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PART VII. (B.)
THE RISEN CHRIST AT THE LAKE OF GALILEE
1. The unsuccessful toil and the miraculous draught of fishes (John 21:1-11).
2. The morning meal on the shore—the third appearance of Jesus to His disciples (John 21:12-14).
3. The public restoration of Peter to his apostolic office, the commission given to him, the prediction of his martyr end (John 21:15-19).
4. The meaning of Christ’s saying regarding the Evangelist: “If I will that he tarry till I come,” etc. (John 21:20-23).
5. The closing testimony to the truth of the Gospel (John 21:24-25).
Synoptic parallels.—Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:20; Luke 24:49.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 21:1. After these things (see John 5:1, etc.).—I.e. after the events recorded in chap. 20. The Sea of Tiberias.—See John 6:1. Showed Himself.—Rather manifested (ἐφανέρωσεν) Himself. Again.—Pointing back to John 20:14; John 20:19; John 20:26. In each case it was a manifestation of Himself to His disciples. This word is quite Johannine, and is one of the marks of genuineness of this chapter (see John 2:11, etc.).
John 21:2. There were together, etc.—The names are those of the disciples who specially belonged to the region of the lake, most of whom had been engaged in the fishing industry. Nathanael.—The connection of his name with Cana explains more clearly John 1:45-46. They had obeyed the injunction of the Lord, and were now waiting His appearance in Galilee (Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7 : comp. 1 Corinthians 15:4-6).
John 21:3-4. Simon Peter saith, etc.—Peter was still the most energetic and leading spirit in the apostolic band. Though he had fallen so far, yet the Lord had not disowned Him, but had spoken to him as to the other ten, had granted to him the effusion of the Spirit as to his brethren. That night.—They no doubt fished with a light burning in their boat. Night was considered the best time for fishing. But when the morning, etc.—During those hours of unsuccessful toil the disciples must have been reminded of a similar incident at the beginning of their discipleship. The disciples knew not, etc.—No doubt “their eyes were holden” (Luke 5:5; Luke 24:16). In His glorified resurrection body our Lord seems to have manifested Himself in such fashion as He willed, so that He might be known when He pleased (Mark 16:12).
John 21:5. Children (παιδία, boys, lads).—The usual term in Syria now for addressing workmen, etc: walad (boy). The word used in John 13:33, τεκνία, indicates relationship. The disciples probably thought that He who addressed them was some passing stranger. Meat (προσφάγιον).—Something (in this case fish) to be eaten with bread.
John 21:6. Cast the net on the right side, etc.—The disciples seem to think that here is one who knows about fishing, and sees from the shore, by some indication, where they would most likely get a good haul. The whole incident was doubtless intended to have a symbolic meaning, and would lead the disciples afterward to remember that, if they were to be successful in their apostolic labours, they must take their directions from the Lord Himself. To draw it.—I.e. to haul it into the boat.
John 21:7. Therefore that disciple, etc.—The superior spiritual insight of the beloved disciple leads him at once to divine who it is who stands on the shore; whilst his impulsive fellow-disciple at once acts in characteristic fashion. None but an eye-witness could have described this scene. Girt his fisher’s coat (ἐπωνδύτης).—A kind of smock or blouse worn above the χιτών, or under-tunic. Peter had his tonic or shirt on; but to have only this on was regarded as practically being naked. He “girded on to him” the blouse in order that it might not impede him in swimming. He had no patience to await the slow progress of the boat shoreward with the overflowing net behind it.
John 21:8. Two hundred cubits.—About one hundred yards.
John 21:9. A fire of coals (ἀνθρακιά).—See John 18:18. Fish … and bread.—“If this draught is to the disciples the symbol and pledge of the success of their preaching, the repast is undoubtedly the emblem of the spiritual, and even temporal, assistance on which they may reckon from their glorified Lord so long as the work shall last. Grotius, Olshausen, and others … have thought that, in contrast with the sea, which represents the field of labour, the land and the repast represent heaven, from which Jesus gives aid, and to which He receives the faithful after their labour” (Godet).
John 21:10. Bring of the fish.—Probably to add to the meal already prepared, it would seem miraculously.
John 21:11. Peter went up therefore.—Now with glad alacrity he is the first to obey the Lord’s command. Great fishes.—This is probably mentioned because in so large a take there would ordinarily be a great number of worthless fishes (Matthew 13:48). Various attempts have been made to fix a symbolical meaning on the number an hundred and fifty and three. Probably no such meaning was intended to be attached to it. The supposition that there is here a reference to the 153,600 proselytes mentioned in 2 Chronicles 2:17 is too far-fetched to be received seriously. Augustine’s interpretation is elaborate, but is, perhaps, also too fanciful: 10 is the number of the law and 7 that of the Spirit, which being added equals 17, and all the numbers from 1 to 17 when added equal 153, and thus the number practically represents all the elect. There may be some such meaning latent in this number, if the whole incident is to be viewed symbolically. And all exegetes have remarked on the difference between this miracle and that recorded in Luke 5:1-11. There evidently the draught of fishes is intended to represent the visible Church, containing both real and nominal Christians (comp. Matthew 13:47-49); here it is the Church invisible—the glorious Church of the redeemed (Ephesians 5:27). Net not broken.—Contrast Luke 5:6. Christ’s grace shall avail to bring all His people safely home.
John 21:12. Dine.—Breakfast (ἀριστήσατε), take the morning, or forenoon, meal. See Matthew 22:4, where the noun is used. None of the disciples, etc.—They knew in whose presence they stood; awe and reverence made them keep silence. It was their Lord but now the manner of their intercourse with Him was different, preparing them for the moment when, though seeing Him not, they should believe and rejoice in the sense of His near and glorious presence (John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8).
John 21:13. Jesus then cometh, etc.—Whilst they still held back, Jesus Himself encouraged them to approach and to eat. This narrative does not state whether the Saviour Himself participated in the meal. There is no reason to suppose that He did not (Luke 24:43).
John 21:14. The third time, etc.—I.e. the third time He appeared to His disciples in a body. The two former appearances are narrated in John 20:19-22; John 20:26-29.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 21:1-14
On the lake-shore: fruitless toil.—The poor disciples. An anxious and uncertain time, this, for them! What, exactly, were they? What were they to do? It was worst of all for poor Simon Peter. He might well ask himself what was he? He was “Peter,” “Cephas”—firm, true, rock—once. But ah! yon hall of the high priest’s house! Was he a disciple now, or a discarded traitor? Restlessly, Peter said—as the lake seemed to wear its old smile for him, as it glittered in the setting sun—“Let us go a fishing.” And all seven set off.
I. The night of fruitless toil.—A long cold night of weary, fruitless toil. They “caught nothing.” Courage, brother! courage, sister! when it falls to you to toil long and meet with no success! The Lord’s eyes were all night on that unsuccessful boat’s crew, and His heart was with them. And a blithe morning for them all broke on that seemingly luckless night.
II. The morning of joy.—Pulling shoreward, as the day was breaking, they saw a figure in dim haze standing on the beach. A voice of cheery hail reached the boat. It might be freely but truly translated, for it was in common fisher phrase, Well, lads! or, Well, comrades! any success? any fish? He who so spoke knows to-day our homely tongue, and our little troubles and disappointments, and all the homely things of our daily lives. When the weary fishermen cried back in answer “Nothing,” it was in a deeper tone, and with more of pointed meaning in it, that the voice came again from the beach telling them what to do. And the faith that prompted that one more cast of the net after all the failures was rewarded by a “haul” which needed all hands and all strength. Simon, thinking only of the work in hand, pulling his very hardest, is startled by a whisper in his ear from John. The tones of that voice had just reached, half touched, the memory of the loved disciple. He knew that voice so well! But it was the “draught of fishes,” the miracle, that made him sure. Yes, “It is the Lord.” Never man in the desert thirsted for the water-spring as the heart of Simon had longed, since “that night in which He was betrayed,” to see his Lord’s face and tell Him all—all that was in that fisherman’s tossed, troubled, shame-stricken, loving heart. It was that made him so eagerly spring overboard and swim, wade, struggle, shoreward. And did not Jesus know? We may almost say this morning’s interview was mainly made for Simon Peter—that beach, with its morning meal all ready spread, and its cheering fire blazing. The Lord knew then what drenched, benumbed, weary fishers needed. He knows all such things still.
III. Christ’s tender dealing with His erring disciple.—The morning meal was over, and we know of one heart that throbbed with many mingled feelings as the Lord said, “looking on him” once more, “Simon, son of Jonas!” Not the dear old disciple name, the given name, Peter, but the bare name of his early fisher life, by which he was known in the fisher town. “Simon, son of Jonas!” It is so like a modern fisher town form of name! Once the Lord called him by a better, higher name than this. Yes, Simon! but from that you fell—fell thrice—thrice swore you were no disciple of His. Ay! but your kind Lord is about, as once He did when you were sinking, to grasp your hand and lift you up to where you were again; and you will be once more Peter, the firm, steady servant of your Lord. And because Le had known what it was to fall, and to be forgiven and restored, Peter, the apostle of the young Christian Church, did the work of Christ, to his dying day, all the more earnestly and the more tenderly.—Rev. Thomas Hardy.
John 21:6-8. Ventures of faith.—At the word and following the direction of Christ, the nets were let down into the waters. We are, perhaps, to suppose that the disciples thought, e.g., that the Stranger saw what they did not perceive indications of, i.e. the presence of a shoal of fishes. But beyond that they were constrained by a power which they felt, but could not determine, to do as He commanded. Their obedience did not go unrewarded. The large, apparently unprecedented, “take” filled them first with wonder, and then with adoration, as they recognised in the stranger their Lord. With regard to this, as to all the other signs done by Christ, it is sufficient to notice now that they are really all included—even that of the Resurrection itself—in the Incarnation. Let that great truth be accepted (although it is certainly strengthened and confirmed by the Resurrection), then the wonderful life and signs wrought by Christ become luminous. They are then rightly seen as parts of a great whole. Without them that life would be incomplete and inexplicable. Look now at the spiritual lessons of this sign in regard to—
I. The ventures of faith.—
1. This miracle was to Peter and the other disciples an acted parable—a symbolic representation of what would follow when they, resting implicitly in faith on the Saviour, should afterward go forth on their great work of winning souls for Him—of becoming fishers of men, as our Lord had shown them at the beginning of their discipleship.
2. Guided by the Spirit, they were to follow the directions in which He prompted—casting the gospel net in places apparently the most unlikely, where before, it may be, they had toiled long in vain, assured that He would follow their action by His blessing. And we read in the succeeding history how they prospered in so doing. After the descent of the Spirit at once they began to speak to the mixed multitude of men from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:0). Undeterred by the fact that those men spoke in various tongues, in strong faith they cast their net, “and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Again, in a vision of the night the apostle Paul sees a man of Macedonia beckoning him to cross the Ægean Sea, and cast the net in Grecian waters. Once more it might have seemed a hopeless task. That Greeks, proud of their culture and literature, would receive a new and self-denying religion from men belonging to the despised Jewish people would in those times have seemed a wonder even more strange than that of the miraculous draught of fishes. But the apostle obeyed—the net was cast, and it has enclosed Europe and all the civilised nations.
3. And so ought the Christian Church to act now. It has been the habit of many to speak slightingly of the Jewish missions of the Church, e.g. it has been an annual joke with some journals to calculate how much it cost in money for each Jewish convert. That is a sarcasm that will not bear repetition now, when everywhere Jewish converts are entering the Church, and the whole mind of Judaism seems turning Christward. The original founders of Jewish missions cast the gospel net in faith, although from past experience failure seemed to threaten. But now, after long waiting, the nets are beginning to be filled.
4. One of the grandest instances of modern pioneer mission work—the casting of the gospel net in one of the most unpromising regions of earth—is what might be called the forlorn-hope mission to Thibet, under the leadership of a fragile woman, who has proved one of the most intrepid pioneer missionaries of modern times. What more indeed need be said! Time would fail to tell of Moffat, Livingstone, Williams, Patteson, French, J. G. Paton, Heber, Henry Martyn, etc. In faith they cast the nets at the prompting of Christ’s Spirit, and lo! over all the world to-day the harvest of the sea of the nations is being gathered in.
5. In every epoch in the Church’s history the ventures of faith have had their reward. On the venture of faith followed the Reformation. On the missionary ventures of faith in our modern world, if they are sustained as they should be, there will assuredly follow the rescue of multitudes from the depths of alienation and degradation. There are many signs of the coming blessing. If the Church were entirely faithful the limits would widen, the multitudes increase.
 Miss Annie Taylor, Pioneer Mission to Thibet, February 1893.
II. Individual ventures of faith.—
1. See how this applies to the individual. The ventures made by the rash speculator and the gambler do not come under this category. These might rather be called ventures of unbelief. They are made in the name of “chance” or “luck,” gods unknown to the Christian.
2. To the Christian the whole of life is a venture of faith, not only for the future world, but for the present. At the direction of Christ, Christian men should go forth into the world to whatever duty they are called, fearing nothing, believing that if they persevere in the path of duty then daily bread and every needed blessing will be supplied; for “the river of God is full of water” (Psalms 65:9). Not that we are to neglect the use of means. It is true God can work without means; and the means without His help will be useless. But with His help they will be the channels through which blessing will come, as the disciples’ fisher-nets enclosed the miraculous draught of fishes.
3. And if this be so in regard to things material, much more is it so in regard to things spiritual. Men must cast their nets, the net of faith, deep in the divine promises, if they would taste to the full the spiritual blessedness of the gospel. How many a life is empty of the joy and fruits of faith because this has not been done! How many can show only few and limited “catches,” simply because they have not boldly ventured out to the deeps of divine promise, undeterred by the sneers and scoffs of men of the world, and cast their nets in faith of blessing!
4. And above all, when special work has been given to any—the training or teaching of children, e.g., or the care of souls in the pastorate—then they must especially cast their nets in faith in the deeps of divine promise, relying on the Omnipotent for the blessing which will come in the end. They may toil long, but if they toil in faith they shall not labour in vain.
5. And this thought should influence men also in their individual support of the missionary effort of the Church—its really great and important work. What would be thought of a man whose whole interests centred in himself, who cared neither for kith nor kin, not to speak of country and humanity at large—whose life was so selfish that he never did aught to mitigate another’s sorrow or cheer another’s life? There are such men. And alas! there are many so-called Christians who might come under the same description. Give them enough of religion for themselves, and the rest of humanity, as far as they are concerned, may go down to darkness and death. Strange Christians these! The apostles and the early apostolic Church were of another stamp, else the world had been darker to-day than it is. From this incident therefore comes the exhortation, “Cast your net,” etc.
John 21:7. “It is the Lord.”—In all that the beloved disciple wrote there is a profound depth. A spiritual aspiration breathes through it, and leads us to realise that even the history has a spiritual meaning. In this incident by the sea of Galilee we see a picture of inward experiences in the souls of believers; and in this passing incident in the communion of the risen One with His disciples we see a type of His continual coming into the hearts of His people. On the last as on the first page of this Gospel, there is a joyful message full of life and spiritual power. There is but One who can fill men’s hearts with joy and bring blessing where He comes, whether as the infant laid in a manger or as the risen One to His disciples.
I. Where He is not there are want and pain.—
1. To the noblest and best company the Head is wanting when He is not there.
2. To the firmest will the rule of conduct is lacking.
3. To the hardest labour the blessing is absent.
II. Where He comes counsel and comfort come.—
1. He inquires about our necessities.
2. He gives wise and gracious counsel.
3. He brings a blessing with Him.
III. Where He is present His disciples’ hearts burn within them.—
1. The disciples were weary and dispirited whilst He was absent.
2. Now they have become like other men; their hearts burn, etc. (Luke 24:32).
3. John, contemplative and thoughtful, recognises the Lord.
4. Peter, ardent and impulsive, cannot wait till the boat is brought to land. Love impels them.
IV. Where He comes He gives heavenly food.—
1. He gathers His own together lovingly.
2. He satisfies their hearts with heavenly peace.
3. He thus prepares them to look forward to eternal joy.—From Karl Gerok.
John 21:7. “That disciple whom Jesus loved.”—Friendship, founded on the principles of worldly morality, recognised by virtuous heathens, such as that which subsisted between Atticus and Cicero, which the last of these illustrious men has rendered immortal, is fitted to survive through all the vicissitudes of life; but it belongs only to a union founded on religion, to continue through an endless duration. The former of these stood the shock of conflicting opinions and of a revolution that shook the world; the latter is destined to survive when the heavens are no more, and to spring fresh from the ashes of the universe. The former possessed all the stability which is possible to sublunary things; the latter partakes of the eternity of God. Friendship founded on worldly principles is natural, and though composed of the best elements of nature, is not exempt from its mutability and frailty; the latter is spiritual, and therefore unchanging and imperishable. The friendship which is founded on kindred tastes and congenial habits, apart from piety, is permitted by the benignity of Providence to embellish a world which, with all its magnificence and beauty, will shortly pass away; that which has religion for its basis will ere long be transplanted, in order to adorn the paradise of God.
1. There was something in the taste and disposition of our Lord, considered as a man, more in unison with those of John than with any of the other apostles.
2. The distinguishing features of our Lord’s character, viewed as a perfect human being, were, unquestionably, humility and love; nor is it less certain, or less obvious, that these were the qualities most conspicuous in the character of the beloved disciple.
3. In the short Epistles inscribed with his name, the topic on which he chiefly insists is love, which, in its sublime form, constitutes the moral essence of the Deity, as well as the very sum and substance of true religion. His heart was in perfect unison with his subject.
II. Indications of the preference with which John was honoured.—
1. On perusing the Evangelists, it appears that he was invariably selected by our Lord as one of the three who were present in the most retired scenes of His life—on the mount of Transfiguration, in the house of Jairus, and in the garden of Gethsemane (see also 13, 14, etc.).
2. After the Resurrection and Ascension, he continued to receive from his Saviour similar proofs of his preference. Preserved amidst a violent and bloody persecution, he was permitted (such is the universal tradition of the Church) to survive the rest of the apostles, to witness, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of its inhabitants, the fulfilments of his own predictions, and finally to close a life extended to an extreme old age in peace and in the bosom of his friends.
3. To him it was given to convey to the Churches of Asia, among whom he dwelt, repeated messages from his ascended Lord, to behold His glory, and to catch the last accents of inspiration.
4. The place which he occupies in the order and succession of inspired men must at the same time ensure to him a high distinction; for while Moses leads the way, John brings up the rear of that illustrious company.—Robert Hall.
John 21:1-8. The life of the messengers of the gospel.—I. Their work.—
1. It is a work common to all (John 21:2).
2. Some come before others in it, according to their special gifts (John 21:3).
3. Sometimes they labour long in vain (John 21:3).
4. There sometimes come on them seasons of gloom, so that they do not always recognise the Lord with the same clearness (John 21:4).
5. But they endure patiently.
II. The blessing of the Lord.—
1. It is overflowing (John 21:6).
2. The disciples thereby realised the presence of their Lord (John 21:7).
3. Grateful love impelled them anew toward Him (John 21:8).
4. But this gladness did not come in similar fashion to all (John 21:8).
III. Their reward.—They were refreshed (John 21:9-10; John 21:13).
2. The blessing was a perpetual one (John 21:11—“brake not”).
3. They attained the blessed certainty of their fellowship with the Lord (John 21:12).
John 21:6. “The river of God is full of water.”—A pious citizen who had many children, and but straitened means, when dying spoke comfortingly to his children. He told them not to distress themselves about his death and his modest means. He would leave behind him a treasure; and when he was dead they would find written, behind the chamber door, the place where it was to be got at. When their father died, therefore, they examined the door carefully, but found written there only these words of Psalms 65:0, “The river of God is full of water.” Well, those children lived in dependence on God; they were pious and diligent. Thus they experienced in after-years the truth of those words, and the richness of their father’s treasure. For God never permitted them to want the means of subsistence.—From J. J. Weigel.
John 21:9. The fire of coals, etc.—Let us see whether [a] great truth may not have been figuratively taught by the facts of which we are endeavouring to find an explanation. There was already a fire kindled, when the apostles dragged to shore the net which specially represented the Christian Church, the Church, that is, as it was to subsist in its expanded form, subsequently to the coming of Christ, and on the fire which was thus burning there were fish already laid; yea, and the first direction to the, apostles was, that they should bring of the fish which had just been caught, and add them to those which were already on the coals. Now, since by the fish of all kinds which the net enclosed, we are undoubtedly to understand the members of the Church under the gospel dispensation, ought we not to understand by the fish already on the coals the members of the Church under the Jewish dispensation? This is nothing but preserving or keeping up the metaphor. If the fish just caught represented the converts that would be made by the preaching of the gospel, the fish which had been caught before, and not by those who now draw the net to land, may—we should rather say, must—represent those of whom the Church had been composed during the ministrations of the law. So that the visible Church before Christ was figured by the fish already on the coals, the visible Church after Christ by the fish just enclosed in the net; and when the newly caught fish were placed on the same fire with those which had been previously secured, was it not shown that the visible Church before and after the coming of Christ was virtually but one and the same? that its members, at whatever time they lived, had to be brought to the same altar, and to be purified by the same flame? I know not why we should not think that that strange fire, mysteriously kindled on the lonely shore, was typical of the propitiatory work of the Redeemer, through whom alone the men of any age can be presented as a sacrifice acceptable unto God. We have all to be laid upon an altar; we have all, as it were, to be subjected to the action of fire; but there is no altar but the one Mediator, and no fire but that of His one great oblation, which will answer for those who seek to consecrate themselves a whole burnt-offering to their Creator in heaven. And what could be a more lively parable of this fact, than that, just before His departure from earth, when standing on the margin of the sea, the separating line, so to speak, between time and eternity, Christ caused an altar to rise, mysterious as Himself, for no human hands reared it, and crowned it with burning coals, which had not been kindled by any earthly flame; and then brought about that there should be placed on this sacred and significant fire representatives of the one visible Church, as it had subsisted before His incarnation, and as it was to subsist till He should come the second time to judgment?—Henry Melvill.
John 21:6. Casting the net at Christ’s command.—We look back over the eighteen centuries during which the Church has been toiling as in the night; and as we spread out the nets, the gains seem small and insignificant. We turn over the reports of the missionary societies, representing the lifework of hundreds, and the prayer and devotion of thousands of Christians; and we note with dismay the scanty returns of converts, here a hundred, there a score, in many places none. We reckon the result of our own work for Christ, and again dismay seizes us as we gather the handful of fruit; one here and another there made better, made happier; a few lives changed: but what are these as a return? Coming still closer home, and looking within our own hearts, a sober survey brings to many of us a feeling of despair. We began so hopefully, too hopefully perhaps, forgetting the power of habit and the slow growth of the kingdom. A few weeks only had passed, and our hopeful resolves lay around us in ruins; and here we are like Sisyphus with our stone once more at the bottom of the hill and the steep slope before us. Our nets are drawn in at our feet, and of progress, of character, of sanctification, we have “taken nothing.” Once more the Master takes His stand beside His disciples at their work. Once more He bids us again let down our nets, carry on the old work as before. And once more, strong in our faith in Him and in His victory over evil and death, we say “Nevertheless.” Humbly recognising past failure and feeling the full weight of the disappointment, not ignoring the pressure of difficulty and the sting of pain, yet trusting in His grace, we set against the stream of worldliness and indifference the whole force of our will consecrated to Him, and say, “Nevertheless at Thy bidding we will let down our nets.”—From, “The British Weekly,” January 11th, 1894.
John 21:6. The true missionary spirit.—Many wise people say to-day, “What need is there for missionaries troubling themselves about the conversion of the heathen; let them first go to the heathen at home!” Those who thus judge ought speedily to request a missionary for themselves.… They seek to prescribe to Christ the manner in which He must carry on the extension of His kingdom. They will make void the command, “Go and teach all nations,” etc., until there is not a sinful unsaved man more in their own country. Have you the determination of the order of Christ’s kingdom, or has He? There were still millions of Jews who did not believe on Christ, and yet He gave the command to Peter to go to Cæsarea and to baptise the heathen centurion Cornelius. Why, the testimony of those heathen who had become converted through the work of the first missionaries, and the pious life and death of many of them, did more in the primitive Church to extend the gospel than had those who preached to them still remained. And if we were more zealous in regard to our mission work among the heathen, the blessing to the many slumbering members of the old Churches would be more abundant. We have only in faith and zeal to seek to save souls. The blessing rests with the Lord.—Dr. F. Ahlfeld.
John 21:6. Labour for Christ not in vain.—What befell them at sea. The long night of fruitless toil perhaps may have reminded some of them of the other similar experience; but, more probably, they were too busy and weary to think of anything but their empty nets. Whether they remembered that first miraculous draught of fishes or no, we must keep it constantly in view if we would understand this incident, and must remember that our Lord Himself gave it a symbolical meaning. The whole of the events in this lesson point to that symbolism as a chief part of the intention; and, while it is easy to be over-ingenious in translating the facts into parables, it is unwise to shut our eyes to the broad features which receive their full meaning only when so translated. As the day was breaking over the Eastern girdling hills, and the cold air at sunrise telling of a change in the dark world, Jesus stood on the shore. The place is significant—the disciples tossing on the water, the Lord standing on the firm beach, with the light playing round Him. Can we fail to see in that the picture of the condition of His servants in contrast with the rest and stable glory where He dwells? And may we not see in His attitude the same inspiring truth which upheld Stephen dying, when he saw the Son of man in the opened heaven, standing as ready to help? The disciples did not recognise Him. Throughout the forty days His will determined when He should be known. The Unknown speaks as a superior, using the address “Children,” and His question in the original implies the expectation of a “No.” Then you have not anything to eat? He knew the state of things before asking, but He wished the acknowledgment. Is not that ever His procedure with His servants, drawing them to confess their failure, and so preparing them for the blessing, which He cannot send except to the consciously weak and powerless? An honest and humble “No” is generally followed by correction of methods or fields, and that by full nets. If we said it more readily to Him who is ever interested in our work, we should not have to say it so often to ourselves. The prompt obedience to the Stranger’s directions was probably due to the disciples’ belief that He had seen from the shore some sign of a shoal which they in the twilight had not noticed. None of them had any thought of His being anything more than a passing traveller, stopping to look on. The swift result is, alas! not always the experience of even the humblest and most docile of Christ’s servants; but we may be sure that, though in regard to immediate issues the parable of this incident may fail, it does not fail in regard to their certainty. Jesus did not promise them that they should find at once, nor does He promise us; but He does promise that, sooner or later, our labour will not be “in vain,” if it be “in the Lord.” And that may content us. The beautiful episode of Peter and John is full of meaning. Love has quick eyes, and is first to discern the Christ. Its prerogative is to trace His working where others do not see Him; and for love it is enough to know that it “is the Lord,” and to sit quietly blessed in contemplation. But there is another kind of faithful devotion, not so quick to discern, but eager to act. John could sit still, satisfied to gaze, but Peter flung his upper garment about him, and was over the side and splashing in the water before he knew what he was doing. He was only a hundred yards off, and would have been by Jesus almost as soon if he had sat still; but that was not his way, and “there are diversities of operations.” Besides, penitence and the blended shame and joy of restoration made him flounder thus quickly to his Lord. He had said, “Depart from Me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” on that first similar occasion; but the sense of sin which drives to Jesus is deeper and wholesomer than that which drives from Him. The safest place for the forgiven penitent is close to the Lord.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 21:15-17. Simon, son of Jonas (or John, with several of the best MSS.).—He is addressed thus to remind him that by his fall he had shown that he had not yet attained to be Peter—the rock (or stone, see I. 42, p. 16). It is interesting to remark that his call to active discipleship followed on the miraculous draught of fishes at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry, and his reinstatement into the apostolic office here. Lovest.—Love is the foundation of all Christian service; love to Christ alone will inspire men truly to do His work (John 14:15, etc.). In Christ’s kingdom a correct creed, however necessary, can be no substitute for a loving heart. Jesus had used the word ἀγαπᾷς (see John 13:34; John 14:15); Peter in reply uses the verb φιλεῖν, meaning to love in the more ordinary sense of the term, and not that constant, deep affection, including something of reverence, denoted by the other word. Nor does he dare to say that he even cherishes the lesser affection more than his fellow-disciples. Nor is his yea full of the bold assurance of his former protestations of fidelity. Thou knowest, he says to Jesus. Again the question is asked, but on the second occasion the more than these is omitted by our Lord. He knows Peter’s trust in self alone is broken. Again the same answer is returned by Peter. A third time the question rings out, and now the Lord uses Peter’s own word, φιλεῖς με; Peter is grieved at this—doubly grieved, we may say—first that Jesus seems to admit that Peter is not yet able to accord to Him the higher love, and next because the thrice-repeated question brings pitifully to mind his threefold denial. Thoroughly humbled, the apostle even omits the yea, Lord, and casts himself in utter self-renunciation on the omniscience of Jesus: “Lord, Thou knowest all things,” etc. The thrice-repeated commission to the restored apostle shows an interesting gradation. Feed My little lambs (ἀρνία μου).—Care for and feed with word and doctrine the young of the flock, the children and young converts. The more simple duty of the pastor is here committed to Peter. Next comes the more difficult and onerous task, “Lead (rule, shepherd, ποίμαινε) My sheep,” direct and guide the Church as a whole; and, last, if the reading πρόβατα be accepted, “Feed My sheep” will mean to give them the spiritual nourishment fitted for them, or, if the reading προβάτιά μου (with A, B, C, etc.) be accepted, the reference is perhaps to providing the little children of Christ (τεκνία, John 13:33), advanced and matured Christians, with the finest of the wheat. No special primacy seems to have been conferred on Peter here; but Meyer justly observes that, when Peter was restored to his former position, this restoration embraced his former pre-eminence (see 1 Peter 5:2-4).
John 21:18-19. Verily, verily.—Notice the familiar phrase. When thou wast younger (νεώτερος), etc.—Peter must have been at that time about middle life. The contrast is perhaps intended to refer, to Peter’s boast that he would follow Christ to death. Yes, the time would come when he should be constrained to follow his Master on the way of suffering—always a way repugnant to flesh and blood.
John 21:19. The martyrdom of St. Peter at Rome, probably circa A.D. 64, is attested by Clement of Rome. It took place apparently in the time of Nero. Tertullian asserts that he was crucified, and Origen says he was fixed on the cross with his head downward. His martyrdom must have been well known in the Church when this chapter was written. (See Smith’s Bible Dictionary, etc.)
John 21:21-23. Lord, and what shall this man do, etc.?—This question, although it might be dictated by love, was one which should not have been asked. To Peter it was given to know what manner of death he was to die, but it would not be good that this should be known in the case of every disciple or apostle. God keeps the future wisely in His own power. The answer of Jesus is hypothetical. Ἕως ἔρχομαι would be understood by many of the Parousia, the second appearing of our Lord; and it was to correct this erroneous idea, entertained apparently by many, that this incident was recorded by the Evangelist. The reference might quite legitimately be to Christ’s coming to John in death (John 14:3); but probably (Westcott) the coming referred to may be that coming of Christ in judgment which began at the destruction of Jerusalem, and will issue in the final judgment. John overlived this coming, which indeed he may refer to in Revelation 22:12.
For John 21:24-25, see homilies and Homiletic notes.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 21:15-25
John 21:15-17. On the lake-shore. “Simon, son of Jonas.” (A communion address.)—What passed in converse at that lakeside table, what the Lord said to His disciples, what they said to Him, the disciple who has described the scene has not told us. It may be He had special things to say to this one and to that, to dispel their doubts and fears, to strengthen faith, to rekindle hope. Some word, perhaps, to say to him to whom had been said, “Son, behold thy mother.” Of these we know not. But this the Evangelist has told us, that, turning to Peter, the Lord said to him, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” “Simon, son of Jonas,” not the honoured name the Lord had given, to be worn by the disciple who was to be Cephas, Peter, firm as rock in his Master’s cause; but the common name he bore in his common fisher days, ere the Lord had called him!
I. Peter had fallen.—Fallen thrice; and by three steps, the thrice-put question, thrice answered, and the thrice-given commission to resume the work of the Saviour (feeding the lambs—feeding, folding, caring for, being a shepherd to the sheep), by these three steps the fallen disciple is reinstated, restored; and is once more, not “Simon, son of Jonas,” the fisherman, but Peter, the firm, faithful disciple, the commissioned servant! There are beautiful touches in the words, marked, in the telling of the interview, by the beloved historian. “More than these?” (these other disciples) was, perhaps, as a gentle reminding to Peter that the time had been when he used to think himself foremost in zeal, boldest in faith, truest in love, of them all. And Peter would seem to have felt the touch. He has had experience. He knows his own frailty now. He will say nothing of what He is, compared with others now! And when he invites the Lord to read his heart, and see its love, Peter, with sterling modesty, hesitates to use the same word which the Lord had used in putting the question; for Jesus had used a word which signifies a very strong and tender love, and the disciple used a word which implies a love of a kind more common, and not so exalted and refined. “Feed My lambs.” And oh! Peter’s heart was glad that he was to be blessed and honoured in putting hand to the simplest, lowliest work the Lord might give Him. He did not scorn the feeding of the lambs! The little ones, the weak, the ignorant, the erring! He read his Master’s meaning better. He who had his experience could not but know something of how to lead the weak and ignorant and erring to a Saviour whom his own experience had taught him to know as tender-hearted and forgiving, and Himself the source, the giver, of all true strength and guidance. Again, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” and again the selfsame answer, and the same modest, humble word, “Thou knowest.” Yes! the Saviour knew; and Peter, with this love in his heart, was to tell others of, to lead others to, to keep others in, the love of Jesus Christ. The third time it pained him. Did his Lord doubt him? No! but the Lord knew Peter’s heart; and this third question brought from that heart a fervent gush of the love that dwelt there, deeper, stronger, and more tender than Peter himself had known till that moment. “Thou knowest all things! Thou knowest that I love Thee.” And with love in his heart, strong and tender love, the restored disciple is sent to “shepherd” (the word is) the sheep, not merely feed, but be all to them (in loving care, in wise and patient guidance and watchfulness) that a shepherd is to his flock.
II. And now it needs but a word or two to take home this Gospel story to ourselves.—We come, in the communion feast, to tell the Lord Jesus Christ, in a solemn act of His own appointment, that we love Him as our Saviour. It will be well that we consider that our Lord is speaking to us in some such words as those in which He spoke to Peter. And if we think of that “Simon, son of Jonas,” it will perhaps enable us to feel as though the Saviour were addressing us, each one of us, by the very individual, homely name which we have borne all our days, the name associated in our minds with all our by-past life—the sins and errors of our youth, the sins, the worldliness, and selfishness, and unworthiness of our riper years. The name will recall all the longsuffering mercy of the Saviour, all the unmerited blessings, all the watchful care of His providence, and all the light, and peace, and strength, and hope that have come to us from the Saviour’s grace. And as, on a quiet, solemn day in God’s house, we thus look back on life, and into our own hearts and our own ways, may the grace of the Holy Spirit, from whom all good thoughts and desires come, help each one of us to see ourselves truly.—Rev. Thomas Hardy.
John 21:15. “Lovest thou Me?”—It was after the strange morning meal, eaten on the shore of the Galilean lake, had been finished, and when the company were moving about in little groups of two and three, that the conversation took place between Peter and the Redeemer. Peter had fallen from His apostolic office; it was necessary that he should be restored to it, in order that he might do his special work in spreading the gospel and founding the Church.
I. Our Lord’s method of dealing with His repentant follower.—
1. The severe trial and sifting to which Peter had been subjected tended to rectify much that was faulty in his nature, to disperse much of the chaff that was mingled with the genuine grain of his disposition. It had quite broken down his self-sufficiency; it had convinced him that he could not depend on himself alone. His answers to our Lord’s question showed that the forward, boastful Simon, son of Jonas, was a memory of the past, and that he had again become the rock, strong through faith in the Lord. After this incident his former self-assertiveness seldom appeared. Once only it seems to have led him into a false position, when it brought him into conflict with St. Paul. But he seems to have yielded in a true spirit of humility, and to have entertained nothing but a brotherly feeling for St. Paul, as his words concerning that apostle in his second Epistle testify. In his two Epistles we may trace all through evidences of the change that had taken place in him. His exhortations to humility, trust in the Lord’s strength, and steadfast resistance of evil, through faith in Christ, show that he had attained at last to the true spirit of a disciple.
2. At the repetition of our Lord’s first question, “Lovest thou Me more than these?” in a somewhat different form, we can believe that a feeling of sorrow and disappointment sprang up in the disciple’s heart. The inquiry now was, not whether he esteemed Jesus more than others did, but whether he really esteemed Him at all.
3. The question was put a third time, and this time our Lord used the apostle’s own word, “Lovest thou Me?”—not, Dost thou entertain for Me a lofty affection and regard? but, Have you even, as you assert, a genuine personal love for Me?
4. At this question the rising grief in Peter’s heart welled up and overflowed. To be looked at askance by one we love, to have to face one whom we esteem highly, but whom we have grievously wronged, must be a hard thing to bear, and must make the sorrow for what has been done more poignant and severe. And that was the case with this disciple. The question three times repeated brought home the memory of his denial, and showed him his sin in all its enormity.
5. Yet the question ministered hope, for he could answer it affirmatively. Still, he felt that it would be no longer safe to trust in himself alone. He would throw himself on the divine Omniscience; so his whole heart gushed out in the utterance, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” It was, indeed, the best answer he could have given. He who was so fatally self-deceived before, might be so again. But by coming to Christ, and bringing an open heart to Him, asking Him in His omniscience to judge whether there was love in it to Him or no, was the best course the repentant disciple could have adopted. He was thus brought to regard his own strength as weakness, his feelings with self-distrust, and to a frame of mind that would lead to simpler confidence in the strength of the Redeemer. Thus at the end of the Gospel narrative a very different man meets us from that forward, boastful, self-sufficient Simon Barjona, who meets us at its beginning. A vital change had taken place in his life and character; he had learned the secret of the true Christian life—to be humble, to conquer self by relying on Christ alone. As it was with Peter, so will it be in a greater or less degree with all true disciples. They will learn, sometimes through bitter failure, profoundly to distrust themselves, and to trust alone in Christ.
II. The disciple’s protestations of affection to his Lord.—
1. These words were not merely from the lip. The Lord, who knows all things, saw in them the expression of a great reality. Peter had a genuine love for his Master, and he was therefore restored to his apostolic office.
2. Our Lord in restoring the apostle seems to have committed three distinct charges to him—“Feed My lambs,” “Shepherd My sheep,” “Shepherd My tender sheep” (see “Explanatory Notes”).
3. We know how faithful St. Peter was to his charge in after-days. We can distinguish an echo of his Master’s words in one of his Epistles when he writes to his fellow-presbyters: “Feed the flock of God,” etc. (1 Peter 5:2-4).
4. With this threefold charge came the command to follow Christ, even if to danger and death, to avoid the apparent imminence of which but lately he had denied his Lord. “Follow Me”: “I renew the first call to discipleship and apostleship given amid those same scenes, but which thou didst forfeit through thy sin. Let the love thou hast professed prompt thee to obey My voice.” “Follow Me” in submitting to what is hard to bear for My sake, as I submitted to My Father’s will for thy sake. “Follow Me” in imitating My spirit—in feeding the flock of God, in caring for the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and show the constancy of thy love by standing steadfast and being faithful—“even unto death.”
1. The question put by our Lord to St. Peter we may profitably put to ourselves. If the Redeemer were to appear to us, and come to us here with the inquiry, “Lovest thou Me?” what answer would He receive?
2. He is among us; His spiritual presence is near us; He can read every heart. Can each of us say, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee”?
3. The test of the genuineness of Peter’s love was the course of his after-life, his devotion to the charge given him by Christ. So the test of our love will be our devotion to the duty Christ has laid upon us. Religion can be no matter of secondary importance; it claims our first attention. It is the atmosphere in which our life should be lived. Its spirit should interpenetrate our every thought and word and deed. Love to Christ—and if ye love Me keep My commandments—that is the touchstone of genuine religion.
John 21:15. “Feed My lambs.” (Address to children.)—Children are among the lambs of the Saviour’s flock which He here so lovingly confides to the care of His Church. He loves little children (Mark 10:16)—died for them also. He feeds them through His under-shepherds in the Church. What then ought children to do in view of His tender care?
I. Love Him.—Love is the true adoration of the heart, and is specially pleasing to the Saviour. Children love those who are kind, gentle, etc., to them. And if it is true that Christ has done all for men that the gospel declares He has done, then love to Him should be the most natural feeling. “His is love beyond a brother’s.” And in Him they will love His true pastors—the under-shepherds—whom He has appointed over His flock, etc.
II. Obey Him.—Be loyal to Him, true and faithful. This will follow naturally on love to Him. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And how reasonable it is to do so. His commands are not grievous, but are for the health of the soul. “I would rather obey than work miracles”; “do not found obedience on fear,” said a great man. And obedience to Him will mean also obedience to those whom He has appointed in the Church to be pastors and teachers (Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17). Christ has appointed them to feed His lambs, to lead them by green pastures, etc. Let them be honoured for their work’s sake.
III. Serve Him.—Work His works as He did His Father’s work. One of the first desires of those who give themselves to Him is, What shall I do for Him? Follow Him, is the answer, who as child, as man, in everything did the heavenly Father’s will. But St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians should be remembered, “Be ye followers of me,” etc. (1 Corinthians 11:1). The instructions and example of those appointed His shepherds by the Chief Shepherd, when they are sincere, should be followed. The ancients erected statues of great and good men in the Forum or other chief place in a city, so that the children might see and emulate their greatness. So should the pastors appointed by Christ ever point the lambs of the flock to Him as their example, and themselves seek ever to be more Christlike.
John 21:18-19. On the lake shore—“Follow Me.”—
I. Peter’s future—Peter was right when he said to his Lord, “Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I ‘LOVE’ Thee!” The Lord read Peter’s heart, and He knew the “love” that was, at that moment, in the disciple’s heart. But more, the Lord read Peter’s life in the unseen future—ay! to its very close. And He knew how His poor faithful follower would be true to Him—to the death. The love in Peter’s heart would lead him to the cross. And how touchingly and tenderly He tells it! “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest. But when thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee, and carry thee—whither thou wouldest not.”
II. Peter’s question as to his fellow-disciple’s future.—“Follow Me,” the Master said, as He called Peter to listen to some words that were for his ear and his heart only. What these words were, we may not seek to know. But there was one a little way behind them on the shore path—one whose love to the Master, Peter probably acknowledged to be perhaps deeper than his own. John had not deserted or denied his Lord on that sad morning! And John was known to Peter, and to the rest, as the disciple whom Jesus—we may say—specially loved. To what trials—to what fate in the after-years—would “this man’s” love to Jesus lead him? And the Lord’s answer was one which gently, but clearly, taught Peter that the question was one which should not have been asked. And so ended this memorable scene on the shore of the lake.
III. The lessons of the scene on the lake shore.—Its lessons are well worth the gathering.
1. With our love for the Saviour, how many opportunities are within reach of all of us—for “feeding His lambs,” for “shepherding His sheep”! We don’t need any special ordination, or any special field of work. We shall find these opportunities—all of us—in
“The trivial round, the common task.”
Lovest thou Jesus? help some poor weakling lamb, guide some straying sheep of His.
2. Poor Simon Peter! His very errings and failings make him dear to us. To the very last, he seemed to need the kindly restraining hand of Jesus to keep him right. How apt are all of us, like him, to wish for a peep into that which is wisely hidden from us. Let us remember the voice that said—so gently, but with such force of meaning—“What is that to thee? follow Me.”
3. What a noble apostle Peter becomes, after Pentecost has put the cope-stone on the work of the Saviour’s life-training of him! It is but little fragments of his apostle-work we have. But we cannot fail to see what a power he was in the infant Christian Church. And through all his life of work, that scene on the lake shore would often be present to his mind. Ay! and when the time came, and the old disciple was being girded for the cross, the memory of the Lord’s words would help him to die the martyr death for the love he bore to Jesus.—Rev. T. Hardy.
John 21:18-19. The high prerogative of suffering.—In these words our Lord predicts the death of St. Peter. In his old age the apostle was to be crucified, made to stretch forth his hands upon the transverse beam of the cross, and girded (or lashed round the waist) to the instrument of torture by a cord. Tradition says that he was crucified, at his own request, with his head downwards; in that case, the girding, or tying tightly, to the cross would probably be necessary, by way of keeping the body of the sufferer in its right position. Putting aside the original and literal meaning of the words, and attending only to their secondary application, notice:—
I. Suffering, in all its forms, is, and should be looked upon as being, a vocation.—
1. There are many, and these real Christians, persons interested in God’s service, who regard suffering in a shallow, superficial point of view, as an interference with their vocations, and consequently miss all the golden opportunities of growth in grace and knowledge which it holds out.
2. The truth is, that God, in sending them the sickness or the accident, has been pleased in His wisdom and love to change their vocation, and, if minded to be really loyal to His will, they must accommodate and familiarise themselves to the idea, not that their occupation is gone, but simply that it is altered.
3. When our heavenly Father changes our whole plan of life by His providential despatches, and virtually sends us the order, “Lie still, and let another gird thee and carry thee, instead of thy girding thyself, and walking on Mine errands ‘whither thou wouldest,’ ” shall we venture even to remonstrate, when we are assured by the testimony of His word that both His wisdom and His care for us are unbounded, and when our own experience of life, brief as it has been, re-echoes this testimony?
4. Regard suffering, even in its slighter forms, as a vocation, having its special duties, and offering its special grace. Say secretly of it, “Here for the present lies thy allotted task, O my soul; consider how much may be made of this period—how largely it may be improved to God’s service and thy salvation.”
II. May we not say of suffering, that it is the highest of all vocations?—
1. Peter was God’s prime agent in the spread of the gospel among the people of the circumcision. Yet not one word is here said of the glorification of God, in connection with St. Peter’s active days. The Evangelist speaks of his crucifixion—when those limbs, once so full of vigour, so prompt to move in the Master’s service, were fettered, and when his body was bound fast to the accursed tree—as the period when God reaped from the apostle a great harvest of glory: “Thus spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God.”
2. So in a holy death there is something specially acceptable, over and above that which there is in a holy life; and therefore with a marked emphasis it is written, “Right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
2. The same law is observable in spiritual character, which rules the formation of the natural. How often in a smooth and easy life do men, who have something far better beneath, appear selfish, effeminate, and trifling! Suddenly they are thrown into some position of high trust, great responsibility, or serious danger; are called upon to face an enemy, or submit to the hardships of a campaign; and lo! the character shows a stuff and a fibre, ay, and a tenderness for others, which no one ever gave it credit for.
4. But the chief reason why suffering is the highest of all vocations, is, that in suffering, so close a conformity may be attained to Him who is the highest exemplification of human virtue. It was to conformity with Him in this high acquiescence that He called His disciple, St. Peter, when He said to him, “Follow Me.”
5. If the words “Follow Me” were addressed specifically to St. Peter, are there not words of precisely similar import addressed to all disciples to the end of time? Do we not read, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”? Ah! there is the word of which we are in search, to express the agency of the sufferer in this matter—“take up his cross.”—Goulburn.
“O Lord, my God, do Thou Thy holy will!
I will lie still:
I will not stir, lest I forsake Thine arm.
And break the charm,
Which lulls me, clinging to my Father’s breast,
In perfect rest.”
John 21:19; John 21:22. Following Christ.—The way of Jesus in this world was one of sorrow. Only now and again was His path brightened as He saw of the travail of His soul in the faith of some. But from the beginning of His public ministry He was grieved at His rejection by those whom He came to redeem. At the close of His public ministry one of His disciples betrayed Him; the others “forsook Him,” etc. (Mark 14:50). But all this was to be expected. Christ the light must needs oppose, and be opposed by, the darkness; and all through His manifestation of Himself this conflict marked His path with sorrow, although the hour of seeming defeat was virtually the hour of His triumph.
I. Christ’s disciples must follow Him in this conflict.—
1. It is not wonderful that the disciple should be as the Lord. The same conflict between good and evil is still raging. As the dominant spirit of the world is in antagonism to the gospel, the disciples of Christ must expect to be opposed in following Him, as He Himself was.
2. But they are not to be troubled at these things, as though some strange thing has happened to them. Christ suffered contradiction of sinners, and His followers must meet it as He did, and as the apostle Peter learned to do in following his Master in after-years (1 Peter 2:21-23).
3. And so it will be to the end of this dispensation. In all times earnest men who strive to work righteousness, and refuse to deflect from the straight path of duty, have to struggle in following Christ; whilst often the hypocrite, the time-server, the conventionalist, the sycophant, glide along through life easily. Recall in thought the bead-roll of men conspicuous for righteousness, fidelity to truth and duty. The time would fail to tell how many have had to endure hardness in following their heavenly Leader.
4. Nor are the foes who hinder all from without. The greatest hindrances to the Christian race are from within. The weights that impede, etc., are pride, self-will, desires chained to the dust, etc. But those who resolve to follow on in the Redeemer’s strength, even when apparently vanquished, will be in reality more than conquerors.
II. Christ’s disciples must follow Him without delay.—
1. There is danger lest in delaying they should be turned aside from the way of Christ. The influences prevalent in the present evil world leave their impress on the spiritual nature, if men dally within their sphere. They mould the soul into conformity with them if permitted to prevail, unite it to the perishable, and lead it away from the Life.
2. What would many a one give when nearing the end of life’s journey—a life spent in following evil—to gain a few years or even days to retrace their steps, and, if it might be, but enter on the way over which Christ trod and to which He calls! But it is not always easy to turn back. To the willing, longing heart it is possible by grace divine. But would there be any desire often? It is hard for one whose nature has been dwarfed and stunted in the ways of sin, and in following evil, even when awakened to a sense of danger, and with remorse dogging his steps, to turn and retrace his path, and the end of such a one is often the despair of a Judas (Matthew 27:3), even though it does not result in his desperate Acts 3:0. There is nothing more awful than to see a human soul turning away from Christ! To follow Christ as did the penitent and restored apostle is to be in the path of safety, and leads to joy—even though, as in St. Peter’s case, it be through sorrow and suffering (1 Peter passim), in the end it will be well.
John 21:20-23. The Lord’s saying regarding the beloved disciple.—Probably one of the reasons why this concluding chapter, or epilogue, of the Gospel was written was that the erroneous opinions, which were held as to our Lord’s words concerning John on this occasion, might be corrected.
I. Peter’s question.—
1. The memorable interview with Peter had ended. The apostle at Jesus’ command was going after him, and turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved also following.
2. The question Peter put was prompted no doubt by love to John in the first place—probably a desire to know whether his fellow-disciple, who had not forsaken or denied the Lord, was to have the same bitter experience at the end of life, or whether a milder lot would be his. Peter had not yet learned, as he afterward did, the nobility of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 4:13-16).
3. But there was also a culpable spirit of curiosity, a breaking through for the moment of the old forward spirit so often manifested. His Lord had just graciously readmitted him into his office and apostleship. He should therefore have been humbly receptive, and not forward to ask what Jesus did not offer to communicate.
II. The Lord’s reply (John 21:22).—
1. There is conveyed in it a certain degree of reproof, as if the Lord had said, “Would it not be well for you to attend to what I have said—working on till you are called to ‘follow Me’ on the way of martyrdom—content to aid your brethren in their work, and not occupy your mind in speculating on their future?” God has reserved the future in His own power; it is not our part to pry into those “times and seasons” (Acts 1:7). It is ours, having received power, to go forth to labour, leaving the future of ourselves and others dear to us in His hands, knowing that whatever it may be it can only bring good (Romans 8:28).
2. There is, it is true, a natural desire in our hearts to know that the future of those dear to us shall be prosperous, happy, etc. And frequently one of the bitterest pangs in the case of those dying, and leaving behind them helpless ones who have been depending on them, is the uncertainty which surrounds the future of those left. But the safe plan is so to follow Christ, and influence those dear to us to follow Him also, that everything can be restfully entrusted to Him.
3. The incident may teach also that there is a species of curiosity that cannot be praised, which may lead to ideas and opinions which, if cherished, may result in laxity and remissness even in the Christian life, and thus to turning away from, in place of following, the Redeemer.
III. The meaning of our Lord’s answer explained.—
1. The Lord had said “if I will that he tarry,” etc., thus bidding Peter remember that He is supreme; that He acts “according to His will,” etc. (Daniel 4:35); that the lives of men are controlled and determined according to His wisdom and power. And thus those who are His, who are in unison with His divine purposes, know that eternal wisdom, love, and power are watching over them all through life to its end. His purposes, so far as His people are concerned, will issue in good.
2. No need then curiously to inquire or take thought for the morrow in regard to ourselves or our brethren in Him. As He wills we live, when He wills we depart; and whether that time be long or short, whether the issue be through cloud or through sunshine, it must be well. If, then, John should tarry till Christ came, should not go hence by a martyr’s death like Peter, of what consequence was it? In this he could follow Christ as well as Peter, who was to go hence by a rougher way.
3. But this saying of our Lord resulted in a misunderstanding among the brethren in the apostolic Church. It was commonly reported that John “should not die.” This misunderstanding arose from an erroneous interpretation of the words, “till I come.”
(1) Christ comes to His own at death (John 14:3);
(2) He came to His disciples spiritually, according to His promise (John 14:22-23, etc.; Matthew 16:28);
(3) He was to come in judgment on Jerusalem (Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:25-28);
(4) and, finally, He is coming to judge the quick and the dead.
4. Now, those who erroneously interpreted our Lord’s words thought these referred to the coming of Christ in final judgment, and therefore they conceived that the apostle would not die (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Here lay their error. They forgot that the last two comings mentioned are so connected that they are practically one. These two events are the first and last link of a chain of Christ’s comings in judgment. They are closely connected by St. Matthew (Matthew 24:29-30; Matthew 24:36; Matthew 24:42); and St. John in Revelation iterates and reiterates the Lord’s message to His Church: “I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:7, etc.).
5. John thus did remain till Christ came to him in these ways: Jerusalem fell; he still lived whilst many—most of his fellow-apostles had passed away. “On Patmos’ lonely isle” he saw in vision the Lord in glory; and still he tarried, commissioned to go and proclaim the Lord’s purposes with His Church. He saw the kingdom of God coming with power, spreading like the tree growing from the tiny mustard seed; and then His Lord came to take him to Himself (John 14:3), to await that hour when, in the body, His saints shall be like Him, for they shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
John 21:22. “Follow thou Me.”—To those who follow the Redeemer there is given a fourfold joy.
I. The joy of forgiveness.—The prisoner condemned to suffer, set at liberty; the sick man whose life was despaired of, restored to health; the debtor who felt the load intolerable, set free by another’s bounty—these are but inadequate types of the joy of deliverance from the load and burden, the misery and fear, of unforgiven sin, and a fearful looking for of judgment. Joy fills the heart and irradiates the life. “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing” (Psalms 126:2).
II. The joy of free, unfettered obedience and service.—Sin has no more dominion over those who are Christ’s. Its bondage has been broken, and there is no longer the galling and vain attempt in their lives to keep the commandments as a means to gain the divine favour, but the willing obedience of sons of the heavenly Father, who, following their divine pattern, find it indeed to be their meat to do that Father’s will and finish His work; so that neither trial nor difficulty in the doing of it will detract from their joy. Like St. Paul, they can each say, “Yea, if I be offered (poured out) upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17).
III. The joy of assured hope.—What are the hopes of men to whom no revelation of divine love and grace hath come? Even to the best and noblest of the past, who amid the darkness have struggled toward the light, hope was but a dim and feeble ray, uncertain oft and oft extinguished; whilst the logical result of modern materialistic systems is the entire obliteration of hope for man beyond the brief and limited spheres of earth and time. All the comfort materialism can give us is “to meet with brave hearts” (Huxley) the awful unknown. But in following the Redeemer we are “begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance … that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:3-4). The present and future here blessed by His presence are radiant with hope, and from the eternal glory it scintillates and glows on the path of the believer here. A life without hope is a life of perpetual captivity. A life with hope is like the life of noble, generous youth, pressing eagerly forward into the future. And in following the Redeemer we lay hold of this element of perennial strength and vigour, a mark and characteristic of true pilgrims Zionward:—
“The beacon of life’s dreary sea,
The star of immortality.”
IV. The joy of victory.—In following Christ we gain the victory over self. Man’s will and desire were formed not to be centred in himself, but in God. And so long as our will is opposed to God’s there can be no true joy in life. But as Christ, the perfect example in all things, acquiesced in the Father’s will, so Christ’s disciples say, Not my will, but Thine, be done. “In His will is our peace” (Dante). Victory over sin. There is no happiness in the slavery of sin, and therefore going after Christ brings freedom and joy. Last, victory over the fear of death and the hereafter. Christ’s followers behold the light of eternity shining through the Saviour’s empty tomb; and as their Redeemer-Shepherd is their judge, they look to meet Him with joy and not with grief. Theirs is the joy of final victory, even though the passage to it be through suffering, as Christ’s was.
“Sure the last end
Of the good man is peace! How calm his exit!
Night dews fell not more gently on the ground,
Nor weary, worn-out winds expire so soft.”
John 21:25. The truth of the record.—
I. The impossibility of fully pourtraying Christ’s life.—This verse refers evidently to the entire life of the Saviour from His coming into the world to His leaving it. St. John is closing his narrative of that life; and the historian, as if with a sigh, tells us that he has only given a faint sketch or outline of that wonderful life, so filled, in all its days and nights, with acts of wondrous power and gracious mercy, and words of wisdom and of kindness. Is it strange that the historian should say this? Without for one moment doubting that he was heaven-prompted to give the world that plain, honest narrative of facts and words (words in his case especially) which presents to us our Saviour so beautifully, as described by the disciple whom He loved, cannot we imagine that disciple saying thus, as though to himself, that, Oh! there were thousands of things done and said by his Lord beyond those which he had been writing down? And as these things and sayings came crowding in on the loving memory of John, is it strange that he should thus exclaim that all the books in the world would not suffice to describe, in its full beauty and power and holiness, that wondrous life?
II. The writer’s hyperbole prophetic.—One would almost think the Evangelist’s words were prophetic. Think what a proportion of the literature, which for ages past has been pouring from the press for the world’s reading, grows out of, bears upon, that life and that teaching of which John (when he said this) had given the world a bare sketch or outline! And how such literature keeps pouring into the world still! It does look, indeed, in the present day, as if the world could not contain the books.
1. St. John had so been with Jesus (perhaps also had of late held such communion with his risen Lord) that when he thought of Him he saw something far more distinct and definite and real than even the beautifully graphic picture he had been enabled to set before the world.
2. Let us know the living Saviour, our elder brother, the friend that sticketh closer than a brother—know Him in prayer, in holy thought, in daily life—and we shall be like John. We shall have a more vivid conception of what our Saviour is—how wise, how kind, how powerful to take care of us here and anywhere, now and for ever—a more real conception of Him than that which we can draw from even that grand, striking, wondrously impressive fourfold picture which the word of God holds out to us. Though bless God for that “four-ply” sketch! And may the Holy Spirit engrave it deeper and clearer, and in more loving lines and tones, on all our hearts, as we live! Amen.—Rev. Thomas Hardy.
John 21:17. Our Lord’s omniscience.—Indeed, our Lord’s knowledge embraced two districts, each of which really lies open only to the eye of the Most High. We will not dwell on His knowledge of the unsuspected future, a knowledge inherent in Him, as it was imparted to those prophets in whom His Spirit had dwelt. We will not insist on His knowledge of a strictly contingent futurity, such as is involved in His positive assertion that Tyre and Sidon would have repented of their sins, if they had enjoyed the opportunities of Chorazin and Bethsaida; although such knowledge as this, considering the vast survey of motives and circumstances which it implies, must be strictly proper to God alone. But He knew the secret heart of man, and He knew the hidden thought and purpose of the most high God. Such a “discerner” was He “of the thoughts and intents” of human hearts, so truly did His Apocalyptic title, the “Searcher of the reins and hearts,” belong to Him in the days of His historical manifestation, that “He needed not that any should testify,” etc. (John 2:25). This was not a result of His taking careful note of peculiarities of action and character manifested to the eye by those around Him, but of His “perceiving in His Spirit” and “knowing in Himself” the unuttered reasonings and volitions which were taking shape, moment by moment, within the secret souls of men, just as clearly as He saw physical facts not ordinarily appreciated except by sensuous perception. This was the conviction of His apostles. “We are sure,” they said, “that Thou knowest all things” (John 16:30). “Lord, Thou knowest,” etc., cries St. Peter (John 21:17). Yet more, in the eternal Father Jesus encounters no impenetrable mysteries; for Jesus no clouds and darkness are round about Him, nor is His way in the sea, nor His path in the deep waters, nor His footsteps unknown. On the contrary, our Lord reciprocates the Father’s knowledge of Himself by an equivalent knowledge of the Father. “As the Father,” etc. (John 10:15); “No man knoweth,” etc. (Luke 10:22). Even if our Lord should be speaking, in this passage, primarily at least, of His divine omniscience, He is also plainly speaking of a knowledge infused into and possessed by His human soul, and thus His words supply the true foil to His statement respecting the day of judgment. If that statement be construed literally, it manifestly describes, not the normal condition of His human intelligence, but an exceptional restriction. For the gospel history implies that the knowledge infused into the human soul of Jesus was ordinarily and practically equivalent to omniscience. “We may conjecture,” says Hooker, “how the powers of that soul are illuminated, which, being so inward unto God, cannot choose but be privy unto all things which God worketh, and must therefore of necessity be endued with knowledge so far forth universal, though not with infinite knowledge peculiar to Deity itself.” St. Paul’s assertion that “in Christ are hidden,” etc. (Colossians 2:3), may practically be understood of Christ’s earthly life, no less than of His life of glory. If then His human intellect, flooded as it was by the infusion of boundless light, streaming from His Deity, was denied, at a particular time, knowledge of the date of a particular future event, this may well be compared with that deprivation of the consolations of Deity, to which His human affections and will were exposed when He hung dying on the cross. If “the divine wisdom,” as Bishop Bull has said, “impressed its effects upon the human soul of Christ pro temporum ratione, in the degree required by particular occasions or emergencies,” this would be only one application of the principle recognised by St. Irenæus and Theodoret, and rendered familiar to many of us in the language of Hooker. “As the parts, degrees, and offices of that mystical administration did require, which He voluntarily undertook, the beams of Deity did in operation always accordingly restrain or enlarge themselves.” We may not attempt rashly to specify the exact motive which may have determined our Lord to deny to His human soul at one particular date the point of knowledge here in question; although we may presume generally that it was a part of that condescending love which led Him to become “in all things like unto His brethren.’ That He was ever completely ignorant of aught else, or that He was ignorant on this point at any other time, are inferences for which we have no warrant, and which we make at our peril.—H. P. Liddon.
John 21:24-25. The meaning of the epilogue.—Much ingenuity has been expended in the efforts to explain this appendix or epilogue to the Gospel. The opinion held generally at present among scholars is that the chapter as a whole is an appendix added by the apostle some time after the Gospel was published, and that John 21:24-25 form an addition by a later hand, or that John 21:25 at least was thus added. The style in which the chapter is written is John’s style. Any seeming peculiarities may be accounted for on the rational supposition that much of John’s Gospel was written long before it was given forth to the world (see Introd.). It seems better on the whole to conclude with Lange (and others) that chap. 21 is designed as an epilogue, and forms at the close of the Gospel the counterpart of the prologue at the beginning; that it represents “the post-historical operations of Christ in the world, in general, as an administration exercised by the Lord in heaven over the Church on earth, with a view to conduct her forward to the kingdom of glory in the world above” (Lange, Life of Christ). The incidents in the chapter become therefore symbolical of the course of the Church’s history, and of our Lord’s rule and dealings with His people during the course of that history. No doubt also the apostle, in writing the chapter, had in view the correction of the erroneous impression as to the meaning of our Lord’s words concerning him. There is no cogent reason also why John 21:24-25 should be ascribed to other hands than the writer of the Gospel. Surely John 21:23 would have been a most abrupt and unsuitable close of such a momentous record; and most unlike John, for the reference in that verse is mostly to himself. And whilst in John 20:30-31 the purpose of the Gospel is fully stated, here the conclusion of the whole naturally comes. Nor is Chrysostom’s explanation of οἴδαμεν, We know, of John 21:24 to be summarily rejected. It might well be written οἶδα μέν, I indeed know, in the sense of I testify, I asseverate or affirm. Chrysostom and Theophylact were not such bunglers or imperfect Greek scholars as to suggest an impossibility (but see Godet in loc.). The words of John 21:24 distinctly connect it with John 21:23, and are indeed most explicit. “This is the disciple who testifies” (present, ὁ μαρτυρῶν), “and who wrote” (past, γράψας); and in the “I know” (or, it οἴδαμεν be read, “I and those associated with me in the Church”) he solemnly affirms the truth of his testimony. The hyperbolic expression in John 21:25, which seems to many incompatible with the idea of the Johannine authorship of the verse, may not seem so much out of place when the life of Jesus is viewed in the light of the Prologue. The meaning of these verses may therefore be unfolded as follows:—
John 21:24-25. John’s final testimony to the truth of what he had written.—
I. The apostle affirms the truth of his Gospel.—
1. When he wrote he was still in the flesh, prepared to witness by his life or death to the truth of what he had seen and heard, which he thus gave to the world.
2. His Gospel is therefore to be included in that word of truth which is able to make men wise unto salvation, etc. (2 Timothy 3:15).
II. What is recorded is not a complete life of the Saviour, but is sufficient for the purpose described (John 20:30-31).—
1. The Gospel is but a fragmentary exhibition of the truth concerning Christ, but it is sufficient for its purpose.
2. Had every word of Jesus and every fact of His public ministry been recorded, the record would not have come within limits which would make it useful for all men, and easily disseminated throughout the world.
3. Nor would it have been possible to set forth in a limited space the fulness of Christ, which is infinite. What book, what world of books, could contain it?
4. Even on what has been recorded the mass of literature is enormous. This limitation is therefore a proof of divine wisdom.
John 21:15. Feeding the lambs of the flock.—“Lovest thou Me more than these love Me?” It is an appeal to the oldest instinct of Peter’s nature, his desire to be first. The root of his whole being had been ambition. Even in his approach to his Lord there had been a consciousness of self, a thirst for superiority, a desire that his coming should be singled out from the approaches of all other men. “Bid me that I come to Thee on the waters”—that had been the motto of his life. What was he that he should be bidden more than John or James or Nathanael? But the instinct for superiority was in the man, and he could not help it. And now it is to this instinct that our Lord appeals, “Lovest thou Me more than these love Me?” Is there the old wish to be first? But observe the new revelation which the Lord makes to the old instinct, “Feed My lambs.” It is as if He said: Peter, thou bast been pursuing a wrong road to greatness; he that is least shall be greatest of all. Wouldst thou be spiritually the most conspicuous of the band? Then must thou be the least proud, the most self-forgetting. Thou must come down to feed the very lambs of the flock. Thou must descend into the lowliest valleys of the world. Thou must lose through the very power of thy love all sense of thine own power. Thou must forget thine interest in the interest of the lives beneath thee, thou must be oblivious of thy wants in feeling the hunger and the thirst of other souls, thou must take no thought for thyself through the pressure of one great thought—the burden of humanity, the bearing of My cross. O Thou that hast emptied Thyself of Thy glory, and by Thy humiliation hast conquered the world, help me to be great like Thee in Thee. Give me Thine own spirit of self-forgetfulness, that I may be inspired with the power of love. Teach me to lose self-will, that I may be strengthened by a higher will. Let my life be buried in the love of Thee, hid in the sense of Thy presence, absorbed and lost and overshadowed in Thine all-excelling glory. Then in Thy cross shall I reach Thy crown, and Calvary shall become my Olivet. My enthusiasm of self-forgetfulness shall be the greatness of my power, my loss shall be my gain, my death shall be the strength of my life. When I feel that I have nothing I shall indeed possess all things; when I am least conscious of myself I shall be Strongest of all. Teach me to feed Thy lambs.—Dr. Geo. Matheson.
John 21:22-23. Every man shall bear his own burden.—It is worth observing that the Evangelist says, “Then Peter, turning about, seeth,” etc. (John 21:20). Peter had to turn about in order to see John—had he simply followed Christ as he had been bidden, he would have seen nothing of John; and thus it is with us—we turn about when we look after our neighbours, we go straight forward when we look only to Christ. Remember, then, that “Every man shall bear his own burden.” Remember, that every man standeth or falleth to his own master. Exercise charity rather than curiosity—the charity which hopeth all things, rather than the curiosity which would pry into all things. Say not with Peter, “Lord, what shall this man do?” but with Paul, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?” You are quite safe in waiting till you are in heaven to know whether others shall be there too; but you may lose the path yourselves by “turning about” to see whether others are following or not. “If I will that he tarry,” etc. (John 21:23). If I will that he have fewer, or that he have heavier trials, what is that to thee? If I will that he linger long upon earth, or that he be speedily removed, what is that to thee? If I assign him extraordinary duties, or confer upon him extraordinary privileges, what is that to thee? “Follow thou Me.” I have given thee enough to do, and enough to bear: it diminishes not thy mercies that another has greater; it adds not to thy trouble that another has less; it would not make thy calling and election more sure to read another’s name in the Lamb’s Book of Life; neither would it invalidate thine own hope of glory to be told that another came short. “Follow thou Me.” O blessed Lord, give us Thy grace to enable us to obey Thy command! Teach us to look within, to busy ourselves with ourselves, to be severe on ourselves, gentle and charitable to others, to follow Thee too steadfastly and too intently to have time to turn about, or inclination for unprofitable questions as to our brethren. “Follow thou Me”—and whither now goeth our Lord? Indeed when He spoke to Peter He was about to pass to the right hand of God; but He had just before told this disciple that he must have fellowship with Him in His sufferings. Oh! let this truth be remembered by all: we must follow Thee, O Lord, to Thy cross, if ever we would follow Thee, O Lord, to Thy crown.—Henry Melvill.
John 21:23-24. St. John’s fitness as a witness to Christ.—After eating together, and after the gracious dealing with Peter that ensued, Jesus rises, and begins to walk away from the spot, saying to Peter, “Follow Me,” who does so. John also follows, unbidden and silently, as he had done once before when the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Peter, turning round and seeing him, asks, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” To whom the Lord replies, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.” His future lies wholly in My will. The saying went abroad among the disciples that John was not to die; and a legend arose afterwards that he only slumbered, breathing in his grave, and that the turf was tremulous above him. “Yet Jesus said not He shall not die, but If 1 will that he tarry till I come.” This is the last glimpse we have of John’s companionship with Jesus on to the ascension into heaven, when He sat on the right hand of God. On the banks of the Jordan, in the beginning, he followed Jesus unbidden, and abode with Him that day; on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, after the resurrection, he begins to follow, again unbidden, in a course that runs down through eternity, neither death nor life able to separate him from his Lord and Saviour. It is … apparent that not only had John special qualifications both by nature and by grace for being a witness of the Lord’s life, but special opportunities of observation and intimate knowledge were afforded him; special disclosures of the Lord’s glory were opened up to him; and none of the twelve penetrated more deeply into the revelation, or treasured it up more faithfully and lovingly in his heart. “We beheld His glory,” he says in the beginning of his Gospel; and in his first Epistle he reports how he had heard, and seen with his eyes, and looked upon, and his hands handled, the manifested Word of Life. In view of what had been disclosed to him, he is overwhelmed by the impossibility of duly and worthily setting it forth, and thinks of all he has told in his Gospel as the merest nothing compared with what there was to tell. Looking upon his little slender manuscript, which is to us so profound and wonderful, he exclaims, I have shown you a part of His way; but the world itself could not contain the books that might be written, rehearsing the superb story. It is testimony to the fulness of knowledge, of insight, of understanding, of memory, of sacred joy, which he possessed; and to the impossibility of telling all he knew.—Dr. J. Culross, “John whom Jesus Loved.”
John 21:25. The Bible suited to men of all classes and circumstances.—The great practical lesson which we desire to draw from this subject is one which is applicable to every class of hearers. Whatever your position in life, whatever your occupation, we have to say to you all, we have to ask you all to bear away with you the truth that there is enough in the Bible for those who have most time at their command, and not too much for those who have least time at their command. There may be those of you whom God has so placed that they are not compelled to wear away their days and nights in providing means of subsistence for themselves and their families, but who are blessed with such a measure of sufficiency that they have leisure at their disposal for study and inquiry. And what is the lesson which our subject reads to such as these? Why, we press on these men, who are comparatively men of leisure, the duty of searching the Scriptures; of giving themselves, assiduously and prayerfully, to the searching of Scripture, assuring them that the more they explore, the more will the mine deepen; and thus will study be recompensed, not only by present discoveries, but by the certainty that there are yet greater to be made. But there are others amongst you who are quite differently circumstanced, who have hardly any time they can call their own; who must “rise early, and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness.” And what do we say to these? What lesson do we draw for these from our subject? Exactly what we said—exactly what we drew in the case of men who had much leisure at their disposal. We press alike upon those who are deeply engaged in business the duty of searching the Scriptures. We will take no apology from the extent of your occupations. Commentators may swell the Bible, but the Bible itself is but a small book; and if only a single chapter were read morning and evening, read with hearty, humble prayer, there would be rapidly acquired a great knowledge of Scripture; and men of business, if not profound theologians, would be well versed in the revelation made by God of Himself. It is a mercy for you that the Bible is not larger. You are thus deprived of a most specious excuse by which you might have striven to justify ignorance. If the divine writings, like the writing of divines, filled shelf upon shelf, and room upon room, we should have you asking the use of recommending the records of salvation to men who had but a few minutes every day which they could employ upon reading. But the minutes will suffice. Revelation has been gathered within so manageable a compass that no press of necessary occupation can incapacitate for gaining acquaintance with its statements. Revelation might have been so enlarged that its extent might perhaps have been pleaded at the judgment in extenuation of neglect, and if not at the judgment, it might certainly have been used during life for quieting conscience when it pleaded the great duty of searching the Scriptures. But as it is, the Bible being after all but a small book—small, as we have endeavoured to show you, not from lack of material for making it larger, but because the divine Author saw that, if larger, it would be too large for human comprehension,—this, we say, being the size of the Bible, why, if you refuse to acquaint yourselves with its contents, which are able to “make you wise unto salvation,” it will rise hereafter, like a cloud from the sea before the prophet’s servant, no larger in size than a man’s hand, the very diminutiveness ominous of ruin; and presently the whole firmament of the future shall be overcast with blackness; the rain shall descend, the floods shall come, and yourselves be borne away by the torrent of indignation. Once more, then, we say, “Search the Scriptures.” Search them with prayer, and you shall certainly search them with profit.—Henry Melvill.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany