when the first companies of the faithful separated from the Romish Church. A crusade against heretics was preached. As Huss was bound to the stake to be burnt, and the fire did not speedily enough burn up, a monk cried out, “Whoever brings wood for the burning of this heretic shall have full absolution and forgiveness of sins.” These things were done then because men truly knew not the Father or Christ.
5. But to the believer the fellowship with his Lord is a full compensation, and in peace his soul finds a rich indemnity for temporal loss. Thus his faithfulness toward Jesus does not waver; he is drawn indeed into closer union with his Lord the more earnestly the world drives him away from itself.
III. The comfort with which the disciples of Jesus are consoled.—
1. They remember that the Lord had foretold these persecutions. The Lord had spoken the truth, but that truth was yet like an unopened book. The ages have unsealed and opened it.
2. But the Lord had forewarned the disciples, so that when the trouble came they might not think that some strange thing had happened unto them (1 Peter 4:12). They were not to dream that the position of disciples would be one of happiness in the world. When they know of the enemy then they are able to stand on their guard. And these persecutions they were to account an honour; yes, they were to remember that those who suffered with Christ would also be partakers of His glory.
3. There was a proverb in the ancient Church that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” When the willows by the brook have their twigs cut off they do not wither, but shoot forth more sprays than there were before. So when mockery and persecution break forth on Christian men for the sake of the name of the Lord and Saviour, then they are like trees planted by the watercourses. What the world thinks shall be evil He will turn to good. Against his will must the enemy build up the Church also in your souls.
4. Believers remember also amid it all that many are enraged at the gospel purely from want of knowledge. And in the hope that finally to the witnessing of Jesus the victory is sure, they work on in patience and prayerful watching.
John 16:5-15. The blessed coming of the Spirit (see also John 14:16-18).—The one thought filling the disciples’ hearts at the moment these words were spoken was a thought of sorrow. “He is going away,” was the dominant thought. And it had filled the hearts of the disciples with sadness. Their faces were clouded as is the summer noon when a storm draws on apace. Sorrow indeed prevented them asking the simple question whither He was going, for then their sorrow had been turned to joy. But in mercy and kindness, remembering their weakness, the Redeemer spoke words of cheer, telling them that though He must depart this was but the prelude of richer blessing, which would in the end turn their sorrow into joy.
I. The glorified Saviour will send the Comforter.—
1. The Spirit is called the Comforter for this reason among others—that He would bring comfort to the hearts of the disciples when the Saviour had ascended, and when He should tell them what they could not hear then from Christ.
2. It was better for the disciples and the world that the Saviour should depart. Had He remained it must have been in one place, in which His reign would be more conspicuous than elsewhere. But the influence of the Spirit would be universal. Nor would it be an outward manifestation so much as an inward life. The Lord comes spiritually in the Holy Ghost. And thus the life of sight, of the actual bodily presence of the living Saviour, gave place to the life of faith.
3. The Saviour has now ascended, and sits at the right hand of God. So that now the believer knows there is One awaiting him beyond. It is no unknown country. The loving Redeemer is in the Father’s presence and has prepared a place for His followers.
4. But had not the Spirit been in the world ere Christ came? Did He not influence the hearts of God’s people of old through law and prophecy? Yes,—but to a desire for better things, to a faith in what was to come, and from which the prophets were permitted sometimes for a moment to uplift the veil, revealing the coming Redeemer and His wondrous work. Thus many of the Old Testament saints rejoiced, though dimly, in Christ.
5. But now the time of type and symbol was past, and the Spirit was to come as an indwelling guest, revealing Christ in the hearts of all true believers. But first Christ must bring the work of redemption to its completion. Only in hearts cleansed in the Fountain opened for sin can the Spirit joyfully dwell as the Paraclete. And His resurrection and ascension must show that work completed, as “all power is given to Him in heaven and earth,” and He can send them forth in spiritual strength to witness to His saving work, the Spirit bringing all things to their remembrance of His life and work, so that they could proclaim in His name forgiveness of sin.
II. The Comforter comes with quickening power.—
1. But He comes thus only to those who believe. To be baptized is not enough, to be a church member not enough. It is only to believing hearts that the Spirit will come as a comforter.
2. To the world He comes otherwise. He “convinces the world of sin.” Ere He comes into our hearts there is the silence and calm of death. But when the Spirit comes through the word or some providential dealing, this fatal calm is broken up, and the storm of conviction descends on the soul like a rushing wind, or the door is shut against His pleading.
3. And the sin of which He convinces the dead world is the sin of unbelief. This is the root of all sin—the believing of the devil’s lie, “Thou shalt not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), rather than the voice of God which is truth. It is turning away from the Light of truth—the rejection of that Light which all along was revealing the Father, and which finally made manifest His glory, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
4. But the Spirit further convinces the world of righteousness. Men of the world have in vain striven to establish a righteousness of their own. But the Spirit convinces those who open their hearts of the futility of this endeavour, and points to the only way, i.e. that they should humbly confess their sinfulness and come to the Redeemer, that He may be made unto them righteousness. And His going to the Father meant the completion of that work which made it possible for men to attain this righteousness.
5. The Spirit “will convict the world of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed as the kingdom of grace advances. Christ came not to judge the world, but to save it; and therefore His very coming was a judging of the prince of the evil world of men’s hearts. At the cross the serpent’s head was bruised; and whereever the Spirit comes with power there the dark kingdom of evil shrinks and contracts. And through the ages it is shrinking and contracting at every new conquest of the cross. The darkness is passing and the true Light now shines. Every new mission station, every enlightened heart, is a new conquest of a part of the territory of the awful power of darkness. As Christ cried “It is finished” the prince of this world was judged. And as the risen Christ is preached so declines the power of evil.
6. But in this convincing and convicting power of the Spirit lies the purpose of eternal love. He does not convince and convict in vain, or merely to demonstrate the divine judgments. He comes in judgment to tear up the fallow ground (Jeremiah 4:3), to uproot the noxious weeds, the thorns and thistles, which would choke the good seed sown by the servants of the Church, so that when He descends like rain upon the grass to be mown, and as showers that water the earth, the good seed may spring up and bring forth abundantly.
7. This conviction, too, is an awakening from the darkness and ignorance of sin and unrighteousness under which men were exposed to judgment, and a bringing of them into the light of truth. He shall guide you into all truth—fit representative of the good Shepherd who leads His flock—telling of the gentle dealing of God. And as the Saviour ever listened for the Father’s voice (Isaiah 50:4), so the Spirit will not speak of Himself. His witnessing is one with the witness of the word of Christ. Nothing revealed by Him can truly be in contradiction to the teaching of Christ and His inspired word. For He is to receive of Christ what is His, to show it unto the disciples—show it not to the head alone, but to the heart. For it is here especially that moral truth is apprehended; and the heart must be specially enlightened.
8. How has the Spirit glorified Christ! The history of the progress and power of Christ’s gospel is a testimony to the power of His witness-bearing to the Redeemer. And every redeemed heart bears the same witness; for what the Spirit gives is what He received of Christ, and therefore Christ is glorified.
9. So also is the Father glorified in Christ. For the things of Christ are the Father’s. “Christ is God’s.” Here all the persons of the Godhead are seen conjoined in this glorious work. How ought this wondrous love to constrain us not to live unto ourselves—to open our hearts joyfully to the influence of the blessed Paraclete, that He may work His sanctifying work within us! “Working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, seeing that it is God who is working in us,” etc. (Philippians 2:12).
John 16:5-15. How the Holy Ghost brings to completion God’s purpose of grace toward men.—The working of the Holy Spirit in the faithful and in the world; the comfort of believers in view of the world’s enmity and their own wickedness; the true spirit of obedience in reference to the leading of the Spirit, are the chief points in the passage.
Introduction.… Rejoice at the remembrance that God has sent His Son into the world that the world through Him might be saved, that the Son died on the cross to reconcile the world to God. The Holy Spirit has come as the promised Paraclete, to enable all who seek it to appropriate Christ’s righteousness, and to make them joyful in their divine sonship. Our passage shows how this working of the Holy Spirit completes God’s purpose of grace toward men.
I. He comforts the sorrowing.—
1. The disciples were sorrowful because of the departure of Jesus. It was shown to them how needful this was, and how good it would be for them.
2. In tribulation we by nature see that alone. The Holy Spirit quickens our vision, so that we recognise the blessings that come from tribulation.
II. He punishes those who oppose.—
1. The world is by the Holy Ghost convicted of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
2. We all possess in ourselves a bit of the world, which must be discarded. For this reason the Holy Ghost also discovers our sinfulness to us, and chastens us, so that we may be led to repentance, to lay hold of Christ’s righteousness, and comfort ourselves in the same, in view of the judgment.
III. He leads the “willing people.”—
1. The Holy Ghost was to lead the disciples into all truth, so that through their testimony Christ might be glorified.
2. The Holy Ghost leads the penitent ever deeper into the knowledge of God’s way of salvation; He purifies their life evermore from sin, brings them into ever closer union with Christ, and thus their word and life glorify Jesus.—J. L. Sommer, “Evang. Per.”
John 16:8. He shall convince the world of sin.—What Scripture lays stress on is not men’s circumstances, but their moral and spiritual condition. According to their inner life, men in the same outward circumstances will do vastly different deeds and arrive at issues wide asunder as heaven and hell. In the same circle, under the same influences, with the same advantages, we find a John who leaned on the Saviour’s breast, and a Judas who betrayed Him. It may be well to seek social reform, higher wages, better education, better circumstances. But if we would seek to raise the race higher, we must begin first and strive chiefly after inward and spiritual reform. With that the external and outward will come also.
I. The presence of sin and its power in the life of men show the need of conviction of sin.—
1. The divine teaching is therefore directed first to the conviction of sin. This is one of the chief offices of the Spirit. It is a weakness of much of modern evangelical preaching that this is so little insisted on.
2. The apostolic preaching enforced this truth on Jew and Gentile, showing that the culmination of sin was unbelief, through knowing not God and Him whom God hath sent. This made Wesleyanism and the evangelical revival at the end of last century so powerful.
3. To ignore the fact of sin is to ignore history. Apart from this great fact Christ’s work is meaningless. Hence the attempt to discredit the divine facts. The modern craze of evolution has infected the Church; hence men are seeking to square Scripture and divine eternal truth with this narrow and dubious theory,
4. But the stern truths of the existence and doom of sin men cannot get rid of, juggle as they may. This is not only a Bible dogma. It lies at the basis of the religious history of mankind It is met in all its sombreness in all the historic religions, in the cultured literature of Greece and Rome. The great cycle of Greek tragedies reveals it—
“Pollution, like a cloud, hangs o’er a man,
And folly hides the knowledge of his fall.”
The Greek poets not only saw sin working out its dire results here. They were convinced it would follow man beyond.
“For Hades is a stern inquisitor
Of men beneath the earth, and views their deeds,
And writes them in the tablets of his mind.…
The lewd offender shall not when he dies
Escape arraignment in the shades below.”
No fine-spun theories can get rid of the momentous fact. Each one in view of sin must confess, “I did this; this habit of sin is in me; whatever the motive, I was the mover. Man at first knew the right and good, i.e. obedience to the divine will. It was not necessary that he should know personally what evil was in order to his development. But when he disobeyed the divine will he could not help knowing it, and now his development is effected in another way than it would have been had he not fallen” (see Maurice, Theol. Essays). The first step, therefore, that God’s Spirit takes is to convince men of sin. This He had been doing all along, even in pagan hearts, as we see from Greek and Roman literature, Egyptian monuments, etc. But now, in view of the exhibition of what sin is on Calvary, His convincing and convicting power is infinitely increased.
II. The blessedness of the Spirit’s work in convincing the world of sin.—
1. The real principle of sin is disobedience to the word of God arising from unbelief. Hence sin in this view is called a deficiency, a want, a missing of the mark. It is as if some important bolt or rivet from a great, complicated machine had been broken or withdrawn. The machine is thrown into confusion and much of it destroyed. So with man’s nature,—the moral bond between God and man being snapped asunder, moral and physical deterioration inevitably followed.
2. Sin never remains alone. It is followed by a numerous progeny. One lie leads to another, one crime to another. This perhaps is the great lesson taught by the mediæval tragedy of Faust, modernised by Goethe, Lenau, and others. It shows how sin follows on the heels of sin, in the vain effort made by the sinner to escape the consequences of what has gone before.
3. Hence evil becomes “crookedness,” perversion of the divine law. Then it develops into open rebellion, and, last and lowest stage, becomes habitual wickedness, and, if persisted in, moral death. It leaves its mark on the nature.
4. Another reason why it is blessed to have this conviction thrust upon us is the fact that sin is hereditary. It has led to physical deterioration. Children inherit this, and also a weakened moral nature. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children. “The evil that men do lives after them.” Modern science “is laying unexpected emphasis upon the words of Robert Browning when he said that Christianity is the faith which launched its dart at the head of a lie, taught original sin, and the corruption of man’s heart” (Expository Times, 1892).
5. Sin haunts men, and the longer they continue impenitent the more terrible does it become. Our sins are “like our shadows.” Not only so, but the shadow often envelops others in its gloom, and may follow beyond.
Application.—We should therefore hail with joy the fact that the Spirit’s work is to convince the world of sin, and now more powerfully than ever before, in view of Gethsemane and Calvary. Let His convincing and convicting power have free play in our hearts and consciences. For the first step from the bondage of sin is this conviction of its deadly power and presence in the world and in our hearts.
John 16:10. The way of escape from sin.—Thank God, the Spirit not only convicts the world of sin. He also comes to convict or convince it of righteousness, and thus of the way of escape from sin. The Comforter will not only quicken the consciences of sinful men, but, in the finished work of Jesus, will point the way to deliverance from sin.
I. How men of old longed for this.—“We must either learn to discover the truth about these subjects; or, if this be impossible, we must take the best and most irrefragable of human words, and supported on this, as on a raft, sail through the waters of life in perpetual jeopardy, unless we make the journey on a securer stay—some divine word, if it might be—more securely and with less peril” (Plato’s Phœdo, in Westcott’s Religious Thought in the West).
II. This divine word which those seekers after truth would fain have possessed we have.—
1. This word gives us the joyful assurance that the work of sin may be undone: not by merely changing our circumstances, but by having ourselves changed.
2. There is a way of escape from moral evil, its toils here and its terrors hereafter. The divine law is founded on the possibility of men resisting evil. But if men persist in sinning, it is an eternal decree that evil, if persisted in, hardens the heart and sears the conscience. Some aid must therefore be given if sin is to be overcome.
3. Christ brings this aid. His redemptive work is often presented under the very defective view of providing merely for the pardon of actual transgressions—as if that were enough. If by an act of royal clemency a criminal is discharged, is he less a criminal? No; and this would not suffice in the moral sphere either. Thus the Redeemer was called Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins. He delivers men from the bondage of corruption. He, through the Spirit, will make them new creations. Convincing them of the need of righteousness, the Spirit will point to the completed work of Jesus, and its acceptance in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, where He reigns, “The Lord our righteousness.”
III. The effect in the moral and spiritual life of the Spirit’s convincing men of righteousness.—
1. Let men, while now is the accepted time, yield themselves to the influences of God’s Spirit, and He will convince them of sin, righteousness, judgment.
2. But He will not leave them there. He will guide them so that they may rise to that condition from which man fell—to submissive readiness to do God’s will, and to renounce their own will. He will lead them to righteousness—not absolute, but through faith ever becoming more marked through union with Christ.
3. And He will also lead them to realise that judgment is already going forward in the world, that yet a little while and the final time of declaration will come, “when we shall all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body,” etc. (2 Corinthians 5:10).
John 16:11. The mission of the Comforter.—This passage is frequently interpreted as though it referred to the final judgment of the world, and men have supposed that Christ meant to say that the last conviction produced by the Comforter is the assurance of a day when He (the Lord) shall appear as the Judge of man. It is evident that Christ referred to a judgment that had then and there commenced, for the words have a present meaning—“The prince of this world is judged.” We shall most easily illustrate this by referring to a precisely similar utterance in chap. John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The Saviour had just declared that by His death He should give life to the world. He had just received from heaven the assurance of final victory. The judgment, therefore, to which He pointed was that conquest which He had already commenced of the dominion of evil, and the final victory over it which He should gain on His cross; and the same meaning must be attached to the word world here, so that the verse may be rendered thus: “He shall convince the world that evil is conquered, overthrown, and shall finally pass away.” Taking it in that sense, we perceive at once why the belief in judgment must follow the belief in righteousness. For when we have been freed from sin, and made righteous in Christ, we find that we have entered on a life-long struggle with evil; and as the one thing to keep us true, we need the assurance of final victory. These words present two thoughts—a fact, and a conviction founded on that fact.
1. Christ’s conquest over the kingdom of evil.
2. His conquest revealed by the Comforter is the pledge of victory for man.
I. The kingdom of evil as opposed to the Saviour.—He speaks of the “prince of this world”; and if we examine that phrase, we shall find it full of suggestions that throw an awful light on the majesty of the power that He overcame for man. In speaking of a prince Christ manifestedly implies that evil forces are not separated, but combined and connected things, that they form a great living power, a kingdom of wrong. The phrase also points to a personal evil spirit as lord of that evil kingdom. Not in the sense that he is the cause of it all, but he is the representative of it, as being the greatest and the first. This was the kingdom that opposed itself to the Son of man. The question may arise, What have we to do with a prince of evil? Is he a personal power, “working in the children of disobedience”? “I believe there are indications of a personality of evil acting on human life to-day. Whence come the thoughts, blasphemous and horrible, about God and man—temptations to awful crimes—actual outbursts of demoniacal wrong, rising from a region no human eye has fathomed or science explored? Are they the product of our own individual spirits, or the result of any abnormal combination of circumstances? May they not be the flashings on the surface of the mysterious sea of human consciousness, which indicate a power troubling its waters? At least God’s Bible tells us they may be, and no philosophy under heaven can account for them. Now look at the kingdom of evil which opposed Christ; it all arrayed itself in might against Him. Evil spirits confronted Him constantly, possessions by devils were more frequent. All the evil influences that touch the human soul gathered themselves against the Perfect Soul to turn Him aside and tear Him from His self-chosen path of dedication for the world.”
II. The Saviour’s conquest.—We are regarding it as a conquest won for man and for this two things were requisite: Christ must overcome the essence of evil by a means common to humanity, and He must show in His conquest that the facts which seemed to prove the perpetuity of evil were the signs of its overthrow. Note then, first, that the essence of evil is self-will. Christ must conquer sin through the might of a divine obedience, and yet occupy a battle-ground common to humanity. And where was this so perfectly accomplished as in His life and death? His temptation opened with the challenge in the wilderness, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread”; “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down from hence”; and closed with the last taunt, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” But the cry, “It is finished,” was the herald of conquest. Then, secondly, Christ must show by His conquest that the facts which seem to prove the perpetuity of evil are really signs of its overthrow. The darkest lie of the evil one is this—that evil is an eternal power. Before the advent of the gospel the world was beginning to believe in the omnipotence of wrong. The slavery wrought by sin was so complete that men were losing faith in anything which could conquer evil, and were sinking into a dreary and hopeless fatalism. Just note the two great facts which, as the results of sin, lay at the root of this state.
1. Suffering.—Men felt the pressure of its mystery. It seemed to belie the goodness of God, to darken the heaven of His love, and prove sin to be irresistible. Its shadow rested on the ages of the past, and projected itself with a grim certainty into the future. Now suffering, in all its deepest dreadfulness, Christ endured. He became the high priest of sorrow. He grew glorious through it. “He was perfected through sufferings,” and thus revealed it to man as the education of a Father.
2. Death.—The great mystery, the spoiler of human hopes, the divider of friend from friend, the sign-manual of sin’s dominion. He became subject to its power. It seemed to conquer Him. It seemed to divide Him from the Father, but really it was the pledge of their eternal union.
III. Christ’s conquest as a pledge of victory for man.—
1. The fact itself is a power.—We are strengthened by the belief that some one has known our difficulties and subdued them. This lies at the root of all true “hero worship.” like us Christ fought. By a strength which we may share He conquered. Look at the early Church when the meaning of this fact was revealed by the descending Comforter.
2. Christ is God’s promise.—Through His life God speaks to us now.
3.Christ is a present friend.—We do not always realise His presence, but sometimes amid the pauses of the battle we feel Him near in that “peace which passeth all understanding,” and hear Him saying, “Be faithful unto death,” etc. (Revelation 2:0). This then is the sublime position of the Christian warrior. In his life the war of worlds is gleaming. He is fighting in a battle which is the heritage of the ages. He is wrestling with “principalities and powers.”. He is following in the track of the great Captain who has passed before him into the heavens. The condition of victory is, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne,” etc.—E. L. Hull, B.A.
John 16:12. Christ’s reticence in teaching truth.—Our Lord Jesus Christ had been engaged for years in instructing His disciples. There never was so constant and skilful a teacher, using every opportunity and every incident. The record of His lessons preserved to us in the four Gospels is a very small part of what He spoke, and yet what a store of truth, new to the world, and divine and everlasting in its reach, is contained in it! But after all these revelations, and now at the close of His ministry, much remains untold. The Teacher is all-wise, but the learners are weak and full of prejudice. The Teacher is so wise that He will not give them more than they can well receive.
I. Some illustrations of this feature of Christ’s teaching.—
1. Some of the truths to which we may suppose our Lord made immediate reference.—One of these was the long separation which was about to take place between Him and His disciples. He did not reveal to them plainly the fall of the Mosaic dispensation, accompanied with the destruction of the Jewish State, and the scattering of the nation over the world for so many centuries. Another thing of the future not fully revealed was, the admission of men of all nations upon equal terms to the privileges of the children of God. Also notice the gradual way in which He made the true view of His own person dawn on them. All those things of which we have spoken are rooted and imbedded in the Gospels; we can see them there in our Lord’s words and actions from the beginning. It was from these very words and actions that His disciples came to learn them under His Spirit’s teaching, but they are presented in such a way as to meet the state of their minds at every stage.
2. The manner of His revelation of truth to the world in general.—His methods are of a kind peculiarly fitted to reveal truth as men are able to bear it. The parable is His favourite method in speech, and the miracle in action, which, as He performs it, is a parable put into a living shape. Our Lord desired that truth should not be thrust upon a man from without, but grow up within, as from a seed, night and day, he knows not how. If we go back to the Old Testament, we shall find that the teaching was conducted in the same way. When we come down to the ages that have followed His appearance upon earth, there is the same gradual unfolding of the principles of His kingdom.
3. Christ’s teaching in the individual life.—Take, for example, the way in which the view of human life alters as men advance in years. Were the young to discover how unsatisfactory the present world is at the core, how little of real happiness, as they expect it, it can bring, what blanks and what bitters there are in its most promised sweetness, they could not bear it.
“If nature put not forth her power,
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that could live an hour?”
The young need this bright view of the world to develop their energies, to nurse their affections and imagination, that when the veterans droop they may come in, like a fresh reinforcement, into the failing battle of life. There is a similar experience in the Christian life. Those who enter on it have the confident feeling which would gain triumphs without thinking of trials, the spirit of Peter, that hopes to have the heavenly vision without the hard world, “Master, it is good for us to be here,” or the fancied strength which prompted his boast, “Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.” They have the “love of their youth, the zeal of their espousals,” and they cannot conceive that it should ever be otherwise. But then comes “the check and change,” chillness of feeling, temptation, the bitter cross, and long prospects of march and battle before the close. Ere this, however, they have learned to add to their faith virtue and temperance and patience, to put on the whole armour of God, and having done all to stand. The afflictive events of God’s providence are measured in the same way. The great doctrines of the Gospel are presented to the mind in a like manner.
II. Some of the conclusions taught us regarding Christ and human nature.—In regard to Christ we admire His control over Himself and His message. With this self-control there is united Christ’s tenderness in teaching. There are in the teaching of Christ, both in the Bible and in providence, reticences and pauses, which temper the truth to feeble minds, as clouds chasten light. If we so read them, they are not mere blanks, but tokens of a true and real tenderness. “His doctrine will yet drop from them as the rain, His speech distil as the dew.” “He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, till He bring forth judgment unto truth.” We see in this method of teaching, not less, the wisdom of Christ. Last of all in regard to Christ, we learn His patience as a teacher. This subject may also teach us some conclusions concerning our common human nature. We may learn to take large and tolerant views of it. When we see how slowly the best of men have apprehended the clearest of all truths, we must not be provoked at what we call the stupidity and prejudice of our contemporaries, nor fret unreasonably because antiquated opinions, as they seem to us, obstinately hold their ground. If the great Teacher had to wait, we may be content to do so. We may cherish very hopeful views of human nature. There are many grounds for this, but here is one, that there must be noble things in store for that race with which the Son of God is contented to have such patience. In regard to things which Christ does not tell us, let us be thankful to Him for His silence. The cloud that veils full knowledge “is a cloud of love.” Finally, let us be chiefly concerned about knowing the one great thing which Christ has to say to us. There is a message which stands out in His word distinct from the beginning to the close: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”—Dr. John Ker.
John 16:13. Concerning the love and fear of truth.—There is nothing of which a more criminal abuse may be made than truth. It is important that we should consider the true position we ought to take in relation to it. There is a truth which reproves and a truth which flatters us.
I. Of all truths there is none we ought to love more than that which reproves us.—Why? There are four reasons.
1. Because it lets us know ourselves. However enlightened we may be, and however much care we may take to know ourselves, there are many faults that escape our notice. The truth that brings them to our notice is healthful. As Chrysostom has said, “When a sick man finds a physician who makes known to him clearly what his malady is, far from being offended at him, he esteems him.” A young noble of the court of Augustus, and even related to his family, by name Germanicus, filled with a noble curiosity to know himself (little thought of by the great of this world), and being at the head of the Roman troops, disguised himself from time to time, and went to the camp of his troops in the evening, approaching the tents unknown to the occupants, and listening to the talk of the soldiers, for he knew that then they would speak with most freedom what they thought of their general. This example of a pagan should confound this nicety so foreign to Christianity, which causes men to revolt against truth the moment it begins to silence and wound them.
2. Because this truth is the most efficacious for our correction. It makes us look within and leads to repentance. The truth spoken à propos often suffices to save men from vicious habits. All else may have been tried in vain; but the truth spoken with prudence has at last prevailed. The man may be troubled at first and inclined to rebel; but grace and reason overcome sentiment. And truth, although bitter at first, even by its very bitterness becomes the cause and principle of healing.
3. Because such truths are those that people will hardly say out to us, which they will rather seek to hide from us. It is very rare to find a friend so sincere as to reprove us. Above all this is true in regard to people of position. Therefore the truth that reproves should be the most precious.
4. Because such truth proceeds from a pure, generous, and disinterested zeal. For there is nothing harder than to tell any one a disagreeable truth. Therefore such a truth should be heard with docility and thankfulness. As in the case of Belshazzar and Daniel, why did he load Daniel with favours? Because, says Chrysostom, he judged that a man who had courage to speak such truths to a prince, and who, in order to acquit himself for this heroic act, forgot his own self-interest, was a man who merited the highest honours (Daniel 3:0). But when the truth reproves most men they hate it. As, e.g., Ahab and the prophet Micaiah (1 Kings 22:8 ff.). So men shut their ears against the preacher’s voice when he becomes personal.
II. The truths we ought to fear most are those which flatter us.—Why? There are two good reasons.
1. Because, according to the custom of the world, as St. Gregory says, as we know by experience that which flatters us is usually that which deceives and seduces us. That which flatters us tends to corrupt us. What does God say by the mouth of Isaiah? “O My people,” etc. (Isaiah 3:12). Indeed, what are the better part of the praises of the world, in the manner of the world, but official lies! Nevertheless men are intoxicated by these vain praises, and believe themselves to be far better than they really are. This indeed was the source of heathen idolatry. And another sort of idolatry has replaced this in Christendom. People no longer call the rich and great gods, but they tell them that they are not like other men; and these are willing to let themselves be persuaded that they are of another mould. So a woman or a friend is idolised and seduced. They are so surrounded by flatteries that they forget altogether their faults, and make no effort to correct them. What is the result of these public praises, epistles recommending a book, funeral orations in the holy place? Is there not often a mercenary abuse of such customs? Nevertheless people protest that there is nothing they have a greater horror of than to be deceived. They do not wish to be, and yet they seek what leads to it. What then can we reply to God when we are reproached by Him for having sought flattering truths which we have often found to be deceitful?
2. Because that which flatters us tends to corrupt, and that in two ways.
(1) In inspiring us with secret pride;
(2) in diminishing and weakening within us a zeal for perfectness, which, were it earnestly entertained, would be more to our profit than all the advantages we possess. Let us then lay hold of these two important maxims. Let us desire that truth which corrects us and makes us known to ourselves, and rather avoid what would flatter us and hinder our desire for improvement.—Bourdaloue.
John 16:7-14. The working of the Holy Spirit.—
I. In relation to the world.—
1. He punishes because of sin;
2. Because of righteousness;
3. Because of judgment.
II. In relation to believers.—
1. He proves Himself to be their comforter;
2. He leads them into all truth;
3. He glorifies Jesus.—Dr. v. Biarowsky.
John 16:9. The sin of unbelief.—Unbelief is the root of other sins, which are the shoots. It is useless to cut away the shoots whilst the root remains. These will always grow again. But if the root be destroyed, whence will the shoots come? It is not meant here that the Holy Ghost does not convict the world because of other sins. Other sins are of such a nature that reason itself perceives their sinfulness. But unbelief is a sin of such a nature that reason does not recognise it as such. The Holy Ghost must convince men of the fact.
John 16:10. Righteousness.—Men have no righteousness of their own before God, and can have it only through Jesus Christ, who has procured it for us. This is a truth reason cannot know. It can be known alone through the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost.—Weigel.
John 16:11. Judgment.—Chrysostom writes: “Tell me, O man, since you know that you must stand before the judgment seat of Christ, how it comes about that you would rather speak of a thousand other matters than of this judgment? When you have a case before an earthly judge, then you think day and night about it, and converse about it everywhere as to how you may prosecute your cause. Yet you must do this before God the just judge, and give an account to Him of your whole life; but you never speak about the matter, and cannot indeed bear that any one should begin to converse with you about it.
John 16:12-15. The Spirit guiding the disciples into all truth.—In these verses we have a very abundant exhibition of the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, coupled with a very remarkable setting forth of the tripersonality. The Father “hath” (ἔχει) that which is in very essence the Son’s (ἐμά); and the Spirit whose purpose is to glorify the Son by making Him known to men (λαμβάνει) takes of “Mine” and will declare it (see Schaff, Stier, note to Lange). Luthardt once thought with Stier, but now he limits the reference, without giving any reason for it, to what he calls “the deposit of divine truth to the humanity of Jesus.” The sum of this astonishing assurance is that the Holy Spirit of truth will lead these apostles into the fulness of truth, and of knowledge of the future, by taking up the essential realities of the Christ in the fulness of His being and work, and disclosing them by spiritual insight and supernatural quickening. These realities of the Christ will prove to be the fulness of the Father’s heart—all that the Father hath.… Does John even here travel beyond his prologue?—Dr. H. R. Reynolds in “Pulpit Commentary.”
John 16:14. The glory of Christ.—The glory of Christ is often hidden from men like a jewel in a humble casket. The Holy Ghost opens the casket. He shows us how much of comfort and power there is in the cross, what honour in the shame of the cross, what wealth under Christ’s earthly poverty, what majesty under His lowliness. And thus Christ is made dear and precious to us, so that we esteem Him more than all the treasures of earth, even when we view Him as crucified.
John 16:14. How the Holy Ghost glorifies Christ to us.—He shows us Christ as He—
1. Who removes our sorrow;
2. Who bears our sins;
3. Who frees us from the judgment.—J. L. Sommer.
John 16:1-4. How shall we bear witness to Christ?—In this way: by confessing Him by the mouth (Romans 10:10). It is therefore a confession. Whosoever confesses Him before men He will confess before His heavenly Father (Matthew 10:32). We must not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, but confess that it is the power of God unto salvation to all those who believe. O dear Christian people, that we were more courageous in our confession! You display all your earthly possessions so willingly. You conduct your friends over your houses, which you have fitted up so carefully. You are glad to display your fine dresses. You lay on your adornments, your rings on your fingers. You willingly let your artistic tastes or your learning be seen by all. You bring forward your children with pride. And will you permit the best treasure you possess to remain bidden? Do you not venture to mention it, almost as if you were ashamed of it? Do you call that witnessing for Christ? There must be something lacking in you, else were you more joyful in this witness-bearing. What then is lacking? This: that you have not yet in yourselves the full witness of the Spirit that you are God’s children. When you have that, then you will not be silent. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. And those whom He leads must confess the first-born Son of God. But so long as He leads you not, then better remain silent. Otherwise your words might be feigned. But pray diligently that the Holy Spirit may speedily write that blessed testimony in your heart, so that you may then be able to bear it further afield, so that you may then be able to celebrate the victories of the Lord in the tabernacles of the righteous (Psalms 118:15), and make known the deeds of Him who bath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. You also should bear witness of Christ with the life. Yes, with the life. This is and remains a chief witness. What will it profit if I confess Christ with my tongue, with my lips, whilst my heart is far from Him? All confession without the life is as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, which has no heart in it. Thus with life and love, with love and life, should you bear witness to Christ. The Spirit mirrors His image in your hearts. But His image should then be reflected out again on the world if you are followers of Christ. Men should see it in your walk and conversation that you are His disciples. When people must first inquire of any one whether he holds fast to the confession of Christ, his Christianity must be of a weak sort.
“No one need ask the vine this question:
Art thou a vine? Tell, yea or nay.
The ripe and luscious hanging clusters
Confess the truth in clearest day.”
Translated from Ahlfeld.
John 16:7. Our Lord’s ascension the Church’s gain.—Συμφέρει ὑμῖν. He Himself says, “It is expedient.” He might have said “expedient” for the blessed spirits of the just made perfect, to whom, after overcoming the sharpness of death, He was about to open the kingdom of heaven. He might have said “expedient” for the blessed angels who had for thirty-three years been “ascending and descending upon the Son of man,” and who had now higher ministries in store for them. He might have said “expedient” for Myself, who, after finishing the work that was given Me to do, am to be glorified by the Father with that glory which I had with Him before the world was. But He does say, “for you.” My sorrowing, broken-hearted, despairing disciples, it is “expedient for you” that I, your teacher, and friend, and guide, and strength, should leave you in your weakness, in your wanderings, in your loneliness, in your ignorance. You have hitherto believed Me; trust Me now when I tell you, “It is expedient for you that I go away.”—Wherein then, it may be asked, did this expediency lie? Why was it for the advantage of those whom our Lord had chosen out of the world, and whom He sent back into it as sheep in the midst of wolves, that He should leave them? How were they to be gainers by the departure of their Lord and Master, when they had hitherto been indebted to His visible presence, to His voice, to His companionship, for every spiritual blessing that they enjoyed? Why was it better for the apostles and for us that the incarnation of the blessed Son of God should not be visibly perpetuated into Christian history? What then is this transcendent gift, more precious, as it seems, than the hearing and seeing with the eyes and looking upon and handling the very Word of life? What is this gift, so great that it can more than compensate for the loss of that intimate companionship with our Lord and Saviour which was enjoyed by His first followers? We cannot look this question too steadily in the face; for on the answer to it depends nothing less than our estimate of the true character of the Christian dispensation.
I. It may, indeed, be said with much truth that there was a kind of natural expediency in the ascension, grounded on that law of the human mind which makes the appreciation of present blessings so very difficult.—Had Christ our Lord continued to live visibly upon the earth, the spiritual force of the Church might have been expended in an indefinitely prolonged observation. It was natural that He, the Light of the world, should rivet the gaze, of those who beheld Him, too completely to allow time and leisure for analysis, and comparison, and inference. The strength even of saintly souls might have been fatally overtaxed if a moral miracle, such as the life of Jesus Christ, had been perpetuated here below. In the Gospels, after all, we possess only a fragment of the witnessed deeds and of the uttered and remembered words of Christ. If all had been recorded, the world itself, we are told, could not have contained the books that should be written. But those recorded words and acts of Christ have engaged the reflective powers of Christendom ever since. They are a mine which may still be worked without risk of exhaustion. They have been drawn out into literatures. They are the basis of institutions. They are the spirit of codes of law. They may have mingled with some earthly alloy, but they are to this day quick with heavenly virtue. And each representative teacher that has unfolded, and each authoritative assembly that has enforced, their true essential meaning, has in adding, not to the stock of revealed truths, but to the illuminated thought of Christendom that surrounds them, attested the truth of our Master’s words, “It is expedient for you that I go away.”
II. Startling as it may seem, it is nevertheless certain that the life of the separate souls of the apostles must have been quickened by the departure of their Lord.—Faith, hope, and charity are the threefold cord that links the living spirit with its God. These graces were dwarfed or merely nascent in the apostles before the ascension of our Saviour.
III. If the apostles had been altogether left to their own resources by their ascending Lord, could they have formed so true, so wonderful an estimate of the bearings and proportions of His life as by their writings to rule the thought and kindle the enthusiasm of all the ages of Christendom?—Were the faith, the hope, the love, which gave to their lives the beauty and force of heroism, thrown out, as plants of native growth, from the rich soil of their natural hearts? Are the Epistles of St. Paul, or is the character of St. John, to be explained by any searching analysis of their natural gifts, of their educational antecedents, of their external contact with the manifested Redeemer, of the successive circumstances and directions of their lives? Surely not. Even though the Pentecostal miracle had not been recorded, some supernatural interference must have been assumed, in order seriously to account for the moral transformation of the apostolical character, and for the intellectual range of the apostolical writings. Of itself the departure of our risen Lord would neither have permanently illuminated the reflections of the Church, nor yet have quickened the graces of its separate members. But He left this earth in His bodily form, to return as a quickening Spirit, present in force and virtue, before He comes to be present in judgment. He ascended up on high to obtain gifts for men; and having received of the Father, as the bounteous firstfruits of His opening and omnipotent intercession, the promise of the Holy Ghost, He shed upon the earth those wondrous gifts which the first Christians saw and heard. With the apostles we must wait until Pentecost, if we would enter into the full expediency of the the Ascension.—Liddon.
John 16:8. The manner in which the Spirit convinces men of sin.—Do you desire to understand how the Spirit convicts because of sin, then imagine yourself to be in a house where people have lived till now entirely at peace in following sin. Now there comes with you a friend who knows the better life, the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom, the love of Christ which is the fulfilling of the law. He walks in the Spirit, and does not bring forth the works of the flesh. Then the Spirit will convict the others. Your friend needs to speak no word. The evildoers are chastised by his walk. They learn from him either to serve the Lord with him, or they will begin to hate him as the world hated the disciples of the Lord. He will become to them either a savour of life unto life or of death unto death.… That the enemy is wounded unto death is evident wherever the Spirit comes and begins His work. Although men at first may rage and strive, yet let the work go forward in gentle humility and full faith, then it will go unrestrainedly to victory. Not with rapid march, not always with full and flowing sail, not with great noise, but all the more surely. The Lord did not lift up His voice in the streets—only at the last He cried, “It is finished.” So will it be also in the world. The world feels this of itself. A tremor passes through it. That is the judgment of the Holy Ghost. The world’s prince has fallen; the world strives in vain. Beloved brothers and sisters, give to the convictions of the Spirit a place in your hearts. Only when He convinces of sin will you realise that sin is your deadly foe, and then you will give place to grace. Only when He shatters the trust in a false righteousness in you will you find the way to gospel righteousness. Only when in you judgment has been passed on the prince of this world will the Lord become your prince and leader to eternal life. But, do you say, how is the Spirit then called a Comforter? for this is simply a work of conviction and judgement.… It is a conviction that seeks to lead to godly sorrow which leads to repentance not to be repented of. Thus the Spirit is even here a Paraclete; and if at first you could not rejoice in this experience, yet in the end you will rejoice. Truly the other part of His work is sweeter which He brings to pass in those won to faith. He will lead them, into all truth. “The spirit of lies,” wrote an old faithful witness of Christ, “is like a spider: he evolves everything out of himself. The Spirit of truth is like a bee, which brings honey from the flowers.” The flower is the divine word. “From it He will take of Mine and show it unto you.” This is the test of every spirit. We are not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they be of God (1 John 4:1). Though a man may speak with words of power, though his words may be ever so pleasing to the flesh, if he has not received them of Christ, if they do not accord with God’s word, he is but a lying spirit. “The Spirit guides into all truth.”—Translated from Ahlfeld.
John 16:13. The disciples guided into all truth.—In this great discourse, which was not given in writing to the Christian world upon the authority of St. John until a lapse of nearly three-quarters of a century had realised in experience its every promise, we read beforehand, and in the words of Jesus, why it was expedient that He should go away. It was not merely that He might prepare a place for His disciples, and then come again and receive them unto Himself. It was because, as He says, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” The whole action of the Spirit upon the intellect and affections and inmost character of the Christian, as well as His felt presence and power in forming, enlightening, guiding, governing, and sanctifying the Church, must have become a lengthened justification of their Master’s ascension in the eyes of the apostles. If the apostles are to be guided into all truth, if they are to be shown things to come, if they are to be taught all things, and if all the blessed words of Christ, whatsoever He said to them, are to be brought home with literal accuracy to their remembrance, it is expedient that their Lord should go. If they are to do greater works than the works of Christ, it is “because I go to My Father.” If dauntless missionaries of the cross are to bear witness of their Lord to a sinful and perishing world, it can only be because the Comforter, sent from the Father by the ascended Saviour, witnesses through their weakness to the strength and glory of their Lord. If the world is to be convinced of the sin of its own unbelief, or of the righteousness of the all-holy Redeemer, such conviction is to be a consequence of Christ’s going to the Father and being seen no more. Pass the eye over that last great discourse, and mark how it bears with repeated effort and significance upon the statement of the text, that the Ascension was expedient for the apostles, expedient for the Christian Church.—Liddon.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 16:16. See John 14:19. A little while.—The last clause omitted by, B, D, L, etc.
John 16:17. Then said His disciples, etc.—They did not, could not, comprehend yet what He meant. No doubt the words, “Again a little while, and ye shall see Me,” may refer to His post-resurrection appearances here, and to the descent of the Spirit. But it has a wider reference to all God’s people. As “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years,” it will be but a little while in the measure of eternity until He comes again: “He is coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20). He was going to the Father—not to death then, but to the heavenly life.
John 16:20. Verily, verily, etc.—A most cheering promise. First, to the disciples. How soon would their despair and sorrow be turned into the joyful acclaim, The Lord is risen indeed! And how should they then, filled with the Spirit, rejoice even to suffer with Christ (Colossians 1:24)! Second, to the Church. Persecutions have fallen on the Church in all ages; and in this promise the people of God have joyfully endured. In the last ages it would seem there will be a recrudescence of persecution (2 Timothy 3:0; Revelation 12:0), and then this promise will bring joy in the midst of trouble; for those days of darkness will show that the Son of man is at hand (Matthew 24:29-51). See Wordsworth’s Greek Testament, in loc.
John 16:23. Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, He will give it you in My name.—See also John 14:13; John 15:16. The name of Jesus is not only the medium through which we are to come, so that coming thus we ask in accordance with His will, but the answer to our prayers is also in virtue of His name (see Watkins, in loc.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—John 16:16-23
Wherefore can and ought Christians to be confident and even joyful in trouble?—I. Because it is for their good.—That this is so is evident when it is considered—
1. From whom trouble comes.—All the sorrow which was to overtake the disciples in the near future came upon them in accordance with the Lord’s knowledge and His will. It is not otherwise with us.
2. Who knows all about it.—The Lord told the disciples that they would “not see Him”—that they would weep and lament.
3. Whereunto it serves.—The Lord said to the disciples that their sorrow would be turned into joy. From the pain of the cross springs the joy of the Resurrection; from the pains of travail, the joy of welcoming a newborn life.
II. Because it passeth away so speedily.—
1. Consider the greatness of the consolation.—Seven times the phrase “a little while” is repeated in the passage.
2. Lay hold of this comfort in your hearts.—Guard yourselves against murmuring and despondency; shelter yourselves against all disturbing conceptions and phantoms of fear behind the word, “yet a little while.” Give heed to the smallest beginnings of consolation and indications of help at hand. The first tears on account of sin prelude the first ray of the rising Sun of grace.
3. Do not embitter and cloud this joy.—This men do when, after being delivered from pain and sorrow, they begin to hanker after the pleasures and joys of the world.
III. Because its end is so blessed.—The sorrows of believers end—
1. In an assured joy.—“I will see you again.”
2. In a blessed rejoicing.—“Your heart shall rejoice.”
3. In an eternal joy.—“Your joy shall no man take from you.”—Appuhn in J. L. Sommer.
John 16:16-23. The Lord is the helper of His people in sorrow.—This passage directs our thoughts to the departure of Jesus from the world and the sorrow of the disciples, the seeing of the Lord again by the disciples and their joy in consequence, the tribulation and sorrow of the disciples as a source of joy which cannot be taken away, and generally the prospects of true disciples of Jesus. The Lord declared that the disciples would have sorrow, when He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and the mortal stroke was inflicted on Him. But it must needs be so; sorrow was necessary if they were to remain and grow up in Him. The noble scion by which the wild plant is to be ennobled must be wounded; for it must be cut off from the noble tree. But the sharp knife must also wound the wild plant and make an incision in it, if the noble scion is to be grafted into it, so that they may grow together. Thus, too, must the subjects of God’s kingdom have sorrow if they are to ripen and bring forth good fruit. They need not, however, be afraid that sorrow will destroy them; for they have the Lord for their comfort and strength. We learn that Jesus helps His disciples in sorrow when we see:—
I. How the Lord prepares them for sorrow.—
1. Jesus told His disciples beforehand that in a little while they would not see Him, that through the malignity of the world they would have increased sorrow, so that they might not be surprised at this malignity, but might arm, prepare, themselves in view of it.
2. He explained the meaning of His words in such fashion that He brought their hearts into the true condition in which they would remain ready to meet affliction.
II. How the Lord strengthens them in sorrow.—
1. In the figure of the woman with child (John 16:21) Jesus showed the disciples how sorrow may be the source of true joy, how His cross is the condition of their salvation, and their sorrow in fellowship with Him the basis of their joy together with Him.
2. Jesus instructed the disciples as to how their prospect of true joy would be fulfilled, not alone in some far future time, but speedily; how their hope is not placed on what is unattainable, but will experience full and near fulfilment.
III. How the Lord rejoices their hearts after sorrow.—
1. Jesus sees His disciples again, and shows Himself alive to them. He dedicates to them the fruits of His victory, and thereby makes them partakers of a joy which remains firm amid all conflicts within or without.
2. In the light of the Resurrection Jesus’ disciples clearly discerned their way, and also clearly saw how their way, as pointed out by Him, led to their salvation and eternal joy.—J. L. Sommer.
John 16:16. “A little while.”—In our Lord’s last conversation with His disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion, He said to them, “A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go unto the Father.” Before them was the bloody tragedy on Calvary, and forty days after that His ascension through the vernal air to heaven. They should see Him no more in earthly form. But in another little while—in fifty days thereafter—He should come again by His Holy Spirit in the wondrous baptism of power at Pentecost. He was then to be glorified by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of His disciples. Jesus Christ is with His people now; for did He not promise, “Lo, I am with you always”? Those sweet, tender words, “a little while,” have deep thoughts in them, like the still ocean at the twilight—thoughts too deep for our fathoming. They breathe some precious consolations to those whose burdens are heavy, either of care or poverty or sickness. If the prosperous can enjoy their prosperity only for a little while, neither shall the mourner weep much longer, nor God’s poor children carry much longer the pains or privations of poverty. The daily toil to earn the daily bread, the carking care to keep the barrel from running low and the scanty “cruse” from wasting, will soon be over. Cheer up, my brother! “In a little while, and ye shall see Me,” says your blessed Master; “for I go to prepare a place for you.” Oh the infinite sweep of the glorious transition! A few years here in a lowly dwelling, whose rent it was hard to pay, and then infinite ages in the palace of the King of kings. Here a scanty table and coarse raiment soon outworn, yonder a robe of resplendent light at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Let this blissful thought put new courage into thy soul and fresh sunshine into thy countenance. I sometimes go into a sick-chamber where the “prisoners of Jesus Christ” are suffering with no prospect of recovery. Perhaps the eyes of some of those chronic invalids may fall upon [these words]. My dear friends, put under your pillows these sweet words of Jesus, “A little while.” It is only for a little while that you are to serve your Master by patient submission to His holy will. That chronic suffering will soon be over. That disease which no earthly physician can cure will soon be cured by your divine Physician, who by the touch of His Messenger will cure you in an instant into the perfect health of heaven! You will exchange this weary bed of pain for that crystal air in which none shall say, “I am sick,” neither shall there be any more pain. Not only to the sick and to the poverty-stricken child of God do these tender words of our Redeemer bring solace. Let these words, “A little while,” bring a healing balm to hearts that are smarting under unkindness, or wounded by neglect, or pining under privations, or bleeding under sharp bereavements. I offer them as a sedative to sorrows and a solace under sharp afflictions. “A little while, and ye shall see Me,” and the sight of Him shall in an instant wipe out all the memories of the darkest hours through which you made your way into the everlasting rest.
“A few more struggles here,
A few more conflicts o’er;
A little while of toils and tears,
And we shall weep no more.”
These words of the Master are also a trumpet-call to duty. In a little while my post in the pulpit shall be empty: what manner of minister ought I to be in fidelity to dying souls? Sabbath-school teacher, in a little while you shall meet the young immortals in your class for the last time! Are you winning them to Christ? The time is short. Whatever your hands find to do for the Master, do it. Do it, Aquila and Priscilla, in the Sunday school! Do it, Lydia, in the home! Do it, Dorcas, with thy needle, and Mary in the room of sickness and sorrow! Do it, Tertius, with thy pen, and Apollos with thy tongue! Do it, praying Hannab, with thy children, and make for them the “little coat” of Christian character, which they shall wear when you have gone home to a mother’s heavenly reward. Only think, too, how much may be achieved in a little while. The atonement for a world of perishing sinners was accomplished between the sixth hour and the ninth hour on darkened Calvary. That flash of divine electricity from the Holy Spirit which struck Saul of Tarsus to the ground was the work of an instant; but the great electric burner of the converted Paul has blazed over all the world for centuries. A half-hour’s faithful preaching of Jesus by a poor itinerant Methodist exhorter at Colchester brought the boy Spurgeon to a decision, and launched the mightiest ministry of modern times. Lady Henry Somerset tells us that a few minutes of solemn reflection in her garden decided her to exchange a life of fashionable frivolity for a life of consecrated philanthropy. Why cite any more cases when every Christian can testify that the best decisions and deeds of his or her life turned on the pivot of a few minutes? In the United States Mint they coin eagles out of the sweepings of gold dust from the floor. Brethren, we ought to be misers of our minutes! If on a dying-bed they are so precious, why not in the fuller days of our healthful energies? Said General Mitchell, the great astronomer, to an officer who apologised for being only a few minutes behind time, “Sir, I have been in the habit of calculating the tenth part of a second!” Our whole eternity will hinge on the “little while” of probation here. Only an inch of time to choose between an eternity of glory or the endless woes of hell! And as a convert exclaimed in a prayer meeting, “It was only a moment’s work with me when I was in earnest!” May God help us all to be faithful only for a little while; and then comes the unfading crown.
“A little while for patient vigil keeping
To face the stern, to wrestle with the strong,
A little while to sow the seed with weeping,
Then bind the sheaves and sing the harvest song.
“A little while to keep the oil from failing,
A little while faith’s flickering lamp to trim,
And then the Bridegroom’s coming footsteps hailing,
We’ll haste to meet Him with the bridal hymn.”
Dr. Theo. L. Cuyler, in “The Christian.”
John 16:16. Would Christians know how it will go with them in the world?—Here it tells them. Joy and sorrow will alternate. For a little time they shall have sorrow, and again for a little time they shall have joy.—From J. J. Weigel.
John 16:16-17. Ends served by Christ’s departure from the world.—Let it not seem extraordinary that the heavenly Bridegroom should hide Himself for a little from His bride. He does so in order—
1. To chasten her.
2. To humble her.
3. So that she may learn truly to prize His comforting presence.
4. In order that she may seek Him more earnestly.—Idem.
John 16:18. It is well to realise our ignorance of spiritual things.—
1. He who is aware of this, and purposes to learn, is on the way to Wisdom
2. He who knows not what he ought to know, let him ask of the Lord. But the Lord, through the Spirit, has given His servants who minister in holy things a mouth and wisdom.—Idem.
John 16:20. Weeping universal.—It is related of Crassus that he was never known to have laughed; but it could not be said of any man who has seen the light of the sun that he never wept. If the sun’s light should be withdrawn but a single day, how miserable would all living creatures be! Thus the hearts of disciples are sad when Jesus does not let the light of His countenance shine on them. In trial the best medicine is the herb patientia (patience).—Idem.
John 16:20. The prospect of Jesus, disciples.—I. Sorrow stood before them.—
1. Those they loved would separate themselves from them.
2. The Lord would not be seen by them.
II. They would have comfort in their sorrow.—
1. They knew that the Lord had sent it.
2. After a little while the trouble would cease.
III. Joy would come to them out of their sorrow.—
1. It would come more fully than before.
2. Body and soul would rejoice.
3. This coming joy no man could take from them.—J. L. Sommer.
John 16:21. The preciousness of the cross.—Without the cross (tribulation, etc., etc.) the old man cannot be crucified nor the new man quickened. The cross is the seed of all virtues. It is the seed of devotion, of supplication, of humility, and of repentance.
John 16:21. “A woman,” etc.—ἡ γυνή, the woman in her womanhood and in its peculiar sorrow (Genesis 3:16). This verse, like the two preceding ones, has a double sense.
1. As applicable to Christ. His resurrection was a birth from death to life everlasting—a birth which is the source of all other births, from the death of sin to newness of life, from the death of the grave to immortality (through resurrection) for body and soul in the life beyond. The Apostolic Church (i.e. the Church of the apostles personally) went through the throes of parturition until the day of the Resurrection, when the Second Adam came forth from the womb of the grave; and then they no longer remembered their sorrow for joy that a man, the man Christ Jesus, the first begotten from the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:18), was born. And all humanity was born into the world with Him: “for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
2. In a wider sense the Church in the world is the woman in travail (Revelation 12:2; Galatians 4:19). She is in travail with souls for the new birth to grace and glory. She groans in the pangs of parturition even till the great day of regeneration, the day of the glorious reappearing of Christ, and the general resurrection and new birth to immortality (Romans 8:22). Then, indeed, “a Man will be born into this world.” Humanity will cast off its grave-clothes, and be glorified for ever in Christ. As Augustine says, “The Church may be compared to this woman, because she brings forth children to God. Now is her time of travail; but when that time is over and her hour is come, then she will rejoice in the birth of a faithful progeny to life eternal. She is now in travail in looking for Christ. She will then be delivered when she sees Him.”—Wordsworth’s “Greek Testament.”
John 16:21-22. The joy of God’s children.
I. Its origin.—It springs from holy sorrow.
II. Its foundation.—It rests itself on the living Saviour alone.
III. Its nature.—It consists in fellowship of life and love with the Lord.
IV. Its extent.—It is perfect and complete.
V. Its duration.—It is everlasting.—Dr. v. Biarowsky.
John 16:22. The demeanour of believers in sorrow which “fills their hearts.”—We ask:—
I. What causes them sorrow?—Their not seeing Jesus, and the want of His gracious presence.
II. How do they look on this sorrow?—As necessary for their sanctification and confirmation as the spring of, and passage to, true joy.
III. How do they bear their sorrow?—With resignation and in hope, unmoved by the world.
IV. What gain do they derive from their sorrow?—Imperishable joy, knowledge of God’s ways, praise of God (1 Corinthians 4:5).—J. L. Sommer.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 16:25. Proverbs, or parables.—Such as the vine, the woman in travail, etc. The time cometh, etc.—The Spirit after Pentecost would guide them clearly into all truth.
John 16:26-27. At that day.—How different were the preaching and the prayers of the disciples after they were inspired of the Spirit! Then they did not ask so much as commit themselves joyfully to God (Acts 4:23-31).
John 16:28. I came forth, etc.—Here the whole prologue is condensed into one sentence, and the passion into another. He was sent; He became incarnate (John 1:14); He died (John 19:30); He ascended to glory (Luke 24:50-51) (see Westcott, in loc.).
John 16:30. Now we are sure, etc.—The faith of the disciples was weak and grew slowly (John 2:11). They believed Jesus to be the Son of God; but they had not yet fully apprehended all that this implied. Yet His reading of their thoughts (John 16:19) was a further cause of strength to their faith. But they had much to learn, which the events at hand and the Spirit alone could teach, ere they understood clearly.
John 16:31. Do ye now? etc.—As if He had said to them, “Search your hearts.” You have faith; but is it strong enough and clear enough to endure what is to come? “Watch and pray.”
John 16:32. Behold, the hour cometh, etc.—An hour of testing to the faith of all—especially of one. Scattered to his own occupations (John 21:3).—Christ must tread the winepress alone. All fell away at this supreme hour. The multitudes who shouted Hosanna—those who believed at the tomb of Lazarus. Judas bad gone forth a traitor; Nicodemus, Nathanael, and others are unseen. The eleven remain, and the devout women. But in Gethsemane all forsake and flee; only John and Peter follow. Peter fell, and at the cross John and Mary, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene alone heard His last words as the lowly “Man of Sorrows,” “It is finished.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 16:23-33
John 16:23-24 (see also John 15:11, Christian Joy). “Ask, and ye shall receive.”—A passage like this should rivet the attention of believers. The miner who has laboured for months in vain at his claim and who suddenly lights on a rich vein of the precious metal, the labouring man who suddenly falls heir to a fortune, think they have occasion to rejoice. Yet it may turn out that their fortune brings anything but a blessing to them, and even at the best they may never afterward enjoy the rude health and freedom they had before. But in these words of our Lord there is a promise of greater wealth than Burma’s mines, etc. “Whatsoever ye shall ask,” etc. Here is the promise of all true peace, joy, “every good and perfect gift.” And there is but one condition: “If ye shall ask anything in My name,” etc. In order to understand the meaning of this promise, see what it meant to the disciples.
I. The disciples had not yet learned the true spirit of believing prayer.—
1. The disciples were troubled. In spite of the grand promise of the Comforter, “sorrow had filled their heart.” They could not understand why Jesus must depart, even though He promised that they should see Him again. They had to learn that the time was coming when their fellowship with Jesus, though no longer material, would be yet more close.
2. The disciples had known Christ only “after the flesh” hitherto. The idea of His spiritual kingdom had not been fully grasped by them. Their thoughts and aspirations were still for the temporal and material manifestation of His kingdom. It was only when the day of enlightenment came, and the Spirit descended, that all became plain, and they went forth to preach Jesus and the Resurrection with power, and to labour to extend His spiritual kingdom.
3. Just because of all this they could not yet pray in the spirit of the Redeemer, i.e. the spirit of complete submission to the divine will. But when they went forth to do His work in His name after their spiritual enlightenment, then it was evident that they had learned to pray in His spirit as well as in His name.
4. Their whole after-history reflects this change in the spirit of their prayers. They had asked the Saviour to teach them to pray, but had not learned fully the meaning of the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” Hence their strife about priority, their anxiety to dissuade the Saviour from the way to the cross, etc. But read their recorded prayer after Pentecost (Acts 4:23, etc.), and see how they had now learned to submit to the divine will, and thus to pray in the name of Jesus.
II. How may we realise this promise?—
1. The mere use of the form “for Jesus’ sake” is not sufficient. This may become a mere superstitious formula. We must realise that it is possible for us to approach God acceptably only through Jesus. God is the hearer of prayer; but before Jesus came men could come only in fear and trembling to Him. But Jesus has made the way open to the throne of grace, and men can come through Him with holy boldness and confidence as children to a father. Christ’s people are one with Him, partakers of the divine nature,—God loves them, and there is no need that Jesus should entreat for them (John 16:26). That love, in all its wealth and fulness, is theirs in Him.
2. Prayer in the name of Jesus is prayer in His spirit of trustful confidence in the love of the Father and His almighty power and providential care. Material and temporal blessings are to be asked for. It is said, “God does not stop the working of His laws to answer the man who prays.” God does not violate His laws in carrying out His purposes; but surely He can control those laws, which He has framed, to carry out His great and good designs. We must not limit the meaning of our Lord’s word whatsoever. The material as well as the spiritual, the temporal as well as the eternal, are included.
3. Prayer in the name of Jesus implies the spirit of submission to the divine will. We are not to seek selfishly for things and gifts merely for our own self-interest. We have a mediator with the Father; but will He intercede for what would merely increase our vanity, or minister to earthly ambition? Better that such prayers remain unanswered. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” We must banish from our desires and prayers all that will not fit in with our endeavours to advance the heavenly kingdom. The Spirit will help us to such unselfish prayer. In approaching God let us remember the weakness of our humanity (James 4:3), and ask the guidance of the Spirit in our intercessions.
III. This divine promise has been and is being daily fulfilled.—
1. Would the kingdom of God have advanced so far had believing prayer in Christ’s name not been answered? In our Christian lands to-day we are rejoicing in the answers to believing prayer. And it is because we do not ask earnestly enough that our joy is so far from full. We lament the poverty of our prayers. Let them be unselfish and sincere and they will be answered. God reads our thoughts, He translates our poor stammering words into heavenly speech, and gives, not as the world, but freely, bountifully in His love.
2. Those who thus come in faith to God, in the spirit of submissive confidence, will be filled with joy. They shall realise that all must be well, that even out of trial and sorrow good will come, and heavenly light rise on darkness.
3. Rejoice, because true prayer in the name of Jesus will in every way be answered. The vast all, the great universe, with all its mysteries of law and being, is under the guidance of the eternal Father, working out His purposes of love and mercy. So that all who are in Christ are in the line of His purposes, and will, must, receive everything needful to fit them for their place and action, in reference to the divine plan. In Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and they are complete in Him (Colossians 2:9-10).
John 16:23-30. What prayer in the name of Jesus leads believers to hope for.—The principal points for consideration in the passage are: prayer in Jesus’ name and the hearing of such prayer; the free access to the Father, and the love of the Father to those who believe in the Son; the increase of the knowledge and joy of believers through the clear revelation of Jesus and their experience of prayer heard.
Introduction.—Prayer is the vital breath of the soul; a soul which does not pray is dead. In prayer communion between man and God is carried into effect, and this communion is further deepened through prayer. It is therefore because men do not pray that they have no true inner spiritual life. The generation of to-day, to a great extent, professes to be ashamed of prayer, as foolishness. But is there ever a true child who in his father’s house speaks no word to his father, or is ashamed to speak with him before strangers? Others, again, do pray, but they pray like the Pharisee in the temple—rehearse before God their (supposed) goodness and benevolence; in their hearts also death reigns. They who would pray aright must pray in the name of Jesus, must not appeal to their own righteousness, but must lay hold by faith of the righteousness of Christ. They must also pray only for what is for their weal, submit to the divine will, and live in confidence that God will grant to His reconciled children according to their needs. Such prayer opens up a most joyful prospect. It leads them to hope for—
I. Free access to the divine Father’s heart.—
1. Without Jesus we stand as unreconciled sinners before God, whose holiness turns away His face from us.
2. Through faith in Jesus we are brought into the unity of His mystical body and are clothed with His righteousness, so that the Father, in beholding His Son, visits us also with His good pleasure and vouchsafes us a way of access to Himself—nay, calls and allures us to His heart of love.
II. Assured help in every time of need.—
1. Of themselves men are so weak and helpless, inwardly and outwardly, however highly they may be tempted to think of themselves, that without the divine protection they are not secure, and without the divine help they cannot be delivered from material or spiritual trouble.
2. But to those who pray in the name of Jesus the Father will give what is needful. Through prayer in Jesus’ name men fly under cover of God’s wings, where they are protected from all danger; they hasten to the heart of divine love, whence there flow to meet them streams of heavenly consolation; they speed to the refuge of divine strength, which will enable them to overcome all tribulation, and extricate them from all temporal and spiritual trouble.
III. Unspeakable joy at every new experience of prayer heard.—
1. God protects and saves those who call on Him in the name of His Son—not only giving them enough to satisfy their wants, so that they should not ever live in want and sorrow: He makes the life of His people pleasant; He desires also to bring joy into their hearts.
2. Every renewed experience of prayer heard assures Christians of their divine sonship, and shows them the glory of their heavenly King and the final victory of His kingdom.
3. Every new gift received strengthens them in the assurance that He will make all their enemies His footstool. This fills their hearts with heavenly joy, and makes them feel secure and contented on their pilgrimage through life.—J. L. Sommer, “Evang. Per.”
John 16:31-32. The loneliness of Christ.—There is no thought connected with the life of Christ more touching, none that seems so peculiarly to characterise His Spirit, than the solitariness in which He lived. Those who understood Him best only half understood Him. Those who knew Him best scarcely could be said to know Him. On this occasion the disciples thought, Now we do understand, now we believe. The lonely Spirit answered, “Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone.”
I. The loneliness of Christ was caused by the divine elevation of His character.—His infinite superiority severed Him from sympathy; His exquisite affectionateness made that want of sympathy a keen trial. There is a second-rate greatness which the world can comprehend. If we take two who are brought into direct contrast by Christ Himself, the one the type of human, the other that of divine excellence, the Son of man and John the Baptist, this becomes clearly manifest. John’s life had a certain rude, rugged goodness, on which was written, in characters which required no magnifying glass to read, spiritual excellence. The world on the whole accepted him: Pharisees and Sadducees went to his baptism; the people idolised him as a prophet; and if he had not chanced to cross the path of a weak prince and a revengeful woman, we can see no reason why John might not have finished his course with joy, recognised as irreproachable. If we inquire why it was that the world accepted John and rejected Christ, one reply appears to be that the life of the one was finitely simple and one-sided, that of the Other divinely complex. To the superficial observer Christ’s life was a mass of inconsistencies and contradictions. Hence it was that He lived to see all that acceptance which had marked the earlier stage of His career, as, for instance, at Capernaum, melt away. First the Pharisees took the alarm; then the Sadducees; then the political party of the Herodians; then the people. The apostles quailed; one denied, another betrayed, all deserted. They “were scattered, each to his own,” and the Truth Himself was left alone in Pilate’s judgment hall. Now learn from this a very important distinction. To feel solitary is no uncommon thing; to complain of being alone, without sympathy and misunderstood, is general enough. In every place, in many a family, these victims of diseased sensibility are to be found, and they might find a weakening satisfaction in observing a parallel between their own feelings and those of Jesus. But before that parallel is assumed be very sure that it is, as in His case, the elevation of your character which severs you from your species. Let us look at one or two of the occasions on which this loneliness was felt. The first time was when He was but twelve years old, when His parents found Him in the temple hearing the doctors and asking them questions. High thoughts were in the Child’s soul, expanding views of life: larger views of duty and His own destiny. That is a lonely, lonely moment, when the young soul first feels God—when this earth is recognised as an “awful place, yea, the very gate of heaven”—when the dream-ladder is seen planted against the skies, and we wake, and the dream haunts us as a sublime reality.
II. That solitude was felt by Christ in trial.—In the desert, in Pilate’s judgment hall, in the garden, He was alone; and alone must every son of man meet his trial-hour. The individuality of the soul necessitates that. Once more the Redeemer’s soul was alone in dying. The hour had come; they were all gone, and He was, as He predicted, left alone.
III. The spirit or temper of that solitude.—The solitude of Christ was the solitude of a crowd. In that single human bosom dwelt the thought which was to be the germ of the world’s life—a thought unshared, misunderstood, or rejected. Can you not feel the grandeur of these words, when the Man, reposing on His solitary strength, felt the last shadow of perfect isolation pass across His soul?—“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Learn from these words self-reliance. “Ye shall leave Me alone.” This is self-reliance: to repose calmly on the thought which is deepest in our bosoms, and be unmoved if the world will not accept it yet. Remark the humility of this loneliness. Had the Son of man simply said, I can be alone, He would have said no more than any proud, self-relying man can say. But when He added, “because the Father is with Me,” that independence assumed another character, and self-reliance became only another form of reliance upon God. Be sure that often when you say, It is only my own poor thought, and I am alone, the real correcting thought is this, Alone, but the Father is with me; therefore I can live that lonely conviction. The practical result and inference of all this is a very simple, but a very deep one, the deepest of existence. Let life be a life of faith. Do not go timorously about, inquiring what others think, what others believe, and what others say. It seems the easiest, it is the most difficult thing in life to do this: believe in God. God is near you. Throw yourself fearlessly upon Him.—F. W. Robertson.
John 16:33. In the world tribulation.—All men must bear this yoke, some in greater degree than others. How then should it be borne so that it may become a discipline for the higher life in the case of God’s people?
I. As a means of strengthening faith.
1. This may seem a strange statement, almost a paradox. Does not affliction on the contrary often lead to despair? And do not many, when a load of tribulation weighs them down, lay violent hands on their own lives even? Not if they are genuine Christians, in whom the light of reason has not been extinguished. Despair, in its full meaning, is a word excluded from the Christian’s vocabulary. The healthy spiritual nature, which lives in conscious union with the Invisible, is all unharmed by tribulation. As the tests applied to bridges, and like structures in mechanical engineering, prove the strength of the structure; so tribulation tests the believer’s faith. But it does more than this. Like the keen mountain air amid the ice and snow of alpine regions, or the sharp medicine, it gives tone to the spiritual being, strengthening the believer for future trials and for more earnest work. There cannot be a doubt that this is so. An appeal to universal Christian experience will establish the truth of these affirmations. The seeming curse is turned into a blessing; the bane is transformed into a healthful and healing balm. But the faith that so transforms affliction must be a real unwavering faith, a trustful resting on the divine Father’s love and care. It was of His true children that Isaiah spoke when he said, “In all their afflictions,” etc.; and it was to those who had become members of the heavenly family in Himself that Christ said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
2. Now, as of old, it is through faith, through resting on the divine strength, that we can endure; and our faith should be deeper in view of the greater manifestation of divine love granted to us. The angel of His presence saved God’s people in the morning of the Church’s history. But now the Son, become incarnate, suffered and died, gave the ultimate and unspeakable proof of divine love. Shall tribulation harm those who are in Him? Shall it separate them from the love of Christ? No, nor death with all its sorrows, nor life with all its troubles, can loosen the roots and fibres of faith that have sunk down to and twined about the eternal Rock. For “the world, the evil one, and death are vanquished and lie prone; heaven, righteousness, and life have the victory.” … Therefore we are not to “despise the chastening of the Lord,” but to remember that “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:5); and that from it all He will bring blessing and the strengthening of our faith. As in storms the oak and other trees, with deep, spreading roots, only strike their roots more deeply down, to enable them to withstand the fiercest blasts; so through affliction, tribulation, trial, will He who sympathises with His own in all their sorrows strengthen their spiritual life, transform them into His image, and prepare them for His glory.
II. It should be an incentive to prayer.
1. For if our true strength and hope in tribulation are in God, then every trial should lead us into closer and more earnest fellowship with Him. So “in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7), as in the garden He cried, “Father, save Me from this hour” (John 12:27), our Redeemer pointed us the way in which to obtain “grace to help in time of need.” And here again universal spiritual experience comes to us with corroborative evidence. There come to many seasons of tribulation, when no philosophic calmness of temper can sustain the soul, when even the convictions and reasonings of faith would be of no avail, unless the soul had this way of access to the holiest. And it has frequently been in an hour of overwhelming tribulation and sorrow that some, “to whom the cross of Christ had been a stumbling-block and foolishness, have been led to bring their sorrows there.” Oh what comfort is there here for the children of sorrow! When the pressure of affliction comes, when courage fails, when succour lingers, and the weight of care becomes intolerable, what solace to lean
“on Him who not in vain
Experienced every human pain:
He sees my wants, allays my fears,
And counts and treasures up my tears!”
2. For we know that the approach of faith to Him will not be in vain. Is it want that afflicts? Then the faithful have only to remember that the divine treasuries are full and overflowing, and that God is the benign giver of all good. Therefore the apostolic promise may be joyfully appropriated, “My God shall fully supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Is it tribulation from the unrighteousness and enmity of men? Then let it be remembered that the Lord shall deliver His people from every evil work (2 Timothy 4:18). Is it physical pain and trouble? “Your light affliction,” etc. (2 Corinthians 4:17). Is it spiritual perplexity and darkness? Even the psalmist could triumph in this: “The Lord my God shall enlighten my darkness” (Psalms 18:28). Is it bereavement and loneliness? He who is able to save us in our afflictions was touched with “the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). He cried on the cross “Eloi, Eloi,” etc. Thus tribulation leads God’s children to prayer. “Oh, well for the souls who permit themselves to be driven, by these storms of affliction, to the haven of eternal peace in their God and Redeemer!”
III. It should lead to deeper love to God and more earnest service.—Why so?
1. Because it is a proof and evidence to us of our Father’s love and care. “Whom the Lord loveth,” etc. (Hebrews 12:6). Were He to leave us unreproved when we needed correction, to go on without hindrance in some way of danger, then we might be led to ask, Has God forgotten us? When the vine-branches are left unpruned to waste their strength in useless leafage, this should be a warning rather than a cause of joy. For the heavenly Husbandman prunes—purges—the true and living branches of His vine, so that they may bring forth fruit. The tribulation, therefore, permitted to enter the lives of God’s children is a token of His love, for “God doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33).
2. But at the best all suffering, all affliction, all tribulation, are the result of sin. Were there no sin there would be no tribulation, no suffering; and as much of the affliction of individuals arises from, or is consequent on, personal sin and folly; so the best way in which to get rid of this element of personal responsibility for tribulation is to seek to rise ever higher in the divine service, ever nearer to the primal object of man’s creation, i.e. that he might glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.
3. But even though this element were eliminated, there would remain the tribulation that arises to Christ’s people from this present evil world. It was this that Christ endured; and His people in enduring also may be upborne and comforted with the thought that He has overcome the world to redeem His people—that now exalted on high, in all their afflictions He is afflicted, and sends help in time of need. Great cause then for warmer love and zeal, for more heart-felt service.
John 16:33. The purposes of tribulation.—Christ in His incarnation has become only more blessedly to His people, what He has been from the beginning—“the Saviour and the friend of man.” Of old, as the “angel of Jehovah’s presence,” He saved God’s people in their affliction and tribulation; but now in Him tribulation becomes no more a punishment, as it was frequently of those of old, but a discipline of the soul. So that as He Himself was “made perfect through suffering,” He gives His people power to triumph even through tribulation.
I. Affliction—tribulation—to the worldly man is not only unwelcome, but dreaded and execrated.—It conflicts with his ideas of happiness, which are bound up with the pleasures of this passing scene. Therefore the watchword of materialistic ethics is “The greatest happiness of the greatest number.” But this is a fatal, fundamental error. It is to put the effect in the place of the cause. “The greatest good of men” is the chief end to be aimed at; and this greatest good is to be found in concord with God, and a consequent divine service. When this is attained to, then the greatest happiness will be the result.
II. Toward this happy end of our greatest good, in our present imperfect state, affliction is often an important means (Psalms 119:67).—The enduring of tribulation—of the “great fight of afflictions”—when borne in the divine strength, tends to brace and strengthen our spiritual nature. It is like the purifying flame refining the true and pure metal of our being from the dross and slag of earthly and impure elements. It is part of the Father’s discipline of His children, in training them for a better and higher life. Nor will He permit them to be overwhelmed by affliction. Now as ever it is true, “In all their afflictions He is afflicted,” and their Saviour is not afar.
III. But we must guard against misconception by pointing out that not to all men, and not in view of all afflictions, is this comfort sure.—There is express mention made of circumstances in which there can be no true peace in view of tribulation. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye take it patiently?” (1 Peter 4:15; 1 Peter 2:20). Let us remember also that, although men might be horrified at the idea of some of those sins mentioned by the apostle, yet dispositions and thoughts may be cherished which in the sight of Heaven may be equally guilty. And let men be thankful when the restraining hand of God, even through affliction, prevents the growth in their nature of such hateful, poisonous plants, “roots of bitterness,” that if permitted “to spring up” would assuredly “trouble them.”
IV. But the tribulation and affliction which the children of God have to meet for the most part are those which arise, either from the nature of things, as at present constituted, such as bereavement, sickness, and so forth, or from the present evil world, the world of sinful men inimical to Him and His gospel, and therefore to His followers. This world it is which “by wicked hands has crucified and slain” the Lord Himself. And as He said to His disciples, “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). But He did not leave them to imagine that tribulation was without its compensations; for among His closing words to His disciples were those so full of comfort, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’
John 16:23. Asking and receiving.—King William III. of Prussia was once unable to sleep in consequence of the pain caused by a broken bone. Whilst lying awake he thought, “Who has been most inimical to me during my life? I desire to forgive him, to do him a kindness.” It then occurred to him that perhaps it was one Colonel Massenbach, who, on account of his caricatures of the king, had been imprisoned long years. Immediately he gave the order for Massenbach’s release. The latter had now been for ten years confined in the fortress of Glatz, and during that time had left no stone unturned to procure his release, but all in vain. But as he was reading the story of a wonderful answer to prayer, he suddenly remembered that he had never prayed to the Lord of lords for freedom. He did so without delay; and next day an order came to the governor of the fortress for his release.
The power of Jesus’ name.—The name of Jesus is nothing less than the fulness of all the work of Jesus; and especially of that work wrought for us in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, and through which we are reconciled to God, not figuratively, but really and truly.
The spirit of prayer.—When the ancient Persians prayed, they had neither gold in their pockets nor gold rings on their fingers. And if thou wilt pray so that thou wilt be heard, thy heart must be withdrawn from the world and worldly things.
Praying in Jesus’ name guides our prayers.—Jesus means “Saviour”: how can you then ask in the name of your Saviour what would be inimical to your salvation and blessedness?
Prayer and labour.—Prayer is thy heavenly vehicle, labour thy earthly carriage—both bring many good gifts when they prosper on their journey.
Learn to understand fully what you pray for.—You will thus be able more easily to prevent wandering thoughts.
If you cannot find words for your prayer, let your thoughts speak, the anguish of your heart cry out. God will hear you. You must acknowledge that He knows your heart, and will give you not only what you ask with your mouth, but what your heart desires.
Those who pray best.—The best payers are those who pay their debts in few pieces or notes of great value; and those who pray best are those who present their prayers in few words, but in great earnestness and devotion.—J. J. Weigel.
John 16:24. Not to pray aright is as futile as not to pray at all.—If you desire not to bring down upon you God’s displeasure in your prayers, then ask from Him what such a King as He is is willing to bestow. Your worthiness will not help you, your unworthiness will not hinder you; and whilst mistrust will condemn you, confidence will bring you favour and success.
John 16:27. No prayer without true, faith in Christ.—Faith in Jesus—
I. Awakens the true impulse to prayer;
II. Points out the true way in prayer;
III. Reveals the true spirit of prayer;
IV. Inspires with the true hope and expectation in prayer.
Prayer in the name of Jesus—
I. All powerful with God;
II. Possible to faith alone (John 16:25-30);
III. On earth strong and invincible.—M. Herold.
John 16:28. There are two actions of Christ we should never forget.—The coming of Christ from heaven into the world; for by this He prepared a way for us: and the going of Christ from the earth into heaven; for by this He brings us on that way.
John 16:30. Why we need to ask of Christ.—Christ does not need that you should ask Him; but you yourself need to do so. For you do not ask Him in order that He should learn from you, but that you should learn from Him.
The faith of the holiest weak in its beginning.—Even among the saints faith does not become at once a great tree, but is like a grain of mustard seed. Yet a sick man is a man, a weak faith is still faith. But we must not be contented with this weakness; rather we should give diligence that the weak faith should be strengthened. And it will grow on the word of God as a child grows on the breast of his mother.—From various German sources.
John 16:24. No prayer “in the name of Jesus” unanswered.—To prayer in the name of Jesus an answer will be accorded—an answer consistent with the divine wisdom and omniscience, and with our need. There is no such thing in the long history of God’s kingdom as an unanswered prayer. Every true desire from a child’s heart finds some true answer in the heart of God. Most certain it is that the prayer of the Church of God since creation has not been the cry of orphans in an empty home, without a father to hear or answer. Jesus Christ did not pray in vain, or to an unknown God; nor has He spoken in ignorance of God or of His brethren when He says, “Ask and receive, that your joy may be full.”—Dr. Norman Macleod.
John 16:26. Coming to the throne of grace “in the name of Jesus” a prerequisite of Christian prayer.—“A prayer without faith is like the firing of a gun with blank cartridge, or like a painting—without life.” “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). Whilst tears fall to the ground, faith must mount heavenwards. It is written of Samuel that he offered a sucking lamb to the Lord as a burnt offering, and cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him (1 Samuel 7:9). The sucking lamb was a type of Christ. If we desire to come to God in prayer, we must not leave behind the Lamb who bears away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Luther says somewhere, “If our prayer is founded on our own worthiness it is worthless, although we should sweat our hearts’ blood.” As Joseph’s brethren were to bring with them their brother Benjamin, as otherwise they would not see Joseph’s face, so when we in prayer would behold God’s gracious countenance we must not leave our brother Jesus behind. This He impresses upon our souls when He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If ye shall ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”—Translated from G. Nitsch.
John 16:27. The heavenly Father loves His children.—I do not say I will pray for you, says Jesus. There is no need for Me to act as Moses did on Mount Sinai. He had to pray lest the wrath of God should sweep away these people Why? Because God was dealing with them on the ground of their own disobedience. But now, through the perfect work of Jesus Christ, the saints are in such a position of blest security that there is no need. Jesus says: There is no need for Me to pray the Father to love you—He does; there is no need for Me to stand between you and an avenging Deity—that avenging Deity is now become your Father. Dear brethren, it is possible, I believe, for God’s children to fall into an error of Roman Catholicism in this respect: Rome put the Son in the place of the Father. What is the next thing? Rome has put the Virgin Mary in the place of the Son, and appeals to the awful mother to speak to the awful Son. Yes, and now they appeal to holy Joseph to intercede with holy Mary that she may speak to her holy Son. We have nothing whatever to do with that. We are free from that. But there is such a thing as a child of God failing to realise his position in Jesus, that he may appeal unto Jesus in almost as meaningless a way as the Roman Catholics do. There is no need for me to cry, Jesus, oh, speak for me to God! No, Jesus has accomplished the work. He has gone in as high priest there. He is Himself the intercessor. His presence there is the intercession. And so Jesus says: You may come with boldness; there is no need for Me to pray the Father to love you—He Himself does. Now take the word, “The Father Himself loves you.” Do not water it down. Do not dilute it. I know how difficult it is to realise it. There are times when I can only know it because God has said it; but it does seem so wonderful of God to love me. I could think of Him putting up with me, I could imagine His forgiving me, I could imagine His forbearing with me, but I cannot think of His loving me. Dare to take it because Jesus said it! If you believe Jesus because of His testimony, if you are one of the saints, the Father Himself loves you; yes, with an abiding love. He does not love you to-day and dislike you to-morrow, and then be reconciled to you on the Wednesday, and then drop His love on the Friday; He loves you day in, day out. It is unalterable love. There is such a thing as love being killed. Perhaps you may have loved, and you may have loved intensely, and the one you loved killed the love, and you felt a cold dagger go into your heart and your life, and then the love died in you. What a mercy it is that God’s love cannot be killed! God’s love does not die, although sometimes I seem to have done my best to murder it. It is like Himself, “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” I believe that the Father’s love to His children is as perfect as His love to Christ Himself. It is Christ who says, “As the Father hath loved Me,” so dear soul, very dear to God, the love wherewith He loved His Son, such is His love to you. The Father Himself loveth you.—Rev. Arch. G. Brown, in “British Weekly,” August 31st, 1893.
John 16:31-32. Believing and abiding.—To feel the burden of our captivity is not the same thing as to be free from it; to love God in our better mind, or, as St. Paul calls it, according to the inward man, is not the same thing as to walk according to that love, and to show it forth in our lives and actions. So that though we may now believe, yet if the hour cometh when we shall be scattered every man to his own, assuredly we cannot reckon ourselves as belonging to that flock of the good Shepherd, who hear His voice, and also follow Him whithersoever He goeth, so that they never go astray from the fold. Then how shall we be made free? how shall we be able to love Christ always, to walk as well as to feel according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh? The answer is, that we must attain to the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus; that the Spirit of God must abide in us, and change us into His own image, that we may be delivered from sin and the flesh, and serve them no more at all. And yet this great truth, on which our whole salvation depends, and without which Christ has died in vain for each of us, as far as we ourselves are concerned—this great truth is for ever forgotten; and of all the points which the gospel teaches us, this is, perhaps, the least regarded. So true are our Lord’s words of that blessed Spirit whom we thus continually despise, “that the world cannot receive Him, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.” We pray to God; few, very few, none of us there are, I trust, who do not pray to Him; but I greatly doubt whether the prayer for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the prayer for the real enjoyment of that blessing which Christ has promised to His true disciples, that the Comforter should abide with them for ever—whether this be so often the part of our addresses to God as it ought to be. But this is the very main thing of all. We are living, if I may so speak, under the dispensation of the Spirit: in that character God now reveals Himself to His people, as He did of old, by conversing visibly with the prophets and patriarchs; or in the latter times, when He became manifest in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. He who does not know God the Holy Ghost cannot know God at all. Though we have known Christ after the flesh, says St. Paul, yet henceforth know we Him so no more: the divine presence is henceforth to be of a different kind, not less real, but only revealing itself to our minds instead of our bodily senses. We must pray, then, for the Spirit—the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of liberty, the Spirit of peace and love and joy. As the apostles were changed by His influence, so even shall we be. When He had once entered into their hearts, we hear no more of their being scattered every man to his own, and leaving their Saviour alone. The words of Peter, which, spoken in his own unaided strength, were but an idle boast soon reproved by the event, “Lord, I will lay down my life for Thy sake,” were, after the Spirit had once made him free from the bondage of corruption, the words of truth, and soberness; and, according to his words, so did it happen to him. And may we not hope the very same thing in our own case; that we, who now make vain professions of faith and love to our Lord in the Church—vain, because they are so soon broken, however sincerely they were uttered at the time; that we who are scattered every man to his own, each after his several idols, which he worships with the service of his daily living; that we may no more go astray from our Shepherd; but even as we believe in Him when our hearts are most warmed within us, so we may also keep the assurance of our faith steadfast to the end?—Dr. T. Arnold.
John 16:33. Classes in the school of affliction.—It has been well said that there are four classes in the Christian school of affliction. In the first class men learn to say, I must endure tribulation. Suffering affliction is there regarded as a bitter necessity, an oppressive yoke, which men must be contented to bear, although murmuring and complaining, because it cannot be otherwise. In the second class the scholars learn by degrees to say, I will endure. There, bearing affliction becomes a duty which is willingly undertaken, a burden which truly is felt to be heavy, but which is taken up and borne in God’s name, with devout patience, and in childlike obedience. In the third class the purport of the lesson is better still: I am able to bear affliction. The enduring of tribulation has here become a discipline in which advance can be made from day to day. Whilst enduring the weight of the cross, the Christian experiences more and more the power of God, which is made perfect in our weakness; the comfort of the Holy Ghost, who is the true Comforter in every time of need; the refreshment of the divine word, which is a light on all our ways, even on the darkest; and the peace of Christ Jesus, which the world cannot give nor take away, and which becomes ever more blessed. The Lord lays a burden on us, but He helps us to bear it. And thus the believer is advanced into the fourth and highest class, in which the solution of all problems is reached, when he learns to say, I need to bear affliction. Here tribulation is seen to be an honour and even a cause of joy. The burden is no more a burden, but an honour, a mark by which God’s children are known and Christ’s disciples recognised; and they learn with St. Paul to say, “We glory in tribulations” (Romans 5:3), and understand the exhortation of another apostle (James 1:2), “Count it all joy,” etc.—After Gerok.
John 16:33. Marah.—In the history of the Exodus we read that the children of Israel on their desert march came to a water-supply which they could not drink, for it was very bitter. Because of this the place was called Marah, “bitterness.” The people murmured and complained, and said to Moses, “What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet” (Exodus 15:23-25). In this ancient history may be found a beautiful parable for us all. We, too, on our pilgrimage through the deserts of this life come to many a place “Marah,” and many bitter springs of tribulation, where we murmur and complain and cry, How can we drink this? And not only before individuals among us (to you or me) may a bitter cup of tribulation be set, from which our inner nature shrinks back—a whole people also may come to such a field of Marah, where to them the sweet springs of well-being and enjoyment are made salt and bitter; when what seems a sea of troubles lies before them, and thousands, young and old, cry out, How can we come through it? For such bitter floods of tribulation and springs of tears, my brethren, the Lord our God has given us also a tree, by means of whose wood the bitter waters may become sweet. This tree is the cross of Christ. Through the cross of the Redeemer the cross of His people is made light, and even pleasant. From His Gospel flow such sweet and powerful rills of comfort, that whole seas of affliction are thereby made sweet, the unbearable is made bearable, what is insipid agreeable, and His people experience in reality what the hymn expresses:
“With sighs, and oft with weeping,
Is marked My journey here;
Yet Christ, in peace me keeping,
Thus sweetens every tear.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29