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PART III. (A.)
CHAPTERS 5, 6
I. CHRIST MANIFESTS HIMSELF AS LIGHT AND LIFE IN THE CONFLICT BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS
1. Jesus Christ the Word as the source of life.—
(1) He heals the man physically impotent, and thus again shows Himself to be Master in the region of natural life (John 5:1-9);
(2) He has also power, however, to give a higher, spiritual life (John 5:14);
(3) He is life because He is one with the Father (John 5:17-19);
(4) He therefore does the Father’s works, quickening to life whom He will (John 5:20-21);
(5) the Father has committed all judgment, and the raising up of men from death to judgment, into the hands of the Son (John 5:22-30).
2. The witness to these claims.—
(1) The witness of the Father (John 5:30-32; John 5:37-38);
(2) the witness of the Baptist (John 5:33-35);
(3) the witness of Christ’s works (John 5:36);
(4) the witness of the Scriptures (John 5:39; John 5:45-47).
Second Year of our Lord’s Ministry
Chap. 5—Probable position in Synoptic narrative: follows Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39.
Time.—Circa Ve-Adar (February–March), A.U.C. 782, A.D. 29.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
“Up to the present time our Lord has offered Himself to typical representatives of the whole Jewish race at Jerusalem, in Judæa, in Samaria, and in Galilee, in such a way as to satisfy the elements of true faith. Now the conflict begins which issues in the Passion. Step by step faith and unbelief are called out in a parallel development. The works and words of Christ become a power for the revelation of men’s thoughts. The main scene of this saddest of all conceivable tragedies is Jerusalem. The crises of its development are the national festivals. And the whole controversy is gathered round three miracles” (Westcott).
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
“Up to the present time our Lord has offered Himself to typical representatives of the whole Jewish race at Jerusalem, in Judæa, in Samaria, and in Galilee, in such a way as to satisfy the elements of true faith. Now the conflict begins which issues in the Passion. Step by step faith and unbelief are called out in a parallel development. The works and words of Christ become a power for the revelation of men’s thoughts. The main scene of this saddest of all conceivable tragedies is Jerusalem. The crises of its development are the national festivals. And the whole controversy is gathered round three miracles” (Westcott).
THE HEALING OF THE IMPOTENT MAN AT BETHESDA
John 5:1. After these things.—μετὰ ταῦτα indicates perhaps a less immediate succession of events than μετὰ τοῦτο, after this (vide John 2:12, etc.). A feast.—This has been identified with all the feasts of the Jewish year in turn. Many of the Fathers held that it was Pentecost; others, e.g. Irenœus, Eusebius, etc., considered that the passover is meant;—Chrysostom, Calrix, Bengel, etc., Pentecost. But in view of the notes of time indicated in John 4:35, etc. (December–January = Tebeth), and John 6:4 (April—Nisan), the feast of Purim, which was observed in the month of March (Adar), would seem to be the feast referred to. Our Lord’s absence from Jerusalem at the succeeding passover would be accounted for by the hostility of the Jews (John 5:16-18; John 7:1).
John 5:2. There is, etc.—This phrase would seem to imply that this narrative was written before the destruction of Jerusalem (see Introduction). At the sheep (gate) (ἐπὶ τῇ προβατικῇ).—The word “gate” seems to be the only suitable name to place after this adjective (see Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:32; Nehemiah 12:39). Bethesda (בִּית חֶסְדָּא).—The house of mercy. This was probably the designation of the building under which the sick and diseased folk sheltered themselves whilst waiting at the healing spring. The Birket-Israil, near St. Stephen’s Gate in modern Jerusalem—the gate leading from the Haram Area to the Kidron—is the traditional site. But great weight is to be placed on the evidence that identifies the Pool of Siloam with this healing spring. It is a mineral spring, with an intermittent flow of water at irregular periods (see Alford’s Greek Testament, in loco, and note on chap. John 5:2). “Dr. Guthe’s excavations have laid bare the remains of four such pools in the neighbourhood of that of Siloam” (Sayce, Fresh Light from Ancient Monuments, p. 105).
John 5:3. In these lay a great multitude, etc.—This pool was in fact an ancient spa. A modern instance is to be found in the hot springs near Tiberias, on the shores of the lake of Galilee. Waiting for, etc.—This clause and John 5:4 are omitted in all the great MSS. but A. They seem to have been a gloss, finally incorporated in later MSS. But on John 5:4 see Revelation 16:4-5.
John 5:5. Thirty and eight years.—This man has been regarded as a type of Israel in the wilderness compelled to wander nearly forty years on account of their unbelief, and thus of the unbelieving Jews of Christ’s time.
John 5:6. Jesus saw him lying there, etc., and reading with His searching glance this man’s history (John 2:25), the long years of helplessness, and the sinful cause of it all, was moved with compassion as He saw this victim of sin lying before Him helpless and desponding. His compassion led Him to the spontaneous offer of help. “Wilt thou be made whole?” were the words which fell on this lonely and helpless sufferer’s ear.
John 5:7. Our Lord’s words seem hardly to have quickened hope. But he explained why it was that he had no hope of cure. When the water has been troubled.—Some special advantage was apparently popularly connected with this phenomenon.
John 5:8. Jesus said, etc.—It was a word of power. κράββατόν σου.—Mattress, or probably something like the kind of thick quilt, لحاف (Lihòâf), used now by many of the poorer natives of Palestine as a “bed.”
John 5:9. The effect of Christ’s words was immediate. It was the Sabbath.—This statement introduces and explains what follows.
John 5:10. It is not lawful, etc.—The objectors would found on such a passage as Jeremiah 17:21.
John 5:11. He that made me whole, etc.—The restored man felt that this was a sufficient vindication of his action. He who had shown His divine power in this miracle was not one who would contravene the divine law.
John 5:12. Thy bed (τὸν κράββατόν σου).—Omitted by א, B, C, L.
John 5:13. A multitude, etc.—No doubt our Lord did not desire to attract attention; and the presence of the multitude is mentioned to show how our Lord was able to withdraw quietly and at once, so that “he that was healed” even lost sight of Him.
John 5:15. The man departed, etc.—There is no indication in the narrative that there was any malice in the man’s heart in making this communication to the Jews. What reason had he to hide the truth? A great and miraculous cure had been effected in his case: why should he not make known his benefactor, who would be able to clear up all difficulties?
John 5:17. My Father worketh hitherto (ἕως ἄρτι, until now).—The working of God knows no cessation (Psalms 121:0.).
John 5:18. Because He not only had broken, etc.—Or, more accurately, He was destroying or dissolving the Sabbath. He was, however, only freeing it from the human restrictions which changed in part its purpose and effect.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 5:1-18
John 5:1-9. Bethesda, a witness of divine compassion, grace, and power.—In this narrative Jesus is again in Jerusalem when a great feast of the Jews, probably Purim, is in progress. The feast of Purim was one during which great festivity was kept up, gifts were distributed to the poor, etc. This fact might account for the number of sick, blind, halt, etc., then congregated at Bethesda—just as during the Easter festival at the present day Jerusalem is crowded with lame, etc., beggars from all quarters of the country. The spring by which these people lay was noted for the curative power of its waters, and pious hands had erected a covered portico to protect those who waited for a periodical disturbance of the waters, which indicated the presence of some healing element. The Saviour, ever compassionate and gracious, seeking to save men and give them His best gifts, sought out this sorrowful crowd. And seeing one of that crowd most miserable physically, but perhaps more truly penitent and receptive than all the rest, He showed toward him—
I. His divine compassion.—
1. There was one who was a sad epitome of the race—sick and impotent in body, the result of soul-sickness, of moral disease (John 5:14).
2. This poor man was utterly helpless, unable to do more than crawl to this place of hope. For thirty-eight years he had been in this miserable condition. How long he had lain at Bethesda does not appear; but it had been long enough to depress him on account of that “hope deferred which makes the heart sick.” Hope was well-nigh extinguished when the Redeemer appeared to him.
3. Jesus, the Son of the All-merciful, could not but be moved in view of this epitome of human wretchedness, of helpless, despairing, miserable humanity. Thus we are prepared for the display of—
II. His divine grace and goodness.—
1. As Jesus looked on this poor, forsaken, despairing being, He sought first to awaken in that hopeless breast a desire for healing and an impulse to seek to attain it. Therefore he said, “Wilt thou be made whole?”
2. The answer serves to reveal the poor man’s state of mind. He had fallen into a dumb and numbed state of resignation. One fancies that in his heart was heard in a whisper the modern Oriental’s Kismet: “It is fate.”
3. It was doubly sad that during this joyous festival, when gifts were lavished abroad, he sat there, friendless and alone, none offering him a helping hand.
4. But a better Friend was near him now than all earthly friends; and as the Saviour’s question fell on his ear, it must have been like a ray of heaven’s own light coming in on the dull and sombre sky of the man’s existence, and bidding hope spring up in his heart.
5. But our Saviour’s gracious compassion did not end—it never does end—with the mere awakening of hope. It is active and beneficent, and therefore His gracious question is followed by—
III. His gracious word of power.—
1. “Wilt thou be made whole?” Jesus had said. And ere the sick man’s almost querulous statement of his sad position had well ended the word of power went forth: “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”
2. It was a divine voice that spoke, and its speech was with divine authority. For thirty-eight years human skill, and latterly what at Bethesda seemed (popularly) to possess supernatural efficacy, had failed to help this miserable being. But here in a moment “the man was made whole.” All who reflected might see that this was the power of God, and that Jesus only more fully explained this when He said, “My Father worketh,” etc. (John 5:17). And thus to all who were not spiritually blinded the divine mercy and power were unmistakably displayed.
John 5:5-14. Help to the wretched.—A sentimental humanitarianism is one of the features of our day. External cures are applied to inward ills. As it has been well said, “men try to dam up the brook, but still leave the fountain-head untouched.” They seek to heal the wound superficially, whilst the deep-seated cause of all the pain and trouble is left unhealed. The outward causes of misery and wretchedness are pointed to, and endeavours are made to remove and alleviate them. But our age seems to have lost sight of the great fact of indwelling sin—that it is this that is at the base of all those evils, and that the removal of this is the true summum bonum for the race. Free men from the power of sin, and bring them into conformity to the mind and will of God, and the result will be a new world. Could this be effected universally, the earth would become a province of heaven. Where this result does take place, the individual life is new-created, and the individual heart becomes a temple of the Holy Ghost. It is thus that Christ goes to the roots of our misery and wretchedness. He alone can redeem humanity. His name proclaims Him a true Redeemer; for “He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
I. The misery that oppresses men.—
1. This impotent man was a most miserable object—a poor, wretched human being.
2. But his greatest misery was not his physical but his spiritual deadness. There was little aspiration after what was higher. His wretched state, perhaps caused by his sin, was more wretched from its apparent hopelessness and his want of spiritual comfort.
3. His state represents men spiritually by nature. They are impotent—they cannot of themselves attain to a new life. What they desire is the material, not the spiritual. And they have experienced the vanity of their own efforts, even when some vague desire after the higher life has come into their souls.
4. Like this man, they need to have the word of power spoken to them, ere they can arise and walk in spiritual freedom.
II. The awakening of hope.—
1. Pitying the man’s wretchedness, the Saviour sought to awaken faith and hope in the heart of the poor sufferer. And although hopelessness seems to have numbed the man’s spiritual sense, so that even his aspirations were dulled, yet we may believe that some ray of hope and inarticulate longing of faith came to him when the Saviour spoke. His respectful address shows that he considered the Saviour’s word to be more than an idle inquiry.
2. This incident is a parable of man’s spiritual state. It is a matter of eternal rejoicing that the Redeemer pitied our wretchedness, and came to earth in order that He might put to us the all-important question, “Wilt thou be made whole?” and that He puts this question with full power to answer with His omnipotent affirmative, however feeble and faltering our reply may be. He sees our wretchedness, and comes with divine messages of love and peace to awaken hope and lead to salvation.
III. The word of power and the renewed life.—
1. The word of Jesus laid hold of even by this man weak in faith as in body brought about a marvellous cure. Thirty-and-eight years of waiting, latterly of despairing, and in a moment the man was renewed, though still the same. The “impotent” frame received new strength for labour in what remained of life.
2. And how closely parallel is this to the spiritual experience of many! During a long life, it may be, they have been “impotent” in the divine service. At one time there may have been a desire for spiritual strength; but because help was not sought in the right direction, or for some other cause, the blessing has never been attained. And at last perhaps a kind of despair has settled down on the soul as one after another passes away healed—a kind of hopeless apathy, and acquiescence in enduring what seems inevitable. But to such the word of power can bring renewal and spiritual strength, just as healing came at last to the poor helpless one at Bethesda. And then life becomes changed, and for its remaining years there is a joy and freedom in service, the only regret being that their healing did not come sooner, and for the wasted years.
3. Many have thought the man healed at Bethesda a kind of churl—thankless and ungrateful (John 5:15). But there does not seem any trace of this in the narrative. Despite Jewish prejudice, he obeyed the command of Christ (John 5:9). And although his faith may have been feeble and imperfect, yet it seems to have been real, for he was found by Jesus just where he should have been, worshipping and thanking God in the temple (John 5:14).
4. A true sign of the reality of spiritual healing, of genuine though feeble faith, is the giving of praise and thanks to God with heart and life, not only in the courts of His house, but in all the activities of life.
John 5:6. Jesus the life-giving Saviour.—The miracle wrought by Jesus at Bethesda is typical of His spiritual working, in saving men. By nature the sinful are like the impotent man: they are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Their life is a moral death. And it is only when Christ, the life of men, speaks the word of power that there comes spiritual activity where before there was impotence, spiritual health where before lurked spiritual disorder, spiritual life where before reigned spiritual death. But though men cannot of themselves rise from their low and lost spiritual state by nature, yet it does not seem that they are raised against their will. The willingness and desire for healing are apparently conditions of the gift. This is shown in our Lord’s question to the impotent man: Dost thou desire, hast thou the will, to be made whole?
I. Men are spiritually impotent by nature.—
1. It needs but a glance at history and experience to prove that it is so.
2. Have not men through the millennia since the Fall sat beside the pools of human systems of religion and philosophy, vainly awaiting spiritual healing? And did not each new system, usurping or superseding what had gone before, prove that these were vain for the purpose?
3. And does not individual experience confirm this? Do not most men sit down patiently by the fountain of the law at one time or other of their life-history, expecting to find spiritual health through obedience to its precepts, and in the end have to confess themselves spiritually powerless, unable to attain salvation, spiritual healing, in this way?
4. And do not many fall into the hopeless acquiescence in their condition into which the impotent man fell? Indeed, do not many become strangely unconscious of their inability to gain salvation, and, worse still, of their need of it? “They are dead,” etc. (Ephesians 2:1).
II. Jesus quickens the desire for spiritual life.—
1. The human will must be brought into harmony with the divine will in order to spiritual healing. There must be human receptivity ere the divine gift is accorded.
2. It was so with this poor man. The desire after healing, deadened and almost extinguished during those long years of waiting, must be quickened anew. Therefore Jesus said, “Wilt thou be made whole?” He will not force His gifts on unwilling men. He will not violate the conditions of the freedom of human nature.
3. So, too, He does not force salvation on unwilling men (John 5:40); and thus want of willingness to be saved rests at the basis of the doom of the unsaved.
4. Hence Jesus seeks to bring men to willing obedience; to see their need and to desire to have it satisfied. Then He directs them to Himself as the giver of spiritual healing and life.
5. Thus one of the chief duties of the ambassador of Christ is to seek, divinely aided, to awaken this desire for spiritual healing in men’s hearts; for this is what the Spirit is ever seeking to do (John 16:7-10; Genesis 6:3). A New Testament ministry should be an enlightening and quickening ministry through the grace of the Spirit.
III. Jesus gives spiritual life.—
1. He and He alone can give it. No human help can avail here. No profound and even spiritual philosophy; no system of education and training, however perfect; no laws, however good, can accomplish this. No sacrifices, however costly; no devotion, however unremitting; no asceticisms, however strict. But let those who desire spiritual life turn to Christ, and it is theirs. To the truth of this let the Christian ages testify: “We believe, and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:12-13).
2. This, indeed, is the chief end of Christ’s appearing. “Christ’s chief purpose was not so much to inaugurate new moral precepts or simply anew to enforce the old, which, indeed, He certainly did, as to bring into humanity a new divine and mighty element of life. For just as while on earth, in this and similar wondrous works, He gave new power to the body, so He grants new spiritual power to our souls, that we may walk in that new obedience which is well pleasing unto Him. So is the kingdom of nature in which the Lord works visibly ever the symbol of the kingdom of grace, in which the unseen (spiritual) powers which proceed from Him alone are bestowed” (Lisco).
3. It is therefore to Christ that His true servants must ever point sin-sick, weary, despairing souls. This duty must ever lie to the hand of ministers of the word; and, when it is neglected, what wonder is it to find many lying spiritually impotent by many a far-famed “pool” vainly waiting for spiritual healing!
John 5:10-16. Traditionalism versus truth.—The conflict between our Lord and the dominant Jewish party, which was inevitable, became from this point more acute. The hatred of the Jewish traditionalists began to wax more fierce and deadly; for our Lord’s action and teaching would, they saw, if permitted to continue and to influence the people, lead to the overturning of their authority. And they were well aware that in regard to no other part of the law would our Lord’s action be more prominent than in regard to the observance of the Sabbath. Its observance was so universal, so frequent, so hedged about with traditional enactments, that deviation from it would be more marked than in any other direction. Hence the prominence of this question in the conflict between our Lord and the Jews.
I. The blindness of traditionalism.—
1. Here a great miracle had been wrought. A man whose case had been apparently hopeless for thirty-eight long years was cured in a moment; and yet those Jews, because a seeming infringement of the traditional Sabbath law had been made, ignored the miracle, and cavilled at the supposed infringement.
2. But their strictures were founded on human misinterpretations of the law. There seemed some ground for their complaint in a passage like Jeremiah 17:21. But in Nehemiah 13:19 it is evident that such restrictions as to burden-bearing were not intended to apply to a case like this. The central idea of the Sabbath was rest from ordinary toil (Isaiah 58:13). Only the priests in their temple duties continued their work as on ordinary days, showing that the life of devotion and worship should be daily and unceasing. But rabbinic subtilising had built up round this ordinance a superstructure of minute observances that altogether neutralised the design of the law.
3. The Jews themselves permitted works of mercy and necessity to be performed on the Sabbath; and here they found fault with such a work. Had the man who was healed remained where he was not only would he have occupied the space where some now more needy sufferer could find accommodation, but he would not have been able to do what thankfulness and gratitude impelled him to do—to “pay his vows” to God in the temple.
4. Thus traditionalism, in seeking rigidly to maintain the letter, frequently transgresses the spirit of the law.
II. The command and example of Christ the true corrective to traditionalism.—
1. The man who was healed, against whom the Jews brought this serious charge, which rendered him liable to excommunication at least (John 9:34), had a convincing answer: “He that made me whole, the same said,” etc. (John 5:11). It was surely a divine power that was exerted to work that miracle, and therefore He who wrought it would not require aught to be done inconsistent with the divine law.
2. The power of tradition to warp men’s minds and shut them against the truth is seen in the question asked by the Jews. They say nothing about the miracle; the evidence it gave of the presence of heavenly power in Him who wrought it is thrust aside, and they ask, “What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk?”
3. The true corrective to traditionalism and formalism is still the same. We must ever get back from the tradition of men and the rudiments of the world to Christ and His inspired word.
III. The result of unenlightened traditionalism.—
1. Our Lord sought to complete the good work He had begun in this poor man; and finding him in the temple, thanking God for his recovery, thus evidencing his gratitude and faith, our Lord gently counselled him to sin no more, lest a worse evil than that which had afflicted him should come upon him. And when the man knew that it was Jesus who had healed him he went, as in duty bound, and told the Jews. Here was their opportunity of being enlightened.
2. But in place of endeavouring to come to a, right decision on the matter—without adopting even the calm and in part temporising position afterwards counselled by Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-40)—these formalists wilfully shut their eyes against the light and set themselves in opposition to eternal truth. Ignorance and prejudice combined led them to persecute Jesus because He was wont to do such things on the Sabbath, i.e. to teach the true nature of the Sabbath and to vindicate for His disciples that it is “lawful to do well on the Sabbath day.”
3. The spirit of unenlightened traditionalism is ever the same. The wrong it has wrought in the Christian Church is matter of history. Especially evident was its baleful influence before Reformation times. And it still appears in various forms among the Churches, forming the chief barrier to Christian unity and a powerful drag on Christian activity.
4. The only cure for it is to open our minds to the teaching of the Spirit, to the word and example of Christ; and thus living in His Spirit we shall “discern the things that are more excellent, being filled with the fruit of righteousness,” etc. (Philippians 1:10-11).
John 5:16. True Sabbath-keeping.—Here, as elsewhere in the Gospel history, Jesus gives us an example that we should follow in His steps. He did not abrogate the Sabbath law; He simply freed it from traditional incrustations and showed it in its true light, as intended for the good of man, and not to be a burdensome yoke (Mark 2:27), as Jewish rabbinical enactments made it. But in order that it may bring to men the blessing intended, a certain method of observance must be complied with.
I. We must desire to honour God in its observance.—
1. This must be done by first observing the primary meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. It is for rest—rest from ordinary and daily occupations. The necessity for such a stated period of rest from labour is arrived at by reason and experience, as well as revealed.
2. It is for worship. Our Lord gave us a clear and unmistakable example in reference to this (John 5:14 and Luke 4:16, etc.). Men have a spiritual being as well as a material frame, and it too must be appropriately nourished. And on this day in God’s worship this end is achieved in an especial fashion.
II. We must not neglect works of mercy and kindness to others.—
1. Works of mercy are not to be neglected on that day. Our Lord has here also shown us the way. But in reference to works of necessity we must ever enquire whether we seek to do them from merely self-interested motives, or from love to God, and for His honour.
2. Hence Sabbath desecration would be avoided were Christians everywhere to obey the law of love in reference to Sabbath-keeping—love to God, who ordained this day for man’s higher good; and love to our neighbour, which will not only urge us to come to his aid with works of mercy and kindness on the Sabbath, but will prevent us from unnecessarily disturbing his Sabbath rest.
John 5:16-18. Evil designs against Jesus.—Here for the first time in this Gospel history “the shadow of the cross” falls athwart our path. Hitherto our Lord had appeared to the Jews more in the light of a prophet with revolutionary ideas. But as in His activity He came into clearer opposition to many of their traditional customs and ideas, and especially now when He made a claim which, were it admitted, would entitle Him to make such changes as He had given an indication of in His activity, in their blind hatred they resolved to kill Him. This was, as we may say, “the beginning of the end.” The evil seed, sown by the wicked one, and permitted to lodge in the hearts of those Jews, began then to germinate and grow up, until at last those miserable men were filled with its bitter fruit.
I. The answer of Jesus to the Jews who accused Him.—
1. It was an answer that fully vindicated His claim to pronounce on the interpretation of the Sabbath law and all the other laws of Israel. And it especially vindicated His activity on this occasion, for doubtless the attack on the man who was healed was simply a cover for an attack on his Healer (Luke 13:14).
2. By His words, “My Father,” etc., He defines His position to the Sabbath law. He points out that in accusing Him they accuse the Father. God’s works of beneficence never cease; His care and love of man never intermit. If they did, where were the race of men? And thus Jesus, whose work on earth is to carry out the high purpose of divine love in the salvation of man, must continue His saving work uninterruptedly.
3. But in doing this He was violating no divine law. He was rather emphasising the merciful purpose of that law. Just as the Father does not break that Sabbath which followed His creative work by His loving and providential care of His people, so the Son does not break His Sabbath law for men in working works of beneficence and love and mercy.
4. From this we infer that Christ’s disciples and ministers best serve Him by following in this His blessed example. On His day we are to cease from ordinary occupations, but only that we may more fully realise and engage in His work, in seeking the redemption of our fellow-men.
II. Their interpretation of the claim of Jesus.—
1. They understood clearly what Jesus meant by the words He had spoken. Not only had He, according to their ideas, broken the Sabbath, but (which in their eyes was even worse) He had claimed equality with God as entitling Him to interpret and determine what was the law of the Sabbath. Not only by His teaching and example was He leading men to neglect the traditional observance of that law, but He had said in effect that God was His Father, which was blasphemy in their view.
2. This is one of the many and clear declarations, from which there is no escape, of our Lord’s divine Sonship set forth in this Gospel, which indeed makes it to many “a savour of death.” Many are offended at this claim just as those Jews were, and in their dogmatic enmity they seek to “slay” this witness to that great truth, and thus in reality to crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, etc. (Hebrews 6:6).
III. The inception of their evil designs.—
1. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, etc. In place of enquiring earnestly whether His zeal for God’s honour (John 2:14-18), and the divine authority He evidently possessed in the realm of nature, did not bear out His claim, and whether the witness of John to Him as the Messiah was not, therefore, heaven-inspired, their hostility became only more bitter and determined. What a sequel to a work of divine mercy and grace!
2. How can it be accounted for save on the supposition that most of those men had lost all true spirituality of mind and heart, whilst their religion had become a cold, dead formalism? Indeed it was so. Their idea of God and His law was utterly defective; they conceived of them as shorn of their highest attributes—judgment, mercy, truth, and love (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42); and Jesus had afterward to point them sorrowfully to the source of their evil thoughts of Him and their wicked designs against Him (John 8:41).
3. Much of enmity to the gospel as a divine revelation is excused on the plea so finely expressed by the poet: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” And more than a half truth is here expressed. Had these Jews simply come to Jesus “perplexed in faith,” seeking for more light, like Nicodemus or Thomas, they had gone away believing. But they confronted Christ with bitter enmity, because they elevated their ideas to the position of infallible truths. So many of the bitterest attacks on the gospel and divine revelation are the result, not of “perplexed faith,” but because men come to them not seeking light, rather indeed to judge them according to some standard already set up and fixed by their own reason or prejudice.
John 5:1-18. The immediateness of divine help.
I. The divine aid is often delayed.—
1. Whilst we see that His power and grace help others (John 5:1-4).
2. Thus we ourselves often remain in our misery (John 5:5).
II. But although it is delayed yet it will be given at the proper time.—And this help comes:
1. From Jesus, the true helper in time of need, who graciously draws near to us (John 5:6).
2. And who comes when no man has pity upon us (John 5:7).
3. And who comes unexpectedly and gloriously (John 5:8-9).
III. The help experienced, so full of power and grace, should animate us.—
1. To do what our Helper commands us regardless of the judgment of the world (John 5:10-13).
2. To bring our thankoffering to God (John 5:14). Jesus found him in the temple.
3. To begin a new consecrated life in the Lord (John 5:14): sin no more.
4. Not to bring down new punishment on ourselves through thoughtless conduct (John 5:14): “lest some worse thing befall thee.”
5. To magnify Jesus as our Helper, and to make Him known to others (John 5:15).—Translation from F. G. Lisco.
John 5:14-15. Causes of evil.—Concerning the cause of his disease, we are not left in any doubt; the Redeemer’s own lips have told us what it was: “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” So we see there was a strange connection between this bodily malady and moral evil, a connection that would have startled all around if it had been seen.
1. No doubt the men of science, versed in the healing art, would have found some cause for his malady connected with the constitution of his bodily frame; but the Redeemer went beyond all this. Thirty-eight years before, there had been some sin committed, possibly a small sin, in our eyes at least, of which the result had been thirty-eight years of suffering; and so the truth we gather from this is, there is a connection between physical and moral evil, more deep than we have been accustomed to believe in. Often when we have been disposed to refer the whole to external causes, there has been something of moral disorder in the character which makes that constitution exquisitely susceptible of suffering, and incapable of enjoyment. Thus we see that external suffering is often connected with moral evil; but we must carefully guard and modify this statement, for this is not universally the case.
2. We must remember this when we see cases of bodily suffering; we must consider that there is a great difference between the two senses in which the word “punishment” is used. It may be a penalty, it may be a chastisement; one meaning of punishment is, that the law exacts a penalty if it is broken—notice having been given that a certain amount of suffering would follow a certain course of action. All the laws of God, in the physical world, in the moral world, or in the political world, if broken, commonly entail a penalty. But there is another kind of law, written in the hearts of men, and given to the conscience, when the penalty is awarded as the result of moral transgression, and then it becomes a chastisement, and the language of Scripture then becomes the language of our hearts. It is the rod of God that hath done all this.
3. There is another thing that we must bear in mind, that there are certain evils which fall upon man, over which he can have no control. They come as the result of circumstances over which he has no power whatever.
4. The punishments of God are generally not arbitrary; each law, as it were, inflicts its own penalty. It does not execute one that belongs to another. So, if the drunkard lead a life of intoxication, the consequence will be a trembling hand and a nerveless frame; but if he be drowned in the seas when sailing in the storm, he is punished for having broken a natural law, not a moral law of God.
5. There is one thing more. It is perfectly possible that transgressions against the natural laws of God may, in the end, become trespasses against His moral law, and then the penalty becomes chastisement.—From F. W. Robertson, Brighton.
Wilt thou be made whole?—To judge from appearances merely, was there ever a question less necessary than that which the Son of God asked this impotent man? Here was one who had suffered for thirty-eight years, lying among other sick people beside the wonderful pool. He was waiting impatiently for the time when some one would assist him to go down into the pool at the moment when its waters were moved by the angel of the Lord. He yearned for the advent of some kind fellow-mortal to perform this good office for him. He was miserable, and complained that he had not yet been able to find such an one. In short, he desired nothing more ardently than to be healed. No other thought, no other care, so occupied him. Why then ask him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” “But,” says St. Augustine, “this was not without reason. This impotent man was a type of all sinners. And he himself as a sinner could not be healed ere he was converted, according to the method of the Saviour of men, who did not heal men’s bodies without at the same time sanctifying their souls.” Now, however desirous this man might be of healing, perhaps he was not equally desirous of his conversion. And it was for this reason that Jesus Christ, who knew that the one depended upon the other, and who would not accord the one without the other, asked him before everything else: “Wilt thou be made whole?”—Bourdaloue.
The value of the Sabbath.—On the Sabbath this act of healing had taken place. On being expostulated with regarding His acts of healing on the Sabbath our Lord had defended His works of love with man; counter-arguments—e.g., that a man is better than a beast which is led out to be watered on the Sabbath; and that surely on a day of blessing it is lawful to do and to receive good, because the Sabbath was made for man; and whether what David was permitted to do when he had need, what the priests alone could do on the Sabbath, might not be permitted to the Lord of the Sabbath. His kingly authority, however, He demonstrated by this very miracle, and the self-consciousness with which He declared Himself equal with the Father: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”—unconditionally, continually, whether on the Sabbath—and where were our rest without God’s work?—or in the night, for “the Keeper of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Among our people dominates the opposite error to that of the Jerusalem Jews. Not an over, but an under, estimation of the value of the Sabbath rest. Not an observance according to the letter of Sabbath sanctification, but a negligence of the heavenly gift; not an idolatrous reverence of church buildings, but a prevailing neglect and contempt of churches, especially in our large cities. And yet (a fact worthy of notice) it was just in the temple that Jesus found the man who had been healed, and thus had further dealing with him. And so it is still. It is in the house of God where the man who has recovered from sickness, after long absence pays his vows in the presence of God’s people—where he who has been preserved through God’s grace learns to prepare himself to meet evil days.—Dr. R. Kögel
 This refers especially to Germany, but is not without application to us.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 5:19. The Son can do nothing of Himself.—This statement refers back to and justifies that of John 5:17. He is still speaking of the eternal relation in which He stands to the Father, but also of that relationship as manifested in His activity as the Son Incarnate. Even when in the form of a servant He sees and knows the Father’s working as men cannot see and know it, and His actions are the works of the Father.
John 5:20. Loveth.—φιλεῖ expresses a feeling of tenderness and personal affection. Greater works.—These works lay already, as it were, within the ken of the Son. The wonderful works already done are but the prelude of the greater that will follow—not only the greater miracles which would cause the Jews to marvel (John 11:47), though not to believe, but the quickening of the dead and the strange work of judgment (Isaiah 28:16-22).
John 5:22. Judgment.—“Literally, the judgment which comes and will come, wholly, in all its parts, now in its first beginning and hereafter in its complete accomplishment” (Westcott).
John 5:24-29. In this section the relation of the divine Son to humanity is dealt with as the quickener of the dead and the judge of men.
John 5:24. Believeth Him.—πιστεύων τῷ πἑμψαντι. not εἰς. Believing God is simply accepting His word and message as true.
John 5:25. Now is.—The quickening of the spiritually dead is what is chiefly in view in this verse.
John 5:26. Life in Himself.—ἐν ἑαυτῷ is emphatic. As the Father is the self-existent One and the source of life, so is it with the Son. He also with the Father is a spring of self-sufficient life. “He generated such a Son who should have life in Himself, not as a participator in life, but one who should be as He Himself is—Life itself” (Augustine in Reynolds).
John 5:30. The Father and the Son do not act, so to speak, independently. Their action is ever in unison. So the judgments of the Son are in perfect accord with the Father’s will and thought.
John 5:33. Ye sent.—See John 1:19.
John 5:38. They had an idolatrous regard for the letter of the law; but the spiritual power of the word they did not know. Its searching and quickening power they had not experienced (Hebrews 4:12).
John 5:39. ἐρευνᾶτε.—Either indicative or imperative—“ye search” or “search.”
John 5:40. The freedom of man’s will and his consequent responsibility are here clearly asserted.
John 5:43. Should another come in his own name.—There were many who did so; and who, by flattering national vanity, and homologating the Jewish carnal expectations of a Messiah who should reign as a temporal king, led many after them. In all sixty-four false Christs have been enumerated, the most famous being Bar Cocheba. “The teacher who can utilise to the widest extent the fashionable worldliness, and can mingle the pungent human condiment with the princely food of the king’s banqueting-house, is he who at the present hour meets with the loudest response and the readiest reception” (Dr. Reynolds).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 5:19-47
John 5:19-23. The activity of the divine Son.—In these verses we again enter the region of unfathomable divine truth, already opened to us in the prologue, and into which we can enter but a little way. These verses give us a glimpse of the intimate union of God the Father and the Son, as it is revealed in the activity of the Son. “The action and honour of the Son are coincident with the action and honour of the Father” (Westcott). The impulse which moves them is the same. But as the Incarnate Son, who became obedient unto death for our sake, He does what He seeth the Father do; and the works which the Father gives Him these He finishes (John 5:36).
I. There is identity of activity on the part of the Father and the Son.—
1. This is seen to be the case from the beginning of things. He is identified with the Father in creation (John 1:3); and also in upholding the visible universe (Colossians 1:17).
2. Therefore in all the Father’s works of love and mercy He has been the constant participator. All through those ages darkened by sin and sorrow He has shared in all those exhibitions of divine goodness toward fallen humanity: so that His sun has shone and His rain has descended on the evil and the good—the just and the unjust.
3. Above all He has shared in that compassionate love which yearned over the ruined race; and in reply to the impulse of that love He said: “Lo, I come to do Thy will. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).
II. The Son’s work during His life on earth was therefore the Father’s work.—
1. The Jews had accused Him of contravening the Father’s will and law in healing the impotent man at Bethesda on the Sabbath, and bidding him take up his “bed” and walk.
2. Our Lord, in His vindication of His action, points out that He could not have acted otherwise. The Father is ever performing acts of beneficence—every morning His mercies are new; and the day of rest forms no exception. In healing the sick and relieving the wretched, therefore, the Son is but doing what the Father does.
3. The greatness of this miracle also proved that the Father must have been in purpose and action one with the Son. And this unity in work was further shown in the end for which the miracle was wrought. It was to quicken and strengthen faith, and thus deliver from sin’s guilt and power.
III. The future will testify to this unity in action as the past has done.—
1. As His word was powerful in times past to heal men, and above all to give them spiritual healing, so He is still powerful “to save unto the uttermost,” etc. (Hebrews 7:25). In His name still moral miracles are wrought among men, and will continue to be wrought till time shall end.
2. And then will be given yet more universal and striking proofs of that unanimity in thought and action which subsists between the Father and the Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. To the Son is given the power of resurrection life for those who hear His word and believe on His name.
4. And to Him also is delegated the throne of judgment (Matthew 25:31 et seq.) by the Father, that He may appear as the visible representative of the divine majesty and righteousness. And this is to the end that all men should honour the Son, etc.
John 5:19-29. Jesus is our Life.—In this Gospel Jesus declares that He is the Lord and that we are His creatures. He has given us life, and will grant it in all fulness. He is the express image of God in His being and working. We reflect His light. He is set over us as judge. Those who appeal to Him are acquitted; those who do not recognise His jurisdiction lose the process of eternity in all particulars. Those who do not desire that death, the king of terrors, should rule over them eternally must turn to Jesus. He has the keys of Hades and death (Revelation 1:18). Those who make their reckoning for the judgment-day on any other rule have no deliverance. There are no side or back doors by which men can steal out of their graves and slink into heaven. The wide door of righteousness—on that day most wide—is called Jesus; and the broad way of eternal blessedness—on that day most wide and shining—is also called Jesus, and yet again Jesus. Therefore will we confess Jesus since Jesus is our life, because—
I. He awakes us from spiritual death.—He says in the Gospel that He quickens whom He will; and that the hour is coming in which the dead shall hear His voice and that those who hear shall live—nay, is already come. The spiritual awakening, however, is the condition of the resurrection unto life of the body. When the Word of God pierces the heart it also penetrates the mind. When the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) lights up the soul the glorification of the body has already begun. And this will be apparent in victorious might when the change comes, for which we shall be sown in the field of death (1 Corinthians 15:0). When men who have lived in the world without true faith in God, without love to Christ or hope of eternal life, or any true delight in his Word, in prayer, etc., are awakened, and, looking around, ask how they stand, they see how far they were from the divine promises, how ignorant of their own hearts and of eternity. Now they see Christ, and in Christ the Father, and know that they have passed from death to life. This is a spiritual resurrection. It is that condition of heart in which men no more go about seeking God’s mercy because of their sin, crying out and hoping merely; but in which they joyfully appropriate it—in which they lay hands on the treasures of eternity in the name of Jesus, and say, These are mine through grace; in which they have within themselves the trustful assurance that it is not necessary any more to seek because they have already found. This experience is the same to all believers, and it is always connected with the name of Jesus. This name is life to the dead in sin, strength and refreshment to those who are quickened. And this heavenly life-essence has, God be thanked, power also in our day. The Father loves the Son and gives Him ever new and greater work to do in the world. And the porches of the Church remain, and are, a true Bethesda. God give the name of Jesus power with us, and enable us to walk in newness of life, enduring to the end, so that we may attain to—
II. The resurrection from the dead through the power of that same great name. Every one who has anything to hope for in life shuns the ways of death. None die willingly, else it had not been written, “All men must die,” but, “All men may die.” When therefore the Lord Jesus here promises that He will quicken men, and summon the dead, who have done good, to the resurrection of life, He evidently meant that He had gained for the miserable race, to which death brings so much anguish and sorrow, an unspeakable blessing. And surely He should have been received with open arms by all, more than a general who has victoriously snatched from the enemy a strong fortress which they had taken. And such a reception surely were well deserved! What were life to us were it to end in death? Our greatest desire is to live, not, indeed, in this life only: there must be another and better if it is to be truly life. He who merely brings us in one hand this uncertain life, and in the other certain death, from him I turn away. He cannot be my benefactor and friend. He who brings me life is He on whom I shall rely. It is incomprehensible how many people can live without a Saviour from death—especially in view of those dear to them. One has a wife whom he cherishes with a love that is akin to devotion; another has children whom he treasures as life’s jewels, on whom he sets his hopes, for whom he will do his utmost. But when they come to die, does he leave them to fare forth without asking whether it be true that he shall never see them again, or what is essential in order to re-union with them? There must surely be a great chilling of love when men can endure the death of loved ones without having any certain hope of life eternal for them and for themselves; and to whom the only mitigation of their grief is that the image of the departed may be retained among the treasures of memory. If this is what is meant by living, then it were better never to have lived. But this truly is life, when we learn and are assured that Jesus will bring again those who sleep in Him, that there will not only be a glorification of the souls, but of the dust of His saints, and that our highest happiness will be found when the little joys of earth have come to an end. For this, Jesus, and He alone, has become our surety. And in view of this all pure souls will echo the confession of Peter: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life, etc. (John 6:68-69).—Abridged from Lecher.
John 5:25-26; John 5:28-29. The Son as Quickener of the dead.—The Son is the giver of life because He has life in Himself. It is the essence of the Father who is the living God, the I am; and therefore it is also essentially an attribute of the Son. And as the Father is not the God of the dead but of the living, so they who hear the Son shall live. And as death is but a type of spiritual corruption—indeed is in its present form a result of that corruption—so Jesus quickens the spiritually dead who listen to His voice; and thus through His life imparted to them gives the promise and potency of the resurrection life. That hour had already struck when Jesus spoke. An example of His quickening power had just been given; but they were not to wonder at what had been done and spoken: the time was coming when greater wonders would amaze them (Luke 7:11; John 11:43); and these would be but prophecies of His own rising, which is the prelude and prophecy of the end, when death shall be swallowed up in victory, etc.
I. Christ the living One has the keys of Hades and death.—
1. The hour is coming (it is not here said now is, as this refers to the future) when all who are in their graves, etc. The emphasis is here upon all, and the reference is to the bodies of men.
2. The souls of the redeemed had already been quickened (John 5:25). The meaning here evidently is that the bodies of the departed shall be raised, and united with the spirits awaiting the full consummation of their bliss or woe.
3. All shall go forth; “whether they died before Christ’s birth, to answer according to the measure of their less enlightened conscience, or whether they lived in the full noonday of Revelation,—all; those who have sunk into the grave honoured, loved, lamented, or who died with none to receive their latest breath, wherever be their places of rest, in desert or ocean; all, whether they treasured the Word of the Son of God like our evangelist, or despised it like Pilate,—this last voice louder than trumpet tone they shall hear without exception, and attend to the summons.” But not only shall all hear that dread voice; it shall bring about a manifestation of character and a determination of destiny. There is therefore—
II. The resurrection of life.—
1. They that have done good shall come forth to it. And in the order in which the two resurrections are placed we see the confirmation of the apostolic words, so pregnant yet mysterious: “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” “This is the first resurrection” (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 20:5).
2. And it is those who have done good who shall participate in the resurrection of life, i.e. those who by their life and actions declare that their spiritual life has been quickened by the Redeemer (John 5:25; Matthew 25:34-40).
3. They shall not come into condemnation, having already passed from death unto life (John 5:24). Over them the second death has no power; for it cannot touch that spiritual life which is in them, and which makes them one with the Redeemer. Therefore is theirs a resurrection of life and to life, to be “kings and priests unto God and His Christ.” It is a resurrection of life because then they shall have escaped from all that fettered their spiritual life in its exercise; and shall have arrived at the full consummation of their salvation and the happiness of their complex nature, when the glorified spirit has been reunited to the purified and glorified body, and they shall be like Christ, seeing Him as He is. But there is also—
III. The resurrection of judgment.—
1. They that have done evil shall come forth to it. Their evil doing was evidence of their unrenewed nature, the proof that the “tree was corrupt” (Matthew 7:17-19).
2. Therefore their resurrection, because they had no life in them, is one from death to death (Revelation 20:12-15; Matthew 25:41-46), whatever maybe the actual meaning of the awful imagery used in Scripture to depict this terrible state.
3. But in any view it must be death; for those who awake to the resurrection of judgment have severed themselves from the only source of life—life spiritual and eternal—Jesus Christ. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). “Who shall abide the day of His coming, who shall stand when He appeareth?” Those who listen to that voice, now speaking in mercy, of the Son who can quicken us to newness of life.
“O God of truth and grace,
Teach as that death to shun,
Lest we be banished from Thy face,
And evermore undone.”
John 5:22; John 5:27; John 5:30. The Son as Judge.—Christ occupies an altogether unique position as the Redeemer of men. He is our Advocate; for this end He took on Him the seed of Abraham, and passed into the heavens as our great High Priest, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And this it is that peculiarly fits Him to be our Judge. He is not only the Omniscient, looking with piercing glance at our inmost being, and laying bare our most secret thoughts and feelings; but He is also the Son of man, having points of contact and sympathy with humanity. And the Father hath given Him authority to execute judgment because of this—to execute judgment; but in the fact of judgment the Son and the Father are one. There are two facts that seem to emerge clearly in this and other Scripture presentments of the future judgment, the first in regard to the materials, and the second in regard to the form of judgment. But notice—
I. The intuitions and even the reasoned convictions of the race have ever pointed to a coming judgment.—
1. It may be difficult to find the existence of this idea clearly defined among tribes wholly savage; although it is generally found in some form.
2. But when men rise higher in the scale of civilisation this idea emerges more strikingly, forming often a salutary check on men’s evil passions and inclinations.
3. Often, however, it has become an instrument of terror in the hands of a corrupt order to keep men under their power.
4. The student of history will find much that is interesting and curious regarding this belief in the annals of the past. From the intuition of and belief in a judgment sprang the Egyptian Osiris myth, the Greek Minos and Rhadamanthus, the Roman Orcus.
5. The temples and shrines of antiquity are eloquent indeed in their testimony to this belief.
6. Human reason also on a view of our present state, with its inequalities, etc., led many earnest thinking men in the past to entertain the belief that there would be a day of reckoning. All this is confirmed by Scripture. Turning then to the two facts spoken of we notice—
II. The materials on which the Judge shall base His decisions.—
1. Men are justified by faith; thus it may be truly said that “according to our faith will it be unto us in that day” (John 3:36).
2. But it is no less strongly asserted that men’s works shall form the ground of condemnation or acquittal.
3. Faith and works indeed are in a sense correlatives; and both are simply manifestations of the state of the heart. They are related to each other as the ray to the flame, the stream to the fountain, fragrance to the flower. They are both the produce of an inner spiritual life which comes from Christ.
4. A man’s works, therefore, are, as the fruit of his inner being, the witness of the spirit which is in him, the materials on which he will be judged on the day of judgment. Nothing is more clear and definite in Scripture than the statement of the truth, that in that day we shall “receive the things done in the body according to that we have done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:13, etc.).
5. And this truth is conformable to reason as well. “Faith without works” must evidently be dead, and therefore worthless; and the proof of the possession of spiritual life in Christ is a life of new obedience to the glory of God. This brings us to the next fact.
III. The form of the judgment.—
1. From what has been advanced it is evident that it will be simply a manifestation and a separation. The imagery used in Scripture to depict the reality is merely employed as a vehicle to bring home the truth to our comprehension.
2. Judgment may even sometimes be said to begin here. “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment,” etc. (1 Timothy 5:24-25). Christ’s judgments are even now on the earth.
3. But it is at the last great day that the full manifestation will take place, when the Lord, the light of the world, shall come and “bring to light the hidden things of darkness,” etc. (1 Corinthians 4:5). The good shall then be attracted to the source of all goodness; and the wicked shall then find every subterfuge vain, and seek to hide themselves from Him who sits upon the throne (Revelation 6:15-16).
4. The sentence indeed will be that already pronounced by men on themselves—it will be the declaration of what they are. Sin—separation from God, spiritual death. Righteousness—union with Christ, eternal life.
Therefore the books which will on that day be opened are being written now. The deeds done in the body will manifest our state. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:12).
John 5:31-47. Witnesses to Christ.—To the unbelieving Jews our Lord graciously pointed out these witnesses to Himself, and to the divine origin and purpose of His mission which they had despised or neglected. Thus another opportunity was given to them to reconsider their position. In the first place He speaks of—
I. His witness concerning Himself.—
1. It was matter of accusation on the part of the Jews afterward (this shows how falsely) that He bore witness of Himself (John 8:13). But in view of the ordinary and, in our present state, necessary custom among men not to receive personal witness alone, as the Incarnate Son He forbore to do so.
2. Taking His word in connection with His life and works, the purity of His life, the beauty of His character, the heavenliness of His teaching, the majesty of His miracles, there should have been no difficulty in receiving that word as yea and amen. And it is so to all believing hearts.
3. But in condescension to men’s weakness, and to take out of the way every excuse and occasion for offence, He waived His own inalienable right as the Truth to bear testimony concerning Himself. How great His grace and condescension! (Philippians 2:6-7). He appealed first to—
II. The witness of John.—
1. I receive not witness from a man, said our Lord. The testimony of His Father is that which He chiefly relied on (John 5:37). But graciously remembering the human weakness of His hearers, He called in the testimony of the Baptist.
2. John the Baptist indeed bore witness loyally to Christ. He was as a Lamp that burneth and shineth, although it was a light that must wane; and in reference to him men for a time realised that here was a man sent from God to bear witness to the truth.
3. And what was the witness He bore? It was that Jesus was before him; that He was the Lamb of God, who should take up and bear away the sin of the world; that He was the Son of God, the heavenly Bridegroom, whose voice His bride, the Church, would hear. And what other claim did Jesus advance but this? This witness, therefore, according to their own first estimate of him, should have had weight with the Jews. But, alas! they had not received his witness, and now his voice had gone silent. But however great the Baptist was in character and office, and however powerful his testimony was to convince unprejudiced minds, Christ cannot rest on his witness alone. There is—
III. A greater witness than John.—
1. The works which the Father gave Me to finish, etc. Under those works may be comprehended our Lord’s whole activity. From the divine side His works are contemplated as a “complete whole.” But in this world, during His incarnation and among men, they were done by Him at the time and in the place where they were best calculated to carry out His purpose.
2. But more especially to His miracles does this reference point. These are all to be regarded, so to say, as one witness. They form a cumulative testimony of the redeeming love of God to men in Christ. In them the old prophecies of the wonders and blessedness of Messiah’s reign were fulfilled and symbolised—they were types of the spiritual wonders which should be done in His name (Isaiah 35:0; Isaiah 41:0). In the spiritual sphere the sick in soul as in body were healed, and to the poor was the gospel preached. In the realm of nature the winds and waves obeyed His voice, so that the storm was stilled; the water was turned into wine; disease and death yielded to His word of power. All these miracles witnessed in unison to the divine origin and mission of the incarnate Son, so that He could afterward say, “If I do not the works of My Father,” etc. (John 10:37).
3. If one like Jesus rose among men to-day, would calm, right-thinking men doubt for a moment whence He derived His beneficent power and supermundane wisdom? But not alone do the works, given to Him by the Father to finish, testify of Christ.
IV. The Father Himself bears witness to the Son.—
1. The Father’s witness here seems to refer to all the testimony borne to Jesus as the Messiah, outside of His personal activity as the Redeemer.
2. This was given especially in the testimony of the Father through prophets and holy men of old. “They believed; they saw My day and were glad; but the Word that came to them finds no response in your hearts, is not living and abiding in you. Thus you are unable to rise to the true knowledge of the Father, and have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape.”
3. But the Father’s testimony was given also in the miraculous occurrences which took place at Christ’s birth and baptism; and also in the evident concurrence of the Father in Christ’s works of power. And this leads naturally up to the last witness called in.
V. The witness of Scripture.—
1. “If it be true,” Jesus seems to say, “that the Father hath witnessed of Me in those Scriptures by attending to the outward letter of which you think you will find salvation, then know that they indeed testify of Me.”
2. Christ is the centre of Scripture—its beginning, middle, and end. And He came to fulfil the law and prophets; for law and prophets bear witness to Him.
John 5:39. The clearness and sufficiency of the witness of Scripture.—We notice these objections: Is Scripture intelligible? Has not our age gone far beyond it? Is the reading of Scripture in any way fruitful? Does it merit unconditional confidence? In opposition to this, four characteristic traits of Holy Scripture may be mentioned in its honour. It is pellucid and clear; it is sufficient and adequate; it is fraught with authority and power. And each of these characteristic traits is founded on the fact that the Scripture bears witness to Christ. Because Scripture witnesses to Christ it is—
I. Clear and pellucid.—But how?
1. Is there not a science of theology which seeks to open up the meaning of Scripture by means of languages, etc.? Yes. Would that the origin and aim of theology were less forgotten! Luther’s most cherished title was that of Doctor of Theology. But a theologian must pray also, “What shall I do to be saved?” or Scripture remains to him a book with seven seals.
2. Truly, even to the prayerful believer many things in Scripture remain enigmatical. We see here in a glass darkly; and only on yonder side, when tongues and prophets cease, etc., shall we “know as we are known” (1 Corinthians 13:0).
3. But is it not clear when, as the gates of paradise are shut, etc., in the wilderness the tender promise of One who should bruise the serpent’s head is given, etc.? A unity of advance from book to book, one spirit of prophecy, one cry of longing, “Come, Lord Jesus”: “He it is,” said John, with outstretched finger. “To Him bare all the prophets witness,” said Peter. “In Him all the promises are yea and amen,” said Paul. “Search the Scriptures,” etc., said Jesus Himself. Here is clearness, perspicuity, to those who are pure in heart.
II. Search the Scripture; it is sufficient and adequate.—
1. It contains all which suffices for the movements and necessities of the spiritual life. It will not satisfy the Athenian desire for novelty. It would then be no book from eternity and for eternity.
2. All the news-sheets and journals of last night are this morning withered leaves. And all the journals for entertainment and amusement may help to drive away ennui, but not the fear of death, the terrors of conscience, or the horror of judgment.
3. Scripture, it is true, will not minister to that importunate curiosity which would seek to tear the veil from the spiritual world; but neither does it anticipate science, nor oppose it. What men can gain by culture and research Scripture does not reveal, etc. It is enough that the Originator of heaven and earth is the same as the Author of Scripture—that He who spake the first word will speak the last—that all men may drink from this fountain and be satisfied, because Holy Scripture gives full satisfaction, since it witnesses of Christ.
III. Search the Scripture; it is fraught with power.—
1. True, a number of men have not been affected by it. Philosophers sit in their chairs and despise the Nazarene and His eternal word. Leaders of thought mock at the deposed majesty of the Bible. Carnal men, etc., plume themselves on the idea that the doctrines of Scripture are coins now out of circulation. Even many preachers—they lead a dusty existence, for their Bibles are dust-covered.
2. But it is comforting that so long as there are men weary and heavy laden, thirsting after the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, etc., so long as there are pain and sorrow in the world, where a Jairus has lost a child, etc., etc., so long will Holy Scripture retain its power and prove itself effective because it witnesses of Christ. But the Lord had to complain of the self-righteous and self-satisfied: “Ye will not come to Me,” etc.
IV. Does Scripture thereby lose its credit? Far from it; it is self-authenticating; it witnesses of Christ—that is its authority.—
1. We Protestants have no pope. We have Christ. He is the Head of the Church yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We do not rest upon tradition.
2. Do we truly receive the Scripture? There is a dead scriptural knowledge which has no real effect on men’s hearts. Some read not at all. Others hear and listen occasionally, but their hearts burn not either with misgiving or thankfulness. And what shall be said of those who forbid the free circulation of Scripture?
3. It is the Holy Spirit who delineates Christ in Scripture, the same Spirit who writes His name on our hearts, makes us living epistles.
4. The Scripture concludes all under sin: “There is none that doeth good; no, not one.” It includes all in the invitation to reconciliation. It opens to all the way of redemption. It witnesses to Christ as God’s Son. The revelation it includes is holy, merciful, simple, deep. All in it is so divine, yet so human. Come under this authority. Take and read. Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.—Abridged from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 5:39. Tolle, lege.—How shall the word come to us with power if it has not already done so? The first and most obvious duty, if we desire the word to come to us with power, is to—
I. Search it.—Knowledge of the contents of Scripture comes to us like all other knowledge. Then we must search it with open, teachable hearts, seeking the truth, and prepared to follow its guidance when revealed to us. You remember the incident in Augustine’s life when at Milan, tormented between his sinful life and desires and the desire to serve God, he heard in the garden the words tolle, lege. Hastening to the house, he took up the Pauline epistles, and unrolling the MS. at Romans 13:0, he read: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was a voice from God, and proved the turning-point in the great Church father’s career. We must, then, search for truth in it as for hidden treasure; and we must search diligently and prayerfully, not forgetting that He who is its author can best make plain to us His own word. Guizot, in the following sentences, describes this power of the word: “Where has the Christian faith been best defended? There where the reading of the sacred books has been a general and assiduous part of public worship—there where it takes place in the interior of families and in. solitary meditation. It is the Bible, the Bible itself, which combats and triumphs most efficaciously in the war between incredulity and belief.”
II. But all this will be insufficient unless we use the Bible experimentally, i.e. not only to search it and learn it, but to act according to its precepts and commands. This is the highest and best proof of the Bible’s power. “If any man will to do His will, He shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.”
III. There are many who come to the Bible, not to find what it says, but to find in it support for their own ideas. What wonder if it fail to profit them? But the chief hindrance to the receiving of the word with power is indifference to the truth which it contains, and, worse still, a positive disinclination to have its light brought to bear on the dark corners of the nature. Many do not wish to be disturbed in the enjoyment of their favourite vice or sin; and, like Felix, though they may tremble when in some way the word reaches conscience, yet they put it away from them to “a more convenient season.” But that is folly in the last degree, ruinous for time, fatal for eternity! Let ours be the wise course ever to search, learn, and inwardly digest that divine wisdom which makes wise unto salvation.
“The sacred page
With calm attention scan! If on thy soul,
As thou dost read, a ray of purer light
Break in, oh, check it not; give it full scope!
Admitted, it will break the clouds which long
Have dimmed thy sight, and lead thee till at last
Conviction, like the sun’s meridian beams,
Illuminate thy mind.”
“Within this awful volume lies
The mystery of mysteries:
Happiest they of human race
To whom their God has given grace
To read, to fear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch, to force the way;
But better had they ne’er been born
Who read to doubt, or read to scorn.”
John 5:39. Why are we to search the Scriptures?—The Scriptures here spoken of are the Old Testament Scriptures; and as it is known how highly the Jews prized those writings as the oracles of God, the force of Christ’s appeal may be estimated. And if these sacred Scriptures really did testify of Him, these unbelieving Jews were treasuring up wrath for themselves. How earnestly then should they have searched! But they were wilfully blind, and failed therefore to lay hold on that eternal life which their Scriptures revealed (Matthew 13:15). Consider the importance of the Scriptures.
I. They are the oracles of God.—
1. The oracles were the responses by supposed divinities, heathen gods, to the inquiries of their worshippers. Some divine afflatus was supposed to be communicated to the priests or priestesses who served at the heathen shrine; or the image of the god was itself by sign or speech supposed to communicate the divine message; or the message was communicated by certain natural phenomena, etc.
2. The oracles of the Jews came to them by revelations through prophetic men during many centuries. They are contained in the books we now call the Old Testament; and the nature of their contents, and the striking unity shown in the progressive unfolding of the revelation, lift them high as heaven above the ambiguous and often foolish oracles of heathendom.
3. They contain what men never could have discovered for themselves concerning the nature of God, the way of access to Him, and the hope and promise of eternal life.
II. They bear especial witness to Christ.—
1. The whole ritual of sacrifice and many of the enactments of the law typified His atoning work, and thus pointed forward to Him.
2. The prophets plainly foretold Him—His person; His work and the glory of His kingdom; His sufferings and death.
3. The details they give are minute and circumstantial, e.g. the period and place of His birth; His betrayal; His meek endurance under trial and scourging; His cry on the cross as of One forsaken; His sepulture in a stranger’s tomb, etc., etc.
4. Moses and the prophets, indeed, testify of Him; blot Him out of their writings, and these will become confused and enigmatic.
III. They are an authoritative rule of life.—
1. None of the teachers of heathen antiquity, however great intellectually and morally, could give definite and authoritative rules of life and action. What they did give was founded on partial knowledge, and was therefore often misleading. Take, e.g., even such a great philosophical work as “The Republic of Plato.”
2. Those who take the Bible as their rule of life are led into the ways of righteousness, which are in the end ways of pleasantness and peace. These things being so, we ought therefore to—
IV. Search the Scriptures (remembering that to us is given a most glorious and clear revelation)—
1. Sincerely, desiring to know the truth and conform to it. If we believe them to be God’s Word we must search, and we must obey, even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood to do what is commanded.
2. Diligently.—How much more earnestly and diligently do men attend often to other matters! The Scriptures are worthy of our most earnest attention. Dr. Johnson, when dying, said to a young friend, “Read the Bible every day of your life.”
3. Prayerfully.—There can be no true success in any good undertaking unless we seek it in prayer. Much lies in this, for we need the Spirit’s aid in order that our carnal minds may understand spiritual things.
4. With a view to spread the knowledge of the word.—Has it blessed our souls? Then we must and will seek to bring the same blessing to others.
John 5:40-47. Hindrances to faith.—The Jewish religion had become largely a racial and national question with the Jews. It was their nation, their religion, which they were concerned about; not God’s honour and glory and the advance of divine truth. They were no longer emulous of the blessing of Jehovah to the end that His saving health might be known among all nations (Psalms 67:0). They had fallen far below the spiritual conceptions of the prophets (Isaiah 60:0), and even of the law (Deuteronomy 6:5). The glory of their nation, of themselves, was their paramount aim and end. They would receive any one who came in his own name (false Christs and prophets, Matthew 24:24) if only such would promise to carry out their aims for the national glory. This being their state of mind, it was not wonderful that there was antagonism on their part toward Jesus, and enmity in their hearts to Him. “Ye will not come to Me,” etc. (John 5:40). The reasons given for this are—
I. The want of love to God.—
1. It was not the love of God the Jews sought supremely; it was their own glory, their proud supremacy as the favoured race of heaven.
2. And yet they professed to have the love of God in their hearts. At least, they bound on forehead, neck, and arm, in writing on scrolls, those precepts of the law which gave love the first place (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 6:13-22, etc.); and the Pharisees especially made conspicuous the frontlet case containing those scrolls (Matthew 23:5).
3. But our Lord saw that those outward declarations did not express any inward truth. Their hearts were destitute of the love they outwardly professed.
4. And as the love of God was not in them, how could they recognise it when it came to them in Christ? Those among them who truly had that love did not fail to recognise the witness of God to Christ (Nathanael, Nicodemus, etc.). But in those in whom the love of the world reigned the love of God was shut out. So is it, so must it ever be. The consequence of this want of love to God leads to the second reason—
II. The mistaking the chief end of man.—
1. The chief purpose of man’s creation, the end of his being, is the divine glory. There can be no higher aim. All our life and all its actions should be directed to this end (1 Corinthians 10:31).
2. But they who have no love to God in their hearts do not and cannot, so long as they remain in this state, glorify God in their lives, although God, who makes the wrath of men to praise Him, can make even those loveless lives redound to His honour.
3. How different was it with Christ! He, being in the form of God, deemed not His equality with God a thing to be grasped at, but emptied Himself, taking upon Him the form of a servant, etc. (Philippians 2:6-11). And He sought not glory from men, but from His Father (John 17:5, etc.). 4, No wonder, then, that the Jews did not perceive the glory of that life to which Jesus sought to win them, since their desire was for an outward, visible, personal glory, and the divine glory only as it could come to pass that way. The glory of Christ lay in what seemed the reverse of glory—in His humility (John 13:3-4), in His cross (John 17:4), in His self-sacrificing love, in His obedience unto death (Philippians 2:8-9).
5. And in His life of obedience Christ was men’s example (1 Peter 2:11-25).
III. This want of love to God and mistaking of the end of life led finally to their rejection of the elder revelation and of Him who was its fulfilment.—
1. Jesus came not to judge the world, but to save it, in His life on earth. Therefore He said, “Do not think that I will accuse you,” etc. (John 5:45). It was enough to point out that, however vehemently they claimed Moses as their guide and professed to follow him, they entirely missed or rejected the very aim and end of the Mosaic economy.
2. The divine righteousness and glory are the purpose for which the law was established (Romans 2:0). But the Jews failed miserably in their interpretation and observance of the law (Romans 2:23), and thus failed to grasp its purpose (Romans 2:29).
3. Above all, they failed to see that the end of the law could be reached only through that substance which its shadowy types and its predictions foretold (John 5:46). Moses wrote of Christ. The Thorah is here ascribed to Moses personally, and the reference is to that special promise (Deuteronomy 18:18) for whose fulfilment the Jews professed to be waiting, and as a preparation for which the types and ceremonies of the law were instituted (Colossians 2:17). Thus, not seeing the end or purpose of the law, how could they understand Him who came to fulfil the law? These men had reproached Jesus with breaking the law; He showed them that they did not even understand the law.
1. A mere unenlightened reception of Scripture, without spiritually guided searching of it, is not sufficient (1 Corinthians 2:14).
2. The elder Revelation agrees with the new Revelation of Christ. Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, vetus Testamentum in Novo patet.
3. The rejection of the elder Revelation must inevitably lead to the rejection of the new.
4. The word of God in Old Testament and New will remain a sealed book to those who have no true love of God in their hearts, and who seek merely their own honour and glory. The true end of human existence is hidden from them; hence they reject that word which reveals it, and that Saviour who came to exemplify it and make it possible for men.
John 5:22; John 5:27; John 5:29. The Son of Man as Judge.—The thought of judgment is wholesome in that it warns us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We readily think of Christ as the King who cometh to Zion meek and lowly, who calls to men: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour,” etc. (Matthew 11:28). But we should also represent Him to ourselves as He to whom the Father hath committed the right to judge the quick and the dead. Consider:—
I. Those whom He shall judge.—All people who have lived shall stand before Him (John 5:28-29).
2. He shall separate the good from the evil (John 5:29).
II. The law according to which He shall judge.—
1. It is ultimately the rule of love to Himself and His brethren by which faith shows itself sincere, and which manifests itself in a holy and loving activity (1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11, etc.).
2. Want of love is ultimately the cause of condemnation; for love to God will lead to service for Him; and also to fruitful activity in the world toward our brethren (1 John 4:20-21).—From J. L. Sommer.
The great day of judgment.—
I. It is drawing near for all mankind (John 5:28).
II. It will bring the good and the evil to light (John 5:29).
III. It will determine the lot of each individual (Daniel 12:13).—Idem.
John 5:39. The true meaning of Scripture not hidden.—Search the Scriptures. Better, Ye search the Scriptures. The question whether the mood is imperative or indicative, whether we have here a commandment to examine the writings of the Old Testament canon, or a reference to their habit of doing so, is one which has been discussed through the whole history of New Testament exposition, and one on which the opinion of those best qualified to judge has been, and is, almost equally divided. Observe that all the parallel verbs in the context are in the indicative. Why should there be a sudden change of construction in this instance only? We find, then, this order of thought.
1. God has in the Old Testament witnessed of Me, but ye, with unreceptive hearts, have never heard a voice nor seen a shape of God (John 5:37).
2. Ye have not His Word dwelling in you, or it would have witnessed of Me (John 5:38).
3. Instead of receiving the Scriptures as a living power within you, ye search and explain the letter of them from without (John 5:39).
4. Ye think they contain eternal life, and hence your reverence for them (John 5:39).
5. They really are witnesses of Me, and yet you, seeking in them eternal life, are not willing to come to Me that ye may have this life. It is believed that this is the most natural interpretation.… The only objection to it of weight is that the Greek word for “search” (ἐρευνᾶτε) is one which would not have implied blame. It means to search after, track, inquire after (cp. John 7:52); but, surely, this is just the expression for the literal spirit in which the rabbis treated their scriptures. Moreover, it is not the searching which is matter for blame, but the fact of the searching and not finding, which is matter for wonder. Here, too, as elsewhere, the argument from the meaning of a Greek word must be pressed only within strict limits when we remember that it represents in translation a then current Hebrew word. The Hebrew language had a word which just at that time was frequent on every rabbi’s lips, and which exactly corresponds to it. As early as the Book of Chronicles we find mention of the Midrashim or Commentaries.… May it not be, then, that the true meaning of these words is to be found in their bearing upon these rabbinic lives and works?—“Ye make your Midrashim on the Scriptures; ye explain and comment, and seek for hidden mystic meaning; ye do all this because ye think they contain eternal life; their true meaning is not hidden; they tell of life, and ye who seek it do not hear them, and will not come unto Me that ye might have life.”—Watkins.
John 5:25. The resurrection the hope of humanity.—We are told that the most savage nations live in a constant horror of death; their life is one long flight from it; it poisons their happiness; it bursts like a ghastly phantom upon their moments of peace. It is not death the agony that they shudder at, though there may be something terrible in that, but death the mystery, and “next to God the most infinite of mysteries;” death that slips the last cable of the soul, and sets it afloat on the shoreless sea of an eternal world; there it is that lies for them “the mute, ineffable, voiceless horror before which all human courage is abashed.” Can you wonder at this continuous dread? They know of no world beyond the grave, and what would life be without the trust in that? How purposeless and mean, how weary and hopeless; a journey leading nowhither; a gate opening upon nothing; a ship sent forth only that she may founder in the bare, unknown deeps. Look steadily at life, and consider what it is; how changeful, how short, how sorrowful. A light and thoughtless youth, of which the beauty and brightness pass rapidly away; and after that, chance and change and bereavement; cravings that meet with no fulfilment; the dying away of hopes, the disappointment of ambition,—a disappointment, perhaps, more bitter when it is gratified than when it fails; the struggle for a livelihood, the cares of a family, the deceitfulness of friendship, the decay and weakness of health and faculties, as inevitable old age comes on: and all the while heard at every silent interval with a plainness that creeps along the nerves, as though our ears caught the pacing of some ghostly tread in the far-off corridors of some lonely haunted house—all the while the monotonous echoing of death’s mysterious footfall, beard louder and louder, as day by day he approaches nearer and yet more near. And all this for so short a time that our petty schemes are broken off perpetually like a weaver’s thread, and the meanest works of our hand survive us and last on for other generations, to which our very names shall be covered with darkness. “And is this all? Is this, then, the period of our being? Must we end here? Did we come into the world only to make our way through the press, amid many jostlings and hard struggles, with at best only a few brief deceitful pleasures interspersed, and so go out of it again?” Alas for man if this were all, and nought beyond, O earth! And then again, if there be no resurrection of the dead, how infinitely pathetic, how quite unspeakably heartrending would be the phenomena of death itself. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain; and your faith is also vain; and we are found false witnesses of God; and ye are yet in your sins; and”—all this is terrible enough, but mark the pathos of the climax, a pathos too deep for tears—“and then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Perished! what a world of desolate anguish, what sighs of unutterable despair, lie hid in that strange word. Most of you are too young to have ever stood, as all the eldest of us have, by the bedside of death; but none of you are too young to feel how awful such a scene would be if we did not believe and know that Christ has risen from the dead. There on that low bed lies one we loved, for whom our whole hearts yearned, to whom our whole affections clung; he was noble and good, he was one of the very few who loved us, and he would have undergone for us any sacrifice, and he had borne bravely and meekly the buffets of the world. It was a short life, hardly checkered (good and beautiful and upright as it was), hardly checkered with any sunshine amid its shade; and now it is over; it ends here: the bright eye is dull and glazed; the gentle face is white and cold; the good brave heart has ceased to beat. He has no more a part in anything that is done under the sun. The day was when he would have sprung to meet us, his whole face brightened at our approach; and now he lies there, cold to the voice of our affection, unmoved by our hot tears, with all the light of the soul quenched within him; gone, if there be no resurrection, to a dreary land where all things are forgotten; all that was good in him, all that was great in him, perished for ever, as we and ours must perish soon. Oh, if there were no resurrection, bow could we bear it? Would not the thought crush us down for very grief into the same open grave? Many of you will have read the famous vision of him who saw a bridge of threescore and ten arches, which spanned the rolling waters of a prodigious tide, and how the Genius said to him, “The bridge thou seest is Human Life; consider it attentively.” “And as I looked more attentively I saw several of the passengers dropping through the bridge into the great tide that flowed underneath it; and upon examination perceived that there were innumerable trap-doors concealed in the bridge, which the passengers no sooner trod upon, but they fell through them into the tide and immediately disappeared. My heart was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping unexpectedly in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at everything that stood by them to save themselves. Multitudes were very busy in the pursuit of bubbles that glittered in their eyes and danced before them; but often, when they thought themselves within reach of them, their footing failed and down they sank. ‘Alas!’ said I, ‘man was made in vain! How is he given away to misery and mortality! tortured in life and swallowed up in death!’ ”—F. W. Farrar.
John 5:27; John 5:29. The Judge it at the gate—prepare to meet Him.—Beloved! in this passage are not still greater things promised to the faithful? Verily, verily, etc. (John 5:24). Already here below is the believer possessor of life eternal, already here below is he a victor over death, and is freed from judgment. Behold, whosoever cometh to the long-suffering Judge, repentant, and judges himself in the penitent publican’s spirit (Luke 18:13), shall not come into judgment. Now sickness, poverty, loss, isolation, misjudgment, separation, affliction, and every sorrow will tend to bring you to the goal—in that you will be more than conquerors in all these things. In the Lord you have righteousness and strength. Consider your activity! That which impels you, that is yourself. And whither you are impelled there will you remain. In the direction in which the tree inclines it falls and there lies. Turned away from or turned toward Jesus—which is your position, your inner, your eternal sentence on yourself?… There is a judgment, the earth is rolling onward and mankind are pressing swiftly toward it, and the Son of man will destroy the house built on sand, and cast the guest without the wedding garment into outer darkness, and will say to the unmerciful with all their sins of omission: “Inasmuch,” etc. (Matthew 25:45). Two great divine works of Jesus are referred to in this passage—the work of resurrection and the work of judgment. In view of them should all men honour the Son as they honour the Father. Kiss the Son! Pay homage to Him while it is called to-day! Pray to Him in the holy adornment of a renewed mind, of a living obedience, of a thorough purification through His blood, so that He may not be angry with you—when His anger is kindled but a little! Woe to all who oppose Him! Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him!—Dr. R. Kögel.
John 5:35. The “burning and shining light.—John the Baptist was a burning and shining light. He was burning with zeal for the honour of God, and with love for the welfare of His people; he shone with clear ray on the sins of all classes and conditions of his contemporaries, but also with mild, gentle, and comforting beams on the work and person of the coming Saviour. Israel, however, did not take John’s earnestness in earnest. Now they childishly greeted him with faultfinding and calumny, anon and also childishly with wonder and astonishment, but remained at all times debtors to that repentance which was the chief concern. They boasted and made a show of the famed preacher of righteousness, of their great countryman, yes, even of the powerful preacher of repentance. They toyed with the impressions he made; and even basked in them. For a little while they were contented to rejoice in his light, if they could only be spared the trouble of effecting in themselves a moral reformation. It is even related of a Herod that he willingly heard the imprisoned prophet, and did many things in obedience to his word (Mark 6:20). That John was worthy of being believed, the rulers of the people themselves showed when they sent a deputation of priests and Levites to him. But if the herald were great, how much greater and more worthy of belief was the King!—Dr. R. Kögel.
John 5:39. We honour God by receiving His Word.—The Word is the true manna; it is the bread which came down from heaven; it is the key of the kingdom of heaven; it is the savour of life unto life; it is the power of God unto salvation. In it God showeth unto us His might, His wisdom, and His glory. By it He will be known of us; by it He will be honoured by His creatures. Whatsoever truth is brought unto us contrary to the Word of God, it is not truth, but falsehood and error; whatsoever honour done unto God disagreeth from the honour required by His Word, it is not honour unto God, but blasphemy; as Christ saith, “In vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines men’s precepts.” By Esay God saith, “Who requireth this at your hands?” (Isaiah 1:12). And by Jeremy, “I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey My voice; and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people; and walk ye in all the ways which I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” Again, “What is chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord?” What are your dreams to be weighed with the truth of God? “Search the Scriptures; in them ye shall learn to know Me, and how ye should worship Me; in them ye shall find everlasting life.” “The words of the Lord are pure words, as the silver tried in the furnace.” There is no filth or dross remaining in them. They are the storehouse of wisdom, and of the knowledge of God; in respect whereof all the wisdom of this world is but vain and foolish.—Bishop Jewell.
John 5:39. Apparent difficulties do not invalidate the witness of Scripture.—All those apparent discrepancies and contradictions in matters of fact, all those apparent departures from morality in matters of principle, which the unbeliever is subtle to detect and proud to parade, in the holy and blessed Scriptures, are a trial which costs the true-hearted Christian many an anxious moment of distress and perplexity, in proportion to his value for his Bible, his earnestness after truth, and his jealousy for the honour of his God and Saviour. It is no easy thing to say—but the man of Abraham’s mould will say it, as one after another of these difficulties is forced upon his notice—I may not be able to explain it, I may not be able to harmonise these seeming discords, I may not be able to separate accurately the precious from the vile, in this heap of positive statements, bold affirmations, and cruel inferences, to which you point me as the latest results of modern science, of so-called discovery, in its bearing upon the records of revelation; but of this I am sure, that anything which would shake my confidence in the absolute truth of that which is indeed God’s Word must be false, however plausible; that, whatever error may be intermingled with my idea of Scripture, or with my theory of inspiration, there can be no error in the very thing itself, which God communicated in His Son Jesus Christ; and therefore I shall not lose heart nor abandon hope by reason of any novelty which may offer itself for the acceptance of this generation: that which is true in it must be consistent with the truth, and with the Word of the True One; I may not see the meeting-point or the reconciliation, but there is a mind which beholds all things as one—His time I will wait, yea, even if it comes not to me living; for with Him is the fountain of light, and in His light, hereafter if not here, I shall myself one day see light.—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
John 5:45-46. “The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.”—“There is one who accuseth you, even Moses in whom, ye trust. If ye believe Moses ye would also believe Me, for he wrote of Me.” Those who reject Moses thus also reject Christ. Take heed then, ye who tamper with the integrity of Scripture, of your critical estimates of the Old Testament! Again, whoever rejects Christ also rejects Moses. Hear this, ye who cherish the Judaistic spirit, and do not boast of your Mosaicism! Long ago should the true—not the imaginary—Moses have been to you a schoolmaster to bring you to Christ! And finally, ye would—be free-thinkers, despisers alike of the Old and New Covenants: Moses with threatening, uplifted tables of the law, and Christ with silent but victoriously uplifted cross, will judge you. The contemporaries of Jesus supposed that in their merely external reception and use of the Scripture they had found the pledge and spring of eternal life. They had in their hands God’s Word written on parchment rolls. They carried it also stored up in memory. They had it on their tongues in common speech, as a subject of conversation; but they had not this Word in their hearts as living and quickening. It did not try their minds and hearts; it brought no reproof to their conscience, it was to them no sure support, no comforting hope, no message from the Father’s house to assure those going homeward. Ye have never, Jesus said in accusing tones, heard the Father’s voice. He who is of the truth hears the voice of the Father in that of the Son. He who sees the Son sees the Father.… Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God in Christ. But when the Son of God came out of the coverings and veil of the old Covenant like a bridegroom out of his chamber, like the sun out of his tent, they passed Him by, and when He stood in their way they slew Him.—Translated from Dr. R. Kögel.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension